1535 Coverdale Bible
In previous videos, we have seen that the Wycliffe Bible was the first major attempt to translate the Bible into English. For doing so, Wycliffe was declared a heretic; his body has exhumed; his ashes scattered; and he was condemned by the Catholic Church for allowing ordinary people to read the Bible for themselves. More than a century later, William Tyndale made another attempt to translate the Bible into English. He, too, was declared a heretic. He was strangled to death and his body burned at the stake.
But prior to his arrest in 1535, and subsequently being tortured and killed in 1536, Tyndale had made good progress in translating the Bible. He was helped by associates who shared his vision of bringing God's Word to the common people. By the time of Tyndale's death, he had translated the entire New Testament, the whole of the Pentateuch, and the Book of Jonah in the Old Testament. But eager Bible students were waiting for more. They would not be disappointed.
Following Tyndale's arrest, his work was continued to completion by Myles Coverdale (also spelt Miles Coverdale). Coverdale's Bible therefore has the distinction of being the first complete translation of the whole Bible into English, containing both the Old and Testaments. The English-speaking world now had what they had always wanted - the entire Bible in English. They could now finally read the Bible for themselves.
So who was Myles Coverdale? How did he manage to complete the work that Tyndale had started? Let us provide the background necessary to understand this exciting story.
Like Tyndale, Coverdale was born in the late 1400s (1488, to be exact). Like Wycliffe, he came from Yorkshire in England. He, too, was educated at Cambridge. He became Bachelor of Canon Law in 1513 and a Priest at Norwich in 1514. But, in England, Coverdale had assisted in the defence of Robert Barnes, who was tried for heresy in 1526 and (like Tyndale) burned at the stake. As we saw in our Tyndale video, the Spanish Inquisition was in full force at this time, and suspected heretics were tortured and killed. Fearing for his own life, Coverdale fled England and went to Europe, settling in Antwerp.
And there, like Tyndale before him, Coverdale met with other Reformers, such as Martin Luther, who wanted to translate the Bible from Latin into German. Coverdale knew of Tyndale's work, and was ideally positioned to continue it. But Coverdale was not a linguist, and he was not proficient in Hebrew or Greek. Coverdale therefore made use of Tyndale's existing work, including Tyndale's 1534 New Testament, but translated the remaining books of the Old Testament and the Apocrypha from a combination of the Latin Vulgate and German translations such as Luther's Bible and the Swiss-German Zürich Bible.
Meanwhile, in England, while Coverdale was in Europe working on his new translation, a boy in Norwich was burned alive for possessing a single sheet of the Lord's Prayer in English. The Catholic Church still ruled unchallenged, still in opposition to any attempt to translate the Bible into English, and still opposed to allowing the common people to read the Bible for themselves. People were so eager to read the Bible that they were willing to risk death and torture.
Coverdale completed his translation in 1535, and published it in Europe, even as Tyndale was in prison being tortured for his earlier attempt. In England, possessing the Bible in English meant only one thing - death. But, as we shall explore further in the video about the Great Bible, a revolution was about to happen. Henry VIII, one of the most controversial and well-known monarchs in English History, was about to break free from the ruinous chains and shackles of the Pope and the Roman Church, and form the Church of England, with himself at its head. And being a King and the head of his own Church meant forming his own set of rules.
And as a direct challenge to the Pope, his rules would say that a Bible must be placed in every English Church, across all 9000 parishes in England. And that Bible must be in English, not Latin. That revolutionary event, dramatically overturning hundreds of years of Papal domination, happened in 1540. Coverdale's Bible, heavily based on Tyndale's earlier Bible, was ordered to be placed in all churches across England, chained to a bookstand, so that every citizen would have access to a Bible - in English! Matthew's Bible, then the Great Bible, would soon follow. The rest, as they say, is history.
Tyndale prayer for a miracle - and a miracle happened. As Tyndale gasped his last dying breath, as he was being strangled, tortured and burned at the stake, his last words were a prayer, "Lord, open the King of England's eyes." The King of England was Henry VIII, and just a few short years after Tyndale's death as a martyr, the people of England would have free access to the Holy Bible, in their own mother tongue - English.
Coverdale died in 1569. Later folio and quarto editions of the Coverdale Bible were published in 1539, and were the first complete Bibles not just in English, but actually printed in England. The 1539 folio edition carried the royal licence and was therefore the first officially approved Bible translation in English. Despite the emergence of Matthew's Bible and the Great Bible, the Coverdale Bible continued to be reprinted in over twenty editions of either the whole Bible or the New Testament, right up until 1553. Coverdale also had official involvement in the preparation of the Great Bible of 1539. The tide had turned, and the English-speaking world now had the access to the Holy Bible for which they had hungered and thirsted for many long centuries.
Let us make sure we never take the Bible for granted ever again! Many lives have been lost in bringing it to us.