Updated August 2, 2006 (first published April 8, 2003) (David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061, 866-295-4143, email@example.com; for instructions about subscribing and unsubscribing or changing addresses, see the information paragraph at the end of the article) -
In March-April 2003, April 2005, and June-July 2006, I was in England and Europe taking photographs and doing research pertaining to the history of the Bible. In 2003 I accompanied by Pastor David Brown of First Baptist Church, Oak Creek, Wisconsin, who has great enthusiasm for research into the history of the Bible and has built a large library in that regard. We were also accompanied by Brian Snider, a friend and co-worker in the ministry who has produced all of our multi-media video presentations. In 2005 I visited sites in England by myself and was accompanied by Brian Snider and his brother Jeff for the visit to Rome.
The history of the Bible reads like a novel. I have researched this fascinating topic for decades. My first book on the subject was For Love of the Bible (1995), which traced the history of the defense of the King James Bible from 1800 to present. The second was Rome and the Bible (1996), which follows the Bible through the centuries from the time of the apostles and documents the efforts of the Roman Catholic Church to keep the Bible out of the hands of the common people. The book A History of the Churches from a Baptist Perspective (2002) dealt with the history of the Waldensian Bible, as well as the German, French, Spanish, and English Bibles. Currently I am completing three new books in the Bible text-version issue, and one, Faith vs. the Scholars, contains a much expanded history of the English Bible.
This report is divided into four parts: England, Europe, Northern Italy (the Waldenses), and Rome.
ENGLAND: WHO IS TYNDALE?
SITES PERTAINING TO JOHN WYCLIFFE
The history of the English Bible properly begins with John Wycliffe (1324-1384), who made the first complete translation from Latin. The Scripture portions most commonly found among English people before Wycliffe were Anglo Saxon and French, and the few English translations that were made were only portions of Scripture. Though some modern scholars have tried to make the case that Wycliffe did not do any of the actual translation himself, older historians did not question Wycliffe’s role in the work, and we believe the evidence supports this. That Wycliffe had helpers and that the original translation went through significant revisions no one doubts.
Wycliffe was born in Yorkshire in 1324 and educated at Oxford. He was a fellow of Merton College, and from 1361 to about 1366 was Master of Balliol College. In 1372 he received a doctorate in theology.
Wycliffe was a Catholic priest but began to preach against Rome’s errors in his mid-30s. He did not reject Rome all at once but gradually grew in his understanding of Scripture. There is a lot we do not know about his doctrine, as many of his writings have perished, but we do know that Wycliffe exposed many of Rome’s errors.
Wycliffe’s foundational doctrine was that the Bible is the sole authority for faith and practice and that men have the right to interpret Scripture for themselves before the Lord (and not be dependent upon Rome). He said, “Believers should ascertain for themselves what are the true matters of their faith, by having the Scriptures in a language which all may understand.” One of Wycliffe’s major works was “On the Truth of Sacred Scripture,” which was “a defence of the authority and inerrancy of the Bible.”
Wycliffe was very bold against the pope, contending that “it is blasphemy to call any head of the church, save Christ alone” (Thomas Crosby, History of the English Baptists, I, 1740, p. 7).
In 1374 he became chaplain to King Edward III
and was given the rectory of Lutterworth in Leicestershire.
Beginning in 1377 Wycliffe was fiercely persecuted by the Roman Catholic authorities in England as well as by the Pope in Rome.
Wycliffe was forced to appear before the Catholic bishops in the first half of the year 1377 to give an account of his doctrine. This occurred at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, where the Bishop of London was the chief priest. It was just outside of St. Paul’s, at Paul’s Cross, that English Bibles were burned from the days just following those of Wycliffe to those of William Tyndale. John of Gaunt and other nobles accompanied Wycliffe to defend him, but the trial was broken up by a riot before a decision could be reached. Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster, who was the effective ruler of England for some time because King Edward III was very old and his son Richard II was only a child. John was a large man and a bold knight. His armor, which is displayed today in the Tower of London, is 6 foot 9 inches.
The Roman Catholic bishops in England then appealed to Pope Gregory XI, who issued five papal bulls against Wycliffe in 1377.
In 1378 Wycliffe was again required to appear before the bishops to be investigated for the heresies he had been charged of by the Pope. This was held at Lambeth Palace in London, which would later become the home of the infamous Lollard’s Tower where so many dissenters were imprisoned. Before Wycliffe could be charged, Joan of Kent, widow of the Black Prince and mother of King Richard II, intervened and broke up the trial.
From then on, Wycliffe had trouble with the Catholic authorities. Their attitude toward him and toward his vernacular translation is evident from what Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote to Pope John XXIII in 1411. “This pestilent and wretched John Wyclif, of cursed memory, that son of the old serpent ... endeavoured by every means to attack the very faith and sacred doctrine of Holy Church, devising -- to fill up the measure of his malice -- the expedient of a new translation of the Scriptures into the mother tongue” (David Daniel, The Bible in English, p. 67).
In 1381 Wycliffe was kicked out of Oxford for denying the doctrine of transubstantiation and retired to Lutterworth. He produced a voluminous amount of writing until his death in 1384. “Some 57 Latin works were written between 1380 and December 1384” (Daniell, p. 73). It was during this time that the first English Bible was completed.
THE WYCLIFFE TREE
This ancient oak once stood in a field on the edge of Windsor Forest. It was a large open area where people congregated, and John Wycliffe preached there, thus giving the tree his name. Later George Whitfield, John Knox, and Charles Spurgeon preached at this tree, following in Wycliffe’s footsteps.
The Chepstow Castle, located in Wales on the River Wye, is the oldest castle in Britain and is very impressive. Construction began in 1066 by William Fitz Osbern, a companion of William the Conqueror. It was enlarged and improved over the centuries and continued to be in use until 1690. Today the castle contains a lot of interesting information about castle warfare, with lots of pictures as well as some ancient armor and equipment.
The four main anti-castle engines of war were the Ballista, which was like a giant crossbow for shooting large arrows; the Trebuchet, which could throw large stone balls weighing 30 or more pounds; the Mangonel, which threw smaller stones weighing 6 to 8 pounds; and the Perrier, which could throw stones at a rapid rate of up to six shots per minute. Working models of all four types of engines were built in 1992 and are on display at the castle of Caerphilly.
Though the Chepstow has no direct bearing on the history of the Bible, it is an interesting window into those times.
In May 1382, Wycliffe was called before yet another synod of ecclesiastical authorities. This is called the Blackfriars’ Synod, because it was held in the monastery of Blackfriars in London (so named because of the black robes worn by the Dominican friars or monks). The Dominicans were at the forefront of the Inquisition. Charles V, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and a great persecutor, stayed at the monastery on his visit to London in 1522.
When the 47 bishops and monks and religious doctors took their seats, a powerful earthquake shook the city. Huge stones fell out of castle walls and pinnacles toppled. “Wycliffe called it a judgment of God and afterwards described the gathering as the ‘Earthquake Council’” (Fountain, John Wycliffe, p. 39). The synod condemned Wycliffe, charging him specifically with 10 heresies and 16 errors. His writings were forbidden and the king gave authority to imprison anyone who believed the condemned doctrines.
The monastery, which originally stretched from Shoe Lane off Fleet Street right down to the Thames at Puddle Dock, ceased to function as a religious order during the days of King Henry VIII. Later it was used as one of Shakespeare's playhouses. Though the monastery no longer exists and even the buildings are gone, with only a part of a wall left that can be seen from St. Anne’s churchyard, that area of London is still called Blackfriars and the Blackfriars Bridge over the Thames originates there.
We started the day at Lutterworth (St. Mary's) Church where John Wycliffe, “The Morning Star of the Reformation,” was Rector in the 1300s. Wycliffe had a severe stroke at the Lutterworth church and was carried from there to his bed, where he died on December 31, 1384.
The people at the church were very friendly and allowed us to shoot all of the pictures we wanted and did everything they could to facilitate our work. Fred Kendal, an older man who oversees the coffee-tea times each morning, likes Americans. He was in World War II and was on ships that delivered American soldiers to the beaches on D-Day, and he also has an American daughter-in-law. The rector, Peter Casswell, was also sympathetic to what we are doing and was helpful in answering questions and in granting a video interview. The famous painting of Wycliffe has been moved to the rectory, where most visitors would not see it; but we were allowed to photograph it. In that same back room were some old line drawings of scenes from Wycliffe’s trials. The church also contains a chair that belonged to Wycliffe and the door that he used. The original Wycliffe pulpit is located at another church, we were told, but the one that currently exists at Lutterworth was modeled on the original.
