OUR BIBLE & THE ANCIENT MANUSCRIPTS by SIR FREDERIC KENYON - formerly Director of the British Museum - © Sir F Kenyon 1895. First published Eyre & Spottiswoode 1895. - fourth edition 1939. - Prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2003.

Chapter XI:

THE ENGLISH PRINTED BIBLE

HOME | Tyndale's Bible, 1525 | Coverdale's Bible, 1535 | Matthew's Bible, 1537 | The Great Bible, 1539-1541 | Taverner's Bible, 1539 | The Geneva Bible, 1557-1560 | The Bishop's Bible, 1568 | The Rheims & Douai Bible, 1582-1609 | The Authorised Version | Revised Version

IN the fifteenth century, then, the Bible was circulating, to a limited extent, in the Wycliffite translations, tolerated, though not encouraged, by the powers of Church and State; but the middle of the century was barely passed when two events took place which, though totally unconnected with one another, by their joint effects revolutionised the history of the Bible in Western Europe. In May 1453 the Turks stormed Constantinople; and in November 1454 the first dated product of the printing press in Europe was issued to the world. [There are some fragments of printed editions of the grammar of Donatus which may be as early as 1450.] The importance of the latter event is obvious, and has been already explained. Not only did the invention of printing do away, once and for all, with the progressive corruption of texts through the inevitable errors of copyists, but it also rendered it possible to multiply copies to an indefinite extent and to make learning accessible to every man who could read. Knowledge need no longer "rest in moulded heaps" in the monastic libraries, but could freely "melt in many streams to fatten lower lands." All that was required was that men should be found willing and able to make use of the machinery which the discovery of Gutenberg had put into their hands.

It was the other of the two events above recorded which, in great measure, provided the inspiration that was needful in order to make the invention of printing immediately fruitful. The Turkish invasion of Europe, culminating in the capture of Constantinople and the final fall of the Eastern Empire, drove to the West numberless scholars able and willing to teach the Greek language to the people among whom they took refuge. Greek, almost forgotten in Western Europe during many centuries, had always been a living language in the East, and now, journeying westwards, it met a fresh and eager spirit of inquiry, which welcomed joyfully the treasures of the incomparable literature enshrined in that language. Above all, it brought to the West the knowledge of the New Testament in its original tongue; and with the general zeal for knowledge came also a much increased study of Hebrew, which was of equal value for the Old Testament. Thus at the very moment when the printing press was ready to spread instruction over the world a new learning was springing up, which was only too glad to take advantage of the opportunity thus presented to it.

The revival of learning affected the Bible in three ways. In the first place it led to a multiplication of copies of the then current Bible, the Latin Vulgate. It is said that no less than 124 editions of it were issued before the end of the fifteenth century. Next, and far more important, it produced a study of the Scriptures in their original languages; and though the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts then available were by no means perfect, they at least served to correct and explain the more corrupt Latin. Finally?the point with which we are especially concerned in the present chapter?
it promoted a desire to make the Scriptures known to all classes of men directly, and not through the medium of men's instruction; and this could only be done by having the Bible translated in each country into the common language of the people. The earliest vernacular Bibles were not connected with the Reformation controversy. A German Bible was printed at Strassburg by Mentelin in 1466, and eighteen others (besides Psalters and other separate books) appeared before the publication of the first part of Luther's translation in 1522. An Italian Bible was printed at Venice in 1471, and a Dutch one in 1477. A French Bible was printed at Lyons about 1478, and another about 1487. Even in England the greater part of the Bible narrative was available in Caxton's version of the Golden Legend, printed in 1483. But with the outbreak of the Reformation, Bible translation took on a new and controversial aspect. The reformers held that the best method of overthrowing the power of the monasteries and of the Roman Church was to enable the common people to read the Bible for themselves and learn how much of the current teaching of the priest and friar had no basis in the words of Scripture. The leaders of the Roman Church, on the other hand, doubted the advisability of allowing the Scriptures to be read by uneducated or half-educated folk without the accompaniment of oral instruction. With some this was a perfectly honest belief, for which there was much to be said; some, on the other hand, may have known that certain current practices could not be justified out of the Bible; others may have feared that the reformers would introduce heretical teaching into their translations. So it fell out that the struggle of the Reformation period was largely concerned with the question of the translation of the Bible. In Germany the popular version was made, once and for all, by the great reformer Luther; but in England, where parties were more divided, the translation of the Bible was the work of many years and many hands. In this chapter we shall narrate the history of the successive translations which were made in England, from the invention of printing to the completion of the Authorised Version in 1611, and in conclusion shall give some account of the Revised Version of 1881-5.
top

