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1638 and Beyond

Updated: Apr 11, 2022

In order to understand the Cambridge Bible of 1638 and its effect upon England it is necessary to understand some background to England at this time. England was a severely divided country. Among the many fault lines running through English society and politics none was more pronounced than the issue of how the Church of England should be governed. The Church of England was intertwined with the machinations of the state and very few Englishmen would have wanted it any different.

By now Charles I, son of King James was the reigning monarch. His father had famously said "no bishop, no king". James was a firm believer that the monarchy and the rule of the church by bishops were one and the same. To attack the rule of bishops was to undermine the king who appointed them. The king ruled the church through bishops. The other firmly held belief in the kingdom was a belief harbored by the Puritans. They believed in church rule by the presbytery, or elders of the church, hence they were called Presbyterian.

They envisioned a church run on the Scottish model in which prominent members of the church established church policy. In his epic history of Parliamentary power and struggle in England called The Crisis of Parliaments, Conrad Russell was to define a Puritan by the only single common denominator that they all had. They believed in divine election. The commonly held modern belief that Puritans upheld a greater personal moral code in their private lives is shattered by Russell's careful analysis of the major figures of the day. Instead Puritans were united by a belief in divine election and a general desire to change the Church's government.

During this period of time the Geneva Bible was popular with the opposition since the King James Bible was associated with the rule of the Stewart (King James and his son Charles) dynasty and with the rule of bishops. Within 4 years of the 1638 Cambridge being published a civil war was to break out in England that would eventually cost Charles his head. The 1638 Cambridge was to set the standard for bible editing and printing for the next 124 years.

If the Stewarts were to hope that the King James Bible was to establish the right of kings, they were to be sorely disappointed throughout the tenure of this excellent edition. In 1638 when Cambridge released it, England was a back water country with almost no influence in the affairs of Europe or the world. England's king wielded a power and authority that made him the single most dominant force in England. By 1762 when the the next major purifying edition was to be released, the Stewarts had been run out of England. The monarchy was still powerful but most power was now in Parliament. England was the most powerful empire the world had ever known. The King James Bible had proved itself as the preeminent English Bible.

The Episcopalians (bishop lead church) had eventually won the argument over ruling the church of England. The Puritans had eventually reduced the power of the king and wrestled power into the hands of a representative body. In that time both the Puritans and the Royalists had had their opportunity to rule England unimpeded and each had made shipwreck of their opportunity. Victor Hugo is credited with having made the observation that England had two great books, Shakespeare and the bible; England had made Shakespeare but the bible had made England.

If any one edition of the bible were to be credited for having made England, it was the 1638 Cambridge. Again, this was not a perfect bible and by the time its reign had ended there were excellent reasons to reedit the bible. Bible printers were still hampered by their technology. It was not until the mid 1800's that England was to acquire the ability to preserve whole pages in an unchanging plate. Until then every edition needed to use the old method of stacking a tray for each page and then tearing it down for the next page. In the next post we will examine the 1638 more.

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