A History of the English Bible (The Great Bible)

  • Miles Coverdale – Catholic priest who gets saved
  • Thomas Cromwell – King Henry VIII cabinet member
  • John Rogers – translator and Bible preacher
  • Thomas Cranmer – Archbishop of Canterbury
  • King Henry VIII – king of England

Miles Coverdale (1535)

  • 2 Timothy 3:16-17 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
  • “Wherever the scripture is known it reformeth all things.  And why? Because it is given by inspiration of God.”
  • Miles Coverdale was a Catholic priest who was transformed by the scriptures.  He began to preach against transubstantiation, worship of images, and confessionals.  The Catholic church said he took up the habit of a “secular priest.”
  • For seven years from 1528 to 1535 Coverdale left England.  Coverdale helped Tyndale with his translating while he was alive.  Coverdale would eventually finish the first complete English Bible.  Tyndale completed the New Testament and Coverdale would largely use that for his translation.  However, because he was not familiar with Hebrew, his work in the Old Testament was sort of a guesswork among from other translations he was familiar with.
  • His motives matched his predecessors in getting the Bible to the people, however, his Bible was bulky and formal, it was quite unlike Tyndale’s handheld pocket versions.
    • “It will greatly help you to understand scripture if you note – no only what is spoken and written, but of whom and to whom, with what words, at what time, where, to what intent, with what circumstances, considering what goes before and what follows.”

Thomas Matthew’s Bible (1537)

  • There was probably no one named Thomas Matthew whose name this Bible is attributed to and that was for good reason.  The “Thomas Matthew” Bible was simply the finished product of what William Tyndale started. This was done by John Rogers.  But Tyndale’s name was toxic, so it wasn’t used.
  • Henry VIII would cut ties with the Catholic Church and declare himself to be the head of the English church.  After having Tyndale burned publicly in 1536, King Henry VIII decided to license an English Bible to further mark his place as the English king and pope of the Church of England.
    • Thomas Cromwell was a supporter of an English reformation away from the Roman Catholic Church.  When King Henry VIII was prevented by the RCC from getting a divorce it was Cromwell who completely changed the conversation.  He asked the king why did he need Rome’s approval? Who is the pope to England? You’re the king, and England doesn’t have two thrones, Cromwell said.
    • Thomas Cromwell was the one who proposed the king license an English Bible.  It was Cromwell’s way of formally giving the public access to an English Bible.  Cromwell was the king’s chief minister. The political culture was ripe for the king to do this because of his growing contention with the Catholic Church.  Unfortunately, three years after Cromwell convinced King Henry VIII to license the “Matthews” English Bible, the king had him beheaded.
  • John Rogers who finished this Bible and was active in publishing and preaching years after was publicly burned by Queen Mary in 1555.

Miles Coverdale “Great Bible” (1539)

  • He returned to England in late 1535 and published his translation of German hymns, “Goostly Psalmes and Spirituall Songs Drawen out of the Holy Scripture”, in London. This was followed by translations of other German religious texts. In 1537, Thomas Cromwell asked Coverdale to revise the “Matthew Bible”, a Bible which combined the work of Tyndale and Coverdale, and print it in Paris. However, there was trouble when one of those overseeing the printing was accused of heresy, and around 2500 finished copies were confiscated by the Inquisition and eventually burned. Fortunately, the publishers, Richard Grafton and Edward Whitchurch, managed to flee Paris with some unbound copies. In April 1539, 3000 copies of the “Great Bible” were printed, followed by another 3000 copies in spring 1540. This meant that a copy could be put into every church in England.
  • Act of Six Articles
    • First, that in the most blessed Sacrament of the Altar, by the strength and efficacy of Christ’s mighty word, it being spoken by the priest, is present really, under the form of bread and wine, the natural body and blood of Our Saviour Jesu Christ, conceived of the Virgin Mary, and that after the consecration there remaineth no substance of bread and wine, nor any other substance but the substance of Christ, God and man;
    • Secondly, that communion in both kinds is not necessary ad salutem, by the law of God, to all persons; and that it is to be believed, and not doubted of, but that in the flesh, under the form of the bread, is the very blood; and with the blood, under the form of the wine, is the very flesh; as well apart, as though they were both together.
    • Thirdly, that priests after the order of priesthood received, as afore, may not marry, by the law of God.
    • Fourthly, that vows of chastity or widowhood, by man or woman made to God advisedly, ought to be observed by the law of God; and that it exempts them from other liberties of Christian people, which without that they might enjoy.
    • Fifthly, that it is meet and necessary that private masses be continued and admitted in this the King’s English Church and Congregation, as whereby good Christian people, ordering themselves accordingly, do receive both godly and goodly consolations and benefits; and it is agreeable also to God’s law.
    • Sixthly, that auricular confession is expedient and necessary to be retained and continued, used and frequented in the Church of God
  • The Act of the Six Articles of June 1539 led to many reformers, Coverdale included, going into exile to escape persecution. Coverdale’s former mentor, Robert Barnes, was executed for heresy in July 1540, as was Thomas Cromwell. England was not safe for Coverdale. He fled to Strasbourg, where he stayed for three years, translating and writing tracts. He returned to England in 1548, during the reign of Edward VI.  The death of the Protestant Edward VI saw Coverdale put under house arrest when Mary I came to the throne, and losing his bishopric. The King of Denmark intervened to have Coverdale released, and in 1555 he went into exile, spending a few weeks in Denmark before heading to Bergzaben, then Aarau in Switzerland and finally Geneva.
  • Coverdale returned to England in 1559, in Elizabeth I’s reign, and began preaching. In 1564 he accepted the living of St Magnus the Martyr by London Bridge, but resigned in the summer of 1566. He carried on preaching, though, and died immediately after standing in for a preacher at the church of St Magnus the Martyr in London.
  • Thomas Cromwell, King Henry’s chief minister, needed a way to mass produce the “Matthew’s Bible” in order to get it into every church in England.  But because it was the finished work of William Tyndale, it ran the risk of backlash from the parishes that opposed Tyndale.
  • However, Cromwell had two things on his side.  He had the king’s license to print an English Bible, and he had the support of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterberry who called Matthew’s Bible the best translation in English he’d seen.
  • So with the king’s backing, the archbishop’s support, but facing backlash from Tyndale haters, Cromwell hired Miles Coverdale to produce a Bible funded and published by the king in order to get it into all the parishes in England.
  • Cromwell’s death: “Many have slandered me, and reported that I have been a bearer of such as I have maintained evil opinions; which is untrue: but I confess, that like as God, by His Holy Spirit, doth instruct us in the truth, so the devil is ready to seduce us; and I have been seduced.”  He also committed his soul to Christ and announced he would hope and trust in “Christ’s merciful goodness.” Then he knelt and endured one of the most gruesome and butchered Tudor executions on record.
  • Coverdale would say to a Catholic priest who said the scriptures were only supposed to be in Latin, The Holy Ghost is the author of the scriptures whether they be in Hebrew, Latin, Greek, English, Dutch, or German.

Irony of the Great Bible

  • It was the first complete Bible published in England.  All other English translations were being published in France or Germany and moved into England.
  • The same king Henry VIII who had William Tyndale strangled and burned at the stake for making the scriptures available in English, was the same king who published the Great Bible 3 years later.