Parish Bibles can tell us something of the history of the church to which they belong through clues such as annotations and their general appearance.
They also have a wider story to tell about the Church of England and its development, particularly during the first century or so from the Reformation. The single best known version of the Bible is arguably still the Authorised (King James) Version (AV or KJV), first published in 1611 and still available today.
The KJV was neither the first official English translation of the Bible, nor the first required to be available in every parish church in England. Henry VIII ordered that each parish should have a copy of the Great Bible, first published in 1539–40. This was largely a revision of a translation by Miles Coverdale (first published 1535), who in turn relied on the work of William Tyndale (his New Testament was first published in 1526).
The next version to have a significant impact on parishes was the Geneva Bible (first printed in 1560), so called because the work was carried out in Geneva by English Protestant exiles during the reign of Mary I. The Geneva Bible is recognisable by the extent of its marginal notes, which seek to explain difficult parts of the text, to highlight references between different parts of the Bible and to suggest particular interpretations of verses or passages.
The Geneva Bible was much loved, eclipsing in popularity both the later Bishops’ Bible (first printed 1568), and, in its early years, the KJV. The Bishops’ Bible was produced by the bishops of Elizabeth I’s Church of England and ordered to be available in all parishes. Both of these translations, like the Great Bible before them, relied substantially on Tyndale and Coverdale as sources.
The last edition of the Bishops’ Bible was printed in 1602; the following year saw the accession to the English throne of James I. The decision to commission a new translation of the Bible (the KJV) was partly James’ response to the need to unite the differing religious elements of the two kingdoms of England and Scotland. This fact is symbolized within the KJV by decorations which include both the rose of England and the thistle of Scotland. The KJV was a remarkable feat, with teams of translators each working on their own specified areas of the overall Bible. Despite this, studies have demonstrated that some 80 per cent of the New Testament is essentially similar to William Tyndale’s translation, first published in 1526.
The Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660 brought a reassertion of the KJV in parishes, and over the following centuries Bible versions and editions have proliferated. Whatever version you use now, you are part of a substantial tradition in the life of the parishes of the Church of England.
Norwich Cathedral Library acts as a place of deposit for significant historic parish books. Please contact us to find out how we can help your parish in the care of its books: firstname.lastname@example.org, 01603 218443.
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Guardians of Ancora
The Revd Mark Capron reviews a children's online Bible game.More
KJV? NIV? NLT? The Message? To the question, 'which is the best Bible?', the answer is, 'best for what?' Paul Overend explores the different translations of the Bible.More
Walking through the Bible
Andy Jones runs Raise Kids Work and, among other activities, delivers Walk through the Bible Primary School lessons.More
The Lectionary – not just for Sundays!
You might be used to looking on a list to see what the reading are for this Sunday if you are reading a lesson or perhaps preparing the prayers, and probably know that the church of England provides a list of readings for each Sunday (the Sunday lectionary). But Charles Read wonders if you know that it also provides readings for each day?More
One Bible – many encounters
We each have our preferred ways of encountering God through the Bible. Some are avid readers; others prefer an audio experience; some find art or drama helpful; others prefer active approaches.More
Bible Sunday – an opportunity to engage
Each year, churches the length and breadth of the country celebrate to Bible on a Sunday in late October - Richard Hooker describes how they used this opportunity at St Edmund's parish church in Taverham.More
Praying with the Bible
Keith James shares a practical guide to two ways of praying – Imaginative Contemplation and Lectio Divina.More
Bringing the Bible to life
The Rt Revd Alan Winton, Bishop of Thetford enthuses on the 'Open the Book' teams that bring Bible stories to life for children across the Diocese.More
The Bible in a digital age
Kevin Baldwin discusses how Life exhibition is using a different method of old and new media to share the Bible with thousands of children in a digital age.More