The Dangerous Business of Bible Publishing in the Sixteenth Century

by Carl Nellis, Associate Editor

‘It was impossible to establish the lay people in any truth, except the Scripture were laid before their eyes in their mother tongue.’
—William Tyndale [1]

The story of printing from the invention of Gutenberg’s press in 1450 to the work of the Reformers has been told and retold in every subsequent generation. This year, celebrations commemorating Luther’s bold act in Wittenberg in 1517 lead us to consider the whole period of the Reformation and the long legacy of that work we inherit today.

In particular, we at Hendrickson Publishers look back to the Reformation as the early period where our own trade began to take shape, as publishers of thoughtful Christian books and, especially, as Bible publishers.

Sixteenth-century printers and publishers played a key role in the cultural shifts that made Luther’s choices possible and powerful. As Patricia Anders, Hendrickson’s editorial director, noted in her recent post on the continuing significance of the Reformation, “thanks to the invention of the printing press,” one of the forces that drove the Reformers’ work was the circulation of ideas through publishing. On the printed page, new ideas and new doctrines traveled from town to town in the native language of readers. As printing became more widespread, books could be produced at lower cost, at greater speed, and in higher volume. This large-scale production of knowledge created a new way of seeing and understanding the world, sparking an international movement, with provocative writers like Martin Luther lighting the way.

It wasn’t just Luther’s theological tracts and pamphlets, however, which set the German reading world ablaze. The Reformers’ embrace of the doctrine of sola scriptura, the belief that Scripture alone should guide Christians in their faith, put a new importance on believers reading the Bible in their own tongue without a human intermediary. The Reformers wanted truth established not in a magisterium, but in the heart and mind of every Christian. This desire found its full expression in the printing of German, Swiss, and English Bibles.

As these vernacular Bibles spread, the authority of church in Rome was undermined. New leaders such as John Wycliffe, Martin Luther, Jan Hus, and Huldrich Zwingli began to teach that no earthly arbiter need come between the believer and the sacred text. That made Bible publishing a dangerous business.

Martin Luther’s Biblia Germanica, 1545 

biblia-germanicaIn the years after nailing his Ninety-Five Theses to the doors in Wittenberg, while in hiding following the backlash against his work, Luther translated the New Testament into German. Published in 1522, Luther’s New Testament was not the first Bible to appear in German, as previous Bibles had been translated from the Latin Vulgate into High German. But it was Luther who dedicated himself to translate the Hebrew and Greek text “into the idiom of sixteenth century Saxony,”[2] thereby being the first to translate Scripture into the common language of his particular readers.

In 1534, Luther’s whole Bible was printed in German for the first time by Hans Lufft, the “rising star in the Wittenberg printing scene” who Biblia Germanicabetween “1534 and 1574 . . . produced thousands of Luther Bibles,” by some counts printing over one hundred thousand during that period.[3] Luther continued to revise his translation and correct errors, publishing various editions until the final, one-volume edition was published in 1545, one year before his death.

Working together with the German Bible Society in commemoration of Luther’s work, Hendrickson is now carrying a complete facsimile of this final, one-volume Bible. A recent episode of the Mortification of Spin podcast detailed the history of the Biblia Germanica. You can listen to the hosts “gawk over its beautiful calligraphy and . . . discuss God’s providential work through Martin Luther” at the Mortification of Spin website.

William Tyndale’s New Testament, 1526 

9781598562903In The Reformation: What You Need to Know and Why (forthcoming from Hendrickson in May 2017), Michael Reeves writes that before William Tyndale’s 1526 New Testament, “the followers of John Wycliffe had produced and read translations of the New Testament in English, but they were only handwritten,” and “impossible to mass-produce.” Like the German predecessors of Luther’s translation, they were “rather wooden renditions of the Latin Vulgate . . . and still contained all the theological problems of the Latin (‘do penance’ instead of ‘repent,’ for example).” Rather than copying his work by hand, Tyndale sent his work to Germany where it was