A Wycliffe Memorial in one corner of the church dates to 1837. It is a stone relief depicting Wycliffe preaching to villagers. He has his back to the friars who had kept the people in darkness with their heresies. The inscription reads:
“Sacred to the memory of John Wiclif, earliest champion of ecclesiastical reformation in England. He was born in Yorkshire in the year 1324. In the year 1375 he was presented to the rectory of Lutterworth, where he died on the 31st December 1384. At oxford he acquired not only the renown of a consummate schoolman, but the far more glorious title of the evangelic doctor. His whole life was one impetuous struggle against the corruptions and encroachments of the papal court, and the impostures of its devoted auxiliaries, the mendicant fraternities. His labours in the cause of scriptural truth were crowned by one immortal achievement, his translation of the Bible into the English tongue. This mighty work drew on him, indeed, the bitter hatred of all who were making merchandise of the popular credulity and ignorance, but he found an abundant reward in the blessing of his countrymen, of every rank and age, to whom he unfolded the words of eternal life. His mortal remains were interred near this spot; but they were not allowed to rest in peace. After the lapse of many years, his bones were dragged from the grave, and consigned to the flames: and his ashes were cast into the waters of the adjoining stream.”
A wall painting, which was discovered and restored in 1860, possibly depicts the three patrons and protectors of Wycliffe, King Richard II, Queen Anne of Bohemia, and John of Gaunt, though there is much speculation and dissention about this.
Parts of the church itself date back to the 12th century. The oldest grave marker commemorates deaths in 1628 and 1677, but many of them were too old to read. The rector also said that prior to the 16th century gravesites were typically used over. One grave says the occupant, William Banbury, was mugged or killed by robbers in 1676.
THE RIVER SWIFT AND WYCLIFFE'S BONES
Wycliffe was buried somewhere in or outside of the church in 1384, but his bones were not left in peace. In 1428, almost 44 years after his death, the Roman Catholic authorities dug up the Bible translator’s bones and burned then. They then threw the ashes into the little River Swift that runs through Lutterworth.
I asked Fred Kendal if the church preaches that men must be born again, and he said that they do not but that there is a Pentecostal church in town that does. When Brother Brown visited Lutterworth Church in roughly 1995, they were putting on the blasphemous play Jesus Christ Superstar. He asked Rector Casswell why they were using such an unscriptural play, and he replied that they are trying to reach young people.
LAMBETH PALACE (LOLLARD’S TOWER)
Lambeth Palace on the Thames is the London residence and offices of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Parts of it date back to the 13th century. It is here, in a tower built by Archbishop Henry Chichele in 1434-35, that Lollards and other dissenters were imprisoned after Wycliffe’s death. At the top, on the fifth floor, was a “dismal room” that served as a prison. In the first half of the 20th century it still had the metal rings attached to the walls for the chaining of prisoners.
The palace isn’t open to the public, but we had a private tour of part of it. The lady who gave the tour is not a regular tour guide, but she has been employed there for some years and gives tours to new workers. We saw the chapel and the exterior of the buildings. The Lollard’s Tower was bombed on May 10, 1941, during World War II, and was “completely gutted.” It has been rebuilt and today it houses private apartments, so we could not go up into it. Our guide told us that she does not know what, if anything, still remains of the prison room, but there is a photo in the official Lambeth Palace guide book that appears to possibly have been taken after World War II and that shows a corner of the prison room with the rings in the walls (David L. Edwards, Lambeth Palace, Warners Midlands PLC: 1998, p. 11).
During our tour, we were not allowed to take photos in general, but Brother Brown did get a couple of photos of the chapel. We also went across the Thames and took photos of the palace and tower from a distance.
There are many connections between Oxford and the history of the English Bible. This is where John Wycliffe was educated and where he taught until he was evicted in 1381. This is also where William Tyndale was educated and was one of the three places where the King James Bible was translated.
The first thing we photographed was the Martyrs Monument, which was built in the late 1800s to commemorate the martyrdom of Ridley, Latimer, and Cranmer by Queen Mary in the mid-1500s.
ST. MICHAEL’S TOWER
We then visited St. Michael’s church and went up in the tower from which Cranmer was forced to watch the martyrdom of his two friends during the reign of the Roman Catholic Queen Mary. About six months later he followed them into the fire. Visitors can go up to the top of the tower and can also see the actual door from Cranmer’s jail cell.
THE PLACE OF EXECUTION
Next we visited the site of the burning of Ridley, Latimer, and Cranmer, which is marked by an X on the pavement near the main gate to Balliol College. There is also a plaque on a nearby wall that describes the meaning of the X.
UNIVERSITY CHURCH OF ST. MARY THE VIRGIN
On my visits to Oxford in April 2005 and July 2006 I looked at St. Mary the Virgin Church, which is the university church. Many things come together in the history of this church that are relevant to the history of the Bible.
It was here in the summer of 1382 that John Wycliffe was condemned in a sermon and for the first time Wycliffe’s followers were denounced as Lollards.
It was here in 1556 that the famous Protestant martyr Thomas Cranmer, author of the Anglican Prayer Book, was condemned for heresy.
It was here in June 1738 that John Wesley, soon after his conversion, preached a sermon entitled “”Salvation by Faith.” In 1741 Wesley preached his famous sermon “Almost Christian” at St. Mary’s, and in 1744 he preached a sermon denouncing the moral laxity and sloth of the senior members of the university. He was not invited back! He wrote: “I preached, I suppose for the last time, at St. Mary’s. Be it so. I am now clear of the blood of these men.”
It was also here that the sermon was preached that launched THE TRACTARIAN OR OXFORD MOVEMENT, which was a Romanizing movement in the Church of England. (In spite of the fact that it was nearby that Protestants were tried and condemned in this very church in the 16th century and burned alive by Roman Catholic authorities only yards from this site.) The beginning of the Tractarian Movement (so called because it was promoted through a series of pamphlets called Tracts for the Times) is dated July 14, 1833, with a sermon preached at St. Mary’s by John Keble. The place can still be seen where Thomas Cranmer stood in St. Mary’s to be harangued by a Catholic priest before he was put to death. A prominent leader of the movement, John H. Newman, was Vicar of St. Mary’s from 1828-43. It is said that “undergraduates flocked to his sermons.” The poet Matthew Arnold described it 40 years later: “Who could resist the charm of that spiritual apparition, gliding in the dim afternoon light through the aisles of St. Mary’s, rising into the pulpit, and then, in the most entrancing of voices breaking the silence with words and thoughts which were a religious movement, subtle, sweet, mournful?” What Arnold did not say is that “the charm” of Newman’s preaching was its tantalizing heresy. Newman eventually joined the Catholic Church and became a Cardinal. A voice for the Tractarian Movement, the Union Review, stated: “The work going on in England is an earnest and carefully organized attempt on the part of a rapidly increasing body of priests and laymen, to bring our Church and country up to the full standard of Catholic faith and practice, and eventually to plead for her union with [Rome]” (Union Review, 1867, p. 412). Another organ for this movement said: “Justification by faith, the most immoral of Protestant dogmas, has run its tether, and happily died of self-strangulation” (Church News, Nov. 1867).
The Tractarian Movement was the forerunner to the current ecumenical movement which is bringing the Church of England back into the arms of Rome. A hallmark was passed in June 1982 when for the first time in history a Roman Pope visited England. On this occasion the Pope said: “Today, for the first time in history, a Bishop of Rome sets foot on British soil. My deep desire, my ardent hope and prayer is that my visit may serve the cause of Christian unity.” Another hallmark was passed on April 8, 2005, when for the first time in history an Archbishop of Canterbury, the Prince of Wales (the future king), and the Prime Minister of England attended the funeral of a Pope.
A much different voice came to St. Mary’s pulpit in 1863. This was JOHN WILLIAM BURGON (1813-88), who defended the Traditional Greek text against the Westcott-Hort critical theories in the 19th century. He was the Dean of St. Mary’s from 1863-75. The only remnant of Burgon’s time is a plaque that lists the Deans of the church from 1204 to 1986. He is not even mentioned in the official church history that is available in the bookstore.
