Pilgrims and The Geneva Bible
By: Martin A. Shue

At one time there was a member in this club that heavily promoted the Geneva Bible. In fact, he has a website dedicated to the promulgation of the Geneva Bible. While I believe the Geneva Bible to be far better than any of the modern translations I find it to be inferior to our Authorized Version. This, however, is not the subject of this article. What I hope to answer is some of the fanciful claims made by several websites regarding history and the Geneva Bible.

Our former member has a link on his site titled "Geneva Bible History”. I clicked on this link and read the article (An Introduction to the Geneva Bible) with absolute amazement. This is perhaps one of the worst researched articles I have ever read in my life. The lies and inaccurate statements found in this article are simply too numerous to list and too numerous to respond to. The article is devoid of historical facts altogether. It is really quite sad that anyone can put up a website….write a few articles….and pretend to be some sort of authority on a matter. If there is any interest I will gladly respond to more points the article raises. But for this post I only want to discuss the opening paragraphs of the article. Part of what follows was taken from a personal email I sent to the writer of the article.

My interest was sparked on this matter by a recent conversation I had with a man concerning the Bible issue. In the course of our conversation he made mention of the Pilgrims and the Bible that brought to the new world. He asked if I knew what that Bible was and I politely said, “Yes”. Given the opportunity to respond I stated that there were not just one Bible brought to the new world as he supposed but two. I stated that the Pilgrims brought the Authorized Version as well as the Geneva Bible along with them. At this he said I was re-writing history and asked for facts to prove what I was saying. Emphatically he stated that the Geneva Bible was the only Bible brought with the Pilgrims and that it was the ONLY Bible used by the Pilgrims. I promised I would produce my facts and moved on to another matter. I will say, just as I said to him, it really makes no difference to me what Bible William Bradford used or any of the Pilgrims for that matter. However, when I find certain individuals purposely covering the facts or intentionally lying about history I take exception to that. I am not accusing this man of doing that but others who claim to be authorities on this matter are. It is these people that I have a problem with.

After our conversation I did some additional research on the matter and below is a sampling of what I found.

At the site www.nohoax.com listed under the link “Geneva Bible: The Bible of the Pilgrims” I found the following statements:

“Now available for the first time in 394 years, this is the Bible the Pilgrims carried when they landed on Plymouth Rock in 1620. The Puritans of that era considered the King James bible a “government issue” publication. King James banned the Geneva Bible in England and made its ownership a felony.”

At http://www.reformed.org/documents/geneva/Geneva.html we find the following:

“In 1620 the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth with their Bibles and a conviction derived from those Bibles of establishing a new nation. The Bible was not the King James Version. When James I became king of England in 1603, there were two translations of the Bible in use; the Geneva Bible was the most popular, and the Bishops' Bible was used for reading in churches.”

http://www.greatsite.com/ancient-rare-bible-leaves/geneva-1560-leaf.html had this to say concerning the Geneva Bible:

“The Geneva Bible was the first Bible taken to America, brought over on the Mayflower… it is the Bible upon which early America and its government was founded (certainly not the King’s of England’s Bible!) The Geneva Bible was also the first English Bible to break the chapters of scripture into numbered verses, and it was the first true “Study Bible” offering extensive commentary notes in the margins. It was so accurate and popular, that a half-century later, when the King James Bible came out… it retained more than 90% of the exact wording of the Geneva Bible.”

Lastly, I want to reproduce 2 paragraphs from the website and article I mentioned at the onset of this post:

“For the last three centuries Protestants have fancied themselves the heirs of the Reformation, the Puritans, the Calvinists, and the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock. This assumption is one of history's greatest ironies. Today's Protestants laboring under that assumption use the King James Bible. Most of the newer Bibles such as the Revised Standard Version are simply updates of the King James.

The irony is that none of the groups named in the preceding paragraph used a King James Bible nor would they have used it if it had been given to them free. The Bible in use by those groups until it went out of print in 1644, was the Geneva Bible. The first Geneva Bible, both Old and New Testaments, was first published in English in 1560 in what is now Geneva, Switzerland,* William Shakespeare, John Bunyan, John Milton, the Pilgrims who landed on Plymouth Rock in 1620, and other luminaries of that era used the Geneva Bible exclusively."

As you can see, it appears everyone is adamant that the Bible of the early Pilgrims was the Geneva Bible and “certainly not the King’s of England’s Bible!”. Perhaps the record should be set straight as to whose Bible this was. It was certainly not the King of England’s Bible. For far too long this rhetoric has been spouted. King James had nothing to do with the translation of this Bible nor did he even come up with the idea to produce a new translation. Here are the historical facts of the matter as laid down by Samuel Bagster in the wonderful book, “An Historical Account of the English Versions of the Scriptures” (published – 1841).

Soon after James I ascended the throne on March 24, 1603 a petition in the name of more than 1,000 ministers was brought before the King. The petition, called the “Millenary Petition”, was separated into 4 headings; 1) Things connected with the Church service; 2) Church ministers; 3) Church living and maintenance; and 4) Church discipline. Promptly, a letter was written in answer of these matters and sent to the King by the University of Oxford. Because of this James I decided to bring the matter to a public conference. Delegates representing the Anglicans and those of the petitioners were invited to the palace of Hampton Court the following January. The delegates representing the 1,000 ministers were Dr. John Reynolds, Dr. Thomas Sparke of Oxford, Mr. Chadderton and Mr. Knewstubbs from Cambridge. At the conference Dr. Reynolds took on the role as chief speaker and brought before the King a request “for a New Translation of the Bible” on the second day.