printed off by the thousands, then smuggled into England in bales of cloth, and soon accompanied by his Parable of the Wicked Mammon, an argument for justification through faith alone. Even more importantly, Tyndale’s New Testament was a gem of a translation. Accurate and beautifully written, it was a page-turner. (16–17)

tyndale-nt_finalHendrickson’s facsimile edition of Tyndale’s New Testament, produced in cooperation with the British Library, demonstrates the compact size and the beautifully decorated type of the original that delivered this translation to its first readers. At only six and a half inches high and four and a half wide, it was the perfect Bible for smuggling in a bale of cloth, and the brilliant color of its pages was well-suited to impressing the dissident clergy on the other side as they made the case for teaching the congregation in their mother tongue.

In 1535, Tyndale was caught by church authorities in Brussels and burned at the stake for his work on this “page-turner.” He was one of many who would die a martyr’s death during the Reformation, caught between the heat of his convictions and the flames of the so-called heretic’s pyre.

Matthew’s Bible, 1537

9781598563498Tyndale’s death, however, did not suppress demand for the Bible in English, nor did it slow the advance of Reformation thought. In fact, in 1534, the same year that Luther first published his complete Bible, King Henry VIII made his separation from the church in Rome and claimed a new church for England with himself at the head. In 1537, as a part of this new day for English religion, King Henry ordered that an English Bible be placed in every church in England.

The Bible first used to fulfill that decree was the 1537 Matthew’s Bible, published by John Rogers under the pseudonym “Thomas Matthew.” Based on William Tyndale’s translation of the New Testament and his partial matthews1537_finaltranslation of the Old Testament, Matthew’s Bible filled in the gaps with the work of Miles Coverdale, who had completed an English Bible in 1535, translated from several sources including a Swiss-German Bible of 1529, the Vulgate, and Luther’s Biblia Germanica.

Basing his translation on Tyndale’s work, John Rogers suffered Tyndale’s fate. Like his predecessor, Rogers burned at the stake, becoming the first Protestant martyr until Catholic Queen Mary I when she ascended the throne of Britain in 1553.

The Geneva Bible, 1560

9781598562125The story of the Geneva Bible bears witness to the ongoing revolutionary potential of the English Bible as the first wave of Reformers passed the torch to the next generation. Translated and compiled by English Puritans who had fled England to shelter in John Calvin’s Geneva, the Bible was continuously printed from 1560 to 1640—eighty years of continued social upheaval and disruption that sowed the seeds of the English Civil War.

It was in Geneva that Calvin continued Luther’s practice of developing strong relationships with skilled printers, who worked together with the Bible’s compilers to make significant advances in Bible publishing. Unlike its many predecessors, the Geneva Bible divided the scriptural text into numbered verses, used italic text to mark geneva-bibleEnglish phrases not included in the original languages, placed marks over biblical names to aid in pronunciation, and included extensive textual and explanatory commentary in the margins.

The choices made in the layout and formatting of the Geneva Bible were the next steps of a dance between the need for believers to encounter the Bible on their own, and the need for scholars and church leaders to assist Bible readers in understanding the significance of the book for their own lives.

So familiar today, these choices in how a Bible could be presented to a reader reintroduced human interpreters into Protestant Bible reading, and raised significant questions about the role of the Bible in the life of a Christian. Readers who were puzzled about how to understand a passage could look to the commentary in the margin for help, but who wrote these notes, and could they be believed? They were printed next to the text of Scripture, but did they carry the same authority as the words of a priest, or even the head of the church? King James I, himself the head of the Church of England during his reign, loathed the assumed authority of the Geneva Bible’s marginal commentary so much that he “ordered his 1611 translators to confine themselves to cross-references and alternative renderings” when they used the Geneva Bible as a source text to create his “Authorized Version.”[4]

~ ~ ~

Wycliffe, Luther, Lufft, Tyndale, Coverdale, Rogers, Calvin, and King James I—from throne, pulpit, and printing press, these leaders of the Protestant Reformation all made their contributions to the ongoing discussion about where authority to interpret Scripture resides: in the text, the tradition, or the believer.

