Our Collection: History of the Bible (Geneva and Bishop’s)


With the death of King Henry VIII came a period of religious turmoil in England. Edward VI promoted the Great Bible and the Reforming movement.  His years as king saw two new translations of the Bible: the Cheke version and Bishop Becke’s Bible.  Edward VI reigned from 1538 until 1553, when Mary Tudor came to power.  Mary was anti-Reformation, and executed many of the men associated with the translation of the Bible, such as John Rogers and Thomas Cranmer.  Foxe’s Martyrologies show that during her reign, many Bibles were burned, but it is unclear whether that was done under her command. Mary died in 1558, and Queen Elizabeth came to power.  Elizabeth once again reversed what the previous ruler had done, and promoted the Reformation.  Under her reign the 1560 Bible known as the Geneva Bible came to be.

The Geneva Bible closely resembles Tyndale’s New Testament and a revision of the Great Bible’s Old Testament.  It did include the Apocrypha, although the translators made sure to mention that certain things in the Apocrypha should not be imitated.  One of the most unique facets of the Geneva Bible are the notes left by the translators.  These notes are Calvinistic in doctrine, anti-Roman, and anti-Pope. The Geneva Bible gained quick popularity, however, it was too radical for Elizabeth’s taste.  In 1561, Archbishop Matthew Parker and other bishops began to revise the Great Bible.  Seven years later, the “Bishop’s Bible” was put into circulation.  Although it superseded the Great Bible, it was never formally recognized by the queen, perhaps because she preferred the Geneva Bible.

Our Collection:

We are blessed to have a copy of the Bishop’s Bible, as well as several copies of the Geneva Bible.


This is an original 1608 Geneva Bible.  Other copies at BYUI-SPC include an original 1576 copy, a pirated edition from 1629, and a 1614 as well as a 1615 edition.  As this was the most popular version of the Bible for many years, it is not surprising that we have so many copies.  Come visit us at Special Collections (room 220 in the McKay Library) to see why this Bible is one of our favorites!

  1. The English Bible, A History of Translations.  Frederick F. Bruce.  1961.  Oxford University Press, New York.

Our Collection: History of the Bible (Coverdale, Matthew, and the Great Bible)


Myles Coverdale was a York native, graduated from Cambridge, and served as a friar before learning of the Reformation.  Impressed by the Reformation movement, Coverdale worked as an assistant to William Tyndale for a while.  In October 1535, Coverdale’s Bible was printed.  This was the first complete Bible in English.  The Bible was printed in continental Europe and imported to England.  Those copies that were sent to England were given a dedication to King Henry VIII.  Coverdale’s translation (which incorporated much, if not using all, of Tyndale’s translation) was examined by bishops and found to not be heretic.  It was given the King’s approval and allowed to be spread through England.  After the death of Anne Boleyn, Coverdale’s Bible fell out of favor and was not greatly used in English life.  Coverdale’s Bible introduced chapter-summaries and separated the books of the Apocrypha from the Old Testament.

Myles Coverdale. Image credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myles_Coverdale

In 1537, a new Bible was printed by one Thomas Matthew.  Matthew was John Rogers’ pseudonym.  This Bible was given the King’s approval and the licence to be sold and read without danger.  Matthew’s Bible was mainly composed of Tyndale’s translation of the New Testament and the first several books of the Old, and also used Coverdale’s translation of the rest of the Old Testament.

The general opinion of the English Bible had greatly changed in the years between Tyndale and Matthew.  Thomas Cromwell and King Henry VIII decided that the Matthew Bible should be revised and placed in each church.  Coverdale was entrusted with this revision, and in April of 1539, the Great Bible appeared.  The Great Bible is also called The Byble in Englyshe, and was most often published in large volumes called Pulpit Bibles.  These Pulpit Bibles would often be literally chained to pulpits.  While the Great Bible was growing in popularity, the King passed a law forbidding anyone to use or possess Tyndale or Coverdale’s Bible.  However, the Great Bible (composed of Tyndale and Coverdale’s work) continued being accepted in England after the King’s death in 1547.

