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It is a sad commentary on the historical knowledge of most Americans that we sort of think the King James Bible was created on the Sixth Day.
Whatever we know, or don’t know, our knowledge will be vastly increased by the introduction of a new edition of the 1599 Geneva Bible – the Bible that the Pilgrims actually brought across the Atlantic. Pre-dating the KJV by many years, the Geneva Bible has been brought out of mothballs by a dedicated group of Reform folks near Atlanta. The result is a rich historical document, with no expense spared in producing each copy.
As Dr. Peter A. Lillback, president of Westminster Theological Seminary, says: “This is the Bible that our forefathers brought with them to the new world. They made history and left this treasure of scriptural wisdom as our legacy. The Geneva Bible once changed the world and is about to change the world – again.”
One gets a sense of how important this translation into English is when we learn that it was the primary Bible for the 16th-century Protestant movement and was the Bible used by Shakespeare, Oliver Cromwell, John Milton, John Knox and John Bunyan.
What really set the Geneva version apart, though, is that by mass-producing this Bible, the translators provided people for the first time with what would become known as a study Bible, complete with helpful notes.
(A cautionary note: for Christians who embrace the teaching of Bible prophecy, the Geneva Bible’s study notes strike a false note here and there, such as in Ezekiel 38-39; many such passages are interpreted to refer to the church, rather than to Israel. Gary DeMar’s “Notes to the Modern Reader” also give a nod to the preterist view that certain prophetic texts refer to events that have already happened, such as the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. There is also some anti-Catholic language in the translators’ study notes, reflecting the conflict between the Church of Rome and the Reformers. Still – and I want to emphasize this point – I highly recommend the Geneva Bible, for its rich study potential and historical nature.)
The complete Old and New Testaments, together, were published in 1560.
In the volatile mix of religion and politics and war on the Continent in the 16th century, several English Protestant scholars fled the rule of Queen Mary I, settling in Geneva, the abode of John Calvin.
William Whittingham was one such scholar, and he would go on to supervise this translation. Whittingham was largely responsible for the New Testament, while Anthony Gilby oversaw the Old Testament translation.
Interestingly, there is now a great deal of talk – even among younger generations –about the implications of Calvinism, and it is interesting to note that the Geneva Bible was largely Puritan and Calvinist, and for these reasons, the annotated sections were abhorred by King James I.
Further, the Geneva Bible is “The first English version in which all of the Old Testament was translated directly from the Hebrew.”
The Geneva Bible is similar to the King James, although there are areas where they differ, such as Revelation 6: Geneva says “the moon was like blood,” while the KJV reads: “the moon became as blood.”
The font used for the text is pleasing to the eye and highly readable, and the sturdiness of the Geneva Bible makes it a workhorse for the serious student. Included is a “Form of Prayer to be Used in Private Hours Every Morning and Evening,” and a glossary of Middle-English terms used originally in the 1599 edition.
This is an ambitious project, and one worthy of serious support.