At first Ruth Magnusson Davis did not feel she was qualified to do the job. Republishing the Word of God, after all, is momentous work. But she prayed on the issue for four years and eventually realized God was calling her to do it.
So Davis set out to publish the New Matthew Bible, an updated version of the 16th century Matthew Bible.
“I felt that the world needed to have it again, and I felt passionately called to do it,” Davis told WND in an interview.
Last October Davis completed her update of the New Testament, and it is now available in the WND Superstore under the title “The October Testament.”
Davis, a retired lawyer and founder of the small publishing company Baruch House, said her New Matthew Bible Project developed slowly over a period of several years. After Davis became a Christian in 1998, she developed a voracious appetite for Bible reading. However, she found all the versions she read to be lacking something.
“I found that as time went on I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I was dissatisfied with what I was reading,” Davis revealed. “Then I discovered William Tyndale’s New Testament, and I just knew that I had found the depth of the truth that I was seeking.”
Tyndale was the 16th century scholar who first translated the New Testament from Greek into English. His New Testament was first published in 1526, followed by revised versions in 1534 and 1535.
Tyndale also published an English translation of the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament) in 1530 and the book of Jonah in 1531. It is believed he was in the process of translating Joshua through Chronicles when his enemies captured and imprisoned him. In 1536 he was condemned for heresy and burned at the stake.
After Tyndale’s martyrdom, his friend John Rogers took control of his manuscripts and set out to turn them into a complete Bible.
Rogers picked up where Tyndale had left off by adding the Old Testament and Apocryphal translations of Miles Coverdale. (Some historians believe Coverdale worked directly with Tyndale from time to time.) Rogers then added a Table of Principal Matters, a summary of basic biblical doctrines, and other helpful supplements for readers who were unfamiliar with the Bible.
Rogers published the entire compilation under the name “Thomas Matthew” in 1537, and it became known as the Matthew Bible. In 1549, publishers Raynalde and Hyll issued a reprint, and a third edition came out in 1551.
Rogers, incidentally, would join Tyndale in martyrdom in 1555 when he, too, was burned at the stake for heresy.
Davis said the fact that two of the Matthew Bible’s three creators were killed for their faith adds more significance to their work.
“When I look all through Bible stories I see that most significant testimonies were sealed in blood,” she said. “The prophets of the Old Testament, most of them died at the hands of men who rejected the truth of what they were bringing. Jesus, of course, died at the hands of those who rejected the words that he spoke.
“Tyndale and Rogers fought with a courage and a faith and suffered so much and sealed their testimony in blood. This is the only English Bible which was sealed in blood.”
After Davis discovered Tyndale’s New Testament, she shared it with some of her friends. One of them remarked it was difficult to understand, and he suggested Davis update it. Davis was already updating some of Tyndale’s other works at the time, but she thought it would be ridiculous for her to try to update the New Testament. Her friend’s suggestion filled her with fear and trembling because she didn’t want to tamper with God’s Word.
However, she soon discovered the complete Matthew Bible, having purchased a copy of the 1549 version. As she read through it, she began to feel the world needed to reacquaint itself with this particular Bible.
“The modern edition wasn’t sufficient to mine out all of the beautiful truth and teaching that was in Tyndale’s translation,” Davis asserted. “And also the teaching of the notes, John Rogers’ notes on the Matthew Bible, needed to come forth again, because the modern commentators are so different from John Rogers.”
Davis started the process of updating the Matthew Bible by intensively studying the history of the period in which it was written. She read and reread the works of Tyndale and Coverdale to familiarize herself with their thoughts and style of English.
Davis has a background in languages and loves grammar, so it wasn’t much of a stretch when she began to study early modern English grammar. In 2009 she retired from her law profession and dedicated herself full-time to updating the Matthew Bible for a modern audience.
Davis’s website NewMatthewBible.org states, “The goal is not to make a modern Bible from an old one, but to keep as much of the old as possible and make it understandable for today.”
Therefore, Davis is replacing words whose meanings have changed since the 1500s, changing eccentric spelling, and updating syntax and grammar that obscure the meaning of certain passages. However, she is keeping certain archaic constructions and words that are still understandable even though they may be old.
Davis wanted to remain as close to the original Matthew Bible as possible because it was the original English Bible. In fact, it formed the basis for the more familiar King James Version. Davis told WND the New Testament of the King James Bible is about 83 percent Tyndale’s words, while the King James Old Testament is about 75 percent Tyndale in those portions Tyndale was able to complete before he died.
The Matthew Bible and the King James Bible are very similar, but Davis pointed out a few grammatical differences. She said the KJV has more Latin constructions, and it also switches verb tenses often in contexts where it may confuse the reader. Tyndale and Coverdale, meanwhile, used verb tenses more consistently.
Davis said the New Testament took her six years to complete because she was learning early modern English as she was going, building her own dictionary of archaic terms. She hopes the Old Testament will not take as long, although she acknowledged the Old Testament has lots of vocabulary different from the New Testament, so she will likely have to study many more words.
She tentatively set 2020 as the target date for completion of the Old Testament, but she admitted to WND that may be too ambitious.
As for the New Testament, Davis said she has received very good feedback so far.
“I haven’t had as many criticisms as I thought I would have,” she confessed. “Sometimes I get queries from people saying, ‘Why did you update this word?’ or ‘I don’t like that you updated that word.’ Minor things like that, but I’ve been amazed. I’ve been overwhelmed by how people love it.”
More information about the New Matthew Bible Project can be found here.