Our Collection:

IMG_2533[1] IMG_2531[1]

This is our copy of the 1566 Great Bible, or Byble in Englyshe.  Some additional trivia about this edition of the Bible:  It was also known as the Cromwell Bible, Whitchurch’s Bible, the Chained Bible, and Cranmer’s Bible.

  1. The English Bible, A History of Translations.  Frederick F. Bruce.  1961.  Oxford University Press, New York.

**Special Collections is open again!  Come in to see the Great Bible or other copies of the Scriptures.  We are open M-F 9-5 and always excited to share our collection!

Our Collection: History of the Bible (Tyndale)


William Tyndale, was born in 1494 or 1495.  Experiences early in his life made him believe that the cause of most of the confusion in the Church was a general ignorance of the Scripture.  He realized that this ignorance was prevalent not only among the uneducated public, but also by the clergy.  Because of his proficiency in the Greek language, Tyndale felt that he could help correct this problem and sought permission to translate the Bible.  Unable to obtain this permission in England, he moved to Germany and began to translate there.  He began printing his first edition of the New Testament in Cologne, Germany in 1525.  Only ten sheets were printed before the printer was forbidden by the city senate to continue.  Tyndale took these pages and moved to Worms, Germany to complete the printing.   His first complete New Testament was printed in February of 1526 and began to be smuggled into England the next month.

Although Tyndale’s translation drew heavily from Luther’s, he didn’t want it to come off looking Lutheran.  At this time, Lutheranism was considered of the devil in England and drew persecution and prejudice wherever it went.  Although Tyndale used Luther’s Bible as a source, he drew more heavily from the Greek and Latin translations.  However, because those in authority knew that he was associated with Lutheranism, they would not allow Tyndale’s books to be used in England.

The Bishop of London, Cuthbert Tonstall, devised a plan to rid England of the Tyndale Bible.  He ordered owners of the Bible to give them to the Church, and bought as many copies as he could before they ever came to the country.  The Bibles that he collected were burned.  Although owners of the Bible were threatened with excommunication, it is a testament to how much they valued the Word of God that the threat of being disassociated with the Church did little to stop the circulation of the Bible.  Tyndale himself sold many copies of the Bible to the Bishop and used the money to print the next edition.  He had a fighter’s spirit and a firm conviction in what he was doing.  He once famously said, “I defy the Pope and all his laws.  If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the Scripture than thou dost.”1

Burning was not the only way that Tyndale’s Bible was attacked; leaders of the Church began to attest that Tyndale’s New Testament was not really the New Testament.  One man, a scholar named Thomas More, went so far as to say, “It was not worthy to be called Christ’s testament, but either Tyndale’s own testament or the testament of his master Antichrist.”  Criticisms such as these were common: Tyndale once complained that if an i was left undotted, that simple mistake was counted as heresy.  However, he kept at his work, and in 1530 published the first five books of the Old Testament.

William Tyndale Statue

A statue of William Tyndale in Gloucestershire, England. Image source: http://www.blackhorse-northnibley.co.uk/tyndale.php


It is said that Tyndale also translated up to 2 Chronicles, but this was not published in his lifetime.  Tyndale had to halt his translation of the Old Testament to revise the New, because others were beginning to change his translation and pass it off as Tyndale’s original translation.  This infuriated Tyndale and inspired two revisions to be published.

Tyndale lived the last years of his life in Antwerp, a free city in the middle of Roman territory.  Tyndale was free in Antwerp, but were he to venture into the surrounding area he would be in danger of being accused of heresy.  On May 21, 1535, Tyndale was kidnapped and brought to the Roman territory of Vilvorde.  Men such as Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII attempted to release Tyndale, but were unsuccessful.  While imprisoned, Tyndale requested a Hebrew Bible and dictionary–he must have been anxious to continue translating the Old Testament.  It is unclear whether or not he was granted this privlege.  In August of 1536 Tyndale was tried and found guilty of heresy, and on October 6, 1536 was strangled and then burned at the stake.  His last words were, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.”1

Tyndale’s influence even at the moment of his death was beginning to spread:  a version of the English Bible was circulating with permission from King Henry VIII.  Tyndale’s dying prayer was beginning to be answered.1

Our Collection:


This facsimile edition of the Tyndale New Testament is a beautiful rendition of what the Tyndale Bible looked like when it was first printed.  Although Special Collections is home to many facsimiles such as this one, we are also privileged to house original items, such as the leafs below.


