The Stovall Family Bible

The Stovall Family Bible

The most frequent question asked from readers of Bartholomew Stovall – The English Immigrant is, “What happened to the Stovall family Bible?”  It was customary for family’s to keep a legend of births, marriages and deaths, but during my research I must admit that I only found documented life events recorded in old Quaker records, legends from the Church of England, and recorded government information or bills of trade.  The cherished Stovall Family Bible was a fabrication to enhance the story.

During the initial creation of the novel I felt it was necessary to create a central theme which could be used to remind readers of the past as the chronology advanced through Bartholomew’s aging.  Most all readers of the novel feel an attachment to the hand written notations left by three generation prior to the birth of Bartholomew, but without the personal notations, the Tyndale Bible itself is a masterpiece.

Road into Albury

Road into Albury

The year was 1585 when George Stovold pulled his horse into hiding on hills away from a roadway after he heard the thundering hooves of royal guards approaching from his front, towards Albury.  He could see the glare of torches when the group of fifteen or so fully armed men stopped a lonely traveler driving a cargo wagon with a covering draped concealing the contents.

George was far away and could not make out the words, but was able to see three men dismount and undo the draping around the wagon.  Finally one man held up a book and yelled, “Dismount Atkins!”  When the driver stepped down, the horse pulling the cargo lurched and caused some of the items to fall from the wagon, one box tumbling down a ravine out of site from the calamity.  The driver showed some fright and made a movement towards his coat pocket causing the armed guard to overreact and fire a shot that hit Atkins, causing him to collapse on his back with his arms fully stretched.

After a flurry of activity the wagon was secured with the covering, including Atkins’ body, and rode off in the direction towards Albury.  While George calmed his mare two guards returned and dismounted their rides, cleared the roadway of any evidence, and then rode off in the direction they came.

Convinced that there would be not return visit from the armed assembly, George Stovold made his way from the hill and descended down the ravine in search of the mislaid chest.  In the darkness of a half-moon he fumbled through some papers until he laid his hands on a book that had a cover of fine, thick leather.  Unsure if he should take possession of it he finally tucked it under his arm and made his way back to his mare.

The Bible of George Stovold

The Bible of George Stovold

Later that evening he sit at a table with his wife, opened the book slowly, and with the aid of two candles, made his way through the initial phrase:

In the begynnyng God created heauen and erth. The erth was voyd and emptie, and darkness was vpon the deep, and the Spirete of God moued uponne the water, Then God sayde: let there be lyghte . . .

 When he finished the phrase, Lettice, his wife, said in shock, “It’s a Holy Book, George. It’s the book of God.”

And so it was that the Tyndale Bible was introduced in one of the initial stories of Bartholomew Stovall – The English Immigrant. When the Bible came into the possession of George Stovold it was used as a study guide, reference material, and a document to record examples of how everyday life related to the interpreted words from William Tyndale.

George Stovold was not as shocked as his wife when reading the opening phrase from the Tyndale rendering.  He had been briefly introduced to English translations of the Bible in his youth when he struggled with the earlier translations from John Wycliffe, who in 1335 undertook a translation of the scriptures from Latin to the English.  Little did he know that as he fought his way through the earlier translations that he was preparing himself for an understanding of the true father of the English Bible.

Sometimes after 1511 a young Tyndale came to Cambridge to study Greek and certainly to study the Scriptures more at leisure.  Earlier at Oxford he had been instilled with the ambition to give the English people a translation of the Bible based not on Latin but based on the original Greek and Hebrew.  Said Tyndale, “If God spare my life, er many years I will cuuse a boy that driveth the plow shall know more of the Scripture than the Pope doest”

Unfortunately most people of authority looked upon Tyndale’s plan for a simplified Bible as a threat to their livelihood, causing him to move from one country or city to another, literally staying one step in front of his persecutors.

