The Great Bible, 1540 and the preservation of the saints

The work of the historian is a precarious one. Reporting on the past without prejudice is a passing discipline. George Orwell’s 1984 said it best, “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” As a record of God’s providence, the progression of history does not fit a logically linear, prescribed formula from the historian’s perspective, nor as an investigative study is the work ever complete. Preconceived formulations of the past based on current ideologies are the historian’s greatest obstacles. The past has never heard of you and for the past to be rendered correctly it cannot afford to have your modern ideas foisted upon it. To avoid being a contributor to Orwell’s dystopian world, just report what you find.

This short series is drawn from a Ph.D. paper submitted at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, MI. The paper’s theme was to determine whether the Church historically understood Psalm 12:6-7 to teach the preservation of pure words. What was said at the outset of the study, was that the ecclesiastical exegetical tradition appears divided on this passage, but in this division one interpretation  is the preservation of pure words. Historians should give all the information they have, not censoring or prejudicing the data if it does not agree with their reconceived notion of what they wished the research would say.

During the research on this passage, microfilm of  the 1540 Great Bible was examined. If one were trying to make a biased case for the preservation of pure words because “the present controls the past” the material that follows would be omitted. If one were trying to make a biased case for the people being preserved because “the present controls the past” the material that follows would be highlighted and other findings for the preservation of the pure word omitted. Challenging both scenarios, if, however, the research is the reporting of history, all findings whether they align or not with the premise should be included. The following is part of that historical reporting.

Primarily the work of Coverdale, the Great Bible was so called because it measured 16 ½ by 11 inches. The Old Testament is Matthew’s (Rogers/Tyndale/Coverdale) edition, revised based on Sebastian Munster’s Latin translation of 1535. The result of Coverdale’s careful editorial supervision, The Great Bible was the only revised edition of the John Rogers’ Matthew’s Bible, which was the most complete presentation of the translation work of William Tyndale.[1]

The 1540 edition of the Great Bible muddies the translational water by its literary format. Psalm 12 in this edition was written in two paragraphs: verse 1-6 and 7-8. The paragraph break between verses 6 and 7 create an interpretive issue by making “Thou shalt keep them…” beginning v. 7 the main statement of the new paragraph rather than subordinate to the direct antecedent “pure words.” This literary structure of the Psalm lends support to the editors’ interpretation that “them” and “him” are the same people.

“The words of the lord are pure words, even as the silver, which from the earth is tried and purified seven times in the fire. Thou shalt keep them (O Lord), thou shalt preserve him from this generation for ever.”[2]


[1] Price, Ancestry, 256.

                [2] The Bible in English 1540 (Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilm). The 1549 Great Bible no longer followed the two-paragraph format but is written in separate verses.

Published by Dr. Peter Van Kleeck, Sr.

Dr. Peter William Van Kleeck, Sr. : B.A., Grand Rapids Baptist College, 1986; M.A.R., Westminster Theological Seminary, 1990; Th.M., Calvin Theological Seminary, 1998; D. Min, Bob Jones University, 2013. Dr. Van Kleeck was formerly the Director of the Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, Grand Rapids, MI, (1990-1994) lecturing, researching and writing in the defense of the Masoretic Hebrew text, Greek Received Text and King James Bible. His published works include, "Fundamentalism’s Folly?: A Bible Version Debate Case Study" (Grand Rapids: Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, 1998); “We have seen the future and we are not in it,” Trinity Review, (Mar. 99); “Andrew Willet (1562-1621: Reformed Interpretation of Scripture,” The Banner of Truth, (Mar. 99); "A Primer for the Public Preaching of the Song of Songs" (Outskirts Press, 2015). Dr. Van Kleeck is the pastor of the Providence Baptist Church in Manassas, VA where he has ministered for the past twenty-one years. He is married to his wife of 43 years, Annette, and has three married sons, one daughter and eighteen grandchildren.

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