In attempting to trace the finger of God employed in preparing the way for the introduction and consummation of a perfect revelation, some wise and learned men have thought, that the wisdom and benevolence which appear in all the Divine procedure towards man, were never more conspicuously displayed, than in causing the completion of the Jewish and Christian writings, to precede but a little time the death of the Hebrew and Greek languages. Both languages had been consummated before the Revelation was entrusted to themn, and that they might continue immutable and faithful guardians of a deposite so precious and sacred; that they might become immortal conservators of the New Covenant, sealed by the blood of the Son of God, they died.
We have in writing all the Hebrew and Greek that is necessary to perpetuate to the end of time all the ideas which the Spirit of God has communicated to the world, and these languages being dead have long since ceased to change. The meaning of those words used by the sacred penmen is fixed and immutable; which it could not have been had those languages continued to be spoken.* (That Hebrew and Greek which are now spoken are not the languages of the Jewish Prophets and the Christian Apostles. It is true some analogy exists between them. But the modern Italian is not more unlike the nervous Roman, which Cicero spoke, than the modern Hebrew and Greek are to the language of Isaiah, and that of Luke and Paul.)
But this constant mutation in a living language will probably render new translations, or corrections of old translations, necessary every two or three hundred years. For although the English tongue may have changed less during the last 200 years than it ever did in the same lapse of time; yet the changes which have taken place, since the reigh of James I do now render a new translation necessary. For if the king's translators had given a translation every way faithful and correct, in the language then spoken in Britain, the changes in the English language which have seen been introduced, would render that translation in many instances incorrect. The truth of this assumption will appear from a few specifications.
In the 2d Epistle to Corinth, in the common version, Paul says, "We do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed upon the churches of Macedonia." This was, no doubt, a correct and an intelligible rendering of the Greek words XX to the people of that day, but to us it is as unintelligible as the Greek original. How few are there who can translate we do you to wit by "we make you to know," which is the modern English of the above sentence. The same may be observed of the term XX in all places where it occurs.
The term conversation was a very exact rendering of the term XX in that day; as the old statutes and laws of England attest, but it is now a very incorrect one. It then signified what a person did; it now denotes what a person says.--Then it was equivalent to our word behaviour, but now it is confined to what proceeds from the lips: consequently, all those passages are now mistranslated in which this term occurs: such as, 1st Pet. ii. 12, "Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles." Gal. i. 13. "Ye have heard of my conversation in time poast in the Jews religion." James iii. 13. "Let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. Excepting Phil. 1. 27. iv. 22. and Heb. xiii. 5, in every other place where the word conversation occurs in the common version, it is XX in Greek; and in our modern style it is always a mistranslation. In all those places substitute the term behaviour,and then we have an exact translation into the language which we speak.
We shall next instance the term double-minded, which was a very literal translation of the word XX, but the term double-minded, if, in the days of king James, it denoted a person who sometimes leaned to one opinion, and sometimes to another, it has come to denote a quite different character. It now, as defined by Johnson, signifies, a deceitful, or an insidious person. To say that a deceitful person is unstalbe in all his ways, as the Apostle says of the double-minded man, is not only a mistranslation in our style, but it conveys a false idea to the reader:--for while "a man of two minds" is unstalbe in all his ways, it is very far from fact to say, that "a deceitful man is unstable in all his ways."
But not to be tedious on this subject, we shall only adduce another specification of this kind. Common version, 1st Thess. iv. 15. "We which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent htem which are asleep." The word prevent did inn that day exactly translate XX, used transūtigvely, but now it does not. For then, prevent was used as synonimous with anticipate, or outstrip; but now it is commonly used as equivalent to hinder. Hence we have found many unable to understand this important declaration of Paul to the Thessalonians. They supposed that Paul was assuring them that those who should be alive upon the earth, at the coming of the Lord to judge the world, would not hinder the resurrection and glorious change of the dead saints. But how different the ideas communicated by the Apostle, when a proper substitute for the term prevent is found; such as the word anticipate or outstrip. Then it reads, "We which are alive at the coming of the Lord will not outstrip the dead," we will not be changed an instant sooner than they. The living and dead saints, at the same moment, shall be glorified together. In the common version the word prevent and its derivatives occur frequently,a nd are mistranslations, owing to the change in the use and meaning of words which has since that time occurred. Such are the following: "The God of my mercy shall prevent me." "Let thy mercies speedily prevent us." "I prevented the dawning of the morning." "Mine eyes prevented the night watches." "Jesus prevented him, saying, Simon, of whom do the kings of the earth take tribute;" and in sundry other places, too numerous to cite. In all of which the word anticipate would, in our time, exactly express the meaning.
