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Pastor gains perspective from 412-year-old Bible

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
Nov. 9, 2012 at 5:09 a.m.

16 x9 old bible

Crouching beneath his office desk, the Rev. Stephen Hundley bent to the floor and pulled out a small, brown package.

Setting the box atop his cherry wood desk, he carefully unfolded the flaps and dug his fingers beneath an assortment of packing peanuts.

An antique book emerged.

"I'm cautious to touch it. I use a rubber band to hold the binding together because the cover has become loose," said Hundley, senior pastor of First Church of the Nazarene in Victoria.

Hundley stared gingerly at the leather-bound book - a 412-year-old "Breeches" version Geneva Bible - and flipped the pages to a favorite Isaiah passage.

"I don't show it to many people. I don't like to get it out," he said.

As he scanned the pages, Hundley recalled how the aged book came into his possession.

Hundley said his grandfather, James Hundley, gifted the book to his father, the Rev. John Hundley. The book remained in John Hundley's possession until four years ago when he passed the book down once again to Hundley.

"It's a Bible of great antiquity and one that has great meaning," John Hundley said. "I wanted my son to have it as an heirloom and for him to see it as part of his heritage."

John Hundley explained that his father purchased the Bible from a friend for $20 more than 50 years ago, who discovered the book at an Indiana junkyard buried beneath a pile of abandoned literature.

"We used to go to junkyards back then," John explained. "They were different than they are today. People cleaned out their homes and sent it to the junkyard."

John said he held on to the book for many years but knew one day, he would pass it on to his son.

"We're both pastors, so when my father gave it to me, it was like he was putting his seal of approval on my own ministry," Stephen Hundley said. "I felt like he was seeing spiritual leadership fruits in me, and he was saying, 'Son, I'm here for you. Anything I have is yours.'"

Inside the front cover, Hundley's Bible reads, "Imprinted at London by Robert Barker, Printer to the Queenes most excellent Magistie, 1600."

A signature box also contains a calligraphed name, George Smith, who appears to be the book's original owner.

"I don't know anything about George Smith. And there's really no way to know who he might be or how the book arrived in the United States," Hundley said.

But Hundley recognizes that his Bible is more than a book of antiquity or a moment of shared sentimentality between fathers and sons.

It's tangible, historical evidence of the advancement of Christianity and the consistency of scripture translation through hundreds of years. The Bible is also responsible for helping advance literacy among English-speaking men and women.

"The Bible was the literature of the people, molding their speech, shaping their language, permeating their thoughts and changing the entire moral character of the nation," said Dr. Diana Severance, director of the Dunham Bible Museum at Houston Baptist University. "As the (Geneva) Bible was read and discussed, literacy and education grew among all classes of both men and women."

Geneva Bibles were also among the first-ever English translation Bibles in history and one of the first books to be mechanically mass produced for the general public. This meant for the first time, non-clergy Englishmen interested in reading Holy Scriptures, could do so in their own language rather than Latin or Greek. They were also free to read the texts without the spiritual guidance or interpretation of a clergy member.

Severance said the Geneva translation came into existence after England's Queen Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, came into power in 1553. Mary, a Catholic, pushed the faith on her realm and persecuted "heretic" Protestant reformers with death or property seizures so their families could not inherit land or money if they chose not to practice in the Catholic tradition. Her persecutions of reformers led to Queen Mary's nickname, "Bloody Mary."

But the Geneva Bible was historic for other reasons as well. It was the first to include chapter summaries before each chapter and illustrations in the Old Testament. It also included subject headliners at the top of each page and maps on separate leaves.

"The translation, the first complete Bible into English from both the Hebrew and Greek, was excellent, yet, the most important element of this Bible was its notes," Severance said. "Marginal notes included cross-references, alternative translations and explanations of the 'hard places' of Scripture."

Another unique item in this Bible was the end notes, written by Reformation leaders such as John Calvin, John Knox, Miles Coverdale, William Whittingham and Anthony Gilby.

"The notes provided a running commentary on Scripture and shaped the understanding of the Bible for generations of ordinary English-speaking people," she said.

Hundley's Geneva version is referred to as the "Breeches" Bible because Adam and Eve are given breeches to wear in Genesis 3 rather than "aprons," as referenced in the King James Version.

"A lot of our younger generation don't appreciate things like this," Hundley said. "There's more to this book than nostalgia if you think about the lives that were probably lost for having this book in their possession."

Geneva Bibles were printed more than 200 times between 1560 and 1644 and were the preferred version for some of history's most well-known writers and thinkers, such as William Shakespeare, "Paradise Lost" author John Milton and "Pilgrim's Progress" author John Bunyan.

Geneva Bibles were also widely read by the original pilgrims of the American colonies, and Hundley and Severance pointed out many of the Bibles were carried over on the Mayflower.

"The Geneva Bible translation was the foundation of the American colonies and the one used at Plymouth and Jamestown," Severance said.

Today, the Breeches version Bible sells on the open market for about $2,000 to $10,000. But Hundley said the book will forever remain a family heirloom.

The Nazarene pastor is considering having the Bible restored and encased so he can possibly put it on display at his church or lend it to a museum. But until he decides what to do with his most treasured Bible, he simply wants to ensure it's well kept and preserved.

"It means a lot to me. It's my Bible, and I don't want to sell," said Hundley. "I want to be able to give it my son. I'm not sure he'll be called to the ministry, but if he can appreciate it one day, then I would want to pass it down."

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