This is an original leaf from the 1537 printing of the Tyndale Bible.  This edition is special because it was the first to be printed after Tyndale’s death in 1536.

Bibles and other old books that are damaged are often separated into leafs rather than rebound as a way of allowing more than one person to have access to the original artifact.


This later edition of the Tyndale New Testament was printed in 1552.  These leafs, along with others, are available for research at the BYU-Idaho McKay library.  Appointments can be made by calling (208) 496-9540 or by emailing specialcollections@byui.edu

Information for this blog post was taken from the following source.

  1. The English Bible, A History of Translations.  Frederick F. Bruce.  1961.  Oxford University Press, New York.

Other sources for those interested in learning more about William Tyndale’s life and translation of the Bible include these books, available at our library:

  1. Tyndale: The man who gave God an English voice. David Teems.  2012.
  2. Fires of faith: the inspiring story behind the King James Bible.  Brock Bower.  2012.
  3. Fire in the Bones: William Tyndale, Martyr, Father of the English Bible. S. Michael Wilcox, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2004.


Our Collection: History of the Bible (Luther)


In 1515, an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther began to teach from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. While studying for these lectures, “I felt myself to be reborn….The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning….This passage of Paul became to me a gateway to heaven.”1  Luther felt that, after his study of the Scriptures, certain teachings in the Church were wrong.  In October of 1517 he nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the doors of the church in Wittenberg, Germany.  The Theses included points such as, “Thus those indulgence preachers are in error who say that a man is absolved from every penalty and saved by papal indulgences.”2  Papal plenary indulgences were a practice common to the time, in which a person could pay money or services in order to be absolved of guilt for sins.  Originally, these indulgences were given for sins previously committed, but grew to the point that people were paying to be forgiven of sins they were going to do in the future.3  This practice was one of Luther’s main issues with the church, as “Any truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without indulgence letters.”2  Luther’s Theses, more than any other writing or action, sparked the Reformation.1

Luther went on to publish more writings defying both the Pope and the Emperor.  Although the Pope threatened to excommunicate him and the Emperor banned and ordered his writings to be burned, making Luther an outlaw, and any and all supporters to be imprisoned, Luther’s influence raged on.  He stated that, “The Holy Scriptures and my conscience are my emperor.  I cannot, and will not, withdraw what I have said.  God help me.  Amen.”4  In 1521, Luther was in hiding and began his translation of the Bible.  He only had a few translations of the Bible to work with, but in four months finished the translation of the New Testament.  The first edition was printed in three thousand copies and was sold out in three months–although one copy cost enough to support a student for two months.  It was a criminal offense to buy Luther’s New Testament, but “Readers grasped at the book as though it were the only diet that could save them from starvation.  Perhaps in a sense it was.”4 Luther published seventeen corrected editions of the New Testament, and after twelve years of working on the Old Testament, was able to publish the entire Bible.  While attempting to translate the Old Testament, Luther only had a copy of the 1494 Vulgate and a 1488 Hebrew Bible.  It was a difficult task: Luther said that,

“We have often spent a fortnight, or even three or four weeks, over a single word.  We were working on Job, Master Philippus (Melanchthon), Aurogallus, and I, for four weeks before we had finished three lines.  Now that it is finished anybody can read it easily and smoothly, without ever stumbling over a word or a phrase, as though he were sliding over a polished floor.  Little does he realize how we sweated and strained to remove those obstacles which would have tripped him up.”4

Luther’s Bible united the German people, but caused a lot of debate.  One critic proclaimed that, “This is not the Bible.  It is a piece of outright heresy which seeks only to blaspheme against God and the Pope.”4 Joseph Smith said that Luther’s Bible was “the most correct that I have found.”5

Until Luther died in 1546 at the age of 62, he continued to improve his translation of the Bible.  He has been recognized and proclaimed as the greatest German who ever lived4, and to the end proclaimed that “I would rather lose my life and head than desert the crystal-clear word of God.”5

Our Collection:

So much is owed to Martin Luther, and we are blessed to have two Luther Bibles in our collection. 


