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The Bible Abbreviated: Summaries in Early Modern English Bibles

  • Ezra Horbury (a1)

Early modern English Bibles are among the most significant texts in western Christianity. They contained the translation of the Bible into English and its authorisation, they facilitated the Protestant Reformation, and their effects on English Christianity and culture are felt vividly to this day. A vital facet of these editions are paratexts: the titles, summaries, glosses, and other non-canonical additions appended to scripture to aid its organisation and interpretation. Though neglected by literary, historical, and theological scholarship, these paratexts comprised huge portions of early modern Bibles and acted as productive vehicles to disseminate politics and theologies. One such form of paratext are the casus summarii, the chapter summaries that precede many chapters in early modern Bibles. In these summaries, significant biblical events or controversial subjects were condensed, omitted, reframed, rephrased, or otherwise represented to suit the editor’s purposes. This article provides the first survey of the chapter summaries in early modern English Bibles, with a table detailing the extent to which they were copied between editions. The article focuses on the Matthew, Geneva, and KJV Bibles, with additional discussion of the Coverdale, Great, and Bishops’ Bibles. The article addresses notable aspects of this material, including practices of translation, representations of Sodom, the anglicisation of names, and the sexualisation of Eve. By explicating the origins and influences of these summaries, this article facilitates the understanding and study of paratexts and demonstrates their importance to scholarship of early modern Christianity.

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1 Parker, Matthew, “Parker’s Note as to the Translators,” in Records of the English Bible (ed. Pollard, A. W.; London: Oxford University Press, 1911) 295–98, at 297.

2 The extent of their controversiality is still subject to debate. See Daniell, David, The Bible in English (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003) 304–9; Hill, Christopher, The English Bible and the Seventeenth Century Revolution (London: Penguin, 1993) 62; Green, Ian, Print and Protestantism in Early Modern England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000) 7475.

3 I align my definition of “paratext” with that of the ParaTexBib project on early Greek biblical paratexts: “All contents in biblical manuscripts except the biblical text itself are a priori paratexts” (Wallraff, Martin and Andrist, Patrick, “Paratexts of the Bible: A New Research Project on Greek Textual Transmission,” Early Christianity 6 [2015] 237–43, at 239).

4 “Report to the Synod of Dort,” in Records of the English Bible (ed. Pollard) 336–39, at 339.

5 “Introduction,” in Records of the English Bible (ed. Pollard) 1–76, at 46.

6 See François, Wim, “Vernacular Bible Reading and Censorship in Early Sixteenth Century: The Position of the Louvain Theologians,” in Lay Bibles in Europe 1450–1800 (ed. Lamberigts, Mathijs and den Hollander, A. A.; Leuven: Peeters, 2006) 6996, at 81–85.

7 Hill, The English Bible, 59.

8 See Renaissance Paratexts (ed. Smith, H. and Wilson, L.; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011); Slights, William E., Managing Readers (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2001); Tribble, Evelyn, Margins and Marginality (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993).

9 For work on biblical paratexts, See Westcott, Brooke Foss, A General View of the History of the English Bible (ed. Rev. Wright, William Aldis; 3rd ed.; London: MacMillan, 1905); Mozley, James Frederic, Coverdale and His Bibles (London: Lutterworth, 1953) 8486, 142–66; Greenslade, S. L., “English Versions of the Bible,” in The Cambridge History of the Bible: The West from the Reformation to the Present Day (ed. Greenslade, S. L.; vol. 3 of The Cambridge History of the Bible; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975) 141–74; Betteridge, Maurice S., “The Bitter Notes: The Geneva Bible and Its Annotations,” The Sixteenth Century Journal 14 (1983) 4162; Green, Print and Protestantism, 74–79; Westbrook, Vivienne, Long Travail and Great Paynes: A Politics of Reformation Revision (Boston: Kluwer Academic, 2001) 143–80; Daniell, The Bible in English; Molekamp, Femke, “The Geneva and the King James Bibles: Legacies of Reading Practices,” Bunyan Studies 15 (2011) 1125; eadem, “Genevan Legacies,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Bible in Early Modern England, c. 1530–1700 (ed. Killeen, Kevin, Smith, Helen, and Willie, Rachel Judith; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015) 3853, at 46–48; Lewis, Jack P., The Day after Domesday: The Making of the Bishops’ Bible (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2016); Pratt, Aaron T., “The Trouble with Translation: Paratexts and England’s Bestselling New Testament,” in The Bible on the Shakespearean Stage: Cultures of Interpretation in Reformation England (ed. Fulton, Thomas and Poole, Kristen; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018) 3348.