These specifications are sufficient to shew that changes have taken place in our own language, within 200 years, that do make any translation of the age incorrect in numerous instances, however perfect it might have been when it first appeared. At the same time it ought to be remarked that the English language has undergone much fewer changs in the last two hundred years, than it ever did in the same time before. This will appear to the most superficial observer, who will read any passage in the English Bibles written two or three hundred years before James' reign. I shall give one extract from an old translation, at least two hundred years older than the common one.
Gen. i, "In ye beginning God made of nought hevene and erthe. Forsothe the erthe was idil and voide, and derknissis werun on the face of depthe, and the Spyrit of the Lord was born on the waters. And God seide, Lizt be maid, and lizt was maid; and God sez the lizt that it was good, and he departide the lizt fro derknissis, and he clepide ye lizt dai, and the derknissis nizt, and the eventyd and mornetyd was maid on dai." "And (God) seide, make we man to oure ymage and liknesse, and be he souereyn to the fisshes of the see, and to the volatiles of hevene, and to unreasonable beestes of the erthe, and to eche creature, and to eche creepinge beest which is movid in erthe. And God maid of nought a man to his ymage and liknesse. God maid of nought hem, male and female."
In the eleventh chapter of the 3d book of Kings, we have this singular translation, 2d and 3d verses: "Therefore king Solomon was couplid to yo wymmen bi moost brennynge love: and wyves as queenes, were un sevene hundrid to hym; and three hundrid secondarie wyves."
Now, however exact and literal such translations may have been to a people who spoke so differently from us, most certainly every one must admit, that to us they would be every way defective and incorrect. In a certain degree, then, the present version is imperfect, on the accounts already specified. And were there no other argument to be adduced in favor of a new translation, to us it appears that this would be a sufficient one.
But in the preceding remarks it has been taken for granted that the common version was an exact representation of the meaning of the original at the time in which it was made. This, howver, is not admitted by any sect in christendom. All parties are occasionally finding fault with it. None are willing to abide by it in every sentence. And, indeed, there is no translation that could be made, that would prove all the tenets of any party. And if a translation that does not prove all the tenets and ceremonies o a sect, is to be censured by that sect, then there cannot exist any translation that would be considered correct. It is, however, true, that the present version was made at a time when religious controversy was at its zenith; and that the tenets of the translators, whether designedly or undesignedly, did, on many occasions, give a wrong turn to words and sentences bearing upon their favorite dogmas. This is, perhaps, to be attributed more to the influence which Theodore Beza, the Genevese critics, and the fathers of the Geneva theology had upon the king's translators, than to any design they had to give a partial translation. If the Arminians were the only persons who say so, it might be more questionalble; but as the most distinguished critics and translators of the Calvinistic school, of the last century, have concurred in regretting the influence which Beza, and others of the same school, had upon the popular version, it adds very much to the probability that the charge is well founded.
Dr. Campbell, though a dignitary in that side of the house, has not spared Junius and Tremelluis, nor the great Beza, in his "Preliminary Dissertations and Notes," for their boldness with the original text. He has not only insinuated that these fathers of the Calvinistic Israel did wilfully and knowingly interpolate the scriptures, and torture many passages to favor their system, but he has unequivocally accused and conicted them of the crime. In vol. ii, p. 228, on an extract from Beza, in which he gives his reasons for certain translations, the Doctor remarks: "Here we have a man who, in effect, acknowledges that he would not have translated some things in the way he has done, if it were not that he could thereby strike a severer blow against some adverse sect, or ward off a blow which an adversary might aim against him. Of these great objects he never loses sight. I own," adds the Doctor, "that my ideas on this subject are so much the reverse of Beza's, that I think a translator is bound to abstract polemic jargon which they have been the occasion of introducing. His aim ought to be invariably to give the untainted sentiments of the author, and to express himself in such a manner as men would do amongst whom such disputes had never been agitated."