Burgon was one of the foremost scholars of the nineteenth century. F.H.A. Scrivener called him “that grand scholar” and called Burgon’s work defending the ending of Mark 16 “brilliant.” He made several tours of European libraries, examining and collating New Testament manuscripts wherever he went. He visited the Vatican Library in 1860 to examine the Vaticanus, and in 1862 he traveled to Mt. Sinai to inspect manuscripts at St. Catherine’s. Burgon’s The Revision Revised is a devastating critique of Westcott and Hort’s theories of modern textual criticism, the theories that undergird the modern Bible versions.
It is probable that Burgon was the last man at Oxford to preach a message on the infallibility of the Bible and to expose and rebuke the apostasy of that institution. This occurred in 1860 in response to the publication of Essays and Reviews, a series of articles that cast doubt upon the inerrancy of Scripture. Burgon, in the capacity as Select Preacher of the University, delivered seven sermons in opposition to the burgeoning theological modernism. These were published the next year under the title Inspiration and Interpretation. In the Preface to these sermons, Burgon observed: “AT THE ROOT OF THE WHOLE MISCHIEF OF THESE LAST DAYS LIES DISBELIEF IN THE BIBLE AS THE WORD OF GOD. THIS IS THE FUNDAMENTAL ERROR.” In Sermon II, “Natural Science and Theological Science,” Burgon said: “Destroy my confidence in the Bible as an historical record, and you destroy my confidence in it altogether; for by far the largest part of the Bible is an historical record. ... either, with the best and wisest of all ages, you must believe the whole of Holy Scripture; or, with the narrow-minded infidel, you must disbelieve the whole. There is no middle course open to you. ... He who surrenders the first page of his Bible, surrenders all” (Inspiration and Interpretation, pp. 46, 51). In Sermon III, “Inspiration of Scripture,” Burgon delivered this wonderful statement of his faith in divine inspiration: “THE BIBLE (BE PERSUADED) IS THE VERY UTTERANCE OF THE ETERNAL;—AS MUCH GOD’S WORD, AS IF HIGH HEAVEN WERE OPEN, AND WE HEARD GOD SPEAKING TO US WITH HUMAN VOICE. Every book of it, is inspired alike; and is inspired entirely. ... THE BIBLE IS NONE OTHER THAN THE VOICE OF HIM THAT SITTETH UPON THE THRONE! EVERY BOOK OF IT,—EVERY CHAPTER OF IT,—EVERY VERSE OF IT,—EVERY WORD OF IT,—EVERY SYLLABLE OF IT,—(WHERE ARE WE TO STOP?)—EVERY LETTER OF IT—IS THE DIRECT UTTERANCE OF THE MOST HIGH! ... The Bible is none other than the Word of God: not some part of it, more, some part of it, less; but all alike, the utterance of Him who sitteth upon the Throne;—absolute,—faultless,—unerring,—supreme!” (Burgon, Inspiration and Interpretation, pp. 75, 76, 89).
Few Anglicans have been as bold for the truth as John Burgon.
On October 18, 1868, he lit up Saint Mary the Virgin’s pulpit with the sermon “The Nation’s Formal Rejection of God and Denial of the Faith.”
In 1869 Burgon published England and Rome: Three Letters to a Pervert. A title like that leaves little doubt as to Burgon’s position on Roman Catholicism! He was addressing the tendency in his day for Anglicans to convert to Romanism. The “pervert” in question was a man who had done this very thing and who, as a staunch Roman Catholic, a “designing Papist,” had written to Burgon to exhort him to likewise convert to Rome. Burgon replied with three lengthy letters of his own, exposing all of the blasphemous dogmas of Catholicism. He listed 11 charges against Roman Catholicism: Idolatry, Purgatory and indulgences, Mariolatry, Communion under one kind, Superstition, Legends of fabulous saints, The entire system of public worship, Neglect of Scripture, and exalting tradition to the level of Scripture, Papal infallibility, Adding fresh articles to the Faith, Popery’s political power.
On December 12, 1869, only four days after the 800 Roman Catholic bishops first met to open the Vatican Council I, John Burgon preached a message at St. Mary the Virgin’s Church in Oxford, of which he was Dean, on “The Roman Council.” Burgon stated his conviction that the Roman Catholic Church is the religious harlot of Revelation 17. He said, “... if Rome is found in the Book of Revelation ... she must needs be the ‘great City’ which is symbolized by the Woman sitting on seven hills. (Rev. 17:3, 9, 18.) This, I say, is certain.” Burgon warned that the Vatican I Council marked a turning point of end time events: “What is to be thought of this imposing gathering at Rome, this long array of Ecclesiastical pomp and circumstance? I am concerned to return myself no other answer but this:--It may be, IT MUST BE, ONE OF THE STEPS PRELIMINARY TO THE GREAT AND TERRIBLE ISSUE. ... it is impossible not to be aware that FITFUL SHADOWS OF ANTICHRIST ARE ALREADY DARKENING OUR PATHWAY; and watchfulness and wakefulness may well be the abiding attitude of all our spirits” (Burgon, The Roman Council. A Sermon preached at S. Mary the Virgin’s, Oxford, on the third Sunday in Advent, Dec. 12, 1869; being the Sunday after the death of John Parsons. James Parker and Co., Oxford and London, 1869, p. 10).
In 1870, Burgon joined with eight Anglican bishops to protest the consecration of a modernist in Exeter. This was published under the title Protests of the Bishops against the Consecration of Dr. Temple to the See of Exeter (Oxford and London: James Parker and Co., 1870).
In 1872, Burgon published “an earnest remonstrance and petition” against the presence of the Unitarian George Vance Smith on the Revision translation committee.
On October 12 and 19, 1873, he preached on “Romanizing within the Church of England.” He said, “I eagerly throw in my lot with those faithful laymen who have endured till they can endure no longer,--and are resolved, if they lawfully can, at last to resist the endeavour which is being made in certain quarters to assimilate our English method to that of the Church of Rome.” He warned that Romanism produces “a general indifference to Truthfulness” and “paves the way for Unbelief, and fosters nothing so much as Irreligion.” Burgon warned about “the Romish dresses,--and the Romish lights,--and the Romish incense,--and the Romish gestures” which were coming into the Anglican Church. He warned about Rome’s exaltation of Mary, wisely observing, “There has resulted from this unscriptural theory of Tradition, no grosser perversion of the truth than the entire system of Saintworship, and especially the cultus of the Blessed Virgin Mary. ... She can only be fitly described as the tutelary Deity of modern Rome.” He warned of “the abominable casuistry and indecency of the Confessional” and of the blasphemy of the papacy, “for it sets up on behalf of the Roman Pontiff, the awful prerogative which our Saviour claims expressly for Himself:--‘I have the keys of Hell and of Death.’” He labeled Rome’s doctrine of Transubstantiation “Idolatry” and “a blasphemous fable and dangerous deceit.” He spoke of the “treacherous course” of those who would bring in Romanism with subtilty and under the guise of spirituality. He spoke of “the dishonesty of the method of this little handful of disloyal men.” He warned against keeping silent in the face of heresy, because to do so “is to connive at the scandal to witness it without remonstrance.” He considered it his duty as a preacher to lift his voice against error. “I regard my own as a position of solemn trust; and consider you have a right, as a congregation, to know my sentiments on what is becoming a very conspicuous matter ... I further hold it to be my plain duty,--a very painful one, but one I dare not any longer neglect,--solemnly to warn you all...” He described the folly of those who were saying that it would be wise to yoke together with Romanism to resist the onslaught of Skepticism. “I answer,--That one ugly pit yawns on my left hand, is no reason whatever why I should overlook another ghastly pit which yawns on my right. ... I take leave to point out moreover, that there is no surer way to promote Infidelity than to bring in upon us this plausible counterfeit of Romanism proper.” He concluded: “These histroinic extragavancies may appeal successfully to the young and impulsive,--may for awhile gratify the taste and captivate the imagination; but they will be found sorry things to fall back upon in times of extremity, and amid the decays of age; in the hour of fainting nature and on the bed of death. There is wondrous little of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in this miserable resuscitation of effete Medievalism. It is of the earth,--earthy: an unspiritual, an unwholesome, a mawkish, a wholly un-English thing.”
