In a very real sense, we as Americans owe much of our rich spiritual heritage to the Geneva Bible. Nearly forgotten today, this version of the Holy Scriptures, first translated into English in 1560, created the conditions for a Christian reformation of life and culture the likes of which the world had never seen before, and hasn’t seen since.
In 1553, Mary Tudor ascended the throne of England and set about to stamp out the Reformation, ordering the destruction of all copies of the English Bible and burning more than three hundred Reformers at the stake. Bloody Mary’s vicious crusade drove scores of English Reformers to Geneva, including some of the finest biblical scholars in history. Together, these men produced a new English Bible based on the original languages and not beholden to any king or prelate.
The Geneva Bible is a Bible of firsts. It was the first Bible to qualify as a study Bible, providing readers with copious notes, cross-references, and commentary about the original manuscripts. It was the first Bible to be printed in a portable and affordable edition. And it was the first Bible to assign chapter and verse numbers, facilitating the location of passages, memorization, and recitation. These factors helped it become the most popular Bible of its day, and this popularity had a profound impact on the unfolding of history.
The Geneva Bible inspired those who championed self-government and civic virtue. Its mighty influence was manifest in the lives of Knox, Cromwell, and Shakespeare. And it was the 1599 Geneva Bible that the Pilgrims brought with them to the New World in 1620, deriving principles from its pages that helped lay the foundation stones of American liberty.
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