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ARTICLE V.- REVISION OF THE ENGLISH BIBLE.
On the authorized Version of the New Testament, in connec
tion with some recent proposals for its revision. By Rich
ARD CHEVENIX TRENCH, D. D. Redfield : New York. 1858. The Gospel according to St. John, after the authorized version.
Newly compared with the original Greek and revised. By
Five Clergymen. London: John W. Parker & Son. 1857. The New Testament, Translated from the original Greek,
with Chronological arrangement of the sacred books, and improved divisions of chapters and verses. By LEICESTER AM
BROSE SAWYER. Boston: John P. Jewett & Co. 1858. Statements and Documents concerning the recent action of the
Board of Manugers of the American Bible Society, touching the standard edition of the English Scriptures as circulated by that Society. Published by members of the late Committee on Versions. New York. 1858.
THERE are many things to indicate that an unusual interest has been lately excited in the question, how “ the mind of the Spirit” in the Word of God, can best be made known to the millions who speak, and the hundreds of millions who are to speak, the English tongue. For some years past a society has existed whose energies have been, and still are, devoted to the revision of the English Bible, and two of the most eminent and competent scholars connected with the Baptist denomination are now engaged in their employ, with the responsibility of carrying the work through to its consummation. Within twelve or fifteen months, there has been no little discussion concerning even the limitations and powers of the American Bible Society, and the course pursued by its Managers in preparing a standard edition of the version in common use, purg. ed of obvious errors, and with new modifications of the chapter headings which form no part of the version. In England, Dr. Trench has written a small volume on the subject of a revision,
which had already been urged in Convocation and in Parliament and elsewhere, and five clergymen of the Established Church, by way of feeling the public pulse, have printed the Gospel of John and Paul's Epistle to the Romans in an amended form; while on this side of the Atlantic, the Rev. Mr. Sawyer, a Congregational minister, with flaming pre-announcements has challenged attention to his re-translation of the New Testament, for the first edition of which his publishers have expected to secure a circulation of no less than ten thousand copies. It is also stated, as a well known fact, that Dr. Newman is appointed to prepare a new Romish version of the Scriptures, while in Holland a revision of the Dutch Bible is in progress, under the supervision and authority of the synod of the Reformed Church.
The subject is not indeed altogether novel. Even in the time of Oliver Cromwell the parliamentary committee for religion had the subject of a new translation under consideration, but before any definite plan was adopted, the session of parliament came to a close, and the matter was dropped. Purver, (1764) Geddes, (1797) Boothroyd, (1824,) and others, have translated the whole, or parts of the Bible anew, or have proposed modifications of our common version. Such attempts have been made, sometimes to secure greater accuracy of expression and fidelity to the original text, sometimes to remove objectionable words and phrases, sometimes to favor certain doctrinal views, but never, probably, unless in the case of Dr. Noah Webster's revision, with the hope of supplanting in the pulpit, the family, and the closet, and in the hearts of the people, that version which is so thoroughly incorporated with the literature of the English language, and which at this day is more widely disseminated, more warmly cherished, and more extensively read, than ever before. As the years have rolled on, the Christian public generally have settled down to a state of contentment with the Scriptures as we have them, and we might fill pages with the highest commendations of our version, from men of every age and calling.
And though we have pointed out some indications of a different feeling, and even of dissatisfaction with the authorized
version, the subject of a revision seems to have been prematurely urged upon public attention, and we have no idea that the people desire or are ready to receive any substitute whatever for the Bible which their fathers have left them. The stringent law of usage requires a minister, in his public ministrations, to use the royal version, instead of the older ones, or of any improvement which his own knowledge of Hebrew and Greek might enable him to make. It is “appointed to be read in churches” by a law more potent than any edict of King James. Let a minister even quote a text with some modification that brings it nearer to the original, and the scholars of his Sabbath school will prick up their ears, and charge him with forgetfulness, while some of his congregation will fear that he deals craftily, or handles the word of God deceitfully. And if he ventures on such an indiscretion before an association of ministers, some brother will be sure to remind him that he is not exact in his quotations, and to prescribe the habitual use of the concordance as a security against error. To some even, the old chapter-headings, introduced by Bilson and Smith, and so far as we know without the sanction of the translators, have a godly ring, and are counted sacred; and to most people our English Scriptures are the inspired word of God, as sacred in their eyes as the Vulgate to the Romanist, the ultimate appeal in argument, the end of all strife, to alter which is sacrilege.