There has not been this type of preaching at St. Mary the Virgin’s Church, Oxford, since the days of Burgon.
SITES PERTAINING TO WILLIAM TYNDALE
The Tyndale New Testament of 1525 was the first English translation based on Greek and the first English Bible to be printed. (The Wycliffe Bible was based on Latin and published only in hand-written manuscripts.) The King James Bible is an edition of Tyndale’s masterly translation.
William Tyndale is therefore the most important one name in the history of the English Bible and one of most important names in history of the English people. And yet on my last trip to England, I found that practically no one there knows who the man was.
William Tyndale was born about 1490, though the exact date is not known. His family was well to do and was involved in the cloth or wool business. Some of the branches of the Tyndale family had adopted the name Hitchens or Hutchens, and William Tyndale was also known by this name.
He was born in Gloucestershire in western England toward Wales. This was a place filled with Lollard and Waldensian teaching, and it is probable that the Tyndales were influenced by this. We know that by the time William Tyndale arrived at college, or soon thereafter, he had faith in Christ.
Tyndale had a good education. He attended Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1506. He was a brilliant student and obtained a BA in 1512 and an MA in 1515. In addition to English he mastered seven other languages (Latin, Greek, Hebrew, German, French, Spanish, Italian), being as much at home in these languages as in his native tongue.
WALKING WHERE TYNDALE WALKED
One morning we drove through the countryside where William Tyndale grew up and where he worked after completing his studies at Oxford. His actual birthplace is not certain, but it was in this general part of England, in the Cotswold's near Wales. It is a beautiful rural area with grass- and tree-covered rolling hills. It is sheep country.
After he graduated from Oxford Tyndale was hired as the tutor for Sir John Walsh’s children and a chaplain to the family at Little Sodbury Manor. John and Anne Walsh were friends with Tyndale’s influential brothers Edward and John. The Walshes were very wealthy and well connected. John was twice High Sheriff and had spent time at the king’s court. King Henry VIII lodged a night at Little Sodbury with his second wife, Anne Boleyn; and from their window they watched some sort of jousting or other event that was transpiring below on the green.
While at Little Sodbury Tyndale preached in the St. Adeline's Church as well as in a common place “called Saint Austen’s Green” and debated with Catholic priests. The oldest Walsh child was six years old, so it is probable that Tyndale had much time for himself. It is possible, in fact, that he began his Bible translation here. Tyndale had seen that the only hope for England was that the Scriptures be made available in the common language, and it was probably at Sodbury that he determined to dedicate his life to that task. One day during a discussion with Tyndale, a priest exclaimed, “We are better without God’s laws than the pope’s.” Hearing that, Tyndale boldly exclaimed: “I defy the Pope and all his laws. If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth a plough shall know more of the Scriptures than thou doest.” To the fulfillment of this noble purpose he dedicated his life, willingly suffering great privations, forgoing the joys of marriage and a settled family life, living like a hunted animal, for the sake of endowing his beloved people with the eternal Word of God. To translate the Bible into English was illegal at that time in England, and Tyndale was forced to go to Europe to do the work. Later on this trip we plan to visit Vilvorde, Belgium, where the Catholic Church eventually put Tyndale to death.
The Walshes loved Tyndale and, in fact, we are told that they converted from Roman Catholicism to Protestantism because of Tyndale’s testimony.
It was while at Sodbury that Rome’s persecution against Tyndale began. He was called before a tribunal and charged with heresy but was released. Later Tyndale described his treatment: “... when I came before the chancellor, he threatened me grievously, and reviled me, and rated me as though I had been a dog...”
ST. ADELINE’S CHURCH (THE TYNDALE CHURCH)
St. Adeline's church was originally located on the hill above Little Sodbury Manor, with a great view of the land for miles around. The church building was moved a couple of miles away in the 1800s. When we arrived early in the morning, the church was open but no one was around. In a back room I found an old photo of the original church site that was probably taken about 1940. To my knowledge, this photo has never been published or described in any of the histories. We got a good digital shot of it.
About a half hour after we arrived, a church member came by to show us around St. Aldeine’s. He was friendly, at least at first. When I asked him if he was born again, he replied in the negative and said that the church does not preach that message today. After that conversation, he seemed to grow less enthusiastic about our visit; and when we returned about an hour later, following our visit to Little Sodbury, the church was locked (though he had told us that it was always kept open) and he was nowhere to be seen.
TYNDALE BAPTIST CHAPEL
About a mile away is the Tyndale Baptist Chapel. It was locked and we could only take pictures of the outside. We were not able to find out anything about it beyond the name, but we kidded amongst ourselves that we had finally discovered firm evidence that William Tyndale was indeed a Baptist! (Later I got in touch with David Woodard, who was the pastor of the chapel for almost 10 years. He told me that the chapel was established by two preachers out of Charles Spurgeon’s church who came to Sodbury in the late 1800s. From then until the mid 1980s, the chapel did not have a full-time pastor and was ministered to infrequently by itinerant preachers. By the 1980s, the chapel had a small congregation of mostly elderly people and was in danger of closing. Woodard came to assist the chapel as a missionary with ABWE (the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism) and the work has prospered. The church now runs about 90 for Sunday services and uses a larger facility on the weekends. The original chapel building near Little Sodbury is still used for midweek services, youth meetings, and such. The chapel, which is an independent Baptist church, is currently pastored by Bert Weenink. Sadly, in about March 2005 he e-mailed us and demanded that they be removed from our church directory. He said they are not fundamentalists like us.
LITTLE SODBURY MANOR
We had an appointment to meet with Little Sodbury, the owner of Little Sodbury since 1989. His wife was originally supposed to show us around, but she was in London. He kept the promise that had been made by mail that he would show us around, but he was not very warm and made it quite plain that they do not want to host a stream of future visitors to the site. He told us that his wife had instructed him not to allow us to take any pictures, but after much discussion of the matter, he did allow us to take photos of the Great Room where Tyndale had discussions over dinner with visiting Catholic priests and prelates. It is perhaps in this room that the famous aforementioned discussion was carried on, in which the priest said we only need the pope’s laws and Tyndale replied that he defied the pope and all his laws and that he intended to make the plowboy to know the Scriptures.
We also saw the attic room where Tyndale possibly lived, as well as the room where Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn spent a night and the view they had from their window onto the green below. Lord Killearn showed us around the extensive grounds and took us up to the site of the old church on the hill overlooking the manor.
There are images of Buddha prominently displayed around the manor, including a large one located in the room one first enters from the main entrance leading from the front parking area. Thus it is obvious that the Bible faith that Tyndale brought to Lord and Lady Walsh at Little Sodbury in the early 16th century is no longer present in this ancient manor.
In the afternoon we visited the Tyndale Monument, which is built on the alleged site of his birth. It is on a high hill overlooking a beautiful farming area in the Cotswold area of western England. The walk up to the monument from the nearest road is rigorous. I would estimate that the hill is about 1500 feet high, and the path is steep. The view from the top, though, is spectacular. A sign told us that we could stop in a little shop in the nearby village and pick up a key to the monument, which we did, but we couldn’t get it to work. In that sense, it is much like “Saint Peter’s” key!
ARE YOU BORN AGAIN?
We asked many people if they are born again, and most do not know what it is. As I mentioned earlier, the man who was associated with Tyndale Church plainly told us that he is not a born again Christian. One man named Peter in nearby Bath, England, told me that he attends the Anglican Church in town every Sunday, but when I asked him if he is born again, he replied, “What’s that?” I witnessed to him but he was not listening. He looked like a hippie leftover from the ‘60s, and it appeared that he had smoked one too many joints. I looked at him and realized that I was looking at myself had I not gotten saved in 1973.
WHO IS TYNDALE?
We also asked many people in England, “Do you know who William Tyndale is?” Almost no one does. One man replied that he thought he might be an architect. Another answered that she thought that Tyndale had written a history of America. Most did not come even that close to the truth. It is obvious that England’s glorious heritage has faded away. A taxi driver who admitted that he did not know who Tyndale is, upon being told, said, “I feel guilty for not knowing. I should know that.” Indeed, he should, but it is not his fault alone that he does not know, but it is the fault of apostate churches and a secularized education system.
