King Henry VIII and the Great Bible

Some people erroneously believe the KJV to be the first English Bible translation that a king authorized. It was the Great Bible, which King Henry VIII authorized. The Great Bible drew heavily from William Tyndale’s translations and helped shape English Bibles of the future, including the KJV.

King Henry VIII’s connection with the Reformation

King Henry VIII is a character full of contradictions. When Luther’s reformation started, he was an individual with conservative instincts. Yet, sometime later, he built his own church and overthrew England’s papal influence. In a way, King Henry VIII was the English Protestant church’s supporter and prosecutor rolled into one.  Just like Henry VIII’s enormous contradictions, England’s early reformation also seems to be somewhat hesitant as it proceeded bit by bit.

But what made King Henry VIII go against the church? Did he have a change of heart? No, he didn’t. He requested the Pope to permit his annulment to his wife, Catherine of Aragorn so that he could marry his mistress. When the Pope declined, King Henry VIII went ahead to tie the knot with his mistress anyway.  To spite the Pope further, he took England out of Rome’s religious control. He announced himself as the head of State in power, who would also be the church’s new head. Since this new division of the Christian Church wasn’t truly Protestant or Roman Catholic, it became popular as the Anglican Church. Also known as the Church of England, its acting Pope was King Henry VIII. To challenge Rome’s church and agitate the Pope more, he invested money to print the scriptures in English. This way, the first authorized English Bible came into existence, not due to some majestic plan but only because a king wanted to spite Rome’s religious leaders and the church.

These men included Thomas Cromwell, Thomas Cranmer, and Miles Coverdale. Each of them performed a crucial role in the creation of the Great Bible.

Why King Henry VIII founded the Great Bible

After he ruined the relationship between the papacy and England, Henry VIII needed supporters for the Anglican Church. He desperately needed leaders who wouldn’t challenge his authority. In return, he was ready, albeit in part, to give them flexibility on Protestant issues, provided they showed their loyalty to the crown.

This wasn’t an issue with England’s early Protestants because most, including Luther, were supportive of political rulers to shield the reformation from oppression. What these Protestants and King Henry VIII needed was something to stimulate their relationship. But since Henry was so eccentric and full of contradictions, discussing theology proper with him meant reaching a deadlock often. This was because Henry favored the seven sacraments but didn’t like the cult of saints. Though he preferred celibate priests, he almost singlehandedly destroyed English monasticism. But what both King Henry VIII and the Protestants agreed was on removing the papacy, and this reformation found its support in the Bible.

The Great Bible

The Great Bible was published in 1539. It was mainly created by Miles Coverdale, who adapted almost the whole of William Tyndale’s New Testament and his translations of the books of the Old Testament. To fill the rest, Coverdale translated from Latin and converted German translations into English. Due to its sheer size and volume, the Great Bible was named such. Six editions followed the first, and over 9,000 copies were printed by 1541.

The Great Bible’s woodcut title page clearly communicated King Henry VIII’s role as the Anglican Church’s Supreme Head, independent of the authority of the Pope in Rome. The visual design has two images of Henry VIII. One has him praying to Christ. The other shows him enthroned and handing the Word to the nobility through Thomas Cromwell (on the right) and to the local parish congregation and the clergy via Canterbury’s Archbishop, Thomas Cranmer (on the left).

Final Words

It was quite expensive to print the Great Bible. Once done, it was decreed that each church in England should have a copy of it. The aim of the Great Bible was to find takers in all segments of society and ensure the civil rulers would be aware of their responsibilities and the priests would be well-versed in the Scriptures. Thus, the Great Bible was one of the most significant legacies of King Henry VIII, who died in 1547 at Whitehall, London. If you are looking for King Henry VIII Antique Bibles & Rare Bibles, Visit the world’s most unusual gift shop today.

Zuhair Mujahid

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