Please explain what the New Matthew Bible (NMB) is.
Ruth Magnusson Davis: The New Matthew Bible is a lightly modernized version of a little-known Reformation Bible, called the Matthew Bible, which was first published in 1537. Few people realize that the Matthew Bible is the real primary version of our English Bible. All the versions that followed, including the KJV, have been revisions of it.
In 2009 I founded the New Matthew Bible Project, dedicated to bringing the Matthew Bible to the world again.
Who translated the Matthew Bible?
Ruth Magnusson Davis: It was the joint work of three men, whom I call the Matthew men: William Tyndale, Myles Coverdale, and John Rogers.
William Tyndale, who is well known, translated the New Testament and first half of the Old. He was a master of biblical languages, and worked from Greek and Hebrew texts. But he was captured and executed as a “heretic” before he could finish his translation work. The rest of the Scriptures—the last part of the Old Testament and the Apocrypha—are taken from the 1535 Bible of Myles Coverdale.
Coverdale translated mainly from Martin Luther’s German Bible, and his prophetical books are remarkable for their Lutheran clarity. John Rogers acted as editor. He compiled the translations of the other two men, added references, study aids, and over 2,000 commentaries, and gave us the Matthew Bible—which was, in fact, the world’s very first English study Bible.
At the dawn of the Reformation, the religious authorities were violently opposed to having English Scriptures. They wanted only a Latin Bible. Both Rogers and Tyndale were burned at the stake as heretics; Tyndale in 1536 on the Continent, and Rogers later in England in 1555 under Queen Mary.
Why does it have “Matthew” as its title?
Ruth Magnusson Davis: The title page of the Matthew Bible says it was translated by “Thomas Matthew.” This was a pseudonym to conceal William Tyndale’s involvement. King Henry VIII had banned all Tyndale’s books and translations, but the King’s approval was necessary if the Matthew Bible was to be authorized, so Tyndale’s name could not be used.
How Rogers chose the name ‘Thomas Matthew’ is unknown, but the biblical link, the names of Jesus’ disciples, is obvious. The ruse succeeded, and when “Matthew’s version” arrived in England, Henry licensed it for sale, and by injunction it was required to be set up and read in the churches.
Describe the progress of the New Matthew Bible Project.
Ruth Magnusson Davis: In 2016, we published the New Testament and commentaries, all gently updated. We called it The October Testament, which at first might seem an odd name, but I chose it for several reasons. For one it follows Martin Luther’s September Testament. For another, the month of October signals that the end of a year is approaching, and it seems that we may be approaching the end of this age, for now the gospel has gone out to all the world; if so, the name October Testament will prove propitious. I explained some of my other reasons in the work itself.
We have now also begun versifying the Old Testament, and are preparing to update it, God willing.
What do you mean by “gently updated”? And why was it a goal to retain as much of the original old English as possible?
Ruth Magnusson Davis: By “gently updated,” I mean that the updating is minimal. My desire was not to make a modern Bible, but to keep as much of the old as possible, while simply making it understandable for today. Some reasons for this:
- If we call our work the New Matthew Bible, it must manifest the attributes, character, and style of the original.
- The Matthew Bible formed the basis of the Scriptures in the Book of Common Prayer and the KJV, and a body of valuable theological and devotional works and hymns has developed over the centuries using its language and turns of phrase. To keep the original language means those resources remain accessible and relevant.
- We believe people will find these Scriptures to be the most inspired, beautiful, and pleasing language of the faith.
What are some of the things you changed or kept?
Ruth Magnusson Davis: Obsolete spelling, syntax, and grammar are updated. Obsolete words must be replaced (such as advoutry and assoil), as also words that have changed their meaning (conceits, ghostly minded, worm, meat, rejoice). However, I did keep some old words, and gave the meanings in the margins of The October Testament, such as Dayspring in Luke 1:79:
… the Dayspring from on high has visited us, to give light to those who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Marginal note: Dayspring: an obsolete word for daybreak, that is, the time when light dawns, personified to describe Christ.”
(However, the marginal notes are not included in the posted Gateway Bible NMB, because the platform would not support the formatting.)
We kept certain archaic constructions and words, as for example “the incense was a-burning” at Luke 1:10. We kept beseech, brethren, heathen, the flesh, and Abraham’s seed. We also selectively kept the preposition unto, which is within the passive competence of native English speakers, and expresses some concepts in a way no modern preposition can. At Acts 11:18 we have, “God has granted repentance unto life to the Gentiles also,” and at Romans 1:24, “God likewise gave them up to their heart’s lusts, unto uncleanness.”