TYNDALE STATUE ON THE THAMES
The Tyndale Statue is located on the Parliament side of the Thames. It is about 20 feet high and features a larger than life image of Tyndale. The plaque reads:
“William Tyndale: First translator of the New Testament into English from the Greek, born A.D. 1484, died a martyr at Vilvorde in Belgium, A.D. 1535. ‘Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.’ ‘The entrance of thy words giveth light.’ ‘And this is the record that God has given to us eternal life and this life is in his son.’ The last words of William Tyndale were, ‘Lord, open the king of England’s eyes.’ Within a year afterwards, a Bible was placed in every parish church by the king’s command.”
Literally millions of people pass close by this monument in modern London each year and each one that speaks English has been affected, albeit in most cases unknowingly, by the work of the great translator (the Tyndale Bible has had a great effect even upon the English language). Yet of the vast multitudes, only a few care anything about the Bible that Tyndale sacrificed so greatly to give us. Tellingly, the taxi driver who took us to the monument did not know who William Tyndale is.
Fulham Palace was the residence of the Bishop of London in Tyndale's day. It was here that Tyndale came in about 1523 in an attempt to gain Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall’s permission to translate the Scriptures into English from Hebrew and Greek. He even had a letter of introduction from Sir John Walsh to Sir Henry Guildford, Controller and Master of the Horse for King Henry VIII (Daniell, The Bible in English, p. 142), but it was not to be.
Tyndale later wrote, “I understood at the last that there was no room in my lord of London’s palace to translate the New Testament.”
After staying in London for several months, Tyndale went to Europe and completed the New Testament there. When the Tyndale Bible began to be distributed in England, Tunstall pronounced a prohibition against it, calling it “that pestiferous and most pernicious poison dispersed throughout all our diocese of London in great number.” Tunstall oversaw the burning of Tyndale’s New Testaments at St. Paul’s Cathedral on October 27, 1526, as well as on a later occasion.
Today Fulham Palace is a museum located in Bishop's Park by the River Thames.
ST. DUNSTAN’S IN THE WEST
During the few months that Tyndale was in London before going to Europe, he preached at St. Dunstan's in the West. John Milton printed Paradise Lost on the church’s printing presses in 1667. A statue of Elizabeth I stands in an alcove over the vestry door. The statue, which dates to 1586, is said to be the only one of this queen to remain in the city. It originally stood on the old Ludgate, which was one of the main gates into London.
In the 17th century St. Dunstans was a center for Puritanism. Richard Baxter, author of The Call to the Unconverted, was a lecturer there. So was the extraordinarily-named Praise God Barebones. He was “a Fleet Street leather merchant, popular Puritan preacher with a rabble rousing style and republican parliamentarian.” He was a member of Oliver Cromwell’s 1653 Parliament and is buried at St. Dunstan’s.
There is an interesting association between St. Dunstans and America. Lord Baltimore, founder of the state of Maryland, is buried there, as is Daniel Brown, the first Anglican clergyman ordained for America.
Today St. Dunstans is far removed from the doctrine that was preached there in the 16th and 17th centuries and is radically ecumenical. Their web site has this information: “Here, alone in the whole of the country, the traditions of the seven major churches of Christendom -- that is the Old Catholics, the Assyrian Church of the East, the Romanian Orthodox Church, the Anglican Church, the Oriental churches, the Lutheran and Reformed Churches and the Holy Roman and Catholic Church -- are honoured in four chapels and three shrines set around the octagonal walls. Designated as a centre of prayer for Christian Unity in 1960, it now plays a major role in fostering good relations with churches outside the Anglican communion.” It was the liberal Geoffrey Fisher, archbishop of Canterbury, who designated St. Dunstan’s a center of prayer for Christian unity.
When I visited the church on July 1, 2006, an Orthodox wedding was being conducted.
Paul's Cross is located beside St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Bishop of London’s church. This is where copies of the Wycliffe Bible were burned during the 15th century and where Tyndale’s New Testaments were burned during the days of King Henry VIII in the first part of the 16th. There is a sign on the concrete of a walkway marking the spot. From the 13th to the 17th century Paul’s Cross featured an outdoor pulpit made of wood and covered with lead, which was used for sermons, royal and ecclesiastical proclamations, the reading of papal bulls, condemnation of heretics, etc. The pulpit was removed in 1643. This was also the site of the Rood of Northern, which was a large crucifix that was set up to be worshipped (see Christopher Anderson, Annals of the English Bible, 1845, I, p. 106). Tyndale Bibles were burned before the Rood on Feb. 11, 1526, and at other times.
Smithfield used to be a field, as its name suggests, but today it is covered with buildings and a small park marks the place where Roman Catholic and Church of England authorities burned nonconformists up until the days of King James I. There is a plaque on a wall that commemorates the Protestants who were burned during the days of Queen Mary but nothing about the Baptists that were burned even under Anglican kings and queens.
The last man burned alive in England for his religion was Edward Wightman, a Baptist, on April 11, 1612, under James I. Wightman denied infant baptism. He was “supposed to be the progenitor of a large family of Baptists, having among them many Baptist ministers” (Richard Cook, The Story of the Baptists, 1888, p. 85). Another man was burned to death about a month before this and others died in prison during James’ reign. The burnings did not stop because of a change of heart on the part of the king, but because of the outcry of the people against them. British historian Thomas Fuller notes, “King James politically preferred that heretics hereafter, though condemned, should silently and privately waste themselves away in the prison, rather than to grace them, and amuse others, with the solemnity of a public execution, which in popular judgment usurped the honor of a persecution.”
SAINT BARTHOLOMEW THE GREAT CHURCH
This church, which faces onto Smithfield, is probably where Tyndale was ordained. The arched west entrance into the church, called the Smithfield Gate (c. 1300), can be seen in drawings of ancient martyrdoms in books such as the 1641 Foxe’s Martyrology in my library. The church was built in the 12th century and became Anglican under Queen Elizabeth I.
THE TOWER OF LONDON
We visited the Tower of London, where two of Henry VIII’s wives were executed, including Anne Boleyn, who loved the Tyndale Bible. The Tower of London is not merely one tower but is a large fortress complex and inside the walls are many towers and buildings. It is strategically located on the River Thames right by the London Bridge. The first part of the Tower was built in the 11th century, and various English kings have subsequently added to the complex. The large central White Tower was built between 1078 and 1097.
The first person to be imprisoned in the Tower was Ranulf Flambard, Bishop of Durham, in 1100. He escaped by use of a rope that was smuggled to him. Another famous captive in the White Tower, Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, Prince of Walls, was less successful. He plunged to his death in 1244 trying to escape. In centuries past, the Tower could be entered from the river through a Gate that became known as Traitors’ Gate, because of the traitors (both real and alleged) who were brought to their destiny by this entrance. From the time of Henry VI in the 15th century, prisoners were tortured in the Tower. One of the infamous means of torture was the rack, which was said to make its victims “a foot longer.” Countless believers who dissented from the state church (Catholic and Anglican) were tormented by this means at various places of imprisonment.
During the reign of Edward IV, prisoners began to be put to death at the Tower. The first execution was that of Lord Hastings, who was beheaded in 1483. The executions were carried out in the Tower Green, in front of the Chapel of St. Peter and Vincula. The young and newly crowned Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York, the sons of Edward IV, were held captive in the Tower and were smothered as they slept. The place where they were murdered has since been known as the Bloody Tower. It is believed that an agent of their uncle, who subsequently ascended the throne as Richard III, killed them. Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife, was imprisoned on trumped up charges and beheaded on the Tower Green in 1536. Henry married another woman either the next day or a few days later. Henry’s fifth wife, Catherine Howard, was executed on Tower Green in 1542. Lady Jane Grey, who was queen for nine days after the death of Henry’s son Edward VI, was also beheaded at Tower Green in 1554.
Today the Tower is largely a museum and contains many fascinating artifacts, including the Crown Jewels and a large collection of ancient military equipment under the name Royal Armouries. These include armor worn by Henry VIII and other kings and knights, horse armor and jousting lances, swords, flintlock pistols, muskets, canons, etc. The largest set of armor, at 6 foot 9 inches, belonged to John of Gaunt, who protected John Wycliffe during the first part of his ministry. No doubt he was a very impressive protector, but Gaunt abandoned Wycliffe after the Reformer rejected the false doctrine of transubstantiation. There is also a collection of life-sized and real-to-life wooden carvings of the heads of 17 of the kings of England, including Henry VIII and James I. These were originally made for the Line of Kings display that featured models of the kings in armor astride life-sized wooden horses.
