Yesterday was the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible. Shep Smith, the FoxNews host, remarked that this anniversary was significant because the King James version was the first widely available English language Bible.
It will come as little shock to many that Mr. Smith was incorrect in this statement.
The first widely available English language Bible was actually the “Geneva Bible,” published in 1561 by a group of Protestant theologians exiled from England during the reign of Queen Mary I.
It was this edition, popular among Puritans, that contained margin notes–commentaries on the scriptures themselves–promoting congregational self governance that in turn spawned concepts of civil self governance. The idea of a democratic republic, as opposed to a monarchy, at least in the English speaking world, owes a great deal to the proliferation of the Geneva Bible.
It is reported that when John Winthrop landed in Boston in 1630 he had in his possession a copy of both the Geneva and King James Bibles. Indeed, the Geneva Bible was published from 1561 until well into the 1650s, when it was surpassed by the King James version. Doubtless it influenced the early British settlers of North America and their descendants.
As we look to the origins of our fundamental political ideas, as embodied in both the Declaration and the Constitution, it would be extremely valuable to see a Voices of the Tea Party e-book that gives a full account of the signifance of the Geneva Bible.
Michael Patrick Leahy is the editor of the Voices of the Tea Party e-book series, co-founder of Top Conservatives on Twitter and the Nationwide Tea Party Coalition, and the author of an upcoming book on the ideological origins of the Tea Party movement. He can be reached on Twitter at @michaelpleahy .