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John S. C. Abbott and Jacob Abbott
Illustrated New Testament (1878)





T HE Scriptures were originally written upon rolls of parchment, similar, probably, to those which are to be seen in the holy place of Jewish synagogues at the present day. These manuscripts were copied with the utmost care. Many versions of them were made from the original Hebrew and Greek into other tongues. The various manuscripts which have come down to the present day, all agree essentially in their contents. This is admitted both by believers and unbelievers.

      The first translations of the Bible into English were previous to the invention of printing. They were the result of incalculable labor, and expense of time. Transcripts were obtained with great difficulty, and, being rare, were purchased at a price which seems to us incredible.

      The first person who conceived the idea of giving to his countrymen the whole Bible in the English tongue, was the illustrious Reformer, John Wickliffe. With the assistance of the ripest scholars among his followers, he completed a translation of the Old and New Testaments in the year 1384. For a period of a hundred and thirty years, Wickliffe's translation was the only one in the English language. No book, before the invention of printing, ever had such facilities for wide circulation. It was at once put into the hands of the itinerant preachers, who, under the auspices of Wickliffe, had traversed every part of England, and were fully acquainted with the [587] wants of the population. Nearly twenty years elapsed before its progress was materially checked by persecution. The character of this version furnished, for all time, the type and pattern of the English Bible. Its homely and childlike phraseology became consecrated in the English mind as the appropriate medium of inspiration. Lion. The subsequent versions which have found favor with the common people, have been the offshoots of this parent stock. Whatever improvements they may have received, they are in all essential points but reproductions of that which was translated into English--but not printed--in the fourteenth century, by Wickliffe.

      The next attempt at English translation was the version of the New Testament by William Tindal, sometimes printed Tyndale. The day had begun to dawn. It was not in the power of man to roll back the "living wheels" which the prophet saw. The art of printing was invented. The Reformation had commenced, and Europe was beginning to shake with the volcanic fires which were rumbling beneath her. Already had Luther begun to give his German Bible to his countrymen, when Tindal, who had been forced to leave his own country by persecution, was led to translate the New Testament into English from the original Greek, and publish it in Holland for the benefit of the English nation. In this undertaking he was assisted by the learned John Fryth, and a friar called William Roye, both of whom afterward suffered death as heretics. The work appeared in the year 1526, and makes the first printed edition of any part of the Bible in the English language. He afterward translated all the historical books, besides revising and correcting his translation of the New Testament. In 1531, through the influence of his enemies in England, he was seized and imprisoned at Villefort, near Brussels, and, after a confinement of years, he was condemned to death by the emperor's decree, in an Assembly at Augsburgh, in consequence of which he was strangled, and had his body afterward reduced to ashes. His dying prayer, repeated with much earnestness was, "Lord, open the king of England's eyes."

      In the year 1535, appeared the Bible of Miles Coverdale, the first printed edition of the entire Scriptures in the English language. It [588] was probably published at Zurich, in Switzerland, and on the last page were the words:

      "Prynted in the yeare of our Lorde, 1535, and fynished the fourth day of October."

      After this, versions of the Scriptures were multiplied.

      There was Taverner's Bible, which was little more than a revision of Tindal. In 1540, a reprint of Tindal's whole Bible was published by Archbishop Cranmer In 1558, the Geneva Bible made its appearance, which was the work of the English exiles who had taken refuge in Switzerland from the religious persecutions in their own country, and which was highly valued among the Puritans, chiefly, perhaps, on account of the brief annotations that went along with it, which came all of the Calvinistic school.

      In 1568, Archbishop Parker, by royal command, undertook to form, with the help of several learned men, chiefly bishops, a version of the "Great Bible," which had been published, in 1539, for the use of the Church, so as to have a copy free from the popish charge of being a false translation. This was called, for distinction, the Bishops' Bible.

      But as yet there was no common standard. To other times was reserved the emission of that version of the Sacred Text which we now possess, which generally passes by the name of King James's Bible, during whose reign, and at whose instance, the translation was undertaken, and to whom it is dedicated; and which, we believe, is destined to stand to the end of time, as one of the most splendid monuments of scholarship and success the world has ever seen.

      James came to the throne in 1603. As complaints abounded on the subject of religion, a conference was held at Hampton Court the following year, for the purpose of settling the order and peace of the Church. Here a number of objections were urged against the translation of the Bible then in use, and the result was a determination on the part of his majesty to have a new version made, such as might be worthy to be established as the uniform text of the nation. Fifty-four learned and pious men were accordingly appointed to perform the important service, who were to be divided into six separate [589] classes, and to have the Bible distributed in parts according to this division, that every class might have its own parcel to translate at a particular place by itself.

      Some delay occurred in entering upon the business, so that it was not fairly begun before the year 1607, and before this time seven of the persons first, nominated were either dead or had declined acting, so as to leave but forty-seven for carrying on the translation.

      The translators received certain general instructions from the king, to regulate them in their work. They were required by these to go by the "Bishops' Bible," as much as the original would allow, to retain proper names in their usual form; to keep the old ecclesiastical terms; out of different significations belonging to a word, and equally suitable to the context, to choose that most commonly used by the best ancient fathers; to abide by the standing division of chapters and verses; to use no marginal notes, unless to explain particular Hebrew or Greek words; to employ references to parallel places, so far as might seem desirable. If any one company should differ from another, in reviewing its part of the translation, about the sense of any passages, notice was to be returned of the disagreement and its reasons; and if this should not induce a change of views on the other side, the whole was to be referred for ultimate decision to a general meeting of the chief persons of each company, to be held at the end of the work. In cases of special obscurity, letters might be sent to any learned man in the kingdom, by authority for his opinion.

      Nearly three years were occupied with the work. It became complete, in the year 1610.

      The translations of the Bible, then, may be thus summarily stated: It was translated by Wickliffe, in 1384; by Tindal, in 1530; by Coverdale, in 1535; by Cranmer, in 1539; at Geneva, in 1560; by the bishops, in 1568; and by the celebrated authorized translators, as they are called, the most accomplished scholars and eminent divines of their day, in the year 1610.* [590]

      The first Bible printed on the continent of America was in native Indian--the New Testament in 1661, and the Old in 1663, both by Rev. John Eliot. They were published in Cambridge, Mass. The second was in German, a quarto edition, published at Germantown, near Philadelphia, by Christopher Sower, in 1676. The first American edition of the Bible in English was printed by Kneeland and Green, at Boston, in 1772, in small quarto, 700 or 800 copies. The next edition was by Robert Aitken, of Philadelphia, in 1781-2. He sent a memorial to Congress, praying for their patronage. His memorial was referred to a committee, who obtained the opinion of the chaplains of Congress as to its general typographical accuracy, and thereupon a resolution was passed (Sep. 12, 1782) recommending this edition of the Bible to the people of the United States.

      It is admitted on all hands that the received English version of the Bible far excels every other translation.

      Let us give it in charge to coming generations, and bid them welcome to all the blessings it has conveyed to us. Let it be our fervent prayer, that the light of the resurrection morning may shine on the very book which we now read--that we may then behold again the familiar face of our own Bible, the very same which we read in our childhood.


      The division of the Scriptures into chapters, as we at present have them, is of modern date. Some attribute it to Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, in the reigns of John and Henry III., but the true author of the invention was Hugo de Sancto Caro, commonly called Hugo Cardinalis, because he was the first Dominican that ever was raised to the degree of cardinal. This Hugo flourished about A. D. 1240; he wrote a comment on the Scriptures, and projected the first concordance, which is that of the vulgar Latin Bible. The aim of this work being for the more easy finding out of any word or passage in the Scriptures, he found it necessary to divide the book into sections, and the sections into subdivisions, for till that time the vulgar Latin Bibles were without any division at all. These sections are the chapters into which the Bible has [591] ever since been divided; but the subdivision of the chapters was not then into verses, as it is now. Hugo's method of subdividing them was by the letters, A, B, C, D, E, F, G, placed in the margin, at an equal distance from each, according to the length of the chapters.

      The subdivision of the chapters into verses, as the now stand in our Bibles, had its origin from a famous Jewish rabbi, named Mordecai Nathan, about 1445. This rabbi, in imitation of Hugo Cardinalis, drew up a concordance to the Hebrew Bible, for the use of the Jews. But though he followed Hugo in his division of the books into chapters, he refined upon his inventions as to the subdivision, and contrived that by verses. This being found to be a much more convenient method, it has been ever since followed. And thus, as the Jews borrowed the division of the books of the Holy Scriptures into chapters from the Christians, in like manner the Christians borrowed that of the chapters into verses from the Jews. The present order of the several books is almost the same (the Apocrypha excepted) as that made by the council of Trent.

      The division into verses, though very convenient, is not to govern the sense, and there are several instances in which the sense is injured, if not destroyed, by an improper division. Very often the chapter breaks off in the midst of a narrative, and if the reader stops because the chapter ends, he loses the connection, as, for example, Matt. x. 42. Sometimes the break is alto ether in the wrong place, and separates two sentences which must be taken together in order to be understood, as, for example, 1 Cor. xii. 31; xiii. 1. Again, the verses often divide a sentence into two different paragraphs, when there ought scarcely to be a comma between them, as in Luke iii. 21, 22. And sometimes a fragment of a subject is separated from its proper place, and put where it is without any connection. (Coloss. iii. 25; iv. 1.) The punctuation of the Bible was probably introduced as lately as the ninth century. [592]

      * We have drawn this chapter from several reliable sources, to which we here make a general acknowledgment of indebtedness.


[AINT 587-592]

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John S. C. Abbott and Jacob Abbott
Illustrated New Testament (1878)