10 Unless otherwise indicated, the editions cited are the Matthew Bible: The Byble: Which Is All the Holy Scripture; In Whych Are Contayned the Olde and Newe Testament ([Antwerp?], 1537); the Geneva Bible: The Bible and Holy Scriptures Conteyned in the Olde and Newe Testament (Geneva, 1560); and the King James Version: The Holy Bible (London, 1613). Other cited editions include the 1535 Coverdale Bible: Biblia: The Byble; That Is the Holy Scrypture of the Olde and New Testament ([Southwark], 1535); The Great Bible, The Byble in Englyshe: That Is to Saye the Conte[n]t of Al the Holy Scrypture (London, 1540); and the Bishops’ Bible, The Holie Bible (London, 1568).

11 Morey, James H., “Peter Comestor, Biblical Paraphrase, and the Medieval Popular Bible,” Spec 68 (1993) 635, at 6.

12 H. S., A Diuine Dictionarie; or, The Bible Abreuiated Containing the Whole Scripture (London, 1615) n.p.

13 A Diuine Dictionarie was reprinted in 1615, 1616, and 1617.

14 “Preface to Geneva New Testament,” in Records of the English Bible (ed. Pollard) 275–79, at 277–78.

15 As previously cited, except the Geneva Bible: The Bible and Holy Scriptures Conteyned in the Olde and Newe Testament (Geneva, 1561). The summaries in the 1561 revision appear to be identical to the 1560 first edition.

16 For the history of using the VARD software in standardizing early modern texts, see “Publications,” VARD, 12 April 2016,

17 La saincte Bible en Francoys ([Antwerp], 1534).

18 Berry, Lloyd E. erroneously claims, “Coverdale’s Bible was the first to introduce chapter summaries,” in the introduction to The Geneva Bible: A Facsimile of the 1560 Edition (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007) 3.

19 Horbury, Ezra, “Miles Coverdale as a New Source for the Matthew Bible Notes,” Notes and Queries 65 (2018) 2223.

20 Daniell, The Bible in English, 219.

21 Molekamp, “Genevan Legacies,” 48.

22 “Parker’s Note as to the Translators,” 295–98.

23 Such as on Bible Gateway, whose homepage is in the top 900 websites visited worldwide; Bible Gateway,

24 Chester, Joseph Lemuel, John Rogers: The Compiler of the First Authorised English Bible; The Pioneer of the English Reformation; and Its First Martyr (London: Longman and Green, 1861).

25 Daniell, The Bible in English, 197.

26 La saincte Bible en Francoys ([Antwerp], 1534); La Bible ([Neuchâtel], 1535).

27 Claims that present the Matthew summaries as translated directly from the French are found in Molekamp, “Genevan Legacies,” 42; Westbrook, Long Travail and Great Paynes, 41; Bruce, Frederick Fyvie, History of the Bible in English (3rd ed.; London: Lutterworth, 1979) 66; Ariel Hessayon, “The Apocrypha in Early Modern England,” in Oxford Handbook of the Bible in Early Modern England (ed. Killeen, Smith, and Willie) 131–48, at 136–37; David Daniell, “Rogers, John (c. 1500-1555), Biblical Editor and Martyr,” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Mozley and Greenslade admit a degree of originality to Rogers’s input, but do not address it; see Mozley, Coverdale and His Bibles, 145, and Greenslade, “English Versions of the Bible,” 151.

28 Molekamp, “Genevan Legacies,” 42.

29 Ibid.; also see Mozley, Coverdale and His Bibles, 157.

30 Mozley notes that Rogers’s summaries for Revelation derive from Coverdale, though he does not find them elsewhere; in Mozley, Coverdale and His Bibles, 145–46.

31 Rogers maintains the same spelling of idolatry, “idolatrye,” for all instances aside from its use in the Exod 34 summary. Here, he uses “ydolatrie,” beginning with the “y” as the term does in French.

32 The Holy Bible: Containing the Old and New Testaments (ed. Forshall, Josiah and Madden, Frederic; 4 vols.; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1850) 1:85.

33 Eve is named four times in the Bible: twice in the OT (Gen 3:20; 4:1) and twice in the NT (2 Cor 11:3; 1 Tim 2:13).

34 The Lefèvre Bible summaries call her Eva but Eve in the scripture.

35 The Bible and Holy Scriptures (1560) fol. HHh3r.

36 “The Rules to Be Observed in the Translation of the Bible,” in Records of the English Bible (ed. Pollard) 53–55, at 53.

37 Shoulson, Jeffrey S., Fictions of Conversion: Jews, Christians, and Cultures of Change in Early Modern England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013) 110.

38 Horbury, Ezra, “Aristotelian Ethics and Luke 15:11–32 in Early Modern England,” JRH 41 (2017) 181–96.

39 Oxford English Dictionary Online, s. v. “mess (n.1),”

40 Wycliffe translates the term as “hill.”

41 McArthur, Harvey K., Understanding the Sermon on the Mount (London: Epworth Press, 1961) 11; Savage, Henry Edwin, The Gospel of the Kingdom; or, The Sermon on the Mount, Considered in the Light of Contemporary Thought and Ideals (London: Longmans, Green, 1910) 28.