Imprisoned William Tyndale

Imprisoned William Tyndale

Tyndale’s sacrifice for his cause has long been appreciated, but it is doubtful if many today know how direct and pervasive his influence was on the English Bible.  It was Tyndale who established its tone that the Bible should not be in the language of scholars but in the spoken language of the people.  Tyndale used the word “congregation” instead of “church,” “love” instead of “charity,” “repentance” instead of “penance,” and so forth.  He coined such words as “Passover,” “scapegoat,” “mercy seat,” and “long-suffering.”Many expressions of Tyndale are also unforgettable, cherished by countless readers of the English Bible: “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mtt.3:2); “the pinnacle of the temple” (Matt. 4-5); “the salt of the earth” (Matt. 5-13); “daily bread” (Matt. 6:11); “meek and lowly in heart” (Matt. 11:29) “shepherds abiding in the field” (Luke 2:8); “eat drink and be merry” (Luke 12:19); “fatted calf” (Luke 15:23) “only begotten son” (John 1:14,18), “in my father’s house are many mansions” (John 14:2) “God forbid” (Romans 3:4); “sounding brass” and “tinkling cymbal” (1Cor. 13:1); “in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor. 15:32);  “singing and making melody” (Eph. 5:19); “office of a bishop” (1 Tim. 3:1);  the pleasures of sin for a season” (Heb 11:25); “an advocate with the father” (1 John 2:1); and “Behold I stand at the door and knock” (Rev. 3:20).

The above is a short list of quotations from the 1534 edition of Tyndale’s New Testament, except the spelling has been translated differently from the Greek Text, yet because Tyndale had such an ear for the English language, these phrases live on.

The Burning of William Tyndale

The Burning of William Tyndale

William Tyndale never fulfilled his life’s passion of completing the English Biblical translations.  Psalms, Proverbs and the Ecclesiastes were among the paramount recordings God bestowed, but were not bought forward by Tyndale’s sanctified mind.  He was convicted and found guilty of Heresy and then strangled and burned in a field just a short walk from the castle in Vilvordre, near  Brussels.  His dying words amplified for generations as he cried, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.”

Tyndale’s words may have sounded as a plea from a dying man, but it opened a flood gate for those who understood the task he was unable to complete.  Miles Coverdale, a friend of Tyndale followed with a complete recording that was circulated without hindrance.  John Rodgers created the Mathew’s Bible in 1537 and was considered an improvement on previous translations.  In the same year the Great Bible, edited by Coverdale, was the first English Bible to be placed in the Churches in England.  Henry VIII encouraged it’s placement in each pew in the land.

But in 1650 the Geneva Bible became the standard, produced in legible type, in small form with commentary and illustrations.  It was the first translation to print each verse as a paragraph and to put words in italics not represented in the original text.  It was the Bible of the Jamestown settlement in Virginia and was the Bible brought to Plymouth on the Mayflower.  The Geneva Bible was labeled as the bridge between the Tyndale version and the King James Version rendered in 1611.

The Infamous King James I

The Infamous King James I

King James, despite all his faults, was able to do something no one, up until his tenure, was able to do.  He summoned a meeting of representatives of diverse religious groups to discuss the question of religious tolerance.  The group was known as the Hampton Court Conference and the main topic was the possibility of a new translation.  Despite his faults, King James demanded the new translations withhold the private viewpoints of any one party.  Thus, a universal Bible was formed.  One of the most astounding phrases was the quotation, “Appointed to be read in Churches.”   But the most profound statement was, “The translators to the readers.”  This statement validated all previous versions of The Holy Bible.

The Hampton Court Conference was an astonishingly successful gathering.  Despite the fact that the King James Version has gone through hundreds of editions and modifications, the core rendering still holds its significance as the standard among a unified text for Christianity.  But if an analysis of the basic translation were examined, eighty percent of Tyndale’s archaic terms and para phrase substitutes were retained by the learned men who created the version set down by the guidelines established by King James over four hundred years ago.

But as it is put by pen to fiction in Bartholomew Stovall – The English Immigrant, George Stovold purely understood that he could finally read God’s word and known the meaning as was written in comprehensible verses.

Special thanks to Neil R. Lightfoot for information on William Tyndale explained in his novel “How We Got the Bible”.

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About bartholomewstovall

Author of Bartholomew Stovall. A novel about the immigrant who came to America in 1684.
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