The first Scottish printed Bible

Page from the Bassandyne Bible

Page from the Bassandyne Bible

Today is the last day of our Reformation display, and for a final post I would like to write about the first Bible printed in Scotland, generally called the Bassandyne Bible, after its printer Thomas Bassandyne.

Bibles certainly circulated in Scotland before the Bassandyne Bible was published – printed editions of the Latin Vulgate (the pre-Reformation edition, which was still used by Catholics) and editions of English translations published in London. We also know of at least one pre-Reformation translation into Scots, Murdoch Nisbet’s version of the New Testament, which probably dates from the 1530s but was not published until 1901. Other early reformers may have attempted their own vernacular editions which did not survive. There does not seem to have been a Gaelic translation of the Bible, although the Gaelic translation of the Book of Common Order was the first printed Gaelic book – Foirm na h-Urrnuidheadh (1567).

The version which the Church of Scotland chose to have printed in the 1570s was the Geneva Bible, so-called because it was translated at Geneva by English and Scottish exiles (possibly including Knox himself) and printed there in 1560. It quickly became the preferred text of reformers like Knox, as opposed to the Bishops’ Bible, the Church of England version.

The Geneva Bible is designed to help anyone reading the Bible by themselves, with notes, chapter guides, and even maps and other illustrations. It was the first English edition to break chapters down into the numbered verses still used today. All of this apparatus, which interpreted the text along Calvinist lines, was reprinted in the Scottish edition, including elaborate woodcut illustrations and maps.

The two things I find most interesting about the Bassandyne Bible are how it was printed and distributed, and the question of its language. Continue reading The first Scottish printed Bible