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Monday, July 12, 2021

The Bible of the Colonial Era

Tyndale Bible,
Gospel of John 

That really should read, the Bibles of the Colonial Era.

When discussing this topic, we actually have to go back to just before the Colonial Era to what is known as the Age of Exploration. Because, really, where did colonialism begin? Was it with the English, or the Spanish before them? In truth it's a concept far older than even the Spanish, but they seemed to perfect it with an efficiency both ruthless and shameless, appropriating new lands, the people inhabiting them, and any available natural resources. English colonial efforts didn't take off until the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

Elizabeth also formalized the Anglican Church, or Church of England, after her father King Henry VIII's split with the Catholic Church. Even so, "Protestant" didn't just apply to Anglicanism, however, but to other groups popping up--followers of Jan Hus, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, and others. In the middle of all that was the growing push to make the Holy Scriptures available to the common people in their own tongue--not just in Latin, which only those schooled in classical languages could read and understand. This exclusivity had been maintained for far too long by the clergy (Catholic and otherwise) as a way to keep the congregation in line.

John Wycliffe

John Wycliffe, 14th century priest and reformer, is credited with the first complete English version of the Bible. Nearly 200 years later, William Tyndale followed, providing the first English translation directly from Hebrew and Greek manuscripts, but before he could finish, was martyred by Henry VIII. Ironically enough, Henry commissioned a translation shortly thereafter, based largely on Tyndale's unfinished work. Supposing that the colony at Roanoke Island might have had a copy, I used this translation, referred to as the Great Bible, for scripture references in my upcoming Elinor. 

And here, for more information on the subject of Bible translations, I will pause and refer you to two excellent articles previously posted here at Colonial Quills:

Christendom in the American Colonies During 17th Century by Lynn Squire (Aug 15, 2012)

Bibles in Colonial America by Tamera Lynn Kraft (Nov 18, 2016)

For more reading on the history and issues of Bible translations:

Bible Translations Into English at Wikipedia

Textus Receptus Bibles (insight into why there's so much debate over the King James Version)


  1. History is so full of ironies. Thanks for the informative post.

    1. Isn't it, though?? And thank YOU for stopping by!


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