The first is a 1665 German Bible with a Swiss dialect.  As the Luther Bible was brought throughout Europe, it was slightly changed to be more easily understood and this is one example of that.  This is an original and is on loan to our library.


This is a 1733 Luther Bible.  It is a beautiful copy of the original German, printed centuries after the original 1534 printing.  This is an original copy.

Information for this post was taken from the following sources.  To learn more about Martin Luther’s life, try and view these webpages or check out the books from the McKay Library.

  1. The English Bible, A History of Translations.  Frederick F. Bruce.  1961.  Oxford University Press, New York.
  2. Luther’s 95 Theses.  Retrieved from http://www.biblestudytools.com/history/creeds-confessions/luther-95-theses.html
  3. Indulgence.  Roman Catholicism.  Lawrence C. Duggam.  n.d. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/topic/indulgence
  4. 6,000 Years of the Bible.  G.S. Wegener.  1963.  Harper & Row, Publishers, Incorporated,  New York.
  5. Martin Luther–Defender of Justice and Seeker of the Truth.  Lawrence Cummins.  Retrieved from https://www.lds.org/friend/1984/10/martin-luther-defender-of-justice-and-seeker-of-truth?lang=eng

Our Collection: History of the Bible (Wycliffe, Gutenberg)


For nearly 1000 years, the Bible was only available in Latin.  Although once called the “Vulgate” or “Vulgar” (i.e. common) Bible because it was in the language of the people, the people’s language had changed.  Very few people actually spoke Latin: most of those who could understand the language were the clergy.  The need for an English Bible was growing.

In the late 1300’s, a man named John Wycliffe, along with several colleagues, began to translate the Bible into English.  He began by translating the Apocalypse (the book of Revelation), and then the Gospels.  The first complete translation of the English Bible was completed before his death in 1384.  The Wycliffe Bible is a literal translation from the Latin:  sometimes it was so literal that it was difficult to understand (source).  For example, Wycliffe translated the first paragraph of the Epistle to the Hebrews as,

“Manyfold and many maners sum tyme God spekinge to fadris in prophetis, at the laste in thes daies spak to us in the sone: whom he ordeynede eyr of alle thingis, by whom he made and the worldis.  The which whanne he is the schynynge of glorie and figure of his substaunce, and berynge alle thingis bi word of his vertu, makyng purgacioun of synnes, sittith on the righthalf of mageste in high thingis; so moche maad betere than aungelis, by how moche he hath inherited a more different, or excellent, name bifore hem.”1


This facsimile copy of the Wycliffe Bible is housed in Special Collections.

The second edition of the Wycliffe Bible, published shortly after his death in 1384, made a little more sense and was more widely accepted.  Sir Thomas More, the Lord Chancellor of England, declared in 1528 that it was Wycliffe’s translation that caused the ban on unauthorized versions of the Bible.1  The first translation of the English Bible began a revolution in religious history.

One of the most fascinating facets in the history of the Bible is how it was produced.  For centuries, the Bible (and any other book) had to be hand written.  Every copy of the Wycliffe Bible was painstakingly written.  It could take one monk up to a year to complete one edition of the Bible.  This fact contributed to the value of the Word of God, simply because the common person could not afford their own copy.  A major advancement in bringing the Bible to the masses was the invention of movable type.

The first recorded use of movable type was between 1041 and 1048, when a Chinese craftsman known as Bi Sheng made letters out of wood and pottery.  Johannes Gutenberg was the first to be credited with the invention, however, when in 1445 he printed for the first time.  Gutenberg printed his first Bible, a Latin Vulgate, in 1454.  He printed about 150 copies and sold very quickly.2

Our Collection

Gutenberg Bible (3)_jpg

We are fortunate enough here at Special Collections to have this facsimile (pictured above) of the Gutenberg Bible.  However, one of our most rare items is a leaf of an original Gutenberg Bible.  There are approximately 47 (depending on who you talk to) mostly complete copies of the Gutenberg Bible in existence today.  Our original leaf came from a single fragmentary copy of a Gutenberg Bible, which A. Edward Newton separated and put into 200+ specially made “leaf books” in 1921, enabling 200 people to own one leaf rather than having one person with a pile of 200 leaves.

