Brief Outline of the New Matthew Bible Project
Baruch House, a small Canadian publisher, has undertaken to republish the 16th century Matthew Bible, minimally edited for today’s reader. The New Matthew Bible will, we pray, be a true and outstanding monument to the work and faith of the three men who produced it: the translators William Tyndale and Miles Coverdale, and the editor John Rogers, who compiled their work, added study helps and notes, and spearheaded publication. These men spent years in exile from their beloved England so that they could pursue their work with Scripture, and Tyndale and Rogers paid for their labour with their lives, in fire at the stake.
The Matthew Bible is thus a martyrs’ bible. It is God’s word purchased with blood during the great tribulation of the Reformation years. It is also the real, though often unacknowledged, primary version of our King James Bible, which is a testament to its enduring worth.
We are working from this original 1549 Matthew Bible
(a 2nd edition of the 1537 Matthew Bible).
THE NEW TESTAMENT IS COMPLETE! We finished our work on the New Testament in October 2015, and finally, in March of 2016, saw both the hardcover and soft cover editions printed and published. Click Here for more information and to purchase.
It is difficult to anticipate with certainty when the Old Testament will be complete. We tentatively hoped to have it ready by 2020, but it may be a few years longer, and 2022 is the current estimate. Ruth has been busy now for over a year researching and writing "The Story of the Matthew Bible," targeted for publication before October 2017, and then she can get to work full time on the Old Testament. Sign up on our scripture index page for more information, and to check out some sample New Testament scriptures.
As for the Apocrypha, we reserve for the future any decision about publication.
Style and Tone of the New Matthew Bible: Faithful to the Original
The goal is not to make a modern bible from an old one, but to keep as much of the old as possible and make it understandable for today. Eccentric spelling, together with syntax and grammar that obscure the meaning, must be updated. Obsolete words (“advoutry,” “assoil”) must be replaced. Words that have changed their meaning and are therefore misleading (“conceits,” “ghostly minded”) need to be replaced. However we will keep certain archaic constructions, and words that are still understandable, such as the preposition “unto” which we will selectively retain. “Unto” is within the passive competence of native English speakers and is able to express some concepts in a way that no modern preposition can. We will keep “beseech,” “brethren,” “heathen,” “the flesh,” and “Abraham’s seed.”
There are good reasons to stay close to the original Matthew Bible besides the fidelity that is called for by the name. Foremost is that we believe this to be a faithful and uncompromised translation, very true and very clear. Also, because the Matthew Bible formed the basis of the Geneva and King James Bibles, a body of theological and devotional works and hymns has been developed over the centuries using its language and turns of phrase, and those resources will remain accessible and relevant. The influence of Tyndale and Coverdale is also seen in Thomas Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer, which is still in use today in many congregations. More could be said, but we believe that many people will find the language of these scriptures, once brought to light again, and with the linguistic cobwebs dusted off, to be the real and the most pleasing language of the faith.
We share William Tyndale’s desire to make the scriptures plain, even for “the boy that drives the plough,” (his famous words as related by John Foxe). But Tyndale did not offer God’s holy word in street language. Nor did he promise instant comprehension of every verse of scripture. He said that the idiom of the Bible may “at the first chop” be difficult, and he said that a right understanding is given progressively by God. This is not, of course, to deny the need for explanation or teaching. The Bible clearly speaks of the gifts of teaching and prophecy (inspired utterance or exposition). The notes in the Matthew Bible provide valuable commentary and instruction. Our challenge, therefore, is to update the 16th century text only as far as is necessary to avoid needless obscurity. And even if we do this well, it will nevertheless be now as it was then: ploughboys who grapple with the mysteries of the faith must ask, seek, and knock.
People and Resources
The New Matthew Bible project is primarily the labour and passion of one person, who is author, student, researcher, and chief editor: Ruth M. Davis. However it was Dan North who first saw the need and occasion for the work, and his encouragement helped give birth to it. Others provide editorial or technical assistance, and thanks are due to Ann Setterfield, Michael Lazaruk, and Margot Scandrett. David McEwan and Ruth’s mother Joan Davis have given long hours reading aloud to compare texts. Two special volunteers joined us in the spring of 2012: Ruth Soffos is the daughter of one Thomas Rogers, and traces her ancestry back to our John Rogers who first compiled the Matthew Bible. Mrs. Soffos, with help from her daughter-in-law Kathy, versified and prepared the New Testament text for the editor’s pen. It was most fitting to have Rogers’ own descendants helping to restore his great work.
In December of 2015 Michael Hendrix helped with proofreading the entire New Testament. Jesse Eldred joined us in the summer of 2016 to take over from Ruth Soffos, whose eyes began to fail her, and has undertaken to versify the books of the Pentateuch and perform minor preliminary edits. We are looking for another volunteer, someone who loves working with English and who loves the scriptures, who is proficient with Microsoft word, or is a quick study to learn, in order to assist with other work for the Old Testament.
