Paraphrases of the New Testament

By: Desiderius Erasmus

Collection ID



Printed Book








Printed on Paper


11.25 × 8.25 × 3 in. (28.6 × 21 × 7.6 cm)

Exhibit Location

On View in The History of the Bible, Revolutionary Words

Desiderius Erasmus was a Dutch priest, philosopher, and scholar who helped lay the groundwork for the modern field of biblical studies. In 1517, shortly after completing his revolutionary Greek New Testament, he began writing a “paraphrase” of the canonical Epistles, eventually turning to the Gospels and the book of Acts as well. He intended the work to serve, in part, as a commentary to help ministers better teach lay audiences about the Bible. The influence of Erasmus’s Paraphrases, which he completed in 1524, extended to England. In 1547, Edward VI ordered an English translation to be displayed in all parish churches. It appeared in two volumes, with the first volume containing the Gospels and Acts and the second volume containing the Epistles. This is volume one of the first edition printed in 1548, but a prior owner removed the book of Acts and bound it with a later 1552 copy of volume two. Annotations from a prior reader include underlining, manicules (pointing hands), and marginal references to biblical passages.

Printed in 1548 by Edward Whitchurch, London, England.[1] Acquired by Abraham David, unknown owner.[2] Acquired before 1699 by Robert Shirley, Staffordshire, England.[3] Inherited by Washington Sewallis Shirley, 9th Earl of Ferrers, Staffordshire, England.[4] Acquired before 1976 by Boise Penrose.[5] Acquired by 2011 by David Lachman Antiquarian Theological Books and Bibles, Wyncote, Pennsylvania; Privately purchased in 2011 by Green Collection, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, under the curatorial care of Museum of the Bible, Washington, DC.

Notes: [1] The imprint lists only Edward Whitchurch, but E. J. Devereux has argued that Richard Grafton and Nicholas Hill were involved as well. See E. J. Devereux, “Sixteenth-Century Translations of Erasmus’ New Testament Commentaries in English,” in The Collected Works of Erasmus: Paraphrases on Romans and Galations, vol. 42 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1984), xxxii. [2] The name “Abraham David” is inscribed in the margin of the text. The hand suggests an early date, potentially before the text was acquired by the Shirley family. [3] The bookplate of Robert Shirley (1673–1699), the son of Robert Shirley, 1st Earl of Ferrers, appears on the front pastedown of the first volume and back of the title page of the second volume. Shirley was an aspiring politician when he died of smallpox at the age of 25. [4] The bookplate of Washington Sewallis Shirley (1822–1859), 9th Earl of Ferrers, appears on the front pastedown of the second volume. [5] The bookplate of Boise Penrose (1902–1976), the son of US Senator Boise Penrose, appears on the front pastedown of the first volume and front free endpaper of the second volume. Penrose was a historian, politician, and book collector interested in the history of England and its activities in the East Indies. Sotheby’s auctioned a portion of his expansive library in 1971, but these two volumes were not part of that auction. Penrose’s bookplate indicates he acquired the two volumes from the Old East India House Library, but it is not clear when the Old East India House would have possessed these books. Washington Sewallis Shirley died in 1859, the year after the British government seized control of the New East India House (the replacement for the Old East India House) and only two years before the New East India House was demolished. Shirley may have sold these volumes to the East India Company years earlier while he was still alive, but it has not been possible to confirm this.

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