Half Gutenberg

Come into Special Collections to learn more about the history of the Bible!  If you would be interested in learning more about John Wycliffe or Johannes Gutenberg, we would recommend the following books, available at the BYU-Idaho David O McKay Library.


It cost a load of hay to rent a Wycliffe Bible for an hour.

1: The English Bible, A History of Translations.  Frederick F. Bruce.  1961.  Oxford University Press, New York.
2: 6,000 Years of the Bible.  G.S. Wegener.  1963.  Harper & Row, Publishers, Incorporated,  New York.

Our Collection: History of the Bible (Early History)

Have you ever wondered how we got the Bible?  Before working at Special Collections, I knew that some convention had gotten together and decided what would be put in the Bible, and that lots of people died to bring it to the point it’s at today.  But other than that, the history of the Bible was a bit of a mystery to me.  It’s a history that spans over 2000 years, and it is fascinating and miraculous.


When Christ was on the earth, the primary scripture used was the Old Testament, which was commonly called “The Prophets.”  After His crucifixion and resurrection, the disciples wrote their experiences with Christ, and the apostles went out to spread His gospel.  The apostles, primarily Paul and Peter, wrote epistles to various branches of the church, which were to be read in their congregations (1 Thess 5:27).  It is unclear when these epistles began to be gathered into collections, but collections may have begun to appear as early as 115 AD.  It’s also estimated that the four Gospels began to be brought together around this time.

The writings of the apostles began to be more valued because of heresy.  Gnostic teachers began to make claims that Christ had given chosen apostles additional teachings, which the church denied.  The writings of the apostles–as well as which writings were valid–became a focal point for the next few decades.  Around 140 AD a Gnostic named Marcion formed a canon that supported his own views, while rejecting any writings that contended with his beliefs.  This is the first clear example of a canonization of the epistles, and called for both criticism and a need for a clear marking of the books used in the church.

By 200 AD, the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, as well as the Pauline epistles, were accepted as scripture.  The title “New Testament” was first used in 193 AD.  The oldest list of the books of the New Testament, the Muratorian Fragment, dates from the end of the 2nd century  and lists nearly all of the books that are now used.

Between the 2nd century and the end of the 4th, many men studied the canon and disputed the validity of the writings of the apostles.  Finally, in 397 AD, the Council of Carthage listed the books of the New Testament and decreed that only this canon should be read in churches. Emperor Constantine ordered fifty copies of this new canon, and between 390-405 AD, the Latin Vulgate Bible was published and determined the final order which we still use today.

This information was found at bible.org, which used an article from ISBE.  The article ends by stating, “let it be noted how much the human element was involved in the whole process of forming our New Testament. No one would wish to dispute a providential overruling of it all.”  The history of the Bible truly shows the hand of God working through human servants to do His work, as is evidenced by the history of the next 1600 years.

Our Collection

The oldest known Bible that still exists is the Codex Sinaiticus, dated at circa 300 AD.  It is written in Greek and includes the earliest complete collection of the New Testament as well as several other books.  This is considered ‘the most precious biblical treasure in existence” (source).  A beautiful facsimile edition of the Codex is a valuable part of our collection.


Although we do not own a Vulgate Bible from this time period, we do have two copies of the Latin Vulgate Bible.  These beautiful books are hand-written on velum and required about 200 sheep for the pages in each book.

1260_manuscript Bible_jpg Velum_1260_jpg

Be sure to come in to see these historic Bibles!  Appointments can be made by calling (208) 496-9540. You can learn more about the history of the Bible by checking out the BYU-Idaho Library’s databases, such as GVRL or by searching on the McKay Library catalog.

Exhibits: The Rixida and Preparations for the Restoration

Special Collections is proud to present two new displays: The Rixida in the McKay Gallery  and Preparations for the Restoration inside of the Arthur Porter Reading Room.

