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!


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