King James Bible Translators
Personal and Family Life
John Overall was born on 2 March 1561 in Hadleigh, Suffolk. He was the son of George Overall who died shortly after his son's birth. Hadleigh was a center of Protestantism during the mid 1500's, and Rowland Taylor, the famed martyr, was burned at the stake on the outskirts of Hadleigh, just eleven years before John's birth. John was educated at Hadleigh Grammar School where one of his school mates was future Translator, John Bois.
John proceeded from Hadleigh to Cambridge to commence his university studies. After entering the ministry he received ecclesiastical appointments in many places. In 1604, the year of his selection as one of the Translators, he married Anne Orwell, described by John Aubrey "as the greatest beauty of her time in England". Their marriage survived some unique challenges (see Bio Bits).
John Overall died on 12 May 1619 and was buried in the south choir aisle of Norwich Cathedral where he had been serving as bishop. It appears he and his wife had no children. In 1669 his former secretary, John Cosin, placed a monument above his tomb.
While attending Hadleigh Grammar School, John Still, the parish priest, became a mentor to John Overall and his fellow student John Bois. John Overall commenced as a student at St. John's College, Cambridge, Easter, 1575. He migrated to Trinity College, where he graduated B.A. in 1579, and proceeded M.A. in 1582
John Overall's first academic position came in 1581 with his election as a fellow of Trinity College. By the end of 1591 Overall was junior dean of Trinity and had been ordained a priest at Lincoln. As a vicar he served briefly in Trumpington (1591-2), and at Epping, Essex (1592). His appointment as regius professor of divinity for Cambridge University came in 1595. He was popular with his students and maintained a theological stance at odds with the pre-destinationism of strict Calvinistic thought. He continued to hold the regius chair until 1607. During this time he preached before Queen Elizabeth I and was appointed master of St. Catherine's College (1598-1607).
In 1602 he became rector of Algarkirk, Lincoln which he held for three years. He was elected dean of St. Paul's also in 1602 as well as prebendary of Henbale. Overall became rector of Clothall, Hertsfordshire in 1603, and in 1605 became rector also of Therfield, Herts. He continued to hold his position in Clothall until 1615 and in Therfield until 1614.
In 1604 he was invited to be one of the Translators. In the same year he wrote a substantial addition to the Church of England Catechism which remained at the center of Anglican teaching until 1970.
Overall became Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield in 1614 though he continued to reside primarily in London. He was elected Bishop of Norwich in 1618 and lived in the bishop's palace there until his death which followed the next year on 12 May 1619.
John Overall and the Translation
John Overall was one of the participants in the Hampton Court Conference in January of 1604 where the idea of a new translation was endorsed by King James I. Thereafter, he was selected to serve in the First Westminster Company of translators directed by Lancelot Andrewes. He, along with the other members of the Company, was assigned Genesis through 2 Kings. The stories of the creation, the flood, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses, and the Exodus, all came within the purview of this company. For the language of the immortal lines from Genesis 1:1-6:
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
John Overall and his colleagues are in large measure to be credited.
It is recorded that not long after their marriage, John Overall's young and beautiful wife, Anne had affairs with the scoundrel Richard Sackville, and Sir John Selby. The affairs were a scandal at the time and both John and Anne endured much ridicule and humiliation. Ultimately, the marriage endured. No ecclesiastical action was taken against Anne. If, as one biographer suggested, Anne was born in 1583 she would have been only twenty when she married the forty-three year old Overall. The sad events of their early marriage may be attributable to Anne's youth and immaturity. That they overcame these challenges is a tribute to both of them, but especially to John who had the largeness of soul to forgive his young wife. He must have loved her deeply not to have sought civil or ecclesiastical sanctions for her conduct.