There are also instruments of torture and execution on display that were used in the Tower, such as the rack, the Spanish Collar, shackles, thumbscrews, and an actual execution block with axe.
HERTFORD COLLEGE, OXFORD
Hertford is the home of a famous Tyndale painting (which is painted after his death and does not show his actual likeness) and a beautiful stained glass work of Tyndale. The latter portrays a large figure of Tyndale and a smaller scene of Tyndale visiting the printers. The Tyndale painting hands in the Dining Hall and I was able to see it in July 2006.
THE BRITISH LIBRARY
I have spent many days at the British Library and in my estimation it is the world’s preeminent library. The British Library is one of the world’s most amazing libraries. There are specialty libraries, of course, that contain books not found here, but for general theological and historical research, especially on the British or European side, I don’t know anything like it. I don’t know any other libraries where a general card holder can actually examine Tyndale New Testaments, for example. The British Library is massive. It features 12.5 million books stored on 240 miles of shelves, 300,000 manuscripts, and millions of other items. There are 11 reading rooms.
While there I have examined four copies of THE TYNDALE NEW TESTAMENT, and it is such a thrill to handle these little volumes that were produced and distributed at such great cost. Only two copies of the first edition Tyndale survived intact from the vicious persecution that was poured out against it by the Catholic authorities in England. One of those copies is owned by the British Library, but it is usually on display in the Gallery and cannot be handled. The copies I examined were second editions.
The Tyndale New Testament is immediately recognized as a Bible used by “dissidents” who were separate from Rome, because it is in a vernacular language and it is small and plain. It is a missionary Bible. It was designed to carry around and preach from and hide from the preying eyes of the Inquisition. For the most part the Roman Catholics Bibles were in Latin and were large and ornate, because they were not designed to use in a devotional or evangelistic context so much as to “venerate” and display and carry about in procession.
The following is an interesting statement that Tyndale made about Greek in the preface to the 1534 edition. I have updated the old English letters and spelling but left the forward slash marks as they appear in the original. It is obvious that he believed the New Testament Greek was influenced by the Old Testament Hebrew, which is a reasonable position but one that is rejected by most modern textual scholars.
“Here thou hast (most dear reader) the New Testament or covenant made with us by God in Christ’s blood. Which I have looked over again (now at the last) with all diligence/ and compared it unto the Greek/ and have weeded out of it many faults/ which lack of help at the beginning and oversight/ did sow therein. If ought seem changed/ or not altogether agreeing with the Greek/ let the finder of the fault consider the Hebrew phrase or manner of speech left in the Greek words. Whose preterperfect tense and present tense is oft both one/ and the future tense is the optative mode also/ and the future tense is oft the imperative mode in the active voice/ and in the passive ever. Likewise person for person/ number for number/ and an interrogation for a conditional/ and such like is with the Hebrews a common usage.”
While Shakespeare, who wrote a half century after Tyndale, is difficult to understand today, the King James Bible (which is largely Tyndale’s work) is much more easily understood. Shakespeare used a vocabulary of roughly 21,000 English words, while Tyndale used only about 6,000. (This compares favorably to the vocabulary of the Hebrew Old Testament, which is 5,642 words, and the vocabulary of the Greek New Testament, which is about 4,800 words.) Most of Tyndale’s Bible words are only one or two syllables. Consider, for example, the Parable of the Rich Man in Luke 12:15-21. Of the 157 words in this passage, only 22 are more than two syllables and most of those are only two.
Another of the countless treasures in the British Library is the massive 16-volume work by John Burgon, Index of Texts of the New Testament Quoted by the Fathers. This was produced between 1872-1888 and was never published. The sole existing copy resides in the British Library, manuscripts section, 33,33421-33,33436. This index of New Testament citations by the “Church Fathers” consists of 86,489 references to quotations, more than 4,000 of them from writers who died before the year 400 A.D. This work proves that the Traditional Reformation Text was in existence and was widely quoted in the first three centuries following the apostles. Thus, contrary to the myth that is often promoted by defenders of the modern versions, the Received Text underlying the King James Bible is demonstrated to be at least as ancient as the text that was produced by modern textual criticism. John Burgon, whose scholarship was probably equal to that of any other man of his day, spent 30 years tracing the history of the Bible through the ages. He used the resources in England and also made tours of European libraries, examining and collating N.T. manuscripts wherever he went. He visited the Vatican Library in 1860 to examine the Vaticanus and went to Mt. Sinai in 1862 to inspect manuscripts at St. Catherine’s (the home of the Sinaiticus manuscript). Burgon concluded: “Call this text Erasmian or Complutensian, the text of Stephens, or of Beza, or of the Elzevirs, call it the Received or the Traditional, or by whatever name you please--the fact remains that a text has come down to us which is attested by a general consensus of ancient Copies, ancient Fathers, and ancient Versions.”
I have found at least 100 works in the British Library that give a defense of the King James Bible and its Received Text prior to 1900 and some prior to 1800. One of these is A CRITICAL EXAMINATION OF THE LATE NEW TEXT AND VERSION OF THE NEW TESTAMENT by Leonard Twells (London, 1731-32). This interesting work includes a powerful defense of 1 John 5:7. Twells was writing against the modern textual criticism of Daniel Mace.
Another of these is A VINDICATION OF OUR AUTHORIZED TRANSLATION AND TRANSLATORS OF THE BIBLE by Henry John Todd (1819).Todd was chaplain to the king of England and keeper of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s records. He published The Life of John Milton (1801) and edited a small edition of Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language (1818). In A Vindication, Todd was writing in opposition to those voices that were calling for a revision of the Authorized Version and a replacement of the Greek Received Text. Some in Todd’s day were claiming that the King James Bible was translated by men who were not skilled in the Hebrew language. Todd countered this by examining the qualifications of a number of the esteemed Reformation translators and by bringing forth many respected testimonies in defense of the scholarship of the Authorized Version translation committee. He gave details of 17 of the KJV translators who were highly skilled in Hebrew. In Section VII of his treatise, Todd gives the testimonies of 15 scholars who attest to the beauty and accuracy of the King James Bible.
Another work defending the KJV that I found in the British Library is B. Wadsworth’s 171-page AUTHORISED NEW TESTAMENT AND REVISED CONTRASTED (1886). This contains Wadsworth’s opposition to the English Revised Version. In the Preface, Wadsworth makes his position clear by referring to “the absurdities of the so-called Revision of the New Testament.” He says that the chief reason he has written on this subject is “that the nation may see the wickedness of this Revision” and “may see the dreadful teachings of the Revised Version, and so be led to prize more highly and defend more strenuously the Book which God has given us, which has been, and still is, England’s greatest blessing.” He warns that “if England turns her back on God’s word, God will most surely visit the nation with His displeasure” (p. vii). How prophetic were those words!
Another of these is Alexander M’Caul’s REASONS FOR HOLDING FAST THE AUTHORIZED ENGLISH VERSION OF THE BIBLE (1857). M’Caul was writing in response to various proposals that were being put forward to urge a revision of the King James Bible. These proposals eventually resulted in the creation of the English Revised Version of 1881, the first standard modern English Bible based on the critical Greek New Testament. He divided the proposed changes into three categories: Needless, uncertain, and objectionable (pp. 25-26). He observed that many of the proposed changes “affect doctrine” (p. 44) and others, “by adding to or taking from the Text, shew such a want of reverence for it, as to make sober men tremble at the thought of a revision” (p. 44). If sober men trembled at the changes proposed in that day, how much more should they tremble today! Note how seriously M’Caul treats this subject. It is not merely an issue of scholarship. It is an issue of the very Word of God itself!
Another treasure I found on this trip to the British Library is THOMAS RENNELL’S ANIMADVERSIONS ON THE UNITARIAN TRANSLATION, OR IMPROVED VERSION OF THE NEW TESTAMENT (London: Printed for J. Hatchard and Son, 1819). Rennell, the Vicar of Kensington and Christian Advocate in the University of Cambridge, wrote boldly and unhesitatingly against the Unitarian translation of the Bible which was called an Improved Version. It was based on the second edition of the modernist Johann Griesbach’s critical Greek New Testament and thus contained all of the textual errors that Griesbach dug out of manuscripts that were corrupted in ancient times by Egyptian heretics.