Our chief scriptural resource in the NMB Project is the 1549 Matthew Bible, of which we have a rare original copy. Rebound in 1887, it is sturdy and complete. The rag paper pages are clean and legible, though sometimes a magnifying glass is needed to decipher tiny or blurred letters. In addition we have photographic facsimiles of the 1537 Matthew Bible, useful for cross-checking; Tyndale’s 1526 New Testament, helpful for research; and Miles Coverdale’s 1535 bible, which often contains informative alternate renderings.
Form and Changes
Verse numbers will be inserted. When the Matthew Bible was published, letters beside paragraphs were used to help readers locate a passage, but this will be updated.
We will make an effort to resolve difficult syntax or language by borrowing from Miles Coverdale’s 1535 Bible where he was clearer or used contemporary language. An example is 2 Corinthians 12:10. Here Tyndale had, "Therefore have I delectation in infirmities..." Coverdale used the modern word 'content,' and we have "Therefore I am content in infirmities...etc." We do this in recognition of Coverdale's work. We also update at times from Wycliffe's much earlier bible. An example is at Hebrews 9:27, where Tyndale had that it was appointed unto men "that they shall once die." We substituted Wycliff's "once to die," which the KJV also used. Occasionally we follow the KJV, especially with familiar verses that might otherwise ring hollow in the ears of the saints. Sometimes we have been able to update obsolete or obscure passages from Cranmer's 1539 Bible, which largely followed Tyndale, but contains some helpful emendations. It is a joy to turn to and remember the great men of God in this way.
We have found places where John Rogers acted editorially to emend Tyndale's translation, and no doubt will in due course find the same in Coverdale’s scriptures. These are not frequent, but are sometimes significant. A few of Rogers’ edits first occur in the 2nd, 1549 edition of the Matthew Bible, which perhaps confirms that it is wiser to use this edition as our base: more than ten years elapsed between the 1st and 2nd editions, which gave Rogers an opportunity to further his studies and consider the work, and we wish to reap the benefit of a matured understanding.
Rogers incorporated in the Matthew Bible a “Table of Principal Matters,” which he took from the 1535 Bible of the French Reformer Pierre Olivetan. It is an important part of the work. Rogers wrote of it:
As the bees diligently do gather together swete flowres, to make by natural craft the swete hony: so have I done the principal sentences conteyned in the Byble. The whych are ordeyned after the maner of a table, for the consolacyon of those which are not yet exercysed & instructed in the holy Scripture.
The notes and commentaries of the Matthew Bible will be reproduced and the English updated. However, a handful tended to polemic that serves little purpose now, and a few of these will be omitted, if they are repetitive, or abbreviated. Some teachings of William Tyndale and other Reformers that have been changed or forgotten over the years will be interesting to readers, and of course are fully reproduced. For example, in a short note on 1 John, Rogers clarified the identity of Antichrist. The notes of the Matthew Bible were wide-ranging, including notes on Greek or Hebrew, bible customs, and theology, especially salvation by faith alone. The editor will add (only to the New Testament) certain notes of her own on old English words and items of interest, and a few expositions of verses, including alternate expositions that were current in the Reformation but are now forgotten.
All told, we trust that the New Matthew Bible will be a reverent, complete, and faithful resource, promoting understanding and peace.
Biographical Note: Ruth M. Davis
Ruth, who lives in Canada, received a B.A. in French language studies with a German minor, and then a Bachelor of Laws degree. She practiced law for 28 years until retiring to study for the New Matthew Bible project, and has become a scholar of early modern English, Tyndale, Coverdale, and the Matthew Bible. She is an evangelical traditional Anglican by preference, having discovered the Reformation liturgy of Thomas Cranmer, which is still in use in traditional congregations, though about ready to die if we do not remember that which we first received, and strengthen it. She also greatly appreciates the teaching of Martin Luther.
A number of things led Ruth to believe she was called to this work, including her deep appreciation of the scripture translations of William Tyndale. The Lord's guidance and provision was compelling. Her decision to retire from law and undertake this project was not made quickly, but only after several years of prayer.
Ruth founded Baruch House to publish a book she wrote as a young believer, True to His Ways: Purity and Safety in Christian Spiritual Practice, which examines problems in the Charismatic Church and is sold through another website, www.truetohisways.com. Ruth is a member of the Tyndale Society, and some of her articles regarding Tyndale have been published in the Tyndale Society Journal.
Page rewritten and posted June 2012. Further updates January 2014, February 2015, January 2016.
Professor David Daniell, historian, English teacher, and expert on William Tyndale, has republished Tyndale's scripture translations in modern spelling, though not otherwise updated. If you love God’s word, we urge you to purchase these volumes. They are available through any major bookseller. You will discover how great is Tyndales' work, but will also see why updating is desirable.