The Coverdale Bible - 1535
Miles Coverdale was responsible for the first complete printed translation of the Bible into English. There had previously been versions of the Old and New Testaments in English, but the translation and printing of both New and Old Testaments into modern English had never been accomplished before Coverdale undertook the task.
Coverdale was born in the North Riding of Yorkshire around 1488. He entered the church and became a priest at Norwich in 1514, but then left to enter a convent of Austin friars at Cambridge. There his views were swayed towards the current vogue for ecclesiastical reform. After the prior of Cambridge, Robert Barnes, was tried for heresy, Coverdale left the convent and lived on the continent for many years.
It was while living in Europe that Coverdale met Jacobus van Meteren, and his nephew, Leonard Ortels. The two men financed Coverdale's translation of earlier versions of the Bible into English, and the first edition of the 'Coverdale Bible' was printed in Antwerp, in 1535.
Coverdale drew heavily upon the New Testament translation by William Tyndale, and on some of Tyndale's Old Testament material. Coverdale himself translated much of the Old Testament, but not from the original Hebrew or Greek. He worked primarily from German sources, including Luther's Bible, as well as from the Latin.
The ink was scarcely dry on the Coverdale Bible when Coverdale was called by Henry VIII to oversee the production of the so-called 'Great Bible' of 1539. Unlike Coverdale's earlier work, the Great Bible was an officially authorized work, produced for the newly reformed English church under the auspices of Sir Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII's Vicar General and Secretary.
Coverdale himself was later named Bishop of Exeter, a post he was forced to relinquish when Queen Mary attempted to reverse the earlier reforms introduced by her father. Coverdale lived in exile during Mary's reign, but later returned and died in London on 19 February 1588.
The historical importance of the Coverdale Bible is not in the number of readers it attracted, or the number of copies it sold, but rather, and very simply, that it was the first full translation of the Bible into modern English. It was quickly superseded by the Great Bible, which would certainly have had a much greater circulation. The Coverdale Bible was simply part of the gradual movement to bring religious teachings closer to the common Englishman and Englishwoman.