There are thousands of different Editions of the Bible in the World today, but there are a few that are historical and distinctive for any serious collector or library worth noting or collecting. I hope to provide a short list of these Bibles. Each Bible is unique, I can only for this article write a short essay for the English Bible, published or hand-written in English. I will later write about other collectable Bibles of other countries and languages at some future date. Any hand-written Bible in manuscript form before the 15th. century is worth looking for, the earliest hand-written Bible or portion of, the more valuable the Bible. So the first true early English Bible was by John Wycliffe, otherwise called the Lollard’s Bible or Wycliffe Bible, handwritten on vellum, a few original copies survive to this day, many were copied years after Wycliffe Bible came into existence. Lollardy was a political and religious movement that existed from the mid-14th century to the English Reformation. It was led by John Wycliffe, a prominent theologian who was dismissed from the University of Oxford in 1381 for criticism of the Catholic Church, especially in his doctrine on the Eucharist. The Lollards' demands were primarily for reform of Western Christianity. John Wycliffe translation of the Bible into the English language at the time caused great controversy. King Henry IV at the time passed the De heretico comburendo in 1401, prohibited translating or owning the Wycliffe Bible in English, and authorised death by burning for heretics or anyone with possession of the English Bible.
1. Wycliffe Bible in English, 1382 to 1395;- first complete manuscript translation made by the leaders of the Lollards, Wycliffe, Purvey, and a few others. Several of these manuscripts still survive in libraries and museums, the cruder ones being considered the earliest. Handwritten on vellum with rubrication, illumination in many bright colours, were added by hand on a few copies, some copies were never decorated, and these are probably the cruder ones, the first true Wycliffe Bible in English. Rubrication, and illuminations in many bright colours were most certainly added later. The black lettering was Gothic in design, with the use of what is now known as Middle English, many varieties of the English language were spoken after the Norman Conquest in 1066 until the late 15th century, a mixture of French, Latin, Norse, which were largely evolving into an Anglo-Saxon vocabulary. In comparison William Shakespeare never wrote in Middle English, but Shakespeare actually wrote in Early Modern English.
2. I know this is not an English Bible, but I think we should begin with the first printed Bible the Gutenberg Folio Bible of 1455? two volume in Vulgate Latin Text Bible. 42 Line known as the Mazarin Bible. According to Erich Methuen, German Historian, that 158 or 180 copies were completed of the Gutenberg Folio Bible were produced, 135 Bibles on paper and 45 Gutenberg Bibles on vellum, or skin. Today 49 documented, partial or complete copies of the Gutenberg Bible exist today, almost all of them in the hands of Museums, Universities and Libraries.
3. Tyndale’s, 1525, known as the Cologne Fragment or St Matthew’s Fragment. First New Testament in English, only a fragment as survived.
4. Tyndale 1526, New Testament with the Acts of the Apostles, in English.
5. Tyndale 1534, New Testament of Our Lord Jesus Christ of 1534 in English. Many other Editions of William Tyndale’s Bibles, continued to be Published long after Tyndale's death in 1536-till 1566.
6. Miles Coverdale’s First English Bible, 1537, printed in Southwark, London by James Nycolson which was issued in 1537, was the first English Bible to be published in England, It was translated from the Latin and the German. Miles Coverdale did publish an earlier English Bible in Cologne, Germany in 1535, but it was no match for Tyndale’s brilliant english translation of 1534. Coverdales’ glory was that he produced the first English Bible in England, and Miles Coverdale left to posterity a permanent memorial of his genius in that most musical version of the Psalter which passed into the Book of Common Prayer, endeared itself to many generations of Englishmen.
7. Roger-Matthew and Taverner Bibles 1737-1539. The Matthew Bible, also known as Matthew's Version, was first published in 1537 by John Rogers, under the pseudonym "Thomas Matthew". John Rogers was a friend of William Tyndale, the Roger-Matthew and Taverner Bible combined the New Testament of William Tyndale, and as much of the Old Testament as Tyndale had been able to translate before being captured and put to death in 1536. The translations of Myles Coverdale from German and Latin sources completed the Old Testament and the Apocrypha, except the Apocryphal Prayer of Manasses. The first Matthew Bibles were printed by Richard Grafton, in Hamburg. Later editions were printed in London, the last of four appeared in 1551. London Printing were by Thomas Raynalde and William Hyll, another was printed by John Daye and William Seres.
8. Great Bibles of Thomas Cromwell & Archbishop Cranmer 1539-1569. Great Bibles called Folios, Published by Richard Grafton & Edward Whitchurch in London. A revision of Coverdale’s Bible of 1537, corrected. Seven Folio Editions of this Bible were issued between 1539 and 1541. This folio Bible shows considerable improvement over Coverdale’s Bible of 1535. Miles Coverdale worked under Thomas Cromwell’s direct patronage and the direct authority of Archbishop Cranmer.
9. Geneva, Puritan, or Breeches Bible 1568-1644;- This Bible was produced by English Exiles in the city of Geneva, Switzerland. Non-Conformists under the influence of John Calvin, John Calvin was an influential French theologian and pastor during the Protestant Reformation of the 16th. century. The first Geneva Bibles were published in the city of Geneva, Switzerland in 1568. 16 years later the Geneva Bibles were published in London by Christopher Barker In 1576 he started on his career as a Bible printer, having obtained a privilege to print the Geneva version of the Bible in England. Over 200 editions, between 1560 and 1644, the Geneva Bible was the first English Bible to use roman type and also to divide the chapters into verses.
10. The Bishop’s Bible 1568-1606;- Undertaken by Archbishop Parker to give the Episcopal Church a Bible free from the glosses to be found in the Puritan Geneva Bible, it was translated without any lay scholars, and 20 Edition were issued till 1606. The 1602 Edition was made the basis of the King James.
11. 1st. Rheims New Testament 1582;- This is the first Catholic New Testament in English by John Fogny and many editions later, for example 2nd. Edition1602, 3rd. Edition 1610, 4th. Edition 1633.
12. The King James’ Authorised Version of 1611, a Folio. Never officially authorised, it was the result of a conference with the King by the Church and the Puritan parties in 1604. Fifty-four translators, divided into six companies, were appointed for the task, paid out of church funds, and given ecclesiastical preferments when vacancies arose. In spite of many errors in early issues, and the reprinting for more than three centuries of its 17th. century language, the 1611 is still felt to be the noblest monument of English Literature. Two version of the 1611 were printed the “He” & the “She” One of the most famous errors was “And “She” took it up, and went into the city: Ruth 3:15. or And “He” took it up, and went into the city: Ruth 3:15. The King James’ Authorised Version of 1611 Bible is the standard since 1611, incidentally the 1611 King James’ Bible is that the New Testament in the King James Version is 83% Tyndale's and the Old Testament 76% Tyndale’s.
Owen Felix O'Neill
Owner Felix Rare Books