The Geneva Bible is unique among all other Bibles. Translated by the best Protestant scholars of the day, it’s a version born directly out of the religious conflict of the Reformation. And, though sadly little-known today, The Geneva Bible became one of the most popular translations of its time.
First, a little history: Mary I was Queen of England and Ireland from 1553 until her death in 1558, and her executions of Protestants caused her opponents to give her the nickname “Bloody Mary.” It was her persecution that caused the Marian Exile which drove 800 English scholars to exile in the European continent, where a number of them gathered in Geneva, Switzerland. There, a team of scholars led by William Whittingham, and assisted by Miles Coverdale, Christopher Goodman, Anthony Gilby, John Knox, and Thomas Sampson, produced The Geneva Bible, based on Greek and Hebrew manuscripts and a revision of William Tyndale’s New Testament, which first appeared in 1526. The Geneva Bible New Testament was published in 1557, with the complete Bible appearing in 1560, and an updated and restored version appearing in 1599.
The Geneva Bible—written with clear readability and comprehension in mind—was not only the first Bible to use chapters and numbered verses, but it was also filled with extensive marginal notes. These notes, written by Reformation leaders including John Calvin, were intended to help explain and interpret the Scriptures for the average reader.
With its variety of scriptural study guides and aids—which included cross-reference verse citations, introductions to each book of the Bible, maps, tables, woodcut illustrations, indexes, and other features—The Geneva Bible is regarded as history’s first study Bible. It also became the Bible of choice for many of the greatest writers and thinkers of that time. Men such as William Shakespeare, John Bunyan, and John Milton looked to The Geneva Bible to provide Scripture in their own writings.
If you’re looking to get in to the spirit of the Reformation this year, there’s no better way to bridge the 500-year gap in history than to dig into the 1599 Geneva Bible—available as one of the many Bible translations on BibleGateway.com. It may have been especially influential throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, but it deserves to be remembered as a translation that has directly impacted the study Bibles of today.
If you’re curious, here’s John 3:16 in the 1599 Geneva Bible; you can also read more about its significance. When reading this Bible on Bible Gateway, be sure to have footnotes toggled on, so you can enjoy the accompanying study notes.
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