We see that in spite of what some defenders of the modern versions are claiming, the battle for the King James Bible and its underlying Traditional Hebrew and Greek Text is not of recent origin. (In our 460-page book For Love of the Bible: The History of the Defense of the Received and the KJV we give extensive examples of this.)
THE BRITISH LIBRARY’S JOHN RITBLAT GALLERY
The John Ritblat Gallery at the British Library is rightly called the Treasures gallery, for it contains one of the world’s premier displays of (among other things) ancient Bibles. I have visited this amazing gallery many times and each time I learn new things.
Here is displayed THE LINDISFARNE GOSPELS, which is the earliest extant portion of Scripture in the English language. These Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) were written in Latin in about 721 AD, and they were translated into old English in about 950. The English translation is written above the Latin. John 1:1 says: “On fruman waes word and thaet word waes mid Gode and Gode waes thaet word. Thaet waes fruman mid Gode,” which in modernized English means: “In beginning was word and that word was with God and God was that word. That was in beginning with God.”
The Lindisfarne Gospels was held in a Catholic monastery and displays its association with Romanism by its size, extravagant artistry, and ornate binding. The pages are large. The vellum and ink are of the highest quality. The letters are huge so that only a few words fit on a page; they are ornate in the extreme and done in a riot of colors. “No fewer than forty different pigments have been identified.” Each page is surrounded by large colorful artistic designs with amazing detail. It must have taken months to make just one page. The binding features gems and precious metals. All of this is in great contrast to the plain little missionary Bibles such as those used by the Waldenses, the Anabaptists, and the Lollards.
On display at the British Library is a copy of THE WYCLIFFE BIBLE dating to before 1420. This was the first entire English Bible and was made from Latin. It has handwritten. This copy was owned by King Henry VII and is large and ornate. Most copies of the Wycliffe New Testament or portions thereof were small and plain. Some of these can be seen at the Oxford University Library.
Also on display at the British Library is THE FIRST EDITION TYNDALE NEW TESTAMENT, the first English Bible translated from Greek and the first English Bible that was printed. This is only one of two complete copies that survived of the 3,000 to 6,000 copies that were printed of the first edition. The other copy was discovered in 1996 at the Stuttgart Landesbibliothek. Another copy at the St. Paul’s Cathedral Library lacks the title page and 70 leaves.
Another of the many interesting things on display in the Gallery is THE SINAITICUS MANUSCRIPT that was discovered by Tischendorf in the 1800s and, together with the Vaticanus, became the most important manusd cripts for the purposes of modern textual criticism. Most of the changes and omissions that are found in the modern Bible versions can be traced to these manuscripts. In April 2003 the Sinaiticus was opened to Mark 16 to show the infamous omission of verses 9-20 (it was turned to a different passage in April 2005). One interesting thing about this is that the scribe who created the manuscript left space for those verses. Many modern versions question this passage with a footnote, but apart from Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, there is little evidence that these verses should be omitted. From a practical standpoint, to do so ends Mark’s Gospel with the disciples trembling and amazed and “afraid” (Mark 16:8). The omission removes the victorious appearances of Jesus, His Great Commission, the ascension, and the miraculous spread of the gospel.
SITES PERTAINING TO THE KING JAMES BIBLE
HAMPTON COURT PALACE
Hampton Court is a magnificent royal palace on the River Thames. The first part of it was built for the Knights Hospitallers, a religious order founded in the early 12th century to protect the land of Israel from the Muslims. In the early 1500s, Thomas Wolsey, Cardinal and Lord Chancellor of England under King Henry VIII, obtained a 99-year lease on the property and expanded it into a royal palace. Wolsey built royal lodgings for Henry, and eventually all six of Henry’s wives spent time there, including two who were possibly believers, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Parr. Henry’s marriage to Catherine Parr took place in the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court, and his son Edward was baptized there. The royal barge would travel to and from London and would dock at the court. Henry’s Astronomical Clock in the tower near the entrance not only kept time but also kept track of the tide so the river trips could be planned more easily. Amazingly, the clock still works today. In 1528, Wolsey was forced to relinquish Hampton Court to the King because he had been unable to secure the pope’s consent for Henry’s divorce. Within ten years, Henry spent more than 62,000 British pounds, a sum worth more than US$30 million today, on construction at Hampton Court. There were tennis courts, bowling alleys, vast pleasure gardens, an 1,100-acre hunting park, kitchens covering 36,000 feet of space for the feeding of 1,200 people daily, the great dining hall that could seat hundreds, an elaborate chapel, a massive lavatory that could seat 28 people at a time (known as the Great House of Easement), even a plumbing system that brought water by lead pipes from three miles away. The Palace as seen today is largely that of the late 17th century reconstruction that was done by Christopher Wren for William III and Mary II.
It was at Hampton Court in January 1604 that King James I authorized the translation of the Bible that bears his name. The decision was made toward the end of a three-day conference that the king held to discuss the grievances of the Puritans and their desire for a more scriptural reform of the Church of England.
We were told by a staff member at Hampton Court in 2003 that it is thought that at least part of this historic meeting was held in the Cartoon Gallery, which is so called because of the impressive paintings that hang on the walls depicting biblical scenes. (A cartoon was a painting that was used as a model for the creation of tapestries, frescos, or statues.) The Gallery was first built to display Raphael’s Acts of the Apostles. These paintings were originally commissioned by Pope Leo X as the models for tapestries which were intended to decorate the Sistine Chapel. Seven of the original 25 paintings found their way to England. Queen Victoria gave the originals to the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the paintings in the Cartoon Gallery today are copies that were made by Henry Cooke in 1697. Three of the tapestries that were made from original cartoons by Raphael which have been lost are in the Vatican. These depict the stoning of Stephen, the conversion of Paul, and Paul in prison at Philippi. We got some good photos of the Cartoon Room both from the inside and out.
WESTMINSTER ABBEY AND THE JERUSALEM CHAMBER
The Jerusalem Chamber in Westminster Abbey is where some of the work on the King James Bible was conducted. Lancelot Andrewes was dean at Westminster and his company usually met here.
The Abbey is the church in which the kings of England have been crowned since William I in 1066. It was a Roman Catholic Benedictine Abbey until the Reformation. Since 1540 it has been associated with the Church of England. Many famous people are buried here, including some of England’s kings and queens, such as James I, Elizabeth I, and her half sister “bloody Mary,” and even secularists such as Charles Darwin, the father of the theory of evolution.
The Jerusalem Chamber was once part of the Abbot’s House and was built in the late 14th century. King Henry IV died there. He had been told that he would die in Jerusalem, and while making preparations to travel there, he visited Westminster to pray. While doing so he became sick. His servants moved him to the Jerusalem Chamber and laid him down in front of the large fireplace. When he awakened and was told that he was in the Jerusalem Chamber, he said, “Laud be to the Father of Heaven! for now I know that I shall die in this chamber, according to the prophecy made of me beforesaid, that I should die in Hierusalem.” He died soon thereafter.
The Jerusalem Chamber is not open to the public, but Brother Brown arranged for us to see it by private appointment. The man who showed us around works in public relations for the Abbey. He said that photos are not normally allowed because of copyright restrictions, but he decided on the spot to allow us to take some video and still shots. He also allowed us to take photos of the inside of the Abbey itself, including the Darwin grave marker on the floor, which is not usually allowed. The room features a large white fireplace with an intricately carved cedar wood overmantel and tapestries of Bible scenes that go back, in some cases, to the 16th century. The original ornate ceiling still exists.
Not only did work proceed here on the King James Bible, but also on the English Revised Version of 1885 and the New English Bible New Testament of 1961.
King James I, who authorized the King James Bible, is buried at Westminster Abby, as is his mother Mary Queen of Scots and KJV translator Thomas Bilson.
Westminster Abbey is one of the places mentioned in the Da Vinci Code in reference to the mythical “Holy Grail.” The abbey has issued tour guides with information sheets to correct the errors in the novel and in 2006 published a book entitled “Westminster Abbey and the Da Vinci Code,” which exposes 16 factual errors in Dan Brown’s book in relation to the Abbey as well as refuting the overall thesis of the book. The section “Westminster Abbey--Fact and Fiction” is prefaced with the following: “Dan Brown claims in his book’s preface: ‘All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.’ Hardly. Here you will find where the real Abbey differs from Dan Brown’s.”
