David Lee Brown
The Bishops Bible
Part of the mission of my website is to share the History of the English Bible. I have written about many versions, including the most popular version, like the King James version, the Geneva Bible, Brown’s Family Bible, and others. I have mentioned the Bishop’s Bible, but today, I’ll share a brief history of the Bishop's Bible English Translation. During this era in English history, the Anglican Church of England was the authorized church. The Anglican Church was founded in 1534 by King Henry VIII, which pronounced the Church of England independent of the Roman Catholic Church.
The Bishop’s Bible
During King Henry VIII’s reign, the primary Bible for home or family use was the Geneva Bible, but the primary pulpit Bible used by the Anglican Church of England was the Great Bible of 1539. King Henry VIII authorized the new Bible because the Great Bible was primarily a translation of the Latin Vulgate. The church wanted to further diverge from the Roman Catholic Church and have a translation directly from Greek and Hebrew texts. The person pushing for this new translation and the leading figure in translating was Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury.
Parker was unable to commission anyone as a supervisory editor for the work of various translators and was too busy to do it himself. Accordingly, translation results varied considerably from book to book. Hence, in most of the Old Testament (as is standard in English Versions), the Tetragrammaton YHWH is represented by “the LORD,” and the Hebrew “Elohim” is represented by “God.” But in the Psalms, the translation was the opposite way around. So, things weren’t going well.
The Bishops’ Bible was first published in 1568 but was extensively revised and re-issued in 1572. In this revision, several changes were made to the New Testament. These changes were more “ecclesiastical” (e.g., introducing the term “charity” into I Corinthians 13, verses “love” as found in the Geneva Bible). But otherwise, changes were made to bring the text more in line with that found in the Geneva Bible. I wish they would have left the Greek word agapē translated as love because this ecclesiastical mindset pushed the King James Version down the same path in 1 Corinthians 13 KJV.
The Bishop’s Bible was the royal-authorized version and was the second version appointed to be read aloud in church services. It did not displace the Geneva Bible as a domestic Bible to be read at home, but that was not its purpose. It was intended to be used in church as a “pulpit Bible.” The last edition of the complete Bishop’s Bible was issued in 1602, but the last New Testament revision was in 1617. The King James Version replaced the Bishop’s Bible in 1611 and became the standard Bible of the Church of England.
The Bishop’s Bible English Translation was poor at best and tarnished by political and ecclesiastical reasons. The politics were related to King Henry VIII separating the Church of England from Roman Catholicism. The ecclesiastical reasons dealt with the building and maintaining the Church of England, for instance, translating the word agapē as charity instead of love to solicit funds more efficiently for the church.
Overall, it was an adequate but not a good translation. It served its purpose at the time, but its replacement was a much better version of the Bible. The Bishop’s Bible is not on the two primary sources I use for Bible study, which are Bible Gateway and Bible Hub. So, I would not recommend it as your Bible of choice. Otherwise, it is part of history and worth reviewing because the Bibles that follow it have at least part of their roots in the Bishop’s Bible.