42 Bethune-Baker, J. F., “The Sermon on the Mount,” in The Rise of the Christian Church (ed. Bethune-Baker, J. F.; vol. 1 of The Christian Religion: Its Origin and Progress; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1929) 317–28, at 319; Oxford English Dictionary Online, s. v. “sermon (n.),”

43 McArthur, Understanding the Sermon, 161 n. 1.

44 Florio, John, A World of Words (London, 1598) 451.

45 Oxford English Dictionary Online, s. v. “seduce (v.),”

46 Cranmer, Thomas, Certayne Sermons; or, Homelies (London, 1547) fol. H4r.

47 Gifford, George, A Catechisme Conteining the Summe of Christian Religion (London, 1583) fol. A4v.

48 Entice is defined as “to allure” in Baret, John, An Alveary; or, Triple Dictionary, in English, Latin, and French (London, 1574) fol. Y6r; it is listed as synonymous with to ‘sweetely to draw towardes’ in Thomas, William’s Principal Rules of the Italian Grammar (London, 1550) fol. B1v.

49 Gibbons, Nicholas, Questions and Disputations Concerning the Holy Scripture (London, 1601) 104; Stock, Richard, The Doctrine and Vse of Repentance (London, 1610) 287.

50 Philips, Edward, Certain Godly and Learned Sermons (London, 1607) 69.

51 Hall, Joseph, Contemplations vpon the Principall Passages of the Holy Storie (London, 1612) 70.

52 Bentley, Thomas, The Sixt Lampe of Virginitie (London, 1582) 103. Square brackets are Bentley’s.

53 Rollenson, Francis, Twelue Prophetical Legacies (London, 1612) 267–68.

54 Petrarca, Francesco, “Adamo,” in Prose (ed. Martellotti, Guido; Milan: Ricciardi, 1955) 228–29, at 229.

55 Wolcomb, Robert, A Glasse for the Godly (London, 1612) 156.

56 “An Act for the Punishment of the Vice of Buggery,” in The Statutes at Large, of England and of Great Britain: From Magna Carta to the Union of the Kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland (ed. Raithby, John; 20 vols.; London: Eyre and Strahan, 1811) 3:145.

57 No reference is made to this reading in Jordan, Mark D., The Silence of Sodom: Homosexuality in Modern Catholicism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002); Carden, Michael, Sodomy: A History of a Christian Biblical Myth (London: Routledge, 2014); Mills, Robert, Seeing Sodomy in the Middle Ages (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015).

58 Boswell, John, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015) 277. Thanks to Robert Mills for pointing me to this reading.

59 Perkins, William, A Golden Chaine (London, 1591) fol. L5v–L6r.

60 Chertsey, Andrew, Ihesu: The Floure of the Commaundementes of God (London, 1510) fol. P5v.

61 Blount, Thomas, Glossographia; or, A Dictionary (London, 1656) fol. N8r.

62 Ainsworth, Henry, Annotations upon the Five Bookes of Moses (London, 1627) 75 [italics in original].

63 Danforth, Samuel, The Cry of Sodom (Cambridge, MA, 1674) 5.

64 Trapp, John, A Clavis to the Bible (London, 1649) 149 [italics in original]; The Counter Buffe; or, Certaine Observations upon Mr. Edwards (London, 1647) 8–9.

65 Andrewes was previously thought to use only the Geneva, but it has been demonstrated he made use of multiple editions, including the KJV; See McCullough, Peter and Cunningham, Valentine, “Afterlives of the King James Bible,” in Manifold Greatness: The Making of the King James Bible (ed. Moore, Helen and Reid, Julian; Oxford: Bodleian Library, 2011) 139–61, at 141.

66 Andrewes, Lancelot, The Pattern of Catechistical Doctrine at Large (London, 1650) 448.

67 Mackenzie, George, The Laws and Customes of Scotland (London, 1678) 161–2.

68 Cradock, Samuel, The History of the Old Testament (London, 1683) 161.

69 Webster, John, The Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft (London, 1677) 50.

70 Cotton, John, An Abstract of Laws and Government (London, 1655) 25; New-Haven’s Settling in New-England and Some Lawes for Government (London, 1656) 23–4; Massachusetts General Court, Acts and Laws Passed by the Great and General Court or Assembly of Their Majesties Province of the Massachussets-Bay (Boston, 1692) 23.

71 Norton, David, The King James Bible: A Short History from Tyndale to Today (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011) 1; Campbell, Gordon, Bible: The Story of the King James Version 1611–2011 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010) 1.

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