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ARTICLE VIII.—COMMON VERSION AND BIBLICAL REVISION.
All commend the style of the Common English Version. Few, however, reflect enough to distinguish between those excellencies of style which are derived to it from the original languages, and those which are owing to the translators themselves. We propose first to consider the excellencies of the former class.
1. The first characteristic in our Common Version, which we shall notice, is simplicity in the construction of sentences. This is derived from the original text. There is a scarcity of conjunctions in the Hebrew language. The conjunction which is properly rendered and, serves also for other conjunctions. This trait of the Hebrew of the Old Testament is imitated in the Greek of the New Testament. Translators very naturally and very properly exhibit this trait in their translations. In English it appears with peculiar grace, and occasions what is generally termed the simplicity of the Scriptures.
2. Another characteristic of the Common English Version is the parallelism of structure which shows itself in the poetical and prophetical portions of the Old Testament. It is well known that this parallelism of thought, or repetition of the same thought in different words, constitutes the external form of Hebrew poetry. This also runs into English with a peculiar grace, and adds somewhat to the beauty and simplicity of the Version.
As our translators had no knowledge, even theoretically, of the parallelism; as the printers, in the common editions, have neglected to exhibit it to the eye; and as the more intelligent readers do not understand its true nature, mistaking it generally for a mere climax: the parallelism, however beautiful it might otherwise have been, has been almost strangled to the death. The subject of parallelism should be explained in our elementary works of education.
What is said here of the parallelism generally applies to its three forms, the synonymous, the antithetic, and the synthetic.
3. Most biblical metaphors, being drawn from familiar objects, known and observed by all, pass into English, or any other language, with ease and elegance. Such are the figures drawn from light and darkness, life and death, sowing and reaping, etc.
4. Many Hebrew idioms run into the English tongue with a particular grace and beauty. This was long ago noticed by Addison, in the Spectator, No. 405. Among the Hebraisms of this kind, found in our Common Version, are the following:
(1.) The use of the abstract for the concrete, and that in four forms. See a—d, infra.
(2.) The use of the genitive of the abstract substantive, instead of the cognate adjective; as in e.
(3.) The use of the terms of consanguinity, son, daughter, child, with an abstract or other substantive, for the cognate adjective or attributive; as in f-h.
(4.) A peculiar mode of forming the superlative degree; as God of gods, Lord of lords, etc. See in i.
(5.) The use of my lord for thou, and thy servant for I, by way of courtesy. See in j.
(6.) The ascription of an activity to a place or country, which properly belongs to the thing in the place or country; as in k.
(7.) The ascription of an activity to a member or organ of the human body, which properly belongs to the person himself; as the hand, foot, eye, ear, etc. See in 1-0.
(8) The figures anthropomorphism and anthropopathism, by which we ascribe human members and passions to the Deity;
(9.) The full expressions, fowl of the air, beasts of the field, fish of the sea, which impart a pleasant effect to the English language; as in r.
It is in part the frequency of these idioms which constitutes them Hebraisms.
as in p–9:
a. Ps. v, 9, Their inward part is very wickedness, i. e. very wicked.
b. Eph. v, 8, For ye were sometime darkness, i. e. unenlightened, but now are ye light, i. e. enlightened, in the Lord.
c. Gen. xii, 2, And thou shalt be a blessing, i. e. a person blessed. d. Hag. ii, 7, The desire, i. e. the object of desire, of all nations shall come. e. Deut. xxxiii, 19, Sacrifices of righteousness, i. e. righteous sacrifices. f. Jo. xvii, 12, The son of perdition, i. e. one consigned over to perdition. g. 1 Sam. i, 16, A daughter of Belial, or worthlessness, i. e. a worthless woman. h. Job xli, 34, Children of pride, i. e. proud ones. i. Deut. x, 17, For the Lord your God is God of gods, i. e. highest God. j. Josh. v. 14, What saith my lord unto his servant? i. e. what sayest thou unto
k. Ex. iii, 8, A land flowing with milk and honey, i. e. in which milk and honey flows or abounds.
1. Ps. vii, 7, Deliver me, O my God, out of the hand, i. e. power, of the wicked. m. Ps. xxvi, 12, My foot standeth in an even place. n. Luke ii, 30, Mine eyes have seen thy salvation. 0. Mat. xiii, 16, Blessed are your ears, for they hear. p. Ps. xxxiv, 15, His ears are open unto their cry. q. Ps. vii, 11, God is angry with the wicked every day. r. Ps. viii, 8, The fowl of the air and the fish of the sea.
