Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Geneva Bible of 1559

One of the advertisements which I receive regularly on the internet is for the Geneva Bible of 1559. It is touted as the version of the Bible brought to America by the Puritans and consequently as the Bible not only of the Reformation but also of the American Revolution. It is a clever sales idea, but as an Anglican one that I must reject. Why? Because one of the things which an American child is quite unlikely to learn in the government schools is that the major leaders of the American revolution and the writing of the Constitution were not members of the denominations, but Anglicans. And that would make the real Bible of the American Revolution and the American founding precisely The Authorized Version of 1611, commonly called the King James version.

Since most American know very little of English history even as most Britons know very little of American history, it is probably time that we run through the facts. One of the great myths of American history is that the Pilgrims who came to what is now Massachusetts in 1620 were coming to this country for purposes of religious freedom. Absolutely nothing could be farther from the truth. For some period of time these folk had been living in Amsterdam and not in England, and in the Dutch states they had every bit of religious liberty which they could have desired. They didn't like it. Why? Because the freedom of Amsterdam threatened the absolutist ideas of this little group. They were afraid that in the middle of all that freedom their children would wander away from their version of the "True Faith." Hence their choice to come to America where they could set up their own little version of a religiously totalitarian state which allowed of no freedom of religion to anyone whose views or faith differed from their own. We face a similar situation today in that the very political and ideological heirs of the Puritans have done their best to control the levers of public opinion and admit no orthodoxy except their own.

A few years later with the Cromwellian revolution and the overthrow of both the monarchy and the Church of England, the same experiment was tried in England. It did not take very long for the majority of the English to decide that they didn't like it and the king returned from exile in 1660 and both the monarchy and the Church were restored. That meant a return to the services of the English Book of Common Prayer and the use of the King James version of the English Bible. And it was this version of both prayer book and Bible that a clear majority of the leaders of the American Revolution were raised on. The result was that when the Declaration of Independence was adopted two thirds of those who signed it were Anglicans. And the convention in Philadelphia which wrote the American Constitution was comprised of fifty per cent Anglicans plus one. There was another nominal Anglican but he was one of the two delegates to that convention who were deists.

One of the great American myths generally told by persons of a certain political persuasion is that the framers of the American system of government were deists and not Christians. These are the people who in fact hate the Church and hate Christianity, because the faith of English Christians has always led them to demand greater freedom for ordinary people. Take that first great document of liberty, the Magna Carta. The leader of the Baron's revolt against King John was none other than the archbishop of Canterbury and the place where it is easiest to see an original copy of that great document is at Salisbury Cathedral. By modern standards it was not much, but it contained that magical phrase, "the Church of England shall be free." John Lackland had attempted to sell it to the papacy.

One of the features of the Geneva Bible is the included commentaries. Rather than giving the reader the freedom to "read, mark, learn and inwardly digest" the text of Holy Scripture, these commentaries told the reader what the Scriptures meant and what he was to believe. And of course it was an interpretation heavily slanted from a continental Calvinist view. Among the reasons that King James authorized a new translation of the Bible based upon the best available Hebrew and Greek manuscripts was precisely the political and religious slant of these commentaries. He and the Church of England wanted a text that was the most faithful to the meaning of the original without the inclusion of later opinions.

In modern America we have a like situation in that we have people telling us what the Constitution means which is frequently almost the precise opposite of what the text actually says.

The point of this, if there is one, is that the English Church and her daughters who have been and remain true to the faith of the Bible and the prayer book as we have received it, that is to the 'doctrine, discipline and worship' of the Catholic and Christian church as Jesus handed it over to the apostles and they in turn to the sub apostolic Church is the greatest guarantor of human freedom and dignity which the world has ever know. Those who strike out at the faith and practice of the prayer book are also striking out at the very dignity and freedom of every man. One of the doctrines of the framers of the American Constitution and government was that we receive our rights, not from government but from God. And that is a doctrine which they learned both from the Bible, the Authorized Version, and from the Book of Common Prayer.

