"All but forgotten today, the Geneva Bible was the most widely read and influential English Bible of the 16th and 17th centuries. It was one of the Bibles taken to America on the Mayflower.
Mary I was Queen of England and Ireland from 1553 until her death in 1558. Her executions of Protestants caused her opponents to give her the sobriquet "Bloody Mary." It was her persecution that caused the Marian Exile which drove 800 English scholars to the European continent, where a number of them gathered in Geneva, Switzerland. There a team of scholars led by William Whittingham, and assisted by Miles Coverdale, Christopher Goodman, Anthony Gilby, John Knox, and Thomas Sampson, produced The Geneva Bible, based on Greek and Hebrew manuscripts and a revision of William Tyndale's New Testament, which first appeared in 1526. The Geneva Bible New Testament was published in 1557, with the complete Bible appearing in 1560.
A superb translation, it was the product of the best Protestant scholars of the day and became the Bible of choice for many of the greatest writers and thinkers of that time. Men such as William Shakespeare, John Bunyan, and John Milton used the Geneva Bible in their writings.
The Geneva Bible is unique among all other Bibles. It was the first Bible to use chapters and numbered verses and became the most popular version of its time because of its extensive marginal notes. These notes, written by Reformation leaders including John Calvin and others, were intended to help explain and interpret the Scriptures for the average reader.
With its variety of scriptural study guides and aids—which included cross-reference verse citations, introductions to each book of the Bible, maps, tables, woodcut illustrations, indexes, and other features—the Geneva Bible is regarded as history's first study Bible.
In 2006, Tolle Lege Press released a version of the 1599 Geneva Bible with modern spellings as part of its 1599 Geneva Bible restoration project. The original cross references were retained as well as the study notes by the Protestant Reformation leaders. In addition, the Old English glossary was included in the updated version."
Why then do so many conservative churches only support the King James Version of the Bible (which has been updated and refreshed in modern language many times)? The Geneva version was filled with explanations and notes--it was a study Bible--which questioned the authority of the monarch. You can see why it was so popular with the colonialists who had left England in search of religious freedom.
"Recognizing that the Geneva Bible and its notes were undermining the authority of the monarchy, King James I of England commissioned the "Authorized Version," commonly known as the King James Bible, as its replacement. The King James Version did not include any of the inflammatory footnotes, of course, but it also altered key translations to make them seem more favorable to episcopal and monarchial forms of government.
But the people were not fooled. The Pilgrims and Puritans preferred the Geneva Bible over the King James Bible, not trusting the king's purported good faith. The Geneva Bible was brought over on the Mayflower, and it is not an exaggeration to say that the Geneva translation and footnotes were the biblical foundation for the American Republic. . .
. . . If it is worthwhile to read Shakespeare and Milton, then it is worthwhile to read the Bible that informed the minds of Shakespeare and Milton. If it is worthwhile to preserve our American Republic, then it is worthwhile to draw fresh inspiration from the book that ended the age of kings. . .
. . . The 1599 Geneva Bible -- has "modern typography and spelling. All of the original footnotes are there. The original translation is there. Every word that put fire in the bellies of Reformers and Patriots is included."
The 1560 Geneva Bible was the first to have Bible chapters divided into numbered verses. The translation is the work of religious leaders exiled from England after the death of King Edward VI in 1553. Almost every chapter has marginal notes to create greater understanding of scripture. The marginal notes often reflected Calvinistic and Protestant reformation influences, not yet accepted by the Church of England. King James I in the late 16th century pronounced the Geneva Bible marginal notes as being: "partial, untrue, seditious, and savouring of dangerous and traitorous conceits." In every copy of each edition the word "breeches" rather than "aprons" was used in Genesis 3:7, which accounts for why the Geneva Bible is sometime called the "Breeches" Bible. The Church of England never authorized or sanctioned the Geneva Bible. However, it was frequently used, without authority, both to read the scripture lessons, and to preach from. It was pre-eminent as a household Bible, and continued so until the middle of the 17th century. The convenient size, cheap price, chapters divided into numbered verses and extensive marginal notes were the cause of it's popularity.
A THREAT TO KING JAMES
- In 1620 the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth with their Bibles and a conviction derived from those Bibles of establishing a new nation. The Bible was not the King James Version. When James I became king of England in 1603, there were two translations of the Bible in use; the Geneva Bible was the most popular, and the Bishops' Bible was used for reading in churches.
King James disapproved of the Geneva Bible because of its Calvinistic leanings. He also frowned on what he considered to be seditious marginal notes on key political texts. A marginal note for Exodus 1:9 indicated that the Hebrew midwives were correct in disobeying the Egyptian king's orders, and a note for 2 Chronicles 15:16 said that King Asa should have had his mother executed and not merely deposed for the crime of worshipping an idol. The King James Version of the Bible grew out of the king's distaste for these brief but potent doctrinal commentaries. He considered the marginal notes to be a political threat to his kingdom.
At a conference at Hampton Court in 1604 with bishops and theologians, the king listened to a suggestion by the Puritan scholar John Reynolds that a new translation of the Bible was needed. Because of his distaste for the Geneva Bible, James was eager for a new translation. "I profess," he said, "I could never yet see a Bible well translated in English; but I think that, of all, that of Geneva is the worst."
A THREAT TO ROME
- In addition to being a threat to the king of England, the Geneva Bible was outspokenly anti-Roman Catholic, as one might expect. Rome was still persecuting Protestants in the sixteenth century. Keep in mind that the English translators were exiles from a nation that was returning to the Catholic faith under a queen who was burning Protestants at the stake. The anti-Roman Catholic sentiment is most evident in the Book of Revelation: "The beast that cometh out of the bottomless pit (Rev. 11:7) is the Pope, which hath his power out of hell and cometh thence." In the end, the Geneva Bible was replaced by the King James Version, but not before it helped to settle America.