If, then, it were simply a question whether the readers of the Bible generally are prepared for a change, the whole subject of revision might soon be dismissed. But a broader question cannot be lost sight of: whether any change is practicable by which more fully, exactly, and readily to convey the meaning of the Scriptures to those who read them in our language alone. There are some things that have a bearing on this question, to which a ready assent will be given.
1. It is the right of the people to know exactly what is the Word of God, and to have the Scriptures in the form best fitted to their understanding. This, with Protestants, is a fundamental principle, in constant antagonism with the Romish theory, that the people are not to have access to the Scriptures in their own tongue. This is the principle on which our missionaries and Bible societies have acted from the days of Eliot until now. What can be more available to the saving of souls, say our translators, than to deliver God's book unto God's
people in a tongue which they understand ?
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God.” All scripture! But what is scripture ? Not the version of King James's translators; nor the Genevan, nor Cranmer's, nor Coverdale's, nor the Vulgate. These were not inspired, but were severally open to improvement. They were lenses through which alone the people could look on the truth. And surely, if any lens can be constructed which will more clearly exhibit the object under examination, it should be put into their hands, with instructions how to use it. He who can shed light on the meaning of scripture is under obligation to do it, and he may do it without casting any disparagement on those who preceded him. How our translators understood this is seen in their apologizing for labors which some, they fancied, would consider needless. “As St. Augustine saith: A man had rather be with his dog than with a stranger, (whose tongue is strange unto him.) Yet for all that, as nothing is begun and perfected at the same time, and the later thoughts are thought to be the wiser, so, if we, building upon their foundation that went before us, and being holpen by their labors, do endeavor to make that better which they left so good, no man, we are sure, hath cause to mislike us; they, we persuade ourselves, if they were alive, would thank us.
Let us bless God from the ground of our heart, for working this religious care in him [the King] to have the translations of the Bible maturely considered of and examined. For by this means it cometh to pass, that whatsoever is found already, the same will shine as gold more brightly, being rubbed and polished ; also, if anything be halting, or superfluous, or not so agreeable to the original, the same may be corrected, and the truth set in place.”
2. Were the translators appointed by King James to meet again at this time for the same work, they would find a preliminary question demanding their attention, which seems to have given them but little embarrassment. The first thing to be done is to determine the Greek and Hebrew text, and in
this department of criticism great progress has been made since their day. In the whole New Testament, for example, they indicated in the margin twelve or fourteen cases where they considered the true reading uncertain ; while now there are but few chapters in the New Testament, in which the number of variations from the textus receptus, adopted by one or another of the latest critics, does not exceed the whole number marked doubtful by the translators. Many of these variations, it is true, are imperceptible in a version ; others are unimportant except for the sake of accuracy; while some remove, or essentially modify words and classes which no devout spirit would dare to alter, unless constrained by the clearest evidence.
3. It is also true that two centuries and a half have witnessed some progress in the science of interpretation. It were idle to suppose that the scholarship of this day is less competent for the work of translation than that of 1609. We have all the means then enjoyed, and more. How much have modern researches in geography and history contributed to the right interpretation of the Scriptures! What vast stores of learning have men of different generations and lineage accumulated in commentaries, grammars, lexicons, and philological treatises, with which he who aspires to preach the word, must make himself familiar! One of the most remarkable illustrations of this point is the modern discovery of the nature and spirit of Hebrew poetry. Our translators, having no idea of the law of parallelism, translated the poetical parts of the Bible as if they were so much prose. The discovery of that law by Bishop Lowth, a little more than a hundred years ago, was as essential for a correct rendering of the Scriptures, as a knowledge of the law of gravitation to a true system of natural philosophy. In this respect our version fails to do justice to the original, and now one needs to avail himself of the contributions made to sacred literature by Lowth, Michaelis, and Herder, as much as to study the lexicon, and the grammar of Gesenius.
4. It must also be admitted that the version in common use is not free from positive errors and mistranslations. It may be said without disparagement to those who made it, and without detracting from the general excellence of their work,