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Frederic G. Kenyon
Tyndale never had the satisfaction of completing his gift of an English Bible to his country; but during his imprisonment, he may have learned that a complete translation, based largely upon his own, had actually been produced. The credit for this achievement, the first complete printed English Bible, is due to Miles Coverdale (1488-1569), afterward bishop of Exeter (1551-1553). The details of its production are obscure. Coverdale met Tyndale abroad in 1529 and is said to have assisted him in the translation of the Pentateuch. His own work was done under the patronage of Cromwell, who was anxious for the publication of an English Bible; and it was no doubt forwarded by the action of Convocation, which, under Cranmer’s leading, had petitioned in 1534 for the undertaking of such a work. It was probably printed by Froschover at Zurich, but this has never been absolutely demonstrated. It was published at the end of 1535, with a dedication to Henry VIII. By this time the conditions were more favorable to a Protestant Bible than they had been in 1525. Henry had finally broken with the Pope and had committed himself to the principle of an English Bible. Coverdale’s work was accordingly tolerated by authority, and when the second edition of it appeared in 1537 (printed by an English printer, Nycolson of Southwark), it bore on its title-page the words, “Set forth with the Kinng’s most gracious license.” In thus licensing Coverdale’s translation, Henry probably did not know how far he was sanctioning the work of Tyndale, which he had previously condemned. In the New Testament, in particular, Tyndale’s version is the basis of Coverdale’s, and to a somewhat less extent this is also the case in the Pentateuch and Jonah; but Coverdale revised the work of his predecessor with the help of the Zurich German Bible of Zwingli and others (1524-1529), a Latin version by Pagninus, the Vulgate, and Luther. In his preface, he explicitly disclaims originality as a translator, and there is no sign that he made any noticeable use of the Greek and Hebrew; but he used the available Latin, German, and English versions with judgment. In the parts of the Old Testament which Tyndale had not published he appears to have translated mainly from the Zurich Bible. [Coverdale’s Bible of 1535 was reprinted by Bagster, 1838.]
In one respect Coverdale’s Bible was epoch-making, namely, in the arrangement of the books of the Old Testament. In the Vulgate, as is well known, the books which are now classed as Apocrypha are intermingled with the other books of the Old Testament. This was also the case with the Septuagint, and in general, it may be said that the Christian church had adopted this view of the canon. It is true that many of the greatest Christian Fathers had protested against it, and had preferred the Hebrew canon, which rejects these books. The canon of Athanasius places the Apocrypha in a class apart; the Syrian Bible omitted them; Eusebius and Gregory Nazianzen appear to have held similar views, and Jerome refused to translate them for his Latin Bible. Nevertheless the church at large, both East and West, retained them in their Bibles, and the provincial Council of Carthage (A.D. 397), under the influence of Augustine, expressly included them in the canon. In spite of Jerome, the Vulgate, as it circulated in Western Europe, regularly included the disputed books; and Wyclif’s Bible, being a translation from the Vulgate, naturally has them too. On the other hand, Luther, though recognizing these books as profitable and good for reading, placed them in a class apart, as “Apocrypha,” and in the same way he segregated Hebrews, James, Jude, and the Apocalypse at the end of the New Testament, as of less value and authority than the rest. This arrangement appears in the table of contents of Tyndale’s New Testament in 1525 and was adopted by Coverdale, Matthew, and Taverner. It is to Tyndale’s example, no doubt, that the action of Coverdale is due. His Bible is divided into six parts — (1) Pentateuch; (2) Joshua — Esther; (3) Job — “Solomon’s Balettes” (i.e. Canticles); (4) Prophets; (5) “Apocrypha, the books and treatises which among the fathers of old are not reckoned to be of like authority with the other books of the Bible, neither are they found in the canon of the Hebrew”; (6) the New Testament. This represents the view generally taken by the Reformers, both in Germany and in England, and so far as concerns the English Bible, Coverdale’s example was decisive. On the other hand, the Roman Church, at the Council of Trent (1546), adopted by a majority the opinion that all the books of the larger canon should be received as of equal authority, and for the first time made this a dogma of the Church, enforced by an anathema. In 1538, Coverdale published a New Testament with Latin (Vulgate) and English in parallel columns, revising his English to bring it into conformity with the Latin; but this (which went through three editions with various changes) may be passed over, as it had no influence on the general history of the English Bible.
Bruce M. Metzger,
Coverdale and the First Complete Printed Bible in English (1535)
The publication of the first complete printed English Bible was the work of Miles Coverdale (1488-1568), a native of York. After becoming a priest, he developed a consuming passion for learning, especially in the field of biblical studies. He apparently found it discreet to spend some years outside of England because of his Protestant convictions. Here he became acquainted with Tyndale and his work and may have been encouraged to attempt a complete edition of the Scriptures in English. The edition that he published in 1535, printed perhaps at Cologne or Marburg, was not authorized in any way, but Coverdale dedicated it to the king and queen in polite and flattering phraseology, and it met with no serious opposition. position. This toleration is particularly noteworthy because Tyndale’s dale’s translation was the basis of the rendering of Coverdale’s New Testament and Pentateuch.
The Vulgate rather than the Hebrew order of books were used in the Old Testament, and for the first time, the books of the Apocrypha were separated from the other Old Testament books and printed by themselves as an appendix to the Old Testament-a precedent followed by English Protestant Bibles ever since (insofar as they include the Apocrypha at all). In the New Testament, the two epistles of Peter and the three of John come before the Epistle to the Hebrews, which is followed by James, Jude, and Revelation. This order of books is the same as in Luther’s and Tyndale’s versions.
In general, the Tyndale portions of the edition are superior in quality, but Coverdale occasionally improved the phrasing by reason son of a special aptitude for euphonious English and for a fluent, though frequently diffuse, form of expression. While the work is uneven in this respect, some permanent contribution was made to the language of the English Bible. Phraseology that appeared first with Coverdale includes “Thou enoyntest my heade with oyle”; “the valley of the shadowe of death”; “but the way of the ungodly shall perish.” Coverdale’s version of the Psalter was taken over in the Great Bible of 1539, which was reproduced in the Bishops’ Bible of 1568 and remained a part of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer until a revision of the latter in the twentieth century.
Philip W. Comfort,
Miles Coverdale was a Cambridge graduate who, like Tyndale, was forced to flee England because he had been strongly influenced by Luther to the extent that he was boldly preaching against Roman Catholic doctrine. While he was abroad, Coverdale met Tyndale and then served as an assistant—especially helping Tyndale translate the Pentateuch. By the time Coverdale produced a complete translation (1537), the king of England, Henry VIII, had broken all ties with the pope and was ready to see the appearance of an English Bible. Perhaps Tyndale’s prayer had been answered—with a very ironic twist. The King gave his royal approval to Coverdale’s translation without knowing that he was endorsing the work of the man he had earlier condemned.
 Bruce Metzger. The Bible in Translation, Ancient and English Versions (p. 60-61).
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