The history of the English Bible
John Rogers (c. 1505 – 4 February 1555) was a clergyman, Bible translator and commentator, and the first English Protestant martyr under Mary I of England. Rogers was born in Deritend, an area of Birmingham then within the parish of Aston. His father was also called John Rogers and was a lorimer – a maker of bits and spurs – whose family came from Aston; his mother was Margaret Wyatt, the daughter of a tanner with family in Erdington and Sutton Coldfield.
Rogers was educated at the Guild School of St John the Baptist in Deritend, and at Pembroke Hall, Cambridge University, where he graduated B.A. in 1526. Between 1532 and 1534 he was rector of Holy Trinity the Less in the City of London.
In 1534, Rogers went to Antwerp as chaplain to the English merchants of the Company of the Merchant Adventurers.
Blue plaque and other plaque in Deritend, Birmingham.
Here he met William Tyndale, under whose influence he abandoned the Roman Catholic faith, and married Antwerp native Adriana de Weyden (b. 1522, anglicised to Adrana Pratt in 1552) in 1537. After Tyndale’s death, Rogers pushed on with his predecessor’s English version of the Old Testament, which he used as far as 2 Chronicles, employing Myles Coverdale’s translation (1535) for the remainder and for the Apocrypha. Although it is claimed that Rogers was the first person to ever print a complete English Bible that was translated directly from the original Greek & Hebrew, there was also a reliance upon a Latin translation of the Hebrew Bible by Sebastian Münster and published in 1534/5.
Tyndale’s New Testament had been published in 1526. The complete Bible was put out under the pseudonym of Thomas Matthew in 1537; it was printed in Paris and Antwerp by Adriana’s uncle, Sir Jacobus van Meteren. Richard Grafton published the sheets and got leave to sell the edition (1500 copies) in England. At the insistence of Archbishop Cranmer, the “King’s most gracious license” was granted to this translation. Previously in the same year, the 1537 reprint of the Myles Coverdale’s translation had been granted such a license.
The pseudonym “Matthew” is associated with Rogers, but it seems more probable that Matthew stands for Tyndale’s own name, which, back then, was dangerous to employ. Rogers had little to do with the translation; his own share in that work was probably confined to translating the prayer of Manasses (inserted here for the first time in a printed English Bible), the general task of editing the materials at his disposal, and preparing the marginal notes collected from various sources. These are often cited as the first original English language commentary on the Bible. Rogers also contributed the Song of Manasses in the Apocrypha, which he found in a French Bible printed in 1535. His work was largely used by those who prepared the Great Bible (1539–40), and from this came the Bishops’ Bible (1568) and the King James Version.
Rogers matriculated at the University of Wittenberg on 25 November 1540, where he remained for three years, becoming a close friend of Philipp Melanchthon and other leading figures of the early Protestant Reformation. On leaving Wittenberg he spent four and a half years as a superintendent of a Lutheran church in Meldorf, Dithmarschen, near the mouth of the River Elbe in the north of Germany.
Rogers returned to England in 1548, where he published a translation of Philipp Melanchthon’s Considerations of the Augsburg Interim.
In 1550 he was presented to the crown livings of St Margaret Moses and St Sepulchre in London, and in 1551 was made a prebendary of St. Paul’s, where the dean and chapter soon appointed him divinity lecturer. He courageously denounced the greed shown by certain courtiers with reference to the property of the suppressed monasteries, and defended himself before the privy council. He also declined to wear the prescribed vestments, donning instead a simple round cap. On the accession of Mary he preached at Paul’s Cross commending the “true doctrine taught in King Edward’s days,” and warning his hearers against “pestilent Popery, idolatry and superstition.”
Rogers was also against radical Protestants. After Joan of Kent was imprisoned in 1548 and convicted in April 1549, John Foxe, one of the few Protestants opposed to burnings, approached Rogers to intervene to save Joan, but he refused with the comment that burning was “sufficiently mild” for a crime as grave as heresy
Imprisonment and martyrdom
On 16 August 1553 he was summoned before the council and bidden to keep within his own house. His emoluments were taken away and his prebend was filled in October.
In January 1554, Bonner, the new Bishop of London, sent him to Newgate Prison, where he lay with John Hooper, Laurence Saunders, John Bradford and others for a year. Their petitions, whether for less rigorous treatment or for opportunity of stating their case, were disregarded. In December 1554, Parliament re-enacted the penal statutes against Lollards, and on 22 January 1555, two days after they took effect, Rogers (with ten other people) came before the council at Gardiner’s house in Southwark, and defended himself in the examination that took place. On 28 and 29 January he came before the commission appointed by Cardinal Pole, and was sentenced to death by Gardiner for heretically denying the Christian character of the Church of Rome and the real presence in the sacrament. He awaited and met death cheerfully, though he was even denied a meeting with his wife. He was burned at the stake on 4 February 1555 at Smithfield. Noailles, the French ambassador, speaks of the support given to Rogers by the greatest part of the people: “even his children assisted at it, comforting him in such a manner that it seemed as if he had been led to a wedding.”