The first documented yearbook at Ricks was published around 1912 by the Student Rays staff as part of the commencement program.  In 1917, Ricks developed a new look for the yearbooks and renamed it The Rixida.  The Rixida was published in paper form until 1999.  The year 2000 marked the transition of the Rixida from paper to DVD.  Publication of the Rixida, in any form, was discontinued in 2007.



The Rixida contains photos of both staff and students, pictures of activities, clubs, fraternities and sororities, athletic pictures and schedules, jokes, and much more!  Aside from the 50+ copies on display, we also have copies of nearly every year of The Rixida in the Reading Room.  Visitors are welcome to come see if they know anyone in the yearbook!

This video shows employee Mike Sawyer reading a few jokes from the 1917 Rixida.

If you venture into the Reading Room, you will see that we have some of our most prized possessions on display.  This exhibit, Preparations for the Restoration, was inspired by a talk given by Elder Robert D Hales in October of 2015.  This talk, Preparations for the Restoration and the Second Coming: ‘My Hand Shall be over Thee, outlines some of the amazing history that prepared the world for the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Following this history, this display uses original copies or facsimiles of the Bibles that Elder Hales mentioned in his talk.


This display includes  a leaf from a Hebrew Bible, a Gutenberg facsimile, an original Luther Bible, an original Collins Bible, and an original 1830 Book of Mormon.  We prize these items and put them on display so that others may both learn about the history of the Bible and feel the Spirit that comes when we discuss its history.


The Rixida display is open from 8 to 11:30 Monday-Saturday and Preparations for the Restoration from 9-5 Monday-Friday.  Please come visit to learn more about both religious and the school’s history!

WWII POW Camps in Idaho?!

Today we had a patron in looking for information on German Prisoner of War (POW) camps in Idaho during World War II. Wait what?

Between 1943 and 1946, twenty-one POW camps operated in Idaho.  The largest of these was near Paul, a small town in  Minidoka County.  This camp, known as Camp Rupert, held over 15,000 prisoners.  These prisoners could be hired out to work on local farms, and were apparently treated much better than US POWs.

Very little information on Camp Rupert and other POW camps in Idaho exists in our collection.  As Audrey Neiwerth, a Minidoka County Historical Society board member stated, “This is certainly nothing to celebrate, but it is something to commemorate.”  However, if one is interested, there is more information (and pictures!) at the links provided below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SmbALOYAGbk (Great pictures in this video)





SPC Classes and Visits

This week at SPC we’ve had five classes come in to see our artifacts and learn about the history of printing.  This is one of my favorite parts of my job–getting to pull out the artifacts and listen to Brother Luke and Brother Haderlie explain their history.  We have so many cool things here at SPC.  My favorite has always been our 1608 Geneva Bible.


The Geneva Bible was the first mechanically printed, mass-produced Bible, and the primary Protestant Bible of the 16th century.  

You can’t tell from the picture, but the reason I like this Bible is because of the clasps on the binding.  That’s kind of silly, but the clasps set this Bible apart from the rest of the copies that we have here.  You’ll just have to come in and see it in order to understand what I mean.

Today as we were setting up for the display, I noticed a book I’d never seen before.  It’s a very small book, only about four inches high.  It’s a new addition to our collection, a Hieroglyphic Bible used to teach children Bible stories.

We don’t just have books, though.  One of the things we had on display for the class that came in this morning was our Egyptian Sarcophagus panel.  This panel is beautiful, with bright colors even though it is hundreds of years old.

When we have classes come in to visit, they don’t just get to see these items, but they also get to learn about the history of printing, the Bible, or the Book of Mormon.  It’s really incredible to sit in on the Bible class.  It’s amazing to learn how the Bible was translated and all the people who risked their lives to translate, print, and even read it.

We don’t just offer classes for the University.  We love having groups come in to view our items.  Appointments may be made by calling (208) 496-9540.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Those that are about to die, we salute you. Our fine feathered friends have put up the good fight, but alas they are too delicious.


This turkey’s personal story of heroism and sacrifice first touched the hearts of students on November 24, 1937.


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