14 comments:

Dr.D said...

I too receive these advertisements for the Geneva Bible. I got one just a few days ago, and it occurred to me that I already have the text in my electronic Bible. I went to have a look at it there. For a present day reader of American English, this would be difficult sledding to say the least. People complain about the "archaic language" of the KJV, but they ain't seen nothin' till they get to the Geneva Bible!

Like most business ventures, the Geneva Bible thing has absolutely nothing to do with spreading the Christian faith, and everything to do with looking for a niche market. I am sure that it is long out of copyright, so the text is available without that cost (of course, KJV is also). It is "something different," and that is hoped to give it special appeal, cachet, as it were. People out to make a fast buck.

Canon Tallis said...

The only difficulty I have with it is the advertisements for it. The idea that Bible of Calvinists was the Bible of the American Revolutionists is so plainly non historical that I am probably more upset than I should be. However I understand that it is part and parcel of the war upon the South that has taken place since Lincoln. The folks in Massachusetts and New York who made the real money in the slave trade don't want people reminded that slavery was not the real issue in the South's desire for Independence.

The Midland Agrarian said...

Great Post Canon Tallis!

BTW, I think by 1775 most Calvinists had changed to the Authorized Version. I am pretty sure the Kirk of Scotland had, which would have influenced the American Presbyterians.

LizBeth said...

"One of the doctrines of the framers of the American Constitution and government was that we receive our rights, not from government but from God." Absolutely!

Will said...

A very good post, Canon Tallis! This post on "The Religion of the Founding Fathers of America" documents that over HALF of the Founders were Anglican/Episcopalian - and I think you are right that the overhyped claims about the Deism of the Founders is simply propaganda, more or less.

Canon Tallis said...

Will, thank you very much for the web site which I have now bookmarked. One of my instructors in university did a book on the religion of the men who were delegates to the Constitutional Convention. I have it someplace in my book shelves but haven't seen it in some time. Anyway, he went through everyone of them and counted them out.

The reason for the push to have us believe that our framers were Deists instead of the traditional Christians that they were is simply the Anti-Christian agenda of the left, an agenda which we have to identify and comply destroy. That may sound harsh, but when you realize what these people actually want to do to ordinary people, then you realize that we, the ordinary people, have a right to defend ourselves from those who intend to loot and burn and live very high on the hog indeed on the fruit of our labors. They also want their supporting bureaucrats to live much better than we are able to do.

The reason I believe this is wrong is both the Ten Commandments, i.e., Thou shall not steal, and the story of the government of Solomon's rotten son. Elected officials and government employees should receive no more than the medium income of those they govern and represent. It should not be a path to becoming as filthy rich as one of my cousins.

And, yes, every family has skeletons in the closet. We just have more than others.

Again, thank you for the web site.

Rappahannock Rev said...

I'm not certain that Thomas Jefferson was a deist or not -- but to claim him as an Episcopalian/Anglican is, well, misleading, at best. Thomas Jefferson almost single-handledly destroyed the Anglican Church in Virginia.

Canon Tallis said...

Dear Rev',

First, congratulations on you ordination to the diaconate. I am sorry from the photograph that the bishop seems to know nothing of Anglican ceremonial for ordinations. But there can be no question as to validity = in spite of the Roman insanity.

Secondly, while Jefferson was certainly a deist and believed as expressed in his letters to John Adams that the futre religion of this country would be Unitarian Universalist, I don't think it was he who destroyed Anglicanism in Virginia. Instead it was the fact that before the revolution the priests were doing very well from the tax on tobacco, but when they had to depend upon the offerings of their parishioners things did not go so well. Also, and I would have to recheck my facts, but I believe that Virginia was one of those places where the priests fled either to Canada or to the UK leaving very few to continue the administration of the sacraments.

I do know that that parish of my family from just after the 1620's went Baptist from the lack of a priest to man the pulpit and the altar. It would appear that the laity were very ill instructed. Please remember than in your ministry.

