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When the Pilgrims arrived in America in 1620, they brought along supplies, a consuming passion to advance the Kingdom of Christ, a bright hope for the future, and the Word of God. Clearly, their most precious cargo was the Bible. Have you ever wondered what version of the Bible the Pilgrims brought to America on the Mayflower? Believe it or not, it was not the King James Version of 1611. It was actually the 1599 Geneva Bible—a priceless treasure we have all but forgotten.
The Geneva Bible, printed over 200 times between 1560 and 1644, was the most widely read and influential English Bible of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This superb translation was the product of the best Protestant scholars of the day and became the Bible of choice for many of the greatest writers, thinkers, and historical figures of that time. Men such as Shakespeare, John Bunyan, and John Milton used the Geneva Bible, and alluded to it in their writings. During the English Civil War, Oliver Cromwell issued a pamphlet to his troops containing excerpts from the Geneva Bible. William Bradford cited the Geneva Bible in his book Of Plymouth Plantation.
The Geneva Bible is unique among all other Bibles. It was the first Bible to use chapters and numbered verses and became the most popular version of its time because of the extensive marginal notes. These notes, written by Reformation leaders such as John Calvin, John Knox, Miles Coverdale, William Whittingham, Anthony Gilby, and others, were included to explain and interpret the Scriptures for the common people.
For nearly half a century these notes helped the people of England, Scotland, and Ireland understand the Bible and true liberty. But King James despised the Geneva Bible because he thought the marginal notes on key political texts threatened his authority. Unlike the King James Version, the Geneva Bible was not authorized by the government. It was truly a Bible by the people and for the people. You can see why this remarkable version with its profound marginal notes played a key role in the formation of the American Republic.
For many years, the only available versions of the Geneva Bible were either originals or facsimile editions—basically photocopies of the original printed editions. These were often hard for modern readers to appreciate because of archaic small-font typography, Elizabethan spelling, and the grainy xeroxed look of the pages. But Tolle Lege Press’s version of the 1599 Geneva Bible has been painstakingly re-typeset and proofread to produce a clean, crisp, modern version that is absolutely identical in all substance to the Bible the Pilgrims carried on the Mayflower. Tolle Lege Press believes this prodigious effort was worthwhile because a readable, relevant version of the Geneva Bible is vitally important to America today—so we can both understand our Christian roots and build upon that heritage for the future.
"The publication and promulgation of the 1599 Geneva Bible will help restore America's rich Christian heritage and reclaim the culture for Christ."- Dr. D. James Kennedy, Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church