As spiritually, culturally, and economically significant today as it was during the Reformation, the printed Bible continues to be the most widely sold and widely read book. For that we have the courage of the Reformers, and their publishers, to thank.

[1] Quoted by Michael Reeves in “The Story and Significance of the Reformation,” The Reformation: What You Need to Know and Why (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, May 2017), 16.

[2] Introduction to “Martin Luther: Preface to the German translation of the New Testament (1522),” The Protestant Reformation, ed. Hans J. Hillenbrand (New York: Harper, 1968), 38. [3] Richard G. Cole, “Reformation Printers: Unsung Heroes,” The Sixteenth Century Journal (1984): 15:3, 334.

[4] Gerald Hammond, review of “The English Bible and the Seventeenth-Century Revolution” by Christopher Hill, Translation and Literature (1994), 3, 155.

Carl Nellis is Associate Editor with Hendrickson Publishers. He lives in historic Gloucester, Massachusetts, where he reviews new books in critical cultural studies and researches contemporary American community formation around appropriations of medieval European culture. You can learn more about Carl’s work at

A Conversation about Biblical Aramaic: A Reader & Handbook

biblical-aramaicIf you study Biblical Aramaic and haven’t yet gotten a chance to explore this new handbook, you’re in luck. We sat down with Amy Paulsen-Reed, one of the editors, so she can tell us more about the book and how it was put together.

But first, a bit about the book. Biblical Aramaic: A Reader & Handbook is designed to enable students, pastors, and scholars to read the Aramaic portions of the Bible with understanding and confidence. Created by Donald R. Vance, George Athas, Yael Avrahami, and our very own Jonathan G. Kline (who also developed the questions below), it contains the full text of the Aramaic portions of the Bible, extensive vocabulary and word lists, and an apparatus that contextually glosses and parses 94% of all vocabulary.

How is Biblical Aramaic: A Reader & Handbook different from other books on Biblical Aramaic? What are its unique features?

What makes Biblical Aramaic: A Reader & Handbook (BARH) different is that it contains vocabulary and morphology lists that use attested forms (the ones that occur in the text) and gives you their frequency so you can focus on the most common ones as opposed to memorizing paradigms full of forms you’ll never see in the biblical text. Also, the Reader section, which contains all the Aramaic texts from the Bible, contains a streamlined and more accessible apparatus than the BHS Reader, especially with regard to the parsings.

biblical aramaic features

Is this a grammar of Biblical Aramaic? Is it a reference book?

Unlike most of the resources out there, BARH focuses on helping the student learn and understand the forms that occur in the biblical text, as opposed to only lexical forms. It is not a grammar, although by studying the lists, which organize words according to parts of speech, stem, and strong/weak root types, the student will be inductively learning various aspects of the grammar.

BARH is thus complementary to Biblical Aramaic grammars, since the lists display the grammatical forms in a fresh and logical way, which will reinforce one’s study of a traditional grammar or textbook. It is also complementary to a grammar in that it provides the full Aramaic text from the BHS Reader, which makes it easier to access the Aramaic portions of the Hebrew Bible. This book greatly enriches and reinforces study of any Biblical Aramaic grammar.

Who is BARH for?

BARH is for anyone learning Biblical Aramaic at any level. If you’re just starting out and want to focus on basic vocabulary, you can easily identify the most common words and forms since everything is organized by frequency; and if you’ve already taken a course and want to refresh your memory, the lists allow you to identify and focus on the areas you most need to review. And again, the fact that you’re only seeing the forms that actually occur in the text means that all of your study and review directly improves your ability to read the biblical text, whether you’re a beginner or a veteran.

