Biestkens Bible

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The Biestkens Bible, the designation of the Bible printed by Nikolaes Biestkens, printer of Emden and member of the Mennonite congregation there, which was for many years the Bible commonly used by the Dutch Mennonites, therefore also known as the Dooperbibel (Keller, Waldenser, 155).

Before 1560 the Mennonites of Holland, like the Reformed and Lutherans, used a Low German Bible, which was based on the old Cologne translation from the Vulgate, and was published by the famous printer, Jacobus van Liesveldt, in Antwerp in 1526. Menno Simons and his co-workers apparently used the East Frisian edition of the Luther translation prepared by Bugenhagen (1545); in addition they consulted the Erasmus translation of the New Testament (published in Delft in 1524) and the High German Strasbourg and Zürich edition (see S. Muller in DJ 1837, 64 ff.).

In 1556 and again in 1559 a new Dutch translation of the Bible was issued by the Reformed Church in Emden; this translation was made by J. N. Utenhove, and was approved by the Reformed Synod in 1562. This translation was not used by the Mennonites, who usually used the New Testament published in 1557 by Mattheus Jacobszoon and reprinted a number of times (1558, 1559, 1562) without naming the place of publication. The Mennonites also used the translation which appeared in 1556, also in Emden, in the house of Steven Mierdemann and Jan Gheylliaert, a translation which closely followed the Old Testament of the Liesveldt Bible and the New Testament of the Froschauer Bible. (See also C. Krahn, Menno Simons, 84 ff.)

In 1560 Nikolaes Biestkens printed the entire Bible at Emden for the use of his fellow believers. It is generally known by the name "Biestkens Bible," and went through an extraordinary number of printings, mostly at Amsterdam, but also at Leeuwarden and Harlingen. Keller says (p. 154) that according to le Long there were 7 editions between 1562 and 1565, 24 between 1567 and 1600, and 24 between 1602 and 1650; from 1650 to the end of the century there were 4 editions; the last one was dated 1723. Müller mentions (p. 56) nearly 100 editions; viz., 16 of the entire Bible in folio, 10 in quarto, and one in octavo; of the New Testament there were 13 in quarto, 17 in octavo, 15 in duodecimo, and 19 in sedecimo. This is an indication not only of the size and number of Mennonite churches in Holland at that time, but also of their effectual zeal for the spread and use of the Word of God among them.

For the Dutch-speaking Mennonites in West Prussia a special edition was published in Schottland near Danzig (HRE II, 122), but printed in Haarlem. According to Müller (p. 57) this edition with artistic lettering was sold in 1598 by Crijn Vermeulen, a tradesman in Schottland, and gave exact information about the differences between this Bible and that of the Reformed of 1559-90.

Of vital interest is the question of what translation was used as the basis of the Biestkens Bible. Müller said it was exactly Luther’s translation, except that in the later editions certain words pertaining to the oath, etc., were changed and some passages, such as Acts 2:30 and Romans 1 and Romans 3, were given a different form for reasons of dogma. Keller called attention to the fact that the Biestkens Bible contained not only the Apocrypha, but also the Laodicean Epistle with the heading, "The Epistle of Paul to the Laodiceans, which is found in the oldest Bible printed at Worms." But the text did not follow that of the Worms Bible of 1529, but the Tepler Codex, which led Keller to the conclusion that in the translation of the Biestkens Bible, not only the Lutheran, but also the Waldensian version was used (see Bible Translations). There is, however, no positive proof for this surmise. De Hoop Scheffer has shown (Doopsgezinde Bijdragen 1890, 64) that the Biestkens Bible is an improved new edition of the Liesveldt Bible, though the Mierdemann Bible mentioned above was also used.

The Biestkens Bible was the first Dutch edition divided into verses. In this respect it became the model for all later Dutch versions. Its use was continued longest in the Old Flemish churches. It was still in use in the congregations at Aalsmeer and Balk in 1837, for public services as well as family worship. In the other congregations it had been probably everywhere replaced by the superior state translation (Statenvertaling) by the close of the 18th century. Some copies of the Biestkens Bible were taken along when the Mennonites went from Prussia to Russia and later to America. At least two such copies (one in Mennonite Library and Archives, Bethel College (North Newton, KS) ) are extant. Copies of the first edition are in the Mennonite libraries at Amsterdam and Mennonite Historical Library (Goshen, IN).


Cramer, Samuel and Fredrik Pijper. Bibliotheca Reformatoria Neerlandica, 10 vols. The Hague: M. Nijhoff, 1903-1914: v. V, 587; v. VII, 263, 493, 509.

Dijkema, F. "De Doopsgezinde en de Statenvertaling." in De Statenvertaling 1837-1937. Haarlem, 1937: 86-92.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 220.

Herzog, J. J. and Albert Hauck, Realencyclopedie für Protestantische Theologie and Kirche, 24 vols. 3. ed. Leipzig: J. H. Hinrichs, 1896-1913: v. III, "Bibelübersetzungen": "German Translations," 65-84, and "Dutch Translations," 120-124.

Keller, Ludwig. Die Waldenser und die deutschen Bibelübersetzungen. Berlin, 1886.

Mennonitische Blätter (1887)

Müller, S. "Het Ontstaan en het Gebruik van Bijbelvertalingen." Doopsgezinde Bijdragen (1837): 51-65.

Author(s) Christian Neff
Date Published 1953

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MLA style

Neff, Christian. "Biestkens Bible." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 30 Sep 2023.

APA style

Neff, Christian. (1953). Biestkens Bible. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 30 September 2023, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 340-341. All rights reserved.

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