But you are certainly right in that Jefferson was not a good churchman.

Rappahannock Rev said...

Your congratulations on my diaconal ordination are appreciated; and let me hasten to say that the ordination photo slapped into my blog was a generic -- no actual photography was permitted during my ordination….

It seems to me that the fundamental problem with the established Church in Colonial Virginia was that it was, on the one hand, established – with all that establishment entails – and yet functioned, on the other hand, impossibly remote from proper Episcopal oversight and support!

Several modern studies have done a persuasive job of rehabilitating the individual colonial Virginia clergymen. They really were a pretty good and conscientious lot (and not so many fled as you might think, when the Revolution came!) But their position was weak, weak, weak – and impossible to sustain over the long haul.

The Virginia clergy, for all-too-human social and practical reasons, aligned themselves with the Virginia gentry, and were dependent upon the gentry, and thus held in low esteem by the gentry. (In the English manner, no ?) As you suggest, this weakness left the clergy vulnerable “when things did not go so well….” And it was precisely the gentry connection which, in an increasingly mobile and unstable society, put off the working folk, who turned to the Baptists in the Tidewater and the Piedmont, and to the Presbyterians in the Great Valley and the Southwest….

When the crunch (and the Revolution) finally came, neither the gentry nor the working folk felt it necessary to stand up for the established Church. The gentry didn’t need it; the working folk had abandoned it. Alas! The fault of the clergy? Perhaps…. (Maybe things would have been different had there been a Bishop of Williamsburg….)

But it was “St. Thomas of Cantingbury” (as John Randolph called him) who pulled the trigger, make no mistake.

He engineered the fact of disestablishment in the cause of “Religious Freedom” – and he did so deliberately and delightedly, knowing perfectly well that disestablishment would ruin the Church in Virginia. And it did.

The clergy ceased to exercise the useful social/charitable/civic roles they had exercised for generations, their public support was cut off; the glebe lands were taken away…. Call to mind Thomas Cromwell’s spoliation of the English abbeys in the 1600s? It should!

It took two generations for the Church to revive in Virginia, and when it did it was a very different sort of Church.

Basta. Pax.

Canon Tallis said...

Jefferson's work would truly make him a father of the current political insanity. Fortunately the First Amendment does not reflect nor require his views, albeit a number of liberal jurists would seem to think so.

I am sorry to read that the bishop did not allow photography during the service. The Romans have us on that one as they seem to know that the ceremonies of the Church posted on YouTube and other places are profoundly evangelical.

That to which I was objecting was the current Roman practice of a full prostration of the candidate for holy orders. First, it is a violation of the Nicene canons which are reflected in the ceremonial ordered or implied by the rubrics of the prayer book ordinals. But entirely too many of our number believe that to show ourselves truly Catholic we must imitate Rome in all its innovations rather than in returning to the practices of the earliest fathers.

Actually, whatever happened in Virginia during the period just prior, during and after the Revolution is something which we may never unravel. The major supporters of the Declaration of Independence as well as the writers of the Constitution were good churchmen. But the connection of the episcopate with the British crown may have done them damage just as a general reaction to all things British. Jefferson, of course, was in France during the writing of the Constitution which gave us a form of government originally modeled on the Convocations of Canterbury and York.

Certainly hatred of the Southern gentry who were probably the closest thing which we had to a native aristocracy persisted for a very long time afterwards. It was even a very significant factor in the war against Southern independence as the South was the richest section of the country and the chief source of income for the federal government through tariffs. Since my family came to Virginia before 1620 I have always wanted to go back and look over the land which he was granted along the Charles River.

Anonymous said...

1) It is a 100 percent historical fact that the Church of England wrote the Authorized Version of 1611 (otherwise known as KJV). King James I, the head of the Church of England, appointed 47 members of the Church of England to write the KJV.