An apology is offered for Beza by our author, for his wilful mistranslations. After adducing several examples of his glosses and interpolations, he quotes a passage from the Epistle to the Hebrews, where Beza is defending the perseverance of the saints. Bishop Pearson had before observed that this passage was unfaithfully translated by Beza. "But," says our author, "this is one of the many passages in which this interpreter has judged that the sacred penmen, having expressed themselves incautiously, and given a handle to the patrons of erroneous tenets, stood in need of him more as a corrector than as a translator. In this manner Beza supports the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, having been followed in the first of these errors by the French and English translators, but not in the second; and not by the Italian translator in iether, though as mujch a Calvinist as any of them." This apology is not more severe than just. For, in fact, Beza and others, of the same school, have written and translated, as though they considered themselves correctors of the too unguarded style of the Apostles and Evangelists. In doing this they may have been conscientious.
It is neither insinuated nor affirmed that the Arminian critics have been faultless in these respects; but as the common translation was not made by them, we have nothing to say of them in this place. We introduce these strictures on Beza not from any other design than to shew that, in the estimation of his own party, he wasa very unfaithful translator; and because not only the translator of the narratives of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but other eminent translators and critics have shewn, that the veneration in which Beza was held by the king's translators gave to their translation a sectarian character, and introduced many inaccuracies into it.
But it may be asked, 'Where shall we find translators in a sectarian age, who are not enlisted under the banners of some system, who are not prejudiced in favor of some creed: and will not the religious prepossessions of a traanslator, how eminent or faithful soever he may be, in some measure tincture or vitiate his translations?' We must answer that it is almost, if not altogether impossible to find any emment (sic) translator who is not either enlisted under, or some way or other identified with, some syste;; and that every man's prepossessions must either directly or indirectly affect his own thoughts, reasonings, and expressions on all religious subjects. Yet it may so happen that now and then, once or twice in a hundred years, an individual or two may arise whose literary acquirements, whose genius, independence of mind, honesty, and candor, may fit them to be faithful and competent translators. And of their honesty and faithfulness the greatest proof which can be presented is, their correcting the mistakes of their own party, and with perfect impartiality censuring the errors of their own brethren as those of other denominations; and with equal cheerfulness commending the virtues, and acknowledging the attainments of those who are ranked under another name, as they do those of their own people. Such in a very eminent degree were the translators of this version.
It is much more likely that we shall find a faithful and perspicuous translation coming from individuals, who, without concert or the solicitations of a party, understake and accomplish it; having no national or sectional cause to abet; than to expect to find one coming from those summoned by a king and his court, and paid for their services out of the public treasurey; convened, too, from one part of those elements of discord which had distracted and convulsed a whole nation.
It is probable that a new translation into our language will never again be undertaken by public authority. The people would not now submit to any that would be imposed on them by such authority, and they will not agree among themselves to select persons in whose judgment and fidelity they might repose confidence. Individuals will occasionally make their corrections and amendments,and the number of translations may greatly increase, until at length that obtains whose merits shall give it the ascendant. This was once the case already, and the Western Roman Empire had but one translation for 1200 years. The taste for polemic theology and the jargon of the schools is every day declining. That uncharitableness which proscribed thousands from the standing and reputation of Christians, because of a refusal to subscribe to a few unintelligible and inexplicable, cheerless and gloomy dogmas, will sooon be frowned out of countenance. A regard for the oracles of God, and a strong desire for the sincere milk of the word, will triumph over the declension and fall of every species of intolerance and bigotry. and that translation will be universally received which has the strongest claims on an intelligent, united, and happy Christian community.
But another argument in favor of a new translation may be drawn from the fact, that we are now in possession of much better means of making an exact translation, than they were at the time when the common version appeared. The original is now much better understood than it was then. The conflicts of so many critics have elicited a great deal of sound critical knowledge, which was not in the possession of any translators before the last century. But as this topic has been so well handled, and so frequently argued by eminent writers, we shall not dwell upon it.
