Home / Why the Geneva Bible?

The Geneva Bible was remarkable for many reasons.

It was the first English Bible

  • entirely translated from the original languages
  • completed with chapter and verse divisions
  • typed with readable Roman font rather than the calligraphic Gothic font of the 16th century
  • that sold over a million copies.

It was the Bible read by giants like John Bunyan and William Shakespeare, and the Bible carried by the Puritans and Pilgrims who crossed the Atlantic on the Mayflower. It was even used by the translators of the King James Version and quoted in the KJV’s original introduction.

Perhaps most significantly, the Geneva Bible was designed to make Scripture readable for everyone.

It made use of common and clear English anyone could understand. It came in a portable size anyone could carry (rather than the monolithic tomes that sat in cathedrals). And it was printed in a legible font anyone could read (rather than the labyrinthine Gothic text popular at the time).

In its focus on the ordinary reader’s needs, the Geneva Bible set the tone for English versions of the Bible going forward. It isn’t a stretch to say that the Geneva Bible has influenced most (if not all) English Bibles in circulation today.

But despite the Geneva Bible’s profound impact on our heritage, most people have never even heard of it, let alone read it.

The Modernized Geneva Bible’s goal is to connect you to your fathers and mothers of the faith.

Two obstacles stand in the way of today’s Christians encountering the rich heritage of the Geneva Bible.

First, inaccessible formats like online facsimiles of old manuscripts makes it difficult to simply decipher which words are on the page.

Second, even after you’ve deciphered which words are on the page, the inaccessible language of the Geneva Bible makes it difficult to understand what those words mean. The Geneva Bible used common and clear English for its time, but in our time, the Geneva Bible’s English is hard to comprehend.

The Modernized Geneva Bible removes both of these obstacles so you can encounter the rich heritage of the Geneva Bible effortlessly.

First, by replacing archaic words like “garner,” “firk,” and “habergon” with their current equivalents, the Modernized Geneva Bible makes the language accessible to Christians today.

For example, Acts 21:15 in the original Geneva Bible reads like this: “And after those days we trussed up our fardels, and went up to Jerusalem.” In the Modernized Geneva Bible, Acts 21:15 reads like this: “And after those days we packed up our burdens, and went up to Jerusalem.”

This is no softening or “dumbing down” of the original. We’ve simply used contemporary spelling and vocabulary to build a bridge between the 21st century and the 16th.

Second, by printing this modernization in beautiful books that can be easily carried and read in any situation, the Modernized Geneva Bible makes the format accessible to Christians today.

Our goal is to connect you to your fathers and mothers of the faith, and to follow in the tradition of the Geneva Bible translators by making a magnificent edition of God’s Word available to everyone.

Get your Modernized Geneva Bible today!

We have set out to create a beautiful, functional, modernized version of the Geneva Bible, the English Bible translated in Geneva under the direction of John Calvin in 1560.


The History

Surprisingly, although this is one of the most important historical translations of the Bible into English, translated before the King James Version, and was popular with the Puritans, nobody reads this Bible anymore. What is the story of this translation and why was it forgotten?

The story of the translation of a complete Bible into English begins with Tyndale. Tyndale famously vowed that he would make sure that even a lowly plowboy would be able to know more Scripture than the average theologian. He translated the entire New Testament, the Pentateuch, and various other books in the Old Testament before he was captured by the authorities and executed.

However, before he was strangled at the stake, changes had already taken place in his native land. Henry VIII, king of England, broke from the Roman Catholic Church, famously so that he could divorce his wife. Tyndale’s own friend Miles Coverdale managed to get the king to authorize an English translation of the Bible based largely upon Tyndale’s translation. It was published in 1539, and the king commanded that large copies be displayed in churches.

Despite that, the situation in England was precarious. After Henry VIII and his son died, the very Catholic Mary brought the nation back to Catholicism and killed the most prominent Protestant leaders. Anyone who wanted to escape martyrdom had to flee to the European continent. Many English Protestants fled to Geneva, where John Calvin was reforming the city and making it increasingly Protestant. While there, the English exiles made a new and improved English translation. The translators were William Whitingham (an Englishman who married Calvin’s sister), Christopher Goodman, Anthony Gilby, Thomas Sampson, and Miles Coverdale.

Although the Geneva Bible built upon Tyndale and the Great Bible, it was a huge advance in scholarship, and it was very much the first reader-friendly text. It was the first with chapter/verse divisions, the first with a legible font and a reasonable size, the first with italics to show what words were not in the original languages, and the first to include maps, marginal notes, chronologies and indices. Most exciting of all, it was the first Bible entirely translated from the Hebrew and the Greek. It was a book suitable, not just for displaying in churches, but for family reading.

And read it they did. For the next few centuries, the Geneva Bible would be the English Bible. In 1579 the Scottish parliament commanded that every household with adequate means should buy a Geneva Bible. When the Pilgrims went to America, they took Geneva Bibles with them. When the Puritans fought in the English civil war, it was the English Bible they took into battle. It was the Bible for brave men, and it was the Bible for families.

However, the Geneva Bible lost in the long run, and it was due to all those helpful marginal notes. Several of them spoke very fiercely about the right of subjects to resist their king, and King James was not happy with this and commissioned a new translation. However, his translation did not catch on and we might still be reading Geneva Bibles to this day, if it were not for the fact that the English Civil War happened. Rebels tended to use the Geneva Bible, and royalists both used the King James Bible and at times banned it. The Church of England promoted their Bible and after they won the war, the translation that got imported to the English colonies was, not surprisingly, the King James Bible. It was the authorized version indeed.

Our Approach to Translation Modernization

So why modernize this old translation after so many years? If we were to simply reprint the Geneva Bible, even with spelling modernizations, it would be a unreadable, comic, and useful only for scholars. As we mentioned above, nobody would be undistracted when they read: “And after those days we trussed up our fardels, and went up to Jerusalem” (Acts 21:15). And certainly not at this: “[I saw] one like unto the son of man, clothed with a garment down to the feet, and girded about the paps with a golden girdle” (Rev. 1:13). 

So in this translation, we have tried to remove anything archaic. “Thees” and “thous” are replaced with “you.” Subjects are often put before verbs, and words like “garner,” (barn) “firk,” (measure), and “habergeon” (breastplate) are all replaced with their modern equivalents. We have consulted new translations and occasionally changed it if we knew the translation was obviously inaccurate (for some reason, “rejoice” is given for “boast” in several of Paul’s epistles). The original intention of the translators of the Geneva Bible was not to create a relic to be appreciated for its heritage. They wanted people to read the word of God and to think about what it was said. We have the same goal.

But even with all that said, why another Bible when we have the NKJV, the NIV, the NASB, and the ESV? In the first place, why not? Nobody ever got hurt reading another translation of Scripture. Furthermore, the King James version built on top of the Geneva Bible: it’s good to remember that the King James Bible was one of many translations, particularly given how much we tend to revere it nowadays. But all this aside, this is the Bible of our fathers. Many of the Puritans used this Bible, and lived by it. For that reason, it’s worth reading and putting on our shelves.

The word of God is a two-edged sword that discerns the thoughts and desires of the heart. If you come to this book, God will give Himself to you. We pray that by reading it in faith it will do the same thing for you that it did for your fathers who went before you, living and dying with faith in Jesus Christ.

The MGB Team,
January 2020,
Soli Deo Gloria