Describe the process, and the challenges you encountered as you updated the New Testament.
Ruth Magnusson Davis: The work really had its genesis in about 2004, when I discovered William Tyndale’s New Testament, and then his books and writings, and began to experiment with updating his works. Then I discovered Myles Coverdale. After many times rereading him and Tyndale, I got to know them very well. A few years later, I formed the desire to update Tyndale’s New Testament, and this grew to wanting to work with the complete Matthew Bible. I studied ancient punctuation, the history of the Reformation, early modern words and grammar, and built a reference library. I also read as much as I could of the books and authors that the Matthew men would have read, which meant delving into Martin Luther, St. Augustine, and John Chrysostom. The Lord has provided, though there have been only a few of us working in the project, and with minimal resources.
As for editorial challenges, high on the list is the polysemy of early English words (poly=many, semes=meanings). The 16th century vocabulary was much smaller than ours, and words typically showed great polysemy; that is, one word was used to express many meanings or semes, for which we would now choose among several different words. An example is the noun ‘mansion.’ This could be used not only for a large or stately house, but in other semes meant almost anything that served as a dwelling, including a tent, and even stopping places in a journey. Clearly ‘mansion’ said to our ancestors something quite different than it now says to us at John 14:2: “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” We are familiar with this verse because the KJV followed Tyndale here. But the KJV preferred ‘house’ at 2 Corinthians 5:1-2, where Tyndale again had ‘mansion’ in an obsolete seme: “We know surely if our earthy mansion wherein we now dwell were destroyed, that we have a building ordained of God, an habitation not made with hands, but eternal in heaven. And herefore sigh we, desiring to be clothed with our mansion which is from heaven…”
It was sometimes very challenging to decide which seme was intended, and how to express it. Occasionally, I used two words, in order to capture the fuller semantics of the old English.
What’s your reply to people who ask, “Given advances in modern biblical scholarship, isn’t the New Matthew Bible a step backwards?”
Ruth Magnusson Davis: Certainly the New Matthew Bible looks back in time—almost 500 years, in fact. But I see my work as remembering and strengthening that which we first received, when God opened his word to the world in English (Revelation 3:2). It is also a step forward, into the clear and bright light of that which we first received.
The Word of God, which is Spirit and truth, is enduring and unchanging. If scholarship can advance our knowledge of Bible times and customs, I certainly appreciate it, but the spiritual truths that the prophets and apostles knew and told us of when they spoke 2,000 and more years ago, are enduring and unchanging. The reality of God, eternity, and the fall of man; our redemption in Christ, our Messiah; the light of life that’s the divine Word; the nature of the New Covenant: these matters require the spiritual knowledge that only God can give (1 Cor. 2:14), and which he assuredly gave to William Tyndale and Myles Coverdale.
It’s ironic to note that modern scholars have in places changed the Bible in ways that actually darken our understanding, by substituting modern concepts. An example is changing ‘tribute’ to ‘tax’ (Matthew 17:24-27; 22:15-22, the other gospels, Romans 13:6). Tribute is a special levy paid to a foreign power, for protection or as a sign of submission. Tax is a far more general word. The Jews were required to pay tribute to Rome, a hated conqueror, from whom they thought the Messiah would set them free. They did not want to hear that tribute should be paid to Caesar, as Jesus told them. Important spiritual teaching may be derived from this, but it is lost when the translation does not fit with history and the facts.
Perhaps I should add that, as for modern textual criticism, while the choice of source texts is obviously important, the issue has been wrongly used to discredit the best Bibles. I have complete faith that God gave his servants and martyrs of the Reformation the texts they needed, not “corrupt” Greek texts, as some scholars have alleged. In any case, the significant differences between modern and older versions are not due to manuscript variations, but variations in understanding and doctrine.
Explain how you worked from a genuine ragpaper 1549 edition of the Matthew Bible.
Ruth Magnusson Davis: I have a real 1549 Matthew Bible—or “Byble,” as it’s written. This is a second edition of the Matthew Bible, published by John Rogers after Henry died and his young son King Edward came to the throne. I was delighted when I first received it, held it in my hands, and turned the musty pages. When I show it to people, often they’re afraid to touch the pages, but because they’re rag paper, they’re tough. My “Byble” was rebound and trimmed in 1887, and is sturdy enough for daily use.
Tell about yourself and how you became a Christian and a dedicated reader of Tyndale’s Bible translation.