Prior to this day there is no historical record that the King had entertained such a notion as a new Bible translation. Dr. Reynolds’ suggestion (which was really the suggestion of the 1,000 petitioners) found favor in the King’s eyes and James I heard Reynolds and the others concerning the matter. During the conference, the Anglican delegates, led by Archbishop Bancroft, opposed the idea of a new translation. Despite Bancroft’s efforts King James I gave permission to Dr. Reynolds and the delegates with him to proceed with the process of rendering a new translation of the Bible into the English language. “The method proposed by the king was this; that the version should be made by some of the most learned men in both the Universities, that it should then be reviewed by the bishops and other of the most learned ecclesiastics, that it should then be laid before the Privy Council, and last of all be ratified by Royal authority, so that in the whole Anglican establishment this translation so made should be used, and no other (Bagster, “An Historical Account of the English Versions of the Scriptures”, p. 149).”

For long King James I has been blamed for the removal of the notes found in the Geneva Bible. This is not an entirely true statement and the facts have been misrepresented as have most ‘facts’ that are reported by the other side. While the King didn’t necessarily agree with some of the notes there is absolutely no indication that he planned to force the translators to remove them. If anyone can produce information to the contrary I would be delighted to have it. Interestingly enough, the idea to have the notes removed entirely came from Archbishop Bancroft and not Dr. Reynolds, King James I or any of the petitioners. So, the next time you hear or read the lie that King James I wanted a new Bible because he didn’t like the notes or that he was responsible for their removal you can present the facts. As I stated earlier, James I didn’t like some of the notes but it wasn’t until after Bancroft suggested that they be withheld from the new translation that James I commented on them.

I find it most unfortunate that this Bible, produced by the most learned prelates of history, has been branded with the name “King James Version”. If you were able to travel back in time to a date prior to 1856 you would find that no one would know what Bible you were talking about if you made reference to “The King James Bible”. According to the research of Michael Maynard the term “King James’ Version” wasn’t coined until 1856 by C. Spurgeon. And the term “King James Version” (no apostrophe) wasn’t coined until 1889. When this great Bible was produced it carried the simple title “The Holy Bible”!

The last site I quoted above stated that, “Most of the newer Bibles such as the Revised Standard Version are simply updates of the King James.” Those in this club will most assuredly find this statement laughable. The reason for this is because you already know the facts and the fact is the RSV is not simply an update of the “King James”. The truth of the matter is that the RSV is an entirely different translation based upon entirely different Greek and Hebrew texts than was our Authorized Version. In the New Testament the RSV follows that Greek text fabricated by Westcott and Hort while the AV follows the Traditional Greek text as does the Geneva.

The site goes on to say, “none of the groups named in the preceding paragraph used a King James Bible nor would they have used it if it had been given to them free". This is quite a fanciful statement and one that is far from the truth. Those acquainted with the facts would easily identify these statements as utter nonsense. The problem appears to be that very few are acquainted with the facts as the other websites I listed attest. It is astounding at how a lie on one site can be repeated as fact on a hundred others. Following is an excerpt from a letter I wrote answering this false statement to the site recommended by our former member as a good source to obtain the “Geneva Bible History”.

Onboard the Mayflower among other notable Pilgrims was Mr. John Alden. John Alden would soon become a great statesman in the new world. To date there are 2 noteworthy Bibles found in the Pilgrims Hall Museum, located in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Concerning these Bibles they state, "These are among the very few objects existing today which we feel reasonably sure came over in the Mayflower." One of these Bibles belonged to Mr. John Alden and the other belonged to Mr. William Bradford. It will undoubtedly interest you to know that the Bible belonging to Mr. John Alden was not a Geneva Bible as you falsely state on your website. The only Bible Mr. Alden deemed necessary to bring with him to the new world was a King James Bible. Not only did Mr. Alden use the KJB but many other Pilgrims did as well. Admittedly, most Pilgrims preferred the Geneva Bible but not all. The King James Bible was very much a part of Pilgrim life as was the Geneva Bible.

It is pretty easy to see that most sites are attempting to re-write history by presenting the facts incorrectly. Further evidence of this can be seen by the following quote: (again taken from the article “An Introduction to the Geneva Bible”)

James ascended the English throne in 1603. He wasted no time in ordering a new edition of the Bible in order to deny the common people the marginal notes they so valued in the Geneva Bible. That James I wasn't going to have any marginal notes to annoy him and lead English citizens away from what he wanted them to think is a matter of public record.

The writer further states, “James didn't want those pesky marginal notes cropping up, not even once.” As you can readily see these statements have no historical basis whatsoever. Though they may appeal to the Geneva Only crowd they are placing their faith in nothing more than phantoms of their imaginations. As the writer of the article proclaims, “The blind are once more leading the blind.” To this I say a hearty AMEN!

I hope this little article sheds some light upon some often distorted facts. May God bless you as you ‘study to shew thyself approved’!