The Geneva and the King James



In the 17th century there were only two Bibles in common use among Protestants, the Geneva and the King James.

The Geneva translation was first printed in 1560 and underwent over 200 reprintings until 1644. The King James translation was first printed in 1611 and is still being printed today.

There are a number of differences, not only between the two books, but between the people who translated them. Those differences can best be summed up as follows:

The Geneva translators believed that Godís Law, the Mosaic Code, Genesis through Deuteronomy, was (and is) still in effect. The King James translators and those who used it believed, for the most part, that Godís Law had been "put away."

The Geneva translators, for the most part, came from military backgrounds. The translators of the King James were all academics. As such, they were mostly rather tame individuals with rather boring backgrounds. The translators of the Geneva led somewhat more interesting lives.

Walter Whittingham

Walter Whittingham was a chaplain in the British Army at the siege of Le Havre in France in 1562. Unlike our modern chaplains, he doubled as a soldier and used to preach his sermons in full armor in case the French attacked in mid-service (which they often did).

Whittingham was also employed as an envoy. His exploit in this capacity is described in the Life. ĎBeing sent from the Lord Lieutenant with a message to the Rheingraf who lay encamped before the town, the Rheingaf, seeing Master Whittingham coming towards him, spurred his horse, drew his sword and came towards him in a bravado at full speed, as though he would have assaulted him. Whereupon Master Whittingham took out one of the pistols he had at his saddle-crutch and held it out towards the Rheingraf, who asked in French if he were in earnest? He answered No, he only attended to answer what he would put him unto.

Lewis Lupton, A History of the Geneva Bible, vol. VI, Hope, page 17.

The Rheingraf put his sword away.

Thomas Greshop

Thomas Greshop was also a chaplain in the British Army. Greshop wrote a single page in the Geneva Bible that appeared for the first time in 1579, How to take profite in reading of the holy Scriptures. That page made it quite clear that the Mosaic Code was still in effect.

John Knox

John Knox was called on to preach to the Reformers when they occupied St. Andrews Castle in Scotland. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time when the French fleet bombarded the castle. The French devastated the defenses and captured the occupants taking them away to captivity in France, or like Knox, were condemned to spend nineteen months in the French Galleys.

Many others involved in translating the Geneva Bible had had military experience. The Geneva Bible was more than a translation, it was a study guide. Thousands of marginal notes were added from edition to edition, hitting maximum saturation in 1599.

Many of those marginal notes were authored by John Calvin.


Read the historical account of King James I

England under James the First

from Charles Dickens' A Child's History of England


The Complete 1599 Geneva Bible

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This page was updated on 6 October 2006