Which Bible Came Over on the Mayflower?

A few years back the Geneva Bible (1599 edition) made a resurgence in the Bible market.  One of key marketing points was that it was the Bible which the Pilgrims brought with them on the Mayflower.  I had accepted that assertion without question.  So, imagine my surprise when I read this in Gordon Campbell’s book Bible:

“The New England colonies (now Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont) were settled by English puritans who may have brought Geneva Bibles with them, there is no evidence that this was the case: the famous Mayflower Geneva Bible of 1588 now in the Harry Ransom Library at the University of Texas is a fake.  Whether or not the colonists brought Geneva Bibles with them, they soon settled on the KJV, which was from the mid-seventeenth century the only available English-language Bible.” (194)

What?!  No evidence?  May have brought?  How could this be?  Alister McGrath writes in his book In The Beginning:

“The evidence strongly suggests that the first English Bible to be brought to the New World was the Geneva Bible.  Not only had this been available longer, it was the translation of choice for the Puritans, who valued its extensive annotations.”  (293)

McGrath says the evidence “strongly suggests” the Geneva Bible was the first English Bible here.  Was McGrath thinking of the Mayflower Geneva Bible which was proved to be a fake in the year his book was published?  Well, I decided to email both authors and ask for a little clarification and, to my surprise, both answered!  Gordon simply said that there isn’t any evidence “so the issue remains uncertain.”  He also said he was not sure that it was true that the puritans prefered the Geneva Bible.  McGrath said that we “have no conclusive evidence concerning the version(s) of the Bible brought over by the Pilgrim Fathers.”  He affirmed that Dr. Campbell was “quite right to be cautious.”  He did say the evidence, even though circumstantial, seems to point to the “early predominance of the Geneva Bible.”  But he ended with “we can’t be sure.”  

Where does that leave me?  If these two scholars can agree that the evidence does not push us decidedly in one direction over another that’s enough for me.  I don’t think it diminishes the Geneva Bible to admit the King James Bible may have been on board too.  Nor the other way around.  But I guess for marketing purposes it doesn’t have the same punch to write “The Bible which the Pilgrims may have brought on the Mayflower.” 


About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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2 Responses to Which Bible Came Over on the Mayflower?

  1. Mathew Mason says:

    My family has three bibles brought over on the Mayflower by Reverend William Brewster. Any clue where I could get these appraised and or put into a museum?


  2. Tim York says:

    Hello Mr. Mason, do you still have the William Brewster’s Bibles?


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