JACKSON, Tenn. – June 26, 2002 – Old and worn, with a non-descript musty cover and brittle pages, the book lies there, just one of many on Ray Van Neste’s bookshelf. The 1615 edition of the Geneva Bible—definitely ancient in appearance, is in excellent condition considering the fact that it has been read for almost 400 years.
Van Neste, instructor of Christian studies and director of the R. C. Ryan Center for Biblical Studies at Union University, recently traveled to Scotland to purchase the Geneva Bible from James Dickson Booksellers. The purchase was made possible by a generous gift from David and Linda Shoaf, friends of the university and members of First Baptist Church Horn Lake, Miss.
As a centerpiece and model for the R. C. Ryan Center for Biblical Studies, Van Neste and his colleagues hope the Geneva Bible will exemplify their mission at Union. The Center strives to focus on the importance studying and understanding the Bible as crucial in every layperson’s life.
“Just as the Geneva Bible facilitated the spread of God’s word to the common people 400 years ago, today Union’s Center for Biblical Studies encourages the study and use of the Bible,” explained Van Neste. “Many people do not use or really try to understand the Bible and our mission is to provide resources to the community for better understanding of the Scriptures.”
First printed in Geneva, Switzerland in 1560 in the time of John Calvin, the Geneva Bible was the first Bible to penetrate the English world and be widely used by the common people. Not only was this the first English version to have verse division in addition to chapter separation, the Geneva Bible was also the first English Bible to include to chapter separation, the Geneva Bible was also the first English Bible to include extensive study notes. According to tradition, prominent Reformation leaders such as John Knox, Miles Coverdale and William Whittingham were involved in the preparation of the translation and the study notes.
Ray Van Neste, director of the Center for Biblical Studies and instructor of Christian studies holds the 400-year-old newest addition to the center's library.
The Geneva Bible served as the primary text for the Puritans and was the only translation of the Bible to accompany the Pilgrims to America, and also served as the work used by Shakespeare in his writings. It remained the Bible of the common people until the mid 1600s when King James, enraged by the study notes which allowed disobedience to tyrannical kings, made ownership of the Geneva Bible a felony and commissioned men to translate his own version of the Bible.
Not much is known about the history of the particular Geneva Bible purchased by the R. C. Ryan Center. The name Thomas Tucker is inscribed on the front inside cover and repeated on several of the following pages. A notation found below this name states Tucker had the book rebound in May of 1709, almost 100 years after it was printed — the results which still bind the book together almost 300 years later.
Little else is known about the book, but if it is typical of most Geneva Bibles of that time period, it was a treasured and frequently read possession. The common person would have expended a large sum of money to purchase such a volume, and its rarity would cause it to be valued as an important part of daily life.
“The word of God is no less important today than it was 400 years ago,” said Van Neste. “Even though the Bible is less costly and more common today, the Geneva Bible will serve as a historical reminder to us that the Bible should still be a significant component of our lives.”
The purpose of the R.C. Ryan Center for Biblical Studies is to encourage and support thoughtful reading and study of the Scriptures. The Center’s library, located in Jennings Hall on Union’s Jackson campus, will house quality reference tools including commentaries, language resources, encyclopedias and software and will be available for use by students, pastors and Bible study leaders. The Center sponsors a bi-annual conference as well as other projects each year.
By Mariann Martin, Class of 2005
Sara B. Horn,