The English Bible in the Early Modern World

The English Bible in the Early Modern World addresses the most significant book available in the English language in the centuries after the Reformation, and investigates its impact on popular religion and reading practices, and on theology, religious controversy and intellectual history between 1530 and 1700. Individual chapters discuss the responses of both clergy and laity to the sacred text, with particular emphasis on the range of settings in which the Bible was encountered and the variety of responses prompted by engagement with the Scriptures. Particular attention is given to debates around the text and interpretation of the Bible, to an emerging Protestant understanding of Scripture and to challenges it faced over the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.


  • Many of the essays herein are exceptional but some stand out for their intriguing content and wonderful writing styles.  These are
  • Nuts, Kernels, Wading Lambs and Swimming Elephants: Preachers and Their Handling of Biblical Texts, by Mary Morrissey
  • The Catholic Contribution to the King James Bible, by Gordon Campbell
  • ‘Not the Word of God’: Varieties of Antiscripturism during the English Revolution, by Ariel Hessayon

The volume is, as are so many these days, the outcome of a conference:

This volume is the third to emerge from the ‘Insular Christianity’ Project, based in Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin, and more especially from the symposium held in Trinity in 2011.

Clearly the production of the volume took a number of years, given that this collection was not published until 2018.  But, as the old saw goes, it was worth waiting for.

Morrissey’s wonderful essay includes this important observation, which is worth repeating at length:

I would argue that biblical commonplaces facilitated, rather than constrained, a preacher’s engagement with topical subjects. Preachers did not create new political meaning for passages from the Bible; such meanings were often already there, in the interpretations that had accrued around the text in previous ages. The preacher often needed only to give a renewed valence to those particular readings, and he could do this by demonstrating that current events were best understood in the light of already-instituted interpretations of his chosen passage from Scripture. Commonplacing provides us with a vital interpretative tool when approaching early modern sermons. A great many of the printed sermons are conventional: they say very much the same sorts of things based on the same biblical text.

Naturally there is little to argue with here, as she has put her finger on the pulse of early modern Christianity.  In much the same way, it has to be said, that Campbell has tapped into an important aspect of the history of the KJV and its dependence on the New Testament translation of the version of Douey-Rheims in his distinguished contribution.  For instance, he remarks

There are many different sorts of debts of the kjv to Reims, and many examples of each kind, but the scale of the debt is clearly very considerable. It is clear that on occasion Gregory Martin’s excellent ear for demotic English caught the eye of the kjv translators. The best known example occurs at Mark 1.45, when the leper whom Jesus has healed, in the words of the Bishops’ Bible, ‘began to tell many thynges, and to publishe the saying’. This is a perfectly adequate translation, as διεφημίσθην means ‘to spread a report’. Reims, however, has ‘began to publish and to blaze abroad the matter’.

He amply illustrates this dependence.  Brilliantly.

This is a wonderfully informative volume and I heartily recommend it to all who have interest in the history of the Bible in England.

About Jim

I am a Pastor, and Lecturer in Church History and Biblical Studies at Ming Hua Theological College.
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