There is no doubt but many smatterers in the original Greek, and some who may be pretty well acquainted with the classical use and meaning of words and phraes, will think and say, that in some passages the common version is more literally correct than this translation. Indeed, we remember since we once thought so ourselves. But after forming a better acquaintance with the idiomatic style of the apostolic writings, and of the Septuagint Greek, we hve been fully convinced that what a classical scholar, or a critical etymologist, might approve, as a literal version of some passages, is by no means the meaning of the writer. And the king's translators have frequently erred in attempting to be, what some would call, literally correct. They have not given the meaning in some passages where they have given a literal translation. An example or two will suffice to confirm these remarks.
XX, in the estimation of almost every student, literally means I forsee. This in a quotation from the Psalms, is, in the common version, rendered "I foresaw the Lord always before my face." This a Greek scholar would say is very correctely rendered, and much more so than to have read it, "I fixed my mind upon the Lord." Yet the latter is just the meaning of the passwage; for XX in composition signifies place as well as time, and is here what grammarians call intensive. Again, the Hebrew word translated in the Septuagint by XX, signifies to place or set. But even when XX in composition with XX signifies time and not place, it will not always suit the design of the passage to translate it I foresee. The king's translators found it would not do to render it, Acts xiv. 29, as they have done above. Here they render it seen before. "They had seen before with him in the city Trophimus, an Ephesian." To have said, they had forseen with him," would have changed the meaning altogether.
The same sort of error is found in Rom. xi. 2, though in another word, XX, I foreknew. The phrase is, "God hath not cast away is people which he foreknew." This is literal enough; and yet not the meaning of the passage. Foreknew means to know some event before it happen. But this gives no meaning to the passage. There is nothing that distinguishes God's people from any others; and yet the apostle to have spoken good sense, must have meant something, on account of which, God would not cast away his people. But there is nothign said in this translation about them, that might not have been said about the greatest reprobates.
Now there is the same difference between knowing before, and foreknowing that there is between seeing before,and foreseeing. The translators seem at other times to have known this, for they render Acts xxvi. 5 quite differently--"The Jews which knew me from the beginning," not foreknew me. In another place they have rendered XX very properly. I have said before, because it would have been absurd to render it literally, I have foretold. Now in the Septuagint Greek the verb XX signifies I approve, as well as I know, and is so used in the apostolic style. In the phrase, "depart from me, I never knew yuou," it ought to have been rendered, I never approved or acknowledged you; and in many other places the sense would have been obvious had the Helenistic sense of the term been given. The passage in the Epistle to the Romans, therefore, means--"God hath not cast away his people whom heretofore he acknowledged," or approved.
This is not the place for entering largely into such specifications. We can only produce an instance or two, and proceed. Those who may be disposed to object to some passages in this version as not being so literal as in the common one, before they proceed to pronounce sentence upon them, had better read all Campbell's Preliminary Dissertations, and Notes Critical and Explanatory, and particularly his fourth Dissertation, from which we have taken the above examples. Let him also read Macknight's disquisitions and criticisms on the minor terms, such as adverbs, prepositions, and conjunctions, and then he will be better prepared to estimate the merits of this and the common version on the subject of literal translations.
We would also remind the same class of readers that an intimate acquaintance with the Septuagint Greek of the Old Testament is of essential importance in translating the New. The seventy Hebrews who translated their own scriptures into the Greek language, gave to that translation the idiom of their vernacular tongue. Their translation, if I may so speak, is a sort of Hebrew-Greek. The body is Greek, but the soul is Hebrew. And, in effect, it comes to this, that as we have no other Hebrew, by which to understand the Hebrew scriptures, but the Hebrew of the Old Testament; so we have no Greek, by which to understand the apostolic writings, but the Greek of the Jewish and Christian prophets. The parallelism is so nearly exact, that it subracts but little from it to allow, that there is some importance in having a correct knowledge of the Greek classics. The Septuagint being read for nearly three centuries prior to the Christian era, in all the synagogues of the Helenistic Jews, being generally quoted by our Lord and his Apostles, must have essentially naffected the idiom of all the inspired writings of the Christian Apostles. Consequently, incomparably more regard should be paid to the Septuagint, than to the classic use of Greek terms.
To superficial readers many improvements in this version will appear of little importance; but to those who think more profoundly, some of the most minute alterations will appar to throw a new light and lustre on many passages. But of this every reader will judge after his own measure. We would only say that the edification and comfort of the Christian may be greatly promoted by a minute examination of this version, and a diligent comparison of it with the common one.