But there are other Hebrew idioms which are imperfectly understood by the English reader, and tend to impair the beauty of the Version.
(1.) The pronoun is sometimes attached to the latter of two nouns in regimen, when it properly belongs to the complex idea; as in a.
(2.) The sides of a cave, house, mount, pit, ship, is used for the interior of the same; as in b.
(3.) The negative not gives not merely the negative, but the directly opposite sense to the word to which it is attached; as in c.
a. Ps. lix, 10, The God of my mercy, i. c. my merciful God, shall prevent me. b. Jon. i, 5, But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship. c. Ps. ciii, 3, And forget not, i. e. be mindful of, all his benefits.
e come now to consider the excellencies of diction in our Common Version, which are owing to the translators themselves.
Although Dr. Trench's late work “On the Authorized Version of the New Testament” is in fact a high-wrought enlogium on King James's translation, yet it affords us much less assistance on this point than one would suppose.
When he speaks of “the rhythmic beauty of the periods,” awaking continual admiration, of “a style rising and falling with the subject,” showing instinctive art, and of “the solemnity and seriousness” which is made to rest upon all; we confess ourselves unable to follow him, as he gives no examples. See Trench, p. 14.
He speaks also of a "judicious selection” from preceding translations; of the translation being the “source of our pres. ent English,” of its being associated with “our best feelings," and with the “religious life of the English nation;" but neither that antecedent, nor these incidental consequents, affect the question before us, concerning the actual merits of the translation. See Trench, p. 15.
The chief merit of King James's translators, in a literary point of view, consists in this : that they have adopted the happy medium between a paraphrase or loose translation, and a strictly literal word for word translation. They propose to give a fair representation of the original. It is this medium course, which all whose hearts are already interested in the Bible, and who make it a study, would wish to see re-produced in a new translation for still increased usefulness.
As to the delectus verborum, or choice of words, they have avoided the fault of many translators, of transferring too much. A long list might easily be made out of unwisely transferred words in the Rhemish version of the New Testament. Our translators also have avoided many obsolete Latinized words, which abound in the Rhemish version, (see a list in Trench, pp. 20, 21 ;) and where either a Latin or an AngloSaxon word might have been used, they have wisely given the preference to the Anglo-Saxon; see a list in Trench, p. 21.
We do not find that our translators are ever commended for uniformity and consistency of rendering, for absence of inelegancies, for grammatical correctness, for exactness in the consecution of tenses, or for delicacy of tact in the use of conjunctions.
Dr. Trench has made a small selection of happy expressions from the New Testament. See pp. 22, 23. Their number might easily be enlarged. The Old Testament abounds with bold and striking language.
I. American Bible Society Revision.— With regard to “Bilslical Revision,” several distinct problems have been agitated before the public, each of which requires a separate consideration.
The first of these problems is to reproduce the commonly received English version in as perfect a form as may be. This was the object of the late Revision Committee of the American Bible Society. When we consider the vast number of English Bibles that are published, a perfect correctness and an entire uniformity in the minutest details seem very desirable. This committee have performed the substantial part of their work, which respects the translation, well; although they may have erred in changing the headings.
This problem permits the modernizing of the orthography, and the rendering of it uniform. It permits certain changes in the punctuation and in the mode of presentation to the eye, in order that the meaning of the translators may be more easily apprehended.
The limit of this problem is that we are not to go back of King James's translators. However absurd it may be to speak of Christ, or the Lamb, as slain before the foundation of the world, (see Rev. xiii, 8,) yet, if the translators held such an idea, as they undoubtedly did, we are not to correct them, even by inserting a comma.
HIowever evident it may be to us, that the words as pertaining to the flesh (see Rom. iv, 1) refer to the verb hath found and not to the noun father, we are not to alter the natural meaning of the words, as they stand, by a change of the punctuation.
Single cases like the above, even if they were much more numerous, would not affect the general character of the revision. It is remarkable that there are so few of these intricate and perplexing cases.
We have some objections, however, to the American Bible Society Revision.
1. It omits altogether the “ Address to the Reader,” by King