October 2

By decree of the English Parliament, from this day in 1543, it was enacted that no person or persons “should take upon him, or them, to read, openly, to other, in any church, or open assembly, within any of the king’s dominions, the Bible, or any part of Scripture, in English, unless he was so appointed thereto by the king, or by anie ardinarie.” The law further stipulated that, “every nobleman, and gentleman being a householder, might read or cause to be read, by any of his familie servants in his house, orchardes, or garden, and to his own familie, any text of the Bible or New Testament; and also every merchant-man, being a householder; and any other persons other than women, prentices, &c. might read to themselves privately the Bible, &c. But no women except noblewomen and gentlewomen, who might read to themselves alone, and not to others, any texts of the Bible &c., nor artificers, prentices, journeymen, serving-men of the degrees of yomen or under, husbandmen, nor labourers were to read the Bible or New Testament in English to himself or to any other, privately or openly.”

A hundred years following this decree, a printer named John Field, later to be Printer to Cambridge University, issued a bible set in Pearl (5-point) type. This bible, a was notable for its errors, caused, no doubt, by its diminutive type. These errata were to cause the divines of the period a great deal of trouble. It was reported that when a reverend doctor of divinity sought to reprove some “libertines” for their licentious behavior, these worthies brought forth Field’s 32mo as evidence that they were but following the scriptures.

For example, Roman vi. 13 read: Neither yield ye your members as instruments of righteousness unto sin. First Corinthians, vi. 9 stated: Know ye not that the unrighteous shall inherit the Kingdom of God?

Some of Field’s errors might well have been intentional, as it is known that at one time he had accepted a bribe of some fifteen hundred pounds to corrupt a text which, in the sixth chapter of Acts, appeared to sanction the right of the people to appoint their own pastors. The Field bible contained upwards of six thousand errors, making it a worthy rival to the famous Vulgate of Pope Sixtus V. In his account of Printer Field, C.H. Timperley seemed to be as outraged at the size of the bible as at the number of errors which it contained, of which he said, ‘if one book can be made to contain near four thousand errors, little ingenuity was required to reach six thousand.”

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