Ruth Magnusson Davis: I was saved out of the New Age as an adult, when I heard the gospel for the first time. I knew then only one thing: that Jesus was the answer to my long search. I had never read the Bible, but began with some of the popular modern versions. After a while, I became dissatisfied with them, and also with the obscurity of the KJV. I have a critical and seeking mind, no doubt in part developed by my legal and linguistic training, and did not rest until I found William Tyndale’s translations and the Matthew Bible. I also believe this has been the leading of the Holy Spirit.
What was Tyndale’s translation approach?
Ruth Magnusson Davis: Tyndale followed what I call the “ploughboy approach” to translation. He wanted the people to have a plain and clear Bible, which the boy who drives the plough could understand. He rejected the intensified “literal” approach (as it’s called) that was used by later revisers, as did also Martin Luther, John Purvey, who worked with Wycliffe, and St. Jerome, who gave us the Latin Vulgate Bible. Their concern was that it needlessly obscures the Scriptures. This difficult topic will be examined in my history book, when we see how the Matthew Scriptures were revised over time.
What is the history book you’re writing?
Ruth Magnusson Davis: It’s a history of the Matthew Bible and the men who gave it to us, in two volumes:
- Volume One: The Story of the Matthew Bible: That Which We First Received
- Volume Two: The Story of the Matthew Bible: The Scriptures Then and Now
We’re targeting early 2018 for Volume One, and Christmas 2018 for Volume Two. To my knowledge, this is the world’s first book about the Matthew Bible.
What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?
Ruth Magnusson Davis: I love the first few verses of Hebrews: GOD IN TIME PAST diversely and many ways spoke to the fathers by the prophets. But in these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he has made heir of all things; by whom also he made the world. (from The October Testament)
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App?
Ruth Magnusson Davis: I use Bible Gateway online regularly for research. I recently viewed your instructional videos and I think it is a brilliant website.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Ruth Magnusson Davis: To grasp the true place of the Matthew Bible, it helps to consider the significance of how it came forth to us; that is, in travail and tribulation. This Bible was not the fruit of honored men commissioned by the authorities, but of a small, dishonored trio of men who worked as fugitives from the authorities. William Tyndale and John Rogers died for their witness. Myles Coverdale was spared a violent death, but suffered three exiles abroad to escape persecutions.
The simple fact is that the Matthew Bible is the only English Bible that was bought by blood. This is not a thing to be lightly regarded. It is one of God’s most mysterious ways, and utterly contrary to earthly wisdom, that he seals his greatest testimonies with derision, blood, and violence. The Scriptures themselves, and all history, and the great cloud of witnesses spoken of in the book of Revelation, attest to this. Many of the Old Testament prophets were imprisoned, died barbarically, and lived in caves and dens of the earth, of whom the world was not worthy (Heb. 11:38). The apostle Paul described himself and his fellow apostles as the refuse and off-scouring of the world (1 Cor. 4:13). Our Lord himself also took up his cross, and, reviled and mocked, went to die outside the camp, accused by the religious authorities, and, at their behest, executed by secular authorities, in an open and public display of hatred for the divine. Jesus said that his servants would follow in his steps, for the servant is not greater than the master; this we see with William Tyndale and John Rogers. They too were accused by church authorities and executed by the secular arm, in that same open and public display that is God’s manifest sign of a true and divine testimony.
England received the Matthew Bible in the dawn of the Reformation, after centuries of spiritual darkness. Now this martyrs’ Bible is being restored to us, with almost 500 years of linguistic cobwebs dusted off, and readers can taste of the heavenly word again.
Bio: Ruth Magnusson Davis resides in Canada. She received a BA in French with a German minor, with an emphasis on language and grammar. She then obtained a Bachelor of Laws degree, which included the study of English and Canadian common law, and, in French, Quebec civil law. She practiced law for 28 years, during which time she became a Christian. She is a member of a small Traditional Anglican congregation.
Ruth retired from her law practice in 2009 to found in the New Matthew Bible Project, dedicated to minimally updating and restoring the 1537/1549 Matthew Bible. The 21st century version of this historic Reformation Bible is known as the NMB, or New Matthew Bible. In preparation for the work, Ruth studied Early Modern English, Reformation history, and the writings of the early Reformers.
The NMB New Testament was published in 2016 under the name The October Testament, and is sold through Amazon and at the WND Superstore. The Scriptures are available free on Bible websites Olive Tree Bible Software (@OliveTreeBible) and Bible Gateway (@biblegateway).
Ruth is a regular contributor to the Tyndale Society Journal. She has also published in Bible Editions and Versions, a publication of the International Society of Bible Collectors.
Ruth can be reached for information and interviews in Canada at (1)-250-386-8689 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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