BARH contains a lot of lists. How are these organized, and why are they useful?

biblical-aramaic-close-up-insideJonathan Kline, our academic editor and the architect of these lists, put a lot of thought into creating these. He starts off by giving you two frequency lists: one containing all the words in Biblical Aramaic that occur two times or more, and one containing all the hapax legomena (words that only occur once). The first of these two lists allows you to easily see the most common words. The first 50 words in the list take you down to a frequency of 18, while the first 100 words take you down to a frequency of 10; and the next 100 words take you down to a frequency of 5. This is both encouraging and motivating, because you don’t have to memorize too many words in order to really get a handle on the vocabulary of Biblical Aramaic.

List #3 is a master verb list by frequency, which is also super encouraging to look at. If you study the 20 most common verbs, you’re already down to a frequency of 10! The same goes for the Common Noun List – the first 40 words get you down to a frequency of 10. The genius of these lists is that they provide a clear, focused path of study that leads towards mastery, with mastery defined as the ability to read and understand the biblical texts in Aramaic.

There are verb lists by stem (G, D, etc.), and again, they only show the forms attested in the text, so if a verb only shows up as 3ms, 3mp, and 3fs, those are the only forms given in the paradigm. The same goes for the lists of weak verbs (I-Aleph, II-Ayin, etc.).

There are also lists of forms (of all parts of speech) that have pronominal suffixes: ms nouns with 3ms suffixes, fs nouns with 3ms suffixes, and so on. This provides an inductive experience with Biblical Aramaic in a more focused, organized way than just reading the text.

There are also lists of easily confused words, such as homonyms and consonantal homographs (the consonants are the same, but the vowels are different). And at the end, Jonathan gives you lists of Persian, Sumerian, Akkadian, Greek, and Hebrew loanwords that occur in the Aramaic text, which is both fascinating and helpful.

What exactly is in the Reader section of BARH?

First of all, the Reader contains every bit of Aramaic in the Hebrew Bible, including the isolated Aramaic verses from Genesis and Jeremiah. And since it’s a Reader, it provides glosses (definitions) for all except the 25 most common words. This means that once you learn those 25 words, you don’t have to consult a dictionary for less common vocabulary – it’s all right there on the bottom half of the page.

The notes to the Reader also contain parsings for all verbs. One difference between the parsings provided in the BHS Reader and this Reader is that BARH has the space to spell out the parsings, as opposed to using a code that you have to memorize. For example, where BARH gives you “G SC 3ms” (Grundstamm, suffix conjugation, 3rd-person masculine singular), the BHS Reader gives you “G12,” which requires you to have already memorized the specific numbered grammatical code that it uses. The fact that BAHR actually gives you the parsing makes it more accessible.

Do the vocabulary lists in BARH just contain basic definitions for the words, or do they provide contextual glosses?

biblical-aramaic-insideGreat question. When you look a word up in the dictionary, you have a list of possible meanings. A contextual gloss means that the definition given is the one that best fits the context of a particular verse. BAHR gives you the contextual gloss. This saves you the step of trying to decide which of several definitions applies to the specific verse you’re reading and helps you avoid the mistake of thinking that all of the definitions apply at once (the “totality transfer” fallacy).

I already have a copy of Biblia Hebraica: A Reader’s Edition (a.k.a., the BHS Reader). Is this book just an excerpted version of the Bible’s Aramaic texts from the BHS Reader?

Nope! As I mentioned above, the parsing information is spelled out more fully, as opposed to using a numbered code. The annotations for the Reader section of BARH are more accessible and easier to understand. In addition, two-thirds of BARH consists of its extensive vocabulary and morphology lists, none of which are found in the BHS Reader.

Can BARH be used in a Biblical Aramaic course?

BARH cannot replace a traditional grammar or textbook, but it is an invaluable tool for any student of Biblical Aramaic. On a syllabus, it would be an excellent “recommended text.”

Amy Paulsen-Reed is an Assistant Editor and Sales Rep at Hendrickson Publishers. She has a doctorate in Hebrew Bible from Harvard University, where she focused on Jewish biblical interpretation in antiquity. She lives in Burlington, MA with her husband Michael and her daughter Lillian. She is a self-confessed language and grammar nerd, and enjoys cooking, baking, and napping in her spare time.

barhFor more information about Biblical Aramaic: A Reader & Handbook, visit our website.

