The Geneva Bible and the KJV

As promised a few weeks ago, I am now providing notes on the Geneva Bible.

If you go back and read previous posts on the history of the English Bible, we were up to the exile of William Tyndale to foreign soil because of his intense desire that the common people of England have a copy of the Bible.  Tyndale was fluent in eight languages and certainly able to take the work first accomplished by Erasmus and put it into the English language.

Tyndale’s life was threatened at the hands of Henry VIII.  He was not safe in England.  In fact, neither were copies of his English New Testament.  As copies were found, the copies were burned.  Yet, some of the copies survived.  Thus, we know the authenticity of Tyndale’s work.

Geneva, Switzerland was a safe haven for reformers.  Now the work of the New Testament from Greek manuscripts, the original language of the New Testament writings could be copied, printed, and distributed.  Tyndale, however, was caught by an Englishman in a betrayal incident, and returned to England, where after incarceration for 500 days, was burned at the stake.

God’s Word has promised to protect His Word, apparently even the English translation, and a man named Coverdale continued the work of translating the Old Testament from Hebrew, rather than from the Latin which Erasmus had pointed out many errors that favored “policy” of the Roman Church.  Coverdale, and a partner, John Rogers, completed the work in Geneva.  The first complete, printed English version of the Bible was printed on October 4, 1535.  What was the New Testament only, was now the Coverdale Bible.   It still contained the study notes that Tyndale had inserted. Because a majority of the work had been accomplished in Geneva, Switzerland, it became known as the Geneva Bible.

Fast forward to the death of Elizabeth I who had been somewhat sympathetic to reformers, to her son Prince James, now King James I.  Cautiously, the Protestant clergy approached King James in 1604 to ask for permission to replace the Bishop’s Bible.  (The Bishop’s Bible was not portable.  It was 15” thick and chained inside the church.)  Their request was granted.  King James I authorized scholars to go to work on such a translation.  They largely used the Geneva Bible (minus study notes that opposed the Roman Church’s teachings).  First they worked independently for a year, then collectively until 1610.  In 1611 the “translation to end all translations” rolled off the printing press.  Although the Geneva Bible was still a favored version, eventually the King James Version overtook the Geneva version, and became a bestselling book world-wide.

There are other “tid bits” of history connected, but for sake of length, I have omitted them.  Should you want a full version of the essay notes from which I extracted, you can visit the same site I did:

I write this because I want you to appreciate the Bible you hold in your hands.  It is precious.  Men gave their lives so that you could have it. Some of those names are ones you should count as heroes.  They are men who took seriously the words of Paul to Timothy in II Timothy 2:4:  “No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.” 

If your family practices a time of Bible reading and sharing regularly, please remember to bring up names of Tyndale, Wycliff, Luther, and John Coverdale.  Those are names that should be grafted into the history of the world for all Christian Believers, particularly in the English speaking places in the world. 


And here is a teaser:  “The King James Version Today” is coming soon, maybe this week!

Bibliography:  notes from British liberature (college–yikes, I graduated a long time ago!) notes from British literature that I wrote, and now also from




  1. Glenda

    Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!!! I’ll be sharing this. I LOVE the KJV and have never had any trouble with the language, but I DO have a problem with some of the more modern translations (perversions, as one man has called them), which reduce Christ from being God’s SON into merely a servant…. I have not had any “formal” instruction on this topic, so I welcome your instruction.

  2. Be careful about the use of translation and version. The words are not interchangeable. Translation is changing from one thing to another: Greek to English, in my essay case. A version is telling in more than one way. For instance, Tom’s version of how the accident happened did not not agree with Amy’s version. Much of the work in the KJV was taken from the Geneva translation, minus notes. King James did not want to “offend” readers with notes pointing out error of the Catholic/Roman church in the margins. As far as I know, the KJV is the closest and most easily found translation via the Geneva translators that we have available. On the other hand, the writers of the NIV decided to make the text of the KJV more understandable and give it readability. In doing so, sadly, they did weaken some of the original words from the Greek. Paraphrase is yet another way to transfer and many times, the Phillips, which is a broad paraphrase, seems to muddle or clarify. It is six of one, half dozen of the other! What is important is that the Word of God is read, memorized, and incorporated into our lives. I’m going to go after that next time I write on this subject.

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