History of English Bible Translation 11 The Great Bible 1539

History of the English Bible - Chapter 11 

Bible Translation Timeline Great Bible1539 The "Great Bible"

The First English Language Bible Authorized for Public Use.English Bible History

Although the Coverdale and Matthew Bibles were "set forth with the King's most gracious license," the Great Bible was the first "authorized" Bible - that is, commissioned by the King.

Thomas Cranmer Archbishop of Canterbury convinced the King to commission an authorized English version.  Thomas Cromwell, Secretary to Henry VIII, delegated the work of revising the Matthew Bible and its protestant footnotes to Myles Coverdale. The Great Bible includes, with very slight revision, the New Testament and the Old Testament portions that had been translated by William Tyndale.

In 1538, Cromwell directed the clergy to provide:

"…one book of the bible of the largest volume in English, and the same set up in some convenient place within the said church that ye have care of, whereas your parishioners may most commodiously resort to the same and read it."

At the foot of the title page appeared the words,

"This is the Bible appointed to the use of the churches." 

It became the first English Bible authorized for public use, as it was distributed to every church, chained to the pulpit, and a reader was even provided so that the illiterate could hear the Word of God in plain English.

Printing Begins

The first edition was a run of 2,500 copies that were begun in Paris in 1539.  At one point, some of the printed sheets were seized by the French authorities on grounds of heresy.  Relations between England and France were somewhat troubled at this time.  The publication was completed in London in April 1539, but was quickly followed by a somewhat revised edition in 1540. It went through six subsequent revisions between 1540 and 1541.  The page you see here is from 1541.

Other Names

Although called the Great Bible because of its large size, it is known by several other names as well. It was called the Cromwell Bible, since Thomas Cromwell directed its publication. It was also termed the Cranmer Bible, since Thomas Cranmer wrote the preface as well as convinced the King to commission an authorized version.  Cranmer's preface was also included in the front of the Bishops' Bible.  It was also called the Chained Bible, since it was chained in "some convenient place within the said church."

In 1555, Thomas Cranmer was burned at the stake during Queen Mary’s rampage against Protestantism.

The Great Bible Leaf