The following paragraphs are taken from the article "English Versions" by Sir Frederic G. Kenyon in the Dictionary of the Bible edited by James Hastings, and published by Charles Scribner's Sons of New York in 1909.

The Geneva Bible (1557-1560)

Geneva was the place at which the next link in the chain was to be forged. Already famous, through the work of Beza, as a center of Biblical scholorship, it became the rallying place of the more advanced members of the Protestant party in exile, and under the strong rule of Calvin it was identified with Puritanism in its most rigid form. Puritanism, in fact, was here consolidated into a living and active principle, and demonstrated its stength as a motive power in the religious and social life of Europe. It was by a relative of Calvin, and under his own patronage, that the work of improving the English translation of the Bible was once more taken in hand. This was William Whittingham, a Fellow of All Souls' College, Oxford, and subsequently dean of Durham, who in 1557 published the New Testament at Geneva in a small octavo volume, the handiest form in which the English Scriptures had yet been given to the world. In two other respects also this marked an epoch in the history of the English Bible. It was the first version to be printed in roman type, and the first in which the division of the text into numbered verses (originally made by Robert Stephanus for his Greaco-Latin Bible of 1551) was introduced. A preface was contributed by Calvin himself. The translator claims to have made constant use of the original Greek and of translations in other tongues, and he added a full marginal commentary. If the matter had ended there, as the work of a single scholar on one part of the Bible, it would probably have left little mark; but it was at once made the basis of a revised version of both Testaments by a group of Puritan scholars. The details of the work are not recorded, but the principal workers, apart from Whittingham himself, appear to have been Thomas Sampson, formerly dean of Chichester, and afterwards dean of Christ Church, and A. Gilby, of Christ's College, Cambridge. A version of the Psalter was issued in 1559 [the only two extant copies of it belong to the Earl of Ellesmere and Mr. Aldis Wright], and in 1560 the complete Bible was given to the world, with the imprint of Rowland Hall, at Geneva. The Psalter in this was the same as that of 1559; but the New Testament had been largely revised since 1557. The book was a moderate-sized quarto, and contained a dedication to Elizabeth, an address to the brethren at home, the books of the Old Testament (including Apocrypha) and New Testament in the same order as in the Great Bible and our modern Bibles, copious marginal notes (those to the New Testament taken from Whittingham with some additions), and an apparatus of maps and woodcuts. In type and verse-division it followed the example of Whittingham's New Testament.

The Genevan revisers took the Great Bible as their basis in the Old Testament, and Matthew's Bible (i.e. Tyndale) in the New Testament. For the former they had the assistance of the Latin Bible of Leo Juda (1544), in addition to Pagninus (1527), and they were in consultation with the scholars (including Calvin and Beza) who were then engaged at Geneva in a similar work of revision of the French Bible. In the New Testament their principal guide was Beza, whose reputation stood highest among all the Biblical scholars of the age. The result was a version which completely distanced its predecessors in scholarship, while in style and vocabulary it worthily carried on the great tradition established by Tyndale. Its success was as decisive as it was well deserved; and in one respect it met a want which none of its predecessors (except perhaps Tyndale's) had attempted to meet. Coverdale's, Matthew's, and the Great Bible were all large folios, suitable for use in church, but unsuited both in size and in price for private possession and domestic study. The Geneva Bible, on the contrary, was moderate in both respects, and achieved instant and long-enduring popularity as the Bible for personal use. For a full century it continued to be the Bible of the people, and it was upon this version, and not upon that of King James, that the Bible knowledge of the Puritans of the Civil War was built up. Its notes furnished them with a full commentary on the sacred text, predominantly horatory or monitory in character, but Calvinistic in general tone, and occasionally definitely polemical. Over 160 editions of it are said to have been issued, but the only one which requires separate notice is a revision of the New Testament by Laurence Thomson in 1576, which carried still further the principle of deference to Beza; this revised New Testament was successful, and was frequently bound up with the Genevan Old Testament in place of the edition of 1560.

Frederic G. Kenyon

Continue with the article: The Bishops' Bible.