But some are so wedded to the common version, that they very defects in it have become sacred, and an effort, however well intended, to put them in possession of one incomparably superior in propriety, perspicuity, and elegance, is viewed very much in the light of making "a new Bible," or of altering and amending the "very word of God." Nay, some are prepared to doom every attempt of the kind to the anathema in the conclusion of the Apocalypse upon those who add to, or subtract from, the word of God. To such we had concluded to offer some remarks; but finding our ideas so much more happily expressed in the Preface to "Campbell's Gospels," we had extracted a few passages, and in examining the London edition of this same version, found that the editor of it had actually published in his preface the passages we had selected for ours. Struck with the coincidence, we here insert the whole preface to the late London edition of this translation, which, with the exception of the two first sentences, is all extracted from Campbell's original preface to his translation.
"Many timid, yet well disposed persons, have been apprehensive that a new "translation of the Holy Scriptures, might tend to diminish the veneration of mankind for those sacred oracles, and thereby unsettle their faith in the Christian doctrine. To such, the subjoined extracts from Dr. Campbell's Christian doctrine. To such, the subjoined extracts from Dr. Campbell's Preface to the Four Gospels, may not prove altogether unprofitable.
"Need I, in so late and so enlightened an age, subjoin an apology for the design itself of giving a new translation of any part of Scripture? yet there are some knowing and ingenious men, who seem to be alarmed at the mention of translation, as if such an attempt would sap the very foundation of the Christian edifice, and put the faith of the people in the most imminent danger of being buried in its ruins. This is no new apprehension. The same alarm was taken so early as the fourth century, when Jerom was employed in preparing a new translation of the Bible into Latin; or, at least, in making such alterations and corrections on the old Italic, as the original, and the best Latin manuscripts, should appear to warrant. The people in general exclaimed; and even the learned were far from applauding an attempt which, in their judgment, was so bold and so dangerous. Augustin, in particular, who admired the profound erudition of Jerom, and had a high esteem of his talents, yet dreaded much that the consequence of such an undertaking would prove prejudicial to the authority of Scripture; and did not hesitate to express his disapprobation in very strong terms. That interpreter, howegver, persevered, in spite of the greatest discouragements, the dissuasion of friends, the invectives of enemies, and the unfavorable impressions which, by their means, were made upon the people. The version was made and published: and those hideous bugbears of fatal consequences, which had been so much descanted on, were no more heard of.
"How dismal were the apprehensions which were entertained immediately after the reformation, on account of the many translations of scripture which came in quick succession, one after another! Have men's fears been justified by the effect? Quite the reverse. The violent concussion of parties at the Reformation, produced, as might have been expected, a number of controversies, which were for some time hotly agitated: but the greater part of these were in being, before these versions were made. Nothing will be found to have conduced more to subvert the dominion of the metaphysical theology of the schoolmen, with all its interminable questions, cobdistinctions, and wars of words, than the critical study of the sacred scripture, to which the modern translations have not a little contributed.
"It has been said, that the introduction of different translations tends to unsettle men in their principles, particularly with regard to the authority of sacred writ, which, say they, is made to speak so variously in these productions. For my part, I have not discovered that this is, in any degree, the effect. The agreement of all the translations, as to the meaning, in every thing of principal consequence, makes their differences, when properly considered, appear as nothing. They are but like the inconsiderable variations in expression, which different witnesses, though all perfectly unexceptionable, employ in relating the same fact. They rather confirm men's faith in the scripture, as they show, in the strongest light, that all the various ways, which men of discordant sentiments have devised, of rendering its words, have made no material alteration, either on the narrative itself, or on the Divine instructions contained in it. People are at no loss to discover, that the difference among interpreters lies chiefly in this, that one renders the account of things, which that book exhibits, more intelligible, more perspicuous, or even more affecting than another. These differences are, I acknowledge, of great moment to readers; they are such, as may show one version to be greatly superior to another, in point of use; yet as they are all compatible with justness of representation, in every thing essential to the historical and didactic parts of the work, they are so far from affecting the credibility of the whole, that they serve not a little to confirm it."
