Word Made Print: Reformation and the History of the Book

Vernacular Bible

The technology of printing fused with the reformers’ emphasis on the authority of scripture to make the Bible available and legible to audiences of unprecedented size. The Bible had been translated into most western European languages long before 1517; John Wyclif had published his translation in 1383. But copies were few in number and lay people rarely encountered them directly. The Reformation and printing made Bibles available in vernacular translation in far greater numbers and at a far lower cost. Inevitably, translating itself became an object of power: whoever controlled translation also determined how the Christian faithful experienced their holiest text. Bible translation also tended to accelerate the standardization of national languages. Shown here are three translations in the UO collection: an edition of the so-called Matthew’s Bible (1551), a Geneva Bible published in 1558 for French readers, and a translation authorized by the Dutch States General in 1618 and after 1791.