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Canterbury Tales: Favourite Bible Stories Retold by Archbishop Justin Welby

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Matthew’s Bible: The Story of John Rogers

Matthew’s Bible

The Story of John Rogers

By the Revd Dr Chuck Collins

He must have been a monster criminal to deserve such a horrible death. John Rogers was the first of 282 Protestants killed by Mary Tudor (“Bloody Mary”) in her five-year reign as Queen of England. He was burned alive at Smithfield February 4, 1555. His crime was that he brought the English Bible to the English people, and he refused to apologise for it at the end. Rogers moved to Antwerp Belgium where he met William Tyndale and there he became a committed “gospeller” (i.e., Protestant). Those two rascally evangelicals became fast friends, and when Tyndale was captured and killed, John Rogers picked up and completed the project that Tyndale started. He used Tyndale’s New Testament English translation and what Tyndale finished of the Old Testament (and the rest of the Old Testament completed by Myles Coverdale), and published the first English translation of the whole Bible. He did this under the pseudonym Thomas Matthew, thus it was call the “Matthew Bible.” This was the translation that was used primarily for all later English translations, including the King James Version and the Geneva Bible.

Rogers sent a copy of Matthew’s Bible to Lord Chancellor Thomas Cromwell who, in turn, showed it to King Henry VIII. But because it was associated with Tyndale who was distantly associated with Anne Boleyn, Henry refused to endorse it. So it sat for several years collecting dust. Five years after Henry broke with Rome to start the Church of England and two years after the publication of the Matthew Bible, Henry surprised everyone by authorising the Great Bible in 1539; it was the Matthew Bible without the Protestant notes and commentary. To everyone’s surprise, Henry, the dyed-in-the-wool Catholic monarch, mandated that a copy of an English translation of the Bible be placed in every church, and that it be read at every church service.

Translating the Bible into English was a very important factor that moved the new Church of England towards Reformation and Protestantism. For the first time in over a thousand years the written word of God was available for common people to read! It wouldn’t be long before they learned the Bible’s central teaching: that Christians are sinners who can stand before the holy God, not because of a righteousness of their own, but by the righteousness of God imputed to them by faith. “Not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phil 3:9).

We know John Rogers because of what was written about him in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, the contemporaneous history of the English reformers:

“A little before his burning, his pardon was brought, if he would have recanted; but he utterly refused it. He was the first martyr of all the blessed company that suffered in Queen Mary’s time that gave the first adventure upon the fire. His wife and children, being eleven in number, ten able to go, and one sucking at her breast, met him by the way, as he went towards Smithfield. This sorrowful sight of his own flesh and blood could nothing move him, but that he constantly and cheerfully took his death with wonderful patience, in the defence and quarrel of the Gospel of Christ.”

The Revd Canon Chuck Collins is the Director of the Center for Reformation Anglicanism. For more info, (www.anglicanism.info).

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