Sam & Helen Matthews donate 1560 Geneva Bible to Church Library
Over the years, FPC member Sam Matthews has built up an extensive personal library of books: various bible versions as well as books about the bible, religion, theology and related topics.
Now Sam and his wife, Helen, are sharing with our Church Library a unique bible from his personal library. They have donated a first edition, first printing, facsimile reproduction of the 1560 Geneva Bible, a gift to him from Helen at Christmas a few years ago. It will remain in the library, on display, and can be viewed there but will not be available for lending. More information about how it can be viewed and eventually used will be announced as plans are confirmed.
Pastor Bobby plans to use the donated Geneva Bible in worship on Reformation Sunday, October 31. Reformation Sunday commemorates theologian Martin Luther’s nailing of his “Ninety-five Theses” on the doors of a church in Germany in 1517, the start of the Reformation.
The Geneva Bible now in our library is almost 4 inches thick, weighs 15 pounds and has an impressive burgundy colored leather binding with gold stamped lettering.
Before he received the Geneva Bible, Sam said he was aware that it “was separate and distinct” from the younger King James version of 1611. “Every page of the Geneva Bible is chock full of the original footnotes and commentaries of John Calvin, John Knox and other early Reformation leaders. There are also illustrations or drawings.”
This bible was also known as the “Breeches” Bible because of its rendering of Genesis 3:7, in which Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves together and made themselves breeches rather than aprons to cover their nakedness.
The heavily annotated Geneva Bible, with all of its extra commentaries and thoughts from theologians of the Reformation, was not well received by royalty at the time, namely King James I of Eng-land, Sam said. “The Geneva Bible was known as the ‘Bible of the Protestant Reformation,’” he pointed out.
And when King James ordered a new “politically correct” version of the bible to be translated and published in 1611, Sam added, the king ordered that all those notes, commentaries and illustrations be left out. The new King James Version reflected the structure of the Church of England and its governance.
“A lot of people think that the King James Version was the original bible,” Sam explained. “But the bible that came to America on the Mayflower with the Pilgrims was the Geneva Bible.” American colonists arriving in America in December 1620 were fleeing religious oppression of the Church of England and didn’t want anything to do with the King James Version of the Anglican Church.
When it was published, the Geneva Bible was the first bible version in English to include numbered verses. It was the most widely read and influential English bible of the 16th and 17th centuries. And it was the first bible to introduce Roman-style type, or font, which was much easier to read than the Gothic Blackletter-style type that appeared in earlier bibles.
Sam scoffs at being called a Bible scholar, but over the past 11 years that he and Helen have been members, he has taught a number of adult Sunday School classes and electives. One of them, a class on the prophet Jeremiah, he has taught twice, for two different church classes. And he has carte blanche, “a standing invitation,” to audit courses at Austin Theological Seminary, also developing friendships over the years with faculty members there. His particular interest is Old Testament courses.
Sam said he misses conversations with his friend, the late Lloyd Davis, who attended FPC Sunday School classes and who, like Sam, viewed the Old Testament as “the key to the bible.”
The Matthews are pleased to have their edition of the Geneva Bible find a home in the FPC library. The library is excellent, Sam said, and he has used its resources for research on subjects he has taught at church. “It was a good place to start when I was asked to teach.”
In other churches where he has been a member, Sam said he has enjoyed good relationships with his ministers, including one from Ohio who went on to a position with the General Assembly in Louisville and gave Sam his many notes.
The idea to teach a class on Jeremiah at FPC came to him one day while he was working in the yard. “A voice from the clouds told me to teach a course on Jeremiah.” He told Joy about his revelation, and soon Sam was leading such a class. Joy Bedford, then Education Director, asked him to teach it again for one of the other Sunday School classes. He has also taught classes on other Old Testament prophets, Advent from the viewpoint of different traditions, and Abraham and his children, who, Sam said, were the founders of every major religion in the world. He no longer teaches because of declining health. “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak,” he said with a laugh.
Before he retired, Sam was a scientist who worked for government contractors in several states. The Matthews moved here from Baltimore after they retired to be near family. —Marty Curtis