Other English Bibles before the King James Bible – the Great Bible, the Bishops’ Bible, and the Rheims-Douai Bible
The Great Bible (1539-40), and the Bishops’ Bible (1568), were ‘appointed’ or ‘authorised’ for official use in the reformed Church of England. The Great Bible (so called on account of its size) arose out of the perceived need for an English Bible translation with wider consensus. Coverdale, the editor, revised and modified Matthew’s Bible (1537, by John Rogers (c. 1500-1555)) – the most advanced at the time – relying on improved editions of Erasmus’s Greek New Testament and Münster’s Hebrew-Latin Old Testament. The Great Bible was initially printed in Paris but after sabotage by French Catholic censors it had to be reprinted in London.
From 1568 until the printing of the King James Bible in 1611, the Bishops’ Bible was effectively the official version of the Church of England. A conglomerate work of sixteen English and Welsh clergymen, it was a revision of the Great Bible, but with the recent Geneva Bible also in mind. It was recognized that the bishops could not match the linguistic scholarship of the Genevan translators. Yet there was a desire for a version with less controversial notes more suitable for ecclesiastical and liturgical use. Being exceptionally large, and printed in traditional gothic rather than roman type, it was clearly not designed for family or private study.
The medieval Catholic Church had never encouraged Bible translations, but had not absolutely forbidden them either. Rather it insisted that such an enterprise must have prior approval. The Rheims-Douai Bible (1582-1610) was one such approved translation, undertaken by English Catholic exiles in France for English priests and literate laity. It was intended to provide continuing English Catholics with a reliable English Bible based on the Latin Vulgate to fortify them against Protestant ‘errors’ and bias in the numerous other vernacular translations. It was superseded in modern times by the ecumenically orientated Jerusalem Bible.