The Breeches Bible

"Breeches Bible" is a book-collectors' term for the Geneva Bible of 1560. The term derives from the reference in Genesis iii: 7 to Adam and Eve clothing themselves in "breeches" made from fig leaves.

The Geneva Bible was one of the results of the persecution under "Bloody Mary" (1553-1558). Several of the Protestant reformers had fled to Geneva, Switzerland, the home of Beza, the Biblical scholar, and of Calvin, the theologian. Geneva was a free city, politically and religiously, dominated by Calvinism, the "cradle of the Reformed Faith." There had been no translation for 20 years, and the 5 revisions issued in the reign of Henry VIII were practically the work of two men, Tyndale and Coverdale. These scholarly exiled reformers, with Cloverdale, who was then living in Geneva, John Knox, and others desired a translation corrected strictly by the Hebrew and Greek, and which might be brought up more to the new standards of scholarship, and might have more of a Protestant flavor.

The New Testament appeared in 1557, and was probably the product of one man, William Whittingham, an Englishman of great learning, and related to Calvin by marriage. It was a revision of Tyndale's (1525), with an introduction by Calvin. It was the first to use the division of the text into verses. The version of the entire Bible appeared in 1560, the work of English exiled reformers, assisted by Beza, Calvin, and possibly others. The Old Testament was based mainly upon the Great Bible (1539), and the New Testament upon Whittingham's. All were revised from a careful collation of Hebrew and Greek originals, with the use of Latin versions, especially Beza's, and the standard French and German versions. It was dedicated to Queen Elizabeth, who had assumed the throne in 1558, "In bold and simple language, without flattery or reserve". It used the verse divisions and italics, and was the first to omit the Apocrypha. The type was changed from the black letter to the simple Roman type, and the book was small and handy. The explanatory notes were concise and sensible, somewhat Calvinistic in creed and government, but without controversial bitterness.

When the Geneva Bible appeared in England (1560), Queen Elizabeth accepted the dedication, but was cautious. She was interested in the Renaissance more than the Reformation, and wished to be careful to favor "neither Papist nor Gospeller". She desired to be Queen of England, not of any party. Yet the Geneva Version, being so much better than the Great Bible, and backed by the names of the great reformers, Knox, Calvin, Beza, and others, became very popular in England, especially among the common people. She gave silent consent to its distribution and use. It was issued as late as 1644 (33 years after the first King Jame's Version of 1611), and ran through more than 160 editions.

The only Gospeller at the time was the Lollard movement in England. Today the Gospel is preached throughout the world.

London 1594

This page has been accessed: since November 27, 1997

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