Dictionary of Daily Life—A Great 4-Volume Set

Read Jimmy Reagan’s review of the entire boxed set of the Dictionary of Daily Life in Biblical and Post-Biblical Antiquity!

The Reagan Review


Finally, this wonderful set is complete in four volumes. It took years to put together and the volumes have been released over the course of a couple years or so, but now this fun resource edited by the outstanding scholars Edwin Yamauchi and Marvin Wilson is available to us.

Why secure this set compared to so many others on the market? It’s really two things: 1) the unique approach, and 2) the valuable, scholarly, and well-written entries.

This dictionary did not limit itself to Bible words only, but to subjects as they occur to us. The value there is making accessible Bible times in a way that overcomes our cultural biases. Think of something that you would really like to know and I suspect you will find an entry on it.

You may read a line that you disagree with, but there’s enough depth to really wrestle with the subject…

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Book Review: An Introduction To Ugaritic

An Introduction to UgariticRead Nathan Albright’s review of An Introduction to Ugaritic by John Huehnergard!

Edge Induced Cohesion

An Introduction To Ugaritic, by John Huehnergard

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Hendrickson Publishers.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

What would lead someone to want to introduce themselves to Ugaritic, an extinct member of the Semitic language family that was spoken and, for at least a couple generations, written in an unusual cuneiform alphabet in the city of Ugarit on the coast of present-day Syria?  For one, the language itself is fairly similar to biblical Hebrew and not that much more distant from Arabic, and contains a great deal of influence from Akkadian, the first known written Semitic language.  For another, although most known Ugaritic texts are either letters from elites, legal texts, or heathen religious writings about Baal and other false gods, the language does help explain some difficult passages within biblical Hebrew and also provides some of the context of the heathen…

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Genesis by Meredith Kline

Jimmy Reagan takes a look at Meredith Kline’s Genesis commentary in the following review.

The Reagan Review


Meredith Kline is someone I’ve not really read much, but was intrigued as I have read several things mentioning the insight and even uniqueness of his writings. This volume turns out to be a posthumous work where his grandson, Jonathan Kline, found this manuscript in his grandfather’s things and lovingly edited it for publication.

Though this book is clearly not written as a major commentary, it is a pithy help on Genesis that reflects the mature judgments of an influential scholar in the twilight of his career. Unlike some modern commentaries, this book is not dry. Even better, he is not afraid to see Christ and His glorious Gospel revealed on the pages of Genesis. For that matter, he even sees Moses as the author, which is unfortunately too uncommon in our day.

I couldn’t personally agree with all his thoughts on the covenant, nor a few of his thoughts…

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Book Review: Genesis: A New Commentary

51um8ezgqjl-_sx322_bo1204203200_Nathan Albright’s review of Meredith Kline’s commentary on Genesis does excellent justice to this noteworthy book.

A quote from the review that I particularly enjoyed: “The author’s unwillingness to exceed the firm foundation of his text and his generally charitable attitude towards the reader make this book feel like one is listening to the author give a friendly graduate seminar or a conversation over dinner while pouring over the Bible in English, Hebrew, and the Greek.  While such an experience is no longer possible in this life, this book is the next best thing and a worthy introduction to the works of a worthy biblical scholar.”

Edge Induced Cohesion

Genesis:  A New Commentary, by Meredith G. Kline

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Hendrickson Publishers.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

Upon reading this book, I was somewhat surprised that this was the first book I remember reading from the noted and late Presbyterian theologian.  Upon reading, for example, his breakdown of the chiasmic structure of the book of Genesis, I was immediately reminded of previous readings of books likely influenced by his instruction of other conservative Presbyterians [1] in decades of faithful teaching work.  Given the fact that this work was a very refreshing and thoughtful commentary on the book of Genesis, although given that Kline has been dead for eight years, it is hard to tell how new this commentary is in some senses, it is likely that this will not be the last book I read from this author by any means…

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Review: Dictionary of Daily Life: Volume 4

Jimmy Reagan takes a look at the Dictionary of Daily Life in Biblical & Post-Biblical Antiquity O-Z Volume 4 in this review:

The Reagan Review


This is the final volume of an unique set. Editors Edwin Yamauchi and Marvin Wilson continue the high quality of work, here  covering O-Z, that we found in the previous volumes. Many scholars joined forces to provide us with this special resource. The setup that even includes a few pictures at the end matches the previous volumes. Together these volumes make an attractive paperback set.

