The History of the English Bible
1539 - The Great Bible
In 1537, a royal license had been issued by King Henry VIII to print The Coverdale Bible and The Matthew Tyndale Bible in England. In 1538 an injunction, issued in the King’s name, stated that a copy of the English Bible should be publicly available in each parish church throughout England. Even though several English Bibles were available, the intention of this injunction was clearly that a new Bible should be prepared under the authority of the Church. None of the earlier translations had church authorization. In these earlier versions, the marginal notes or commentary or choice of English words in the text had offended the church authorities.
Myles Coverdale has had a considerable influence on the early development of the English Bible. In 1537 he was entrusted to prepare a new English Bible that should be available to the churches. He based this new revised text upon Tyndale’s translation and its later revisions. The Great Bible was first printed in 1539. Coverdale continued to work on the text and a revision was printed in 1540 and reprinted five times. This second edition was a considerable improvement, especially in the poetical sections of the Old Testament. It became the first version approved for use in the Church of England. These Bibles remained in use until they needed to be replaced, at which time the Bishop’s Bible became the replacement.
A few notes were retained in the Great Bible, but only those that made the meaning of words or expressions clearer. This was in response to criticisms of earlier Bible translations. The order of boon the New Testament was the same as in Erasmus text and also in the later King James Bible. One interesting mistake in this Bible is the heading to the Apocrypha. It is referred to as the Hagiographa, which means holy writings.
The Great Bible was avidly read aloud in the churches. At times these Bible readings even interrupted the regular church services. Nonetheless, it was continuously available in churches even during the reign of Mary Tudor (1553-1558) despite her reversal of the reforming policies that had made Bibles in English widely available.
Source: F. F. Bruce, The English Bible, A History of Translations. Oxford University Press 1961, 234 pp