This was the Bible read by William Shakespeare, by John Knox, by John Donne, and by John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim's Progress. It was the Bible that was brought to America on the Mayflower and used by Oliver Cromwell in the English Civil War.
Because the language of the Geneva Bible was more forceful and vigorous, most readers preferred this version strongly over the Bishops' Bible, the translation authorised by the Church of England under Elizabeth I.
During the time when England was ruled by Queen Mary I, who persecuted Protestants, a number of Protestant scholars fled to Geneva in Switzerland, which was then ruled as a republic in which John Calvin and Theodore Beza provided the primary spiritual and theological leadership. Among these scholars was William Whittingham, who supervised the translation in collaboration with Miles Coverdale, Christopher Goodman, Anthony Gilby, Thomas Sampson, and William Cole--several of whom became prominent figures in the proto-Puritan nonconformist faction of the Vestments controversy. Whittingham was directly responsible for the New Testament, which was complete in 1557, while Gilby oversaw the Old. The first full edition of this Bible appeared in 1560. It was revised substantially in 1576 and again in 1599, with over 150 editions coming out by 1644.
Like most English translations of the time, the Geneva Bible was translated from scholarly editions of the Greek New Testament and Hebrew scriptures that comprise the Christian Old Testament. The English rendering was substantially based on the earlier translations by William Tyndale and Myles Coverdale. (80-90% of the language in the Genevan New Testament is from Tyndale.)
The Geneva Bible was the first English Bible to use verse numbers and an elaborate system of commentary in marginal glosses. This annotation was done by Laurence Tomson, who translated (for the 1560 Geneva Bible) L'Oiseleur's notes on the Gospels, which themselves came from Camerarius. In 1576 Tomson added L'Oiseleur's notes for the Epistles, which came from Beza's 1565 and 1589/1598 Greek and Latin edition of the Bible. Beginning in 1598 Franciscus Junius' notes on Revelation were added, replacing the original notes deriving from John Bale and Heinrich Bullinger. Bale's The Image of bothe churches had a great impact on these notes as well as Foxe's Book of Martyrs. Both the Junius and Bullinger-Bale annotations are explicitly anti-Roman Catholic and representative of much popular Protestant apocalypticism during the Reformation.
The annotations (which are an important part of the Geneva Bible) were Calvinistic and Puritan in character, and as such they were disliked by the ruling conservative Protestants of the Church of England, as well as King James I, who commissioned the Authorised Version or King James Bible to replace it. The Geneva Bible also motivated the production of the Douay-Rheims edition by the recusant Catholic community. The Geneva Bible remained popular among Puritans and remained in widespread use until after the English Civil War.
It has been stated by some, that the Geneva Bible was the Bible present at the signing of the U. S. Declaration of Independence and the U. S. Constitution, due to the fact that it was the Bible that the Puritans brought with them to America. However, the U. S. Library of Congress and the Independence National Historical Park both state that they do not know what version/translation of the Bible was present at these signings. (Independence Hall in Philadelphia, PA being the location of both of the signings).
To compare the Geneva Bible with the King James, here is Revelation 6: 12-17 in both versions (with spelling modernised). The differences have been italicised in the King James extract:
- And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and lo, there was a great earthquake, and the sun was as black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon was like blood. And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, as a fig tree casteth her green figs, when it is shaken of a mighty wind. And heaven departed away, as a scroll, when it is rolled, and every mountain and isle were moved out of their places. And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in dens, and among the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the presence of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of his wrath is come, and who can stand?
King James Bible
- And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island was moved out of their places. And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?
It is striking how close the two versions are to each other; one might think that the King James Version is a revision of the Geneva. Examination of their differences reveals that the earlier Geneva version frequently sounds more direct and modern than the later King James, e.g.
“and the moon was like blood” (Geneva) versus “and the moon became as blood” (King James)
“as a fig tree casteth her green figs” (Geneva) versus “even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs” (King James)
The Geneva Bible has sometimes been called the Breeches Bible, after its rendering of Genesis 3:7: (using modern spelling) "Then the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig tree leaves together, and made themselves breeches." The older Wycliffe Bible also used "breeches" (spelled "brechis") in this verse. Other translations use "aprons", "coverings", "loincloths", "loin coverings", or "girdles" instead of "breeches".
- Geneva Bible Footnotes
- Geneva Bible Text (links to a commercial site)
- Modern Spelling Geneva Bible with Footnotes for the Gospels
Editions Currently In Print
- 1599 Edition: Modern Spelling, Typesetting from The 1599 Geneva Bible Restoration Project
- 1599 Edition: Original Spelling, Modern Typesetting, without notes
- 1599 Edition: Hand Bound Replica
- 1599 Old Testament: Facsimile Reproduction
- 1599 New Testament: Facsimile Reproduction
- 1587 Edition: Original Spelling, Modern Typesetting, without notes
- 1560 First Edition: Facsimile Reproduction
- 1560 Old Testament: Facsimile Reproduction
- 1560 Apocrypha & New Testament: Facsimile Reproduction