The feature that makes this a special set is what it chooses to cover. It does not limit itself to specific Bible words, but addresses daily life issues in the way we think of them.  That means that things like sanitation, spectacles, trade, and viticulture get covered. There are also things that you would expect like slavery, taxation, and threshing and winnowing, but at more detail than you would imagine. Touchy subjects like prostitution and same-sex relations are well covered too. Those articles were solidly…

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Review: Genesis: A New Commentary

Check out John Kight’s review of Meredith G. Kline’s Genesis: A New Commentary!

Sojourner Theology

51um8ezgqjl-_sx322_bo1204203200_Few things should be more exciting to contemporary readers of the Bible than a previously unpublished work by Meredith G. Kline. Kline was an influential American Old Testament scholar and a formative voice of Covenant theology within the Reformed tradition. Kline received a ThB and a ThM from Westminster Theological Seminary, and a PhD from Dropsie University. With a teaching career that stretched over five decades and a list of publications that is equally as impressive, it is hard to imagine exactly how far the influence of Kline has reached. Nevertheless, Genesis: A New Commentary, edited by Kline’s grandson, Jonathan G. Kline, is yet another shining reminder of a legacy that sought nothing more than to illuminate the Savior through an unquenchable passion for the Old Testament Scriptures.

Genesis: A New Commentary is in many ways a brief, more distilled companion commentary to Kline’s well-known magnum opus Kingdom Prologue:…

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Book Review: Dietrich Bonhoeffer: An Introduction To His Thought

9781619708501Nathan Albright’s excellent review on Dietrich Bonhoeffer: An Introduction To His Thought by Sabine Dramm.

A quote from his review: “Nevertheless, this is an excellent book about an excellent subject, and Bonhoeffer continues to have a lot to say to contemporary Christianity in complex ways. Had he lived longer, or lived in less dangerous times, he would likely have engaged his world in far different ways. To the extent that we face the threat of prison, exile, or death for being decent people in an indecent world, understanding the thought and practice of Bonhoeffer is important in helping to inspire our own responses to our own social, cultural, political, and religious context. This book is a worthy help for that difficult and important task.”

Edge Induced Cohesion

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: An Introduction To His Thought, by Sabine Dramm

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Hendrickson Publishers.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

As someone who has read a fair amount by and about the noted German theologian and anti-Hitler conspirator Dietrich Bonhoeffer and who will likely read much more by and about him in the future [1], I found this book to be a highly quotable and thoughtful introduction to his thinking concerning matters of theology, philosophy, and culture.  The author of this book wonders aloud about the various factors that could keep Bonhoeffer’s thought and practice, some of which is admittedly radical and much of it is rather deeply complicated and even paradoxical and conflicted, on the sidelines and in the ghettos of Christian thought.  However, as biased a reader as I am, I think that these worries are overblown, because as long…

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Review: The Illustrated Bible

Rene Sloan

I am not a huge comic book fan. I have never been one to be interested in comics. This book is different. It is 31 stories from both the Old Testament, and the New Testament, in graphic, comic book style. Stories that I have heard all my life, to those I may not understand so well are illustrated in such a way, that I can finally put an image with words! This is so exciting to me! I am so thankful someone was inspired and responded to the call of God to create this wonderful book! This is a great way to spread the word of God to those who may never have picked up a bible otherwise! The illustrations are phenomenal. They correspond perfectly with the stories, and are bright and attention-catching. The wording is simple, and easy to understand.

I highly recommend this this book to all. Comic…

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