2) It was also the Church of England that wrote the first modern version ever; the Revised Version of 1885. (The Church of England had just wrote the Westcott-Hort's critical text of 1881 4 years ago).

Ever since then, thousands of modern versions have been based on the Church of England's critical text of 1881 that is based on the Roman Catholic's codex vaticanus and sinaiticus.

Conclusion: KJV and modern versions are both the products of the Church of England. The Church of England as of recent, has officially joined with the Roman Catholic Church- or at least greatly desires to (remember? King Henry VIII broke off). That being so, let the Church of England's properties (including KJV, critical text of 1881, Revised Version, and all other modern versions) be officially declared and manifested as the Pope's delight. The Pope is the Antichrist.

Need I also to point out that the Church of England exercised violence against the Geneva Bible printing press all the way up to year 1644? When the Geneva Bible began disappearing towards the late 17th century, people complained that they could not see into the sense of the scriptures anymore. That certainly says a lot for the Authorized Version. Consider also that morals are at an all-time low today with the KJVs/modern versions.

Benton H Marder said...

The Tolle Lege edition of Geneva is of the 1599, which involves a revision of the 1560 NT and fresh set of notes, specially to Revelation. This is a setting in modern typography and spelling..The 1560 now in print is a Hendrickson reprint of the University of Wisconsin facsimile, which is old typography and spelling.
I read Geneva for the text, not the notes.

Hendrickson has also done a facsimile of the Matthews Bible, which is Henrician. This is whatever Tydale did of NT and OT with the rest, including the Apocrypha, from Coverdale. This is set in black-letter and old spelling.
Familiarity with the pre-AV texts is useful to all of us.
Any Anglicans that wish to really understand the Puritans do well to know Geneva.
Hendrickson also did a facsimile of the Tyndale NT of 1526.
These old translations make excellent ordination Testaments and Bibles. A fascinating set of windows into our past.
Hendrickson now also does an old spelling edition of the AV, which is the most affordable AV with Apocrypha now available.
There is also the New Cambridge Paragraph Bible, which is a restoration of the original AV text I commend all these.

The colonial Church had a great dislike of the idea of bishops derived from the way the Church operated in England. It took quite a bit of doing to tolerate the very idea of having them.

In +, Benton

Fr. David said...

I believe that King James I established a commission to translate from the original Hebrew and Greek and not to "write" a new Bible. King James considered the Geneva Bible to be a guttural work. That being said, our Prayer Book Psalter is from the Coverdale translation and/or other pre-Authorized Versions. There is an excellent translation called the New Millennium Bible which is the AV with some of the more archaic words replaced and it does contain the Apocrypha. Much better than the New King James Version.

Benton H Marder said...

The recent reprints of Geneva and the other pre-AV translations remind me of the enormous cottage industry of special editions of the Bible for every sort and condition. All these editions have specialised sets of notes plus the plethora of translations. Scots Jemmy really objected to the Genevan notes, by the way. They didn't toe the line about the divine right of kings, y'see---and that was very high on Jemmy's list of priorities.
Geneva, by the way, was the first English Bible directly translated throughout from the Hebrew and Greek. O, would that Tyndale had been spared to finish his work! David Daniell mourns thatTyndale didn't get to translate Job, among others.
Due to the 'mass only' situation, I suspect that our people hardly hear any other version (Good, bad, indifferent) than the AV from the Altar Service or the missals. I simply don't know now what is commonly used for Mattins and Evensong in the CC. Or, what is used for Bible studies. Years ago, Fr Clinton Blake suggested that, for a Bible study, we use a translation we normally don't use. For this, I like to use Geneva, or Tyndale. I'd use the Matthews now if the occasion came about.
Perhaps this comment section might lead to a discussion of the modern translations of all stripes. The CC might find such a discussion useful should it be desired that the canons on allowable translations require revision. I personally don't care to use 'You-God' translations or their like. Of course, we all could learn our Hebrew & Greek---or use the likes of Luther's translation or other languages we each read.

In +,
Bentoncogianta