To these judicious remarks, extracted from Dr. Campbell's preface to his translation, I will add another. "Against the common translation, in use at present, which was made and authorized in the beginning of the reign of James I, there were precisely the same exceptions taken, founded in the like apprehensions of pernicious consequence. Whoever will consult the preface to that translation, and read the paragraph which is titled on the margin, 'The Speeches and reasons both of our Brethren and Adversaries against this Work,' will be surprised to find how much they coincide, with what has been thrown out of late against any new attempt of the kind. It is remarkable, that since the days of Jerome to the present, the same terrible forebodings have always accompanied the undertaking, and vanished on the execution; insomuch, that the fatal effects predicted, have never afterwards been heard of."
With regard to the arrangement and execution of this work, we hope it will be found unexceptionable. To fall upon a proper plan of making references to the common version, we found a difficult task. To checker the margin with a column of figures marking every verse in the common version, appeared no way profitable to the reader. It rather perplexes the eye and distracts the attention of the reader, as well as dislocates the sense, and perpetuates what ought soon to be forgotten. But to facilitate his comparing any sentence in this with the common version, we have placed on the top of every page, the chapter or chapters that will be found in it; and at some one paragraph, as near to the middle of the page as possible, the number of the verse. These references will always bring him within a few sentences, if not to the one, he is in quest of. His having to read a sentence or two to find any particular one, will be a happy necessity, for which he will always be requited.
In the four Narratives of the Life of the Lord Jesus, we have followed the sectional divisions of the translator, which in no place interferes with the sense of any passage. In histories it is easy to make such divisions as do not impair or obscure the narrative. Besides, all histories, ancient and modern, are so arranged. But in the Epistles such divisions are n t to be expected; nor are they so compatible with epistolary as historic compositions. Some typographical mistakes, and errors in punctuation, both in the London ediiton of this translation, and in the Boston impression of Dr. Campbell's work, are corrected in this volume; and where the London publishers have departed from the original works of Campbell, Macknight, and Doddridge, we have restored their own words.
Instead of crowding the margin with different translations and critical notes, we have placed them in an appendix and made references to them at the bottom of the page. As Dr. Campbell is justly esteemed the first translator in point of correctness and elegance thast ever gave a version of any part of the Scriptures, and as he has translated many passages in the other boks of the New Testament, we have very generally given his translations in the text and placed those for which they are substituted in the appendix. We have sometimes done so with others, but have always given in the appendix or in the text all the translations proposed. So that all that we can be praised or blamed for is this one circumstance, that we have given the most conspicuous place to that version which appeared to deserve it; but as the reader will have both, we have not judged for him, but left him to judge for himself.
If the mere publication of a version of the inspired writers requires, as we think it does, the publisher to have no sectarian object in view, we are happy in being able to appeal to our whole course of public addresses, and to all that we have written on religious subjects, to show that we have no such object in view. We have disclaimed, and do again disclaim, all affection or partiality for any human system, creed, or formulary under heaven. The whole scope, dessign, and drift of our labors, is to see Christians intelligent, united, and happy. Believing that all sects have gone out of the apostolic way, and that every sect must go out of the way (for Christianity is in its nature hostile to all, and to every sect), we will not, we cannot, we dare not do any thing for the erection of a new one, or assisting any now in existence in its human appendages. As to any predilection or preference to any one now existing, we have none, farther than they hold the traditions of the Apostles. As far as they hold fast those, we hold with them; and where they desert these, we desert them. Besides, we have no aversion to, or umbrage against, any one more than another. We oppose them most, who most oppose and depart from the simplicity, that is in Christ. I do most solemnly declare, that, as far as respects my feelings, partialities, reputation, and and worldly interest as a man, I would become a Presbyterian, a Methodist, a Quaker, a Universalist, a Socinian, or any thing else, before the sun would set to-morrow, if the apostolic writings would, in my judgment, authorize me in so doing: and that I would not give one turn to the meaning of an adverb, preposition, or interjection, to aid any sectarian cause in the world. Whether every reader may give me credit in so declaring myself, I know not; but I thought it due to the occasion, thus to express the genuine and unaffected feelings of my heart. May all, who honestly examine this version, abundantly partake of the blessings of that Spirit, which guided the writers of this volume, and which breathes in every page , "Glory to God in the highest heaven, peace on earth, and good will among men."
January 29th, 1826.