In the year 1588, a Jesuit priest named William Weston described a large Puritan gathering, which he observed at Ely, England:

Each of them had his own Bible, and sedulously turned the pages and looked up the texts cited by the preachers, discussing the passages among themselves to see whether they had quoted them to the point, and accurately, and in harmony with their tenets. Also they would start arguing among themselves about the meaning of passages from the Scriptures-men, women, boys, girls, rustics, laborers, and idiots. Here over a thousand of them sometimes assembled, their horses and pack animals burdened with a multitude of Bibles.

Thomas Hobbes, who was born in the very year that the Puritan meeting described by Weston occurred, looked back with disdain on the effects of the translation and dissemination of the Bible in the century following the Reformation. "After the Bible was translated," he lamented, "every man, nay, every boy and wench, that could read English thought they spoke with God Almighty and understood what He said, when by a certain number of chapters a day they had read the Scriptures once or twice over."

Both Weston and Hobbes were reacting to a religious revolution that owed much to the labors of one man-William Tyndale.

One is hard pressed today to recall what religious life was like when we all shared a single Bible translation that shaped our theology and piety. But can the late twentieth-century Christian begin to imagine what life was like when the English Bible was available only rarely, in an inferior translation (the Wycliffe Bible), and in an underground form, being passed with great secrecy from believer to believer for fear of the authorities? It was into this backdrop that the man William ...

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