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Fourth part in FCN series on Payette Bibles

Geneva Bible far-reaching in significance

POSTED: August 31, 2014 12:02 a.m.
Micah Green /

Charles Payette of Forsyth County points to the stunning features of the 453-year-old original binding in the 1561-62 Geneva Bible First Folio Edition. It remains fully armored with brass plates on all four corners and centerpiece. The binding is heavily detailed with French symbolisms all burned into the covers and features Theodore Beza’s initials “TB” in the second center compartment.

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FORSYTH COUNTY — In this fourth installment of the Forsyth County News series on resident Charles Payette’s Bible collection, two amazing Bibles are featured — The 1561-62 Geneva Bible First Folio Edition and the 1565 Greek First Major Edition New Testament by Theodore Beza.

First, some historical background for this particular time period.

Readers will recall that during the reign of Queen Mary I of England (1553-58), many Protestants fled from England to Geneva, Switzerland, which was then a republic.

Queen Mary was determined to “convert” England back to being a Catholic country, and in that spirit was burning at the stake those who refused.

The Church of Geneva was sympathetic to the reformer refugees and welcomed them with open arms. In addition, the church wanted to produce an English Bible.

Thus, a group of scholars — including John Calvin, Theodore Beza and John Knox (the great Reformer of the Scottish Church) — was assembled to create the translation that would go on to be considered the primary Bible of 16th century Protestantism.

It should be noted that Queen Elizabeth was crowned Queen of England in 1558, so the atmosphere and climate immediately began shifting back toward Protestantism.

The first edition of the Geneva Bible was published in 1560 and it was instantly popular.

Payette’s 1561 Geneva Bible First Folio Edition is one of the rarest books in private possession in the world, partly because it is the author’s “proof.” That means it is the actual copy owned by those who translated it and wrote extensive commentaries and arguments in the margins.

This “Printers Issue” even includes recommendations on where the page breaks for the 1560 first edition should be. This “working copy” was most likely actually printed in 1558, nearly three years before a first folio edition was released in limited production.

These notes, which were basically the scholars commenting to help readers understand the Scripture, made the Geneva Bible similar to today’s “study Bibles,” which was certainly a revolutionary concept for the mid-16th century.

Prior to this, average people were used to either not being able to read the Bible for themselves, or having a clergy member interpret it for them.

In addition, the Geneva Bible was the first English Bible printed in Roman type and with verse divisions. The New Testament relies heavily on Beza’s Latin translation, whose first major edition is also featured in this article.

The Old Testament and the Apocrypha are based mainly on the Great Bible feature from the second article in the Payette Bible Series.    

The 1560 Geneva Bible first printing was a quarto, which refers to its smaller size. A quarto was a book printed on a sheet of paper folded twice to produce four (quarto) leaves (or eight pages), each leaf resulting to be a fourth the size of the original sheet printed. 

Based on the tremendous cost of paper at that time, a quarto size was a huge cost savings and this, as well as the pocket-size octavo, were the only formats an individual reader could possibly afford.

The Payette 1561 Geneva Bible is a “folio,” meaning a full sheet. Although the folio was actually not released until 1561 (the New Testament title is dated 1561, but the General Title was dated 1562), this format was most likely used for this “only one in the world” edition by Calvin and Beza for editing purposes. The much smaller quarto would not permit such extensive commentary.

Amazingly, the Payette copy retains its original binding, and in fact was bound after the extensive commentaries were written while the proof was simply a bundle of loose leaves that had to be transported by horseback during the extensive editing process.

All four corners are brass and the covers are adorned with artwork and numerous fleur de lis that have been determined to have been “burned” into them.

Theodore Beza (1519-1605) was a renowned scholar of the day, who took over as the leading Theologian in Geneva when Calvin became ill.

The first major edition of Theodore Beza’s Greek New Testament is also featured in this article (the first minor- or octavo- edition was printed in the same year).

Beza’s 1565 Greek New Testament was so important because it was the first time the Latin translation and the Greek text appeared side by side. The Vulgate is in the third column, again, for comparison. The translation and Beza’s copious annotations added much to people’s understanding of the New Testament.

This was also the first Greek Testament printed by the most famous and respected printer of his time, Henri Estienne.

Dedicated to Queen Elizabeth I, this translation had much influence on English translations of the Bible leading up to the King James Version of 1611.

The importance and popularity of the Geneva Bible cannot be understated. Between 1560 and 1644, at least 144 editions of it appeared. This is in stark contrast to the 18 (11 folio, 7 quarto) complete Bishops Bible editions, (the Catholic Churches bible in response to the Geneva, which remained the version from 1568 until the King James Bible in 1611), a mere handful in comparison.

The fact that 11 of the 18 Bishops Bibles were printed in the expensive large folio format is another indication that while in demand for placement on the pulpit in churches, the individual had little to no interest in the Catholic Church’s version.

In fact, the last complete Bishops Bible printed in quarto was in 1584, yet the folio continued until 1602. Even after the King James Bible came out, the Geneva Bible was considered “the Bible school of the home.”

Indeed, the Geneva Bible was used by many famous historical figures, including being reputed to be the primary source for all of the works of William Shakespeare, and John Bunyan the author of Pilgrim’s Progress.

In addition, the Puritans and Pilgrims insisted on bringing their beloved Geneva Bible, whose printing in English had ceased based on pressure from the King, with them when they fled to America.

Make sure you read next week’s feature — a pristine 1569 Geneva “Breeches” Bible. Besides its extensive and rare provenance, this museum-quality Bible will surely surprise you when you read about the intrigue surrounding its owner and even the paper it is printed on.

 

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