ST. CLEMENTS DANE, LONDON
KJV translator John Layfield was buried at this church, which sits on a traffic island in the middle of the Strand. I was told by a member of the church that Layfield might have been buried in the church’s graveyard, but the yard has been covered over by paving stones and is no longer accessible. One of the famous parishioners of St. Clements Dane was Samuel Johnson, the famous writer and lexicographer. He was the author of the dictionary that bears his name. “Despite his celebrity and his genius, he was a man of simple devotion, always attending Sunday service and always in the same place--a front pew in the north gallery. In 1851 a table was placed there and behind it, in 1909, the ‘Johnson window’ was erected, showing Christ as the source of all wisdom with Johnson in the midst of his friends” (St Clement Danes, The Pitkin Guide).
SOUTHWARK CATHEDRAL, LONDON
KJV translator Lancelot Andrewes is buried in the South Choir at Southwark Cathedral (Church of St Saviour and St Mary Overie), which is located near the south side of London Bridge. The South Choir is located in the east end of the cathedral just before the Retro-Choir which occupies the entire east end. There is an elaborate monument to Andrews with a life-sized effigy reclining over the tomb. The bearded figure is painted in full color, with a dark blue robe and a black hat. The head lies on a red pillow. At the bottom of the monument are the words “Master of Pembroke” and “Dean of Westminster.” Above the figure four golden posts hold up a golden canopy. The plaque says: “Lancelot Andrewes: Bishop of Winchester, died in Winchester Palace, Southwark, in September 1626. He was buried in the Lady Chapel, which at that time stood on the east end of the Retro Choir. The chapel became known as the Bishops Chapel. When it was demolished in 1830 the tomb was moved to a position in the Retro Choir immediately behind the High Altar. In 1919 the tomb was moved to its present position. The bishop lived in the reigns of Mary, Elizabeth, James I and Charles I. He was a saint, a scholar, a linguist extraordinary ability and a great preacher.”
During the reign of the Roman Catholic Queen Mary the trial of many “heretics” were held here under the direction of Bishop Gardiner, but Protestant bishops also tried “heretics” such as the Lollards and Baptists here. Prior to the trials and after being condemned many were incarcerated in the nearby Clink, which was the bishop’s own prison.
ST. MAGNUS THE MARTYR CHURCH, LONDON
Bible translator Miles Coverdale is buried at St. Magnus the Martyr Church, which is located on the north side of London Bridge near the Monument to the Great Fire. A plaque on the church says, “This churchyard formed part of the roadway approach to Old London Bridge 1176-1831.”
Coverdale was originally buried in the chancel of St. Bartholomew’s Church, Exchange, but when it was demolished in 1840 his remains were moved to St. Magnus. A large stone tablet was affixed to the wall as a memorial. At the top is a depiction of an open Bible with the words “Romans Chap. XVI. Verse XVII. The Holy Bible.” The words on the rest of the plaque, which were degraded and difficult to read when I visited the church on July 2, 2006, said:
“To the memory of Miles Coverdale who convinced that the pure Word of God ought to be the sole rule of our faith and guide of our practice laboured earnestly for its diffusion and with a view of affording the meaning of reading and hearing in their own tongue the wonderful works of God not only to his own countrymen but to the nations that sit in darkness and to every church wheresoever the English language might be spoken he spent many years of his life preparing a translation of the Scriptures. On the IV of October MDXXXV the first complete English printed version of the Bible was published under his direction. The parishioners of St. Magnus Martyr, desirous of acknowledging the mercy of God and calling to mind that Miles Coverdale was once Rector of their parish, erected this monument to his memory A.D. MDCCCXXXVII. How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace and bring glad tidings of good things. Isaiah LII chap. VII.”
On a separate smaller tablet which is mounted on the wall beneath the previous one are written the following words:
“Near this tablet in a vault made for that purpose are deposited the bones of Miles Coverdale, formerly Bishop of Exeter and Rector of the parish of St. Magnus the Martyr in the year of our Lord 1564. His remains were interred in the first instance in the chancel of the Church of St. Bartholomew, Exchange: but on the occasion of that church being taken down they were brought here on the fourth of October 1840 in compliance with the wishes and at the request of the Rector the Rev. Tho. Leigh A.M. and parishioners of St. Magnus the Martyr.”
I visited the cathedral in Gloucester (the Church of St. Peter and the Holy and Indivisible Trinity), because the histories of the English Bible say that King James Bible translator Miles Smith’s tomb is located there, as well as the tombs of his two daughters that died in childbirth. On this visit, though, on June 28, 2006, I learned from Richard, one of the cathedral guides, that within the previous year the cathedral librarian, Lowinger Maddison, discovered that Miles is buried somewhere at Oxford and that it is his son who is buried in the cathedral. They have not been able to ascertain Smith’s actual burial place at Oxford.
KJV translator George Abbot’s tomb is in or at Holy Trinity Church, Guildford. On a visit to the church on June 28, 2006, I found that it is surrounded by a grave yard but that most of the engravings on the tombstones older than the mid-1800s have been obliterated by the weather. The church was not open. There is a statue of Abbot at the top of the High Street. The monument is about ten feet high and is inscribed with the words: “George Abbot, 1562-1633, A Guildfordian and Archbishop of Canterbury.”
KJV translator John Aglionby died at his rectory at Islip and “in the chancel of his church at Islip, is a tablet erected to his memory by his widow” (Alexander McClure). While in Oxford I took a taxi over to Islip, which is only a few miles away, and took pictures of the outside of the church, but it was locked and I could not view the tablet in the chancel.
BODLEIAN LIBRARY, OXFORD
I found paintings of two of the KJV translators in this amazing library. These are of Lancelot Andrewes and Henry Savile. There are two portraits of Andrewes handing on the walls of the lower level reading room, and after looking unsuccessfully throughout the lower and upper reading rooms, with the kind assistance of library personnel I was able to locate the library’s portrait of Savile. It is hanging in the Bodleian bookstore.
BALLIOL COLLEGE, OXFORD
There is a painting of King James Bible translator George Abbot in the college library.
CORPUS CHRISTI COLLEGE, OXFORD
The college chapel contains effigies of two of the translators of the King James Bible: John Spencer and John Rainolds. Spencer is depicted holding an open book, while Rainolds is holding a closed book.
CHRIST CHURCH COLLEGE, OXFORD
I had read that Miles Smith’s portrait, which was made in 1612, was located in the Picture Gallery at Christ Church College, but when I checked on it on June 27, 2006, I was told by Jacqueline Thalmann, curator of the college’s paintings, that it is currently in a storeroom and I could see if I gave advance notice.
ST. JOHN’S COLLEGE, OXFORD
KJV translator Ralph Hutchinson was president of St. John’s, and after his death his widow placed his effigy in stone in the College chapel. It is still there, located in a small chapel to the left of the main altar.
Cambridge was the base for two more of the six committees that produced the King James Bible, and there are memorials or tombs to at least five of the translators at the various colleges of the university.
EMMANUEL COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE
There is a Latin epitaph to KJV translator Lawrence Chaderton at the entrance of Emmanuel’s chapel. Translated it says: “Here lies the body of Lawrence Chaderton, D.D., who was the first Master of this College. He died in the year 1640 in the one hundred and third year of his age.” There is also an image of Chaderton in a stained glass window in the chapel.
SIDNEY SUSSEX COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE
KJV translator Samuel Ward was the first person buried in the chapel at Sidney Sussex College at Cambridge. I took a picture of the chapel but was unable to locate his tomb. I have found that most of the engravings on the floor stones over the burial places in the various chapels have been worn down and are largely illegible if they are older than the 19th century.
ST. EDWARDS, CAMBRIDGE
KJV translator Edward Livlie is buried at the college, but I could not locate any marker of his grave.
TRINITY COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE
KJV translator John Richardson is buried in the chapel, though I was unable to locate any marker or monument naming him.
SEE PARTS 2-4 FOR THE CONCLUSION TO THIS REPORT. The entire report can be found at the Way of Life web site -- http://www.wayoflife.org/fbns/in-thefootsteps-bibletrans/index.html