1. Tyndale's Bible, 1525.

The true father of the English Bible is William Tyndale, who was born in Gloucestershire about the year 1490. He was educated at Oxford, where he was a member of Magdalen Hall, then a dependency of Magdalen College. Here he may have begun his studies of Biblical interpretation and of the Greek language under the great leaders of the new learning at Oxford, Colet of Magdalen and Grocyn of New College. He graduated as B.A. in 1512, as M.A. in 1515; and at some uncertain date he is said to have gone to Cambridge, probably too late to have found Erasmus there, whose Greek New Testament he was destined to translate. When exactly he decided to devote himself to this task is unknown; but while he was resident tutor in the house of Sir John Walsh, at Little Sodbury in Gloucestershire, between 1520 and 1523, he is recorded to have said, in controversy with an opponent, "If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the Scripture than thou doest."
[Consciously or otherwise, Tyndale was repeating the sentiments of Erasmus: "I totally disagree with those who are unwilling that the sacred scriptures, translated into (he vulgar tongue, should be read by private individuals. ... I wish they were translated into all languages of all peoples, that they might be read and known not merely by the Scotch and Irish, but even by the Turks and Saracens. ... I wish that the ploughman might sing parts of them at his plough and the weaver at his shuttle, and that the traveller might beguile with their narration the weariness of his way" (Preface to N.T. of 1516).]
He had hoped that this might be accomplished under the patronage of the leaders of the Church, notably Tunstall, Bishop of London, to whom he applied in 1523 for countenance and support. Tunstall, however, refused his application, and although Humphrey Monmouth, an alderman of London, took him into his house for several months, it was not long before Tyndale understood "not only that there was no room in my lord of London's palace to translate the New Testament, but also that there was no place to do it in all England."

Accordingly in 1524 he left England and took up his abode in the free city of Hamburg. Here his translation of the New Testament was completed, and in 1525 he transferred himself to Cologne in order to have it printed. Meanwhile rumours of his work had got abroad. He was known to belong to the reforming party; in translating the Bible he was following the example of Luther; he may even have met Luther himself at Wittenburg, which is not far from Hamburg. His translation was probably part of a design to convert England to Lutheranism; and clearly it must not be allowed to go forward if it were possible to stop it. The secret of the printing was, however, well kept; and it was not until the printing had made considerable progress that Cochlaeus, an active enemy of the Reformation, obtained the clue to it. Hearing boasts from certain printers at Cologne of the revolution that would shortly be made in England, he invited them to his house; and having made them drunk, he learnt that three thousand copies of an English translation were being printed, and that some ten sheets of it had already been struck off. Having, in this truly creditable manner, obtained the information he required, he at once set the authorities of the town in motion to stop the work; but Tyndale secured the printed sheets and fled with them to Worms. At Worms he not only finished the edition partly printed at Cologne, which was in small quarto form and accompanied by marginal notes (or, as some think without much reason, printed a similar edition de novo), but also, knowing that a description of this edition had been sent by Cochlaeus to England, in order that its importation might be stopped, had another edition struck off in octavo form and without notes. The printer was Peter Schoeffer.

Both editions were completed in 1525, which may consequently be regarded as the birth-year of the English printed Bible, though it was probably not until the beginning of 1526 that the first copies reached this country. Money for the work had been found by a number of English merchants, and by their means the copies were secretly conveyed into England, where they were eagerly bought and read on all sides. The leaders of the Church, however, declared against the translation from the first. Archbishop Warham, a good man and a scholar, issued a mandate for its destruction. Tunstall preached against it, declaring that he could produce 3,000 errors in it. Sir Thomas More wrote against it with much bitterness, charging it with wilful mistranslation of ecclesiastical terms with heretical intent. The book was solemnly burnt in London at Paul's Cross, and the bishops subscribed money to buy up all copies obtainable from the printers; a proceeding which Tyndale accepted with equanimity, since the money thus obtained enabled him to proceed with the work of printing a revised edition.
[The account of this transaction given by the old chronicler Hall is very quaint. After describing how a merchant named Packington, friendly to Tyndale, introduced himself to Tunstall and offered to buy up copies of the New Testament for him, he proceeds thus: "The Bishop, thinking he had God by the toe, when indeed he had the devil by the fist, said, ' Gentle Mr. Packington, do your diligence and get them; and with all my heart I will pay for them whatsoever they cost you, for the books are erroneous and nought, and I intend surely to destroy them all, and to burn them at Paul's Cross.' Packington came to William Tyndale and said, 'William, I know thou art a poor man, and hast a heap of New Testaments and books by thee, for the which thou hast both endangered thy friends and beggared thyself, and I have now gotten thee a merchant which, with ready money, shall despatch thee of all that thou hast, if you think it so profitable for yourself.' 'Who is the merchant?' said Tyndale. 'The Bishop of London,' said Packington. 'Oh, that is because he will burn them,' said Tyndale. 'Yea, marry,' quoth Packington. 'I am the gladder,' said Tyndale,
'for these two benefits shall come thereof; I shall get money to bring myself out of debt, and the whole world will cry out against the burning of God's Word; and the over?plus of the money that shall remain to me shall make me more studious to correct the said New Testament, and so newly to imprint the same once again, and I trust the second will much better like you than ever did the first.' And so forward went the bargain, the Bishop had the books, Packington had the thanks, and Tyndale had the money."]
At the same time one reprint of the New Testament after another was issued by Dutch printers, and, in spite of all efforts of the Bishops, copies continued to pour into England as fast as they were destroyed.

The English New Testament was thus irrevocably launched upon the world; yet so keen was the search for copies, both then and afterwards, and so complete the destruction of them, that barely a trace of these earliest editions remains today. Of the quarto edition, begun at Cologne and ended at Worms, only one solitary fragment exists, comprising eight out of the ten leaves printed at Cologne, with the text of Matt. i.1-x.12.

It is now in the Grenville collection in the British Museum, and from it is taken the half-page reproduced in Plate XXXI, showing the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. Of the octavo, one perfect copy exists in the library of the Baptist College at Bristol  [This copy was discovered in 1740 by an agent of the Earl of Oxford, who bestowed on the fortunate discoverer an annuity of ?,10.], another, imperfect, in St. Paul's Cathedral. This is all that is left of the six thousand copies which Tyndale is said to have printed in 1525 at Worms, while of all the editions that followed up to 1534 no fragment has survived.

Tyndale's New Testament differs from all those that preceded it in being a translation from the original Greek, and not from the Latin. He made use of such other materials as were available to assist his judgment?
namely, the Vulgate, the Latin translation which Erasmus published along with his Greek text, and the German translation of Luther; but these were only subordinate aids, and his main authority was unquestionably the Greek text which had been published by Erasmus in 1516 and revised in 1522. This was a new departure, and some of the "mistakes" which Tunstall and others professed to find in Tyndale's work may have been merely cases in which the Greek gave a different sense from the Latin to which they were accustomed. The amount of actual errors in translation would not appear to be at all such as to justify the extremely hostile reception which the leaders of the Church gave to the English Bible. More may or may not have been right in holding that the old ecclesiastical terms, such as "church," "priest," "charity," round which the association of centuries had gathered, should not be set aside in favour of "congregation," "senior," "love," and the like: there is much to be said on both sides of the question; but certainly this was no just reason for proscribing the whole translation and assailing its author. Nor can such treatment be explained on the ground of Tyndale's marginal comments, controversial though they unquestionably were, and, in part, derived from those of Luther; for measures were taken to suppress the book before its actual appearance, and the proscription was not confined to the quarto, which alone contained the comments, but was extended to the octavo, in which the sacred text stood by itself. The reception which the heads of the English Church, Henry VIII included, gave to Tyndale's Testament can only be attributed to a dislike of the very existence of an English Bible.

Tyndale's labours did not cease with the appearance of his New Testament. His hope was to complete the translation of the whole Bible; and although other works, chiefly