Today, the Geneva Bible is best known as the “Bible of the Protestant Reformation”. In 1620, when the Pilgrims made their journey across the Atlantic Ocean to America, they brought the Geneva Bible with them on the Mayflower. The Geneva Bible is the Bible upon which America was founded. Most early American colonists, fleeing the religious oppression of the Church of England (the Anglican Church), wanted nothing to do with the 1611 King James Bible!
The Geneva Bible was the primary Bible of 16th century English Protestantism. In 1579, because of the involvement of John Calvin and John Knox in its translation, a law was passed in Scotland that provided every household enough money to purchase a copy. Some smaller versions of the Geneva New Testament cost less than a week’s wages for even the lowest-paid workers. In fact, before printing ceased in 1644, the Geneva Bible was more popular than the newer King James Bible.
The Geneva Bible was the first mechanically-printed Bible to be mass-produced and made available directly to the general public. The Geneva was the first Bible to introduce easier-to-read “Roman” style type rather than the “Gothic Blackletter” typeface that had been used exclusively in earlier Bibles. Textually, the Geneva Bible also introduced several radical never-before-seen changes to the English vernacular Bible. The Geneva Bible was the first English language Bible to add chapters and numbered verses to each chapter of Scripture and to include verse citations that allow the reader to cross-reference one Scripture verse with other relevant Bible verses. The Geneva was also the first “Study Bible” containing extensive commentary notes in the margins. These commentary notes alone can provide hours of fascinating insight into the Scriptures from the viewpoint of the Protestant Reformation’s greatest theologians.
In addition to the Old & New Testament this Bible includes the Apocrypha. It measures about 4 3/8 inches thick by about 8 ¾ inches wide by about 11 3/16 inches tall and weighs just short of 8 ½ pounds.
Today, many Protestant denominations embrace the King James Bible as being “The Bible”, which is ironic because the King James Bible when it was originally printed was not a “Protestant” Bible. The Christians who sailed to America in search of religious freedom would not have embraced the King James Bible. But most modern Protestants have never even heard of the Bible of their own spiritual heritage: the Geneva Bible. After fleeing the persecution of the English Roman Catholic Queen Mary, John Calvin, John Knox, Myles Coverdale, John Foxe, and other English refuges translated and printed this new English Bible in Geneva, Switzerland. Queen Mary would not tolerate the Protestant Geneva Bible, which proclaimed the Pope as the “antichrist” in its commentary notes.
In addition to the Geneva Bible’s role in building the faith of many Christians, this Bible is also considered to be a great work of literature. Many of the 16th century’s greatest writers would have read and referenced from this Bible. William Shakespeare quoted from the Geneva Bible hundreds of times throughout his plays. The Geneva Bible would have been used by John Bunyan when he wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress. One funny note, the Geneva Bible acquired the unusual nickname “Breeches Bible” because this translation conveys that Adam and Eve made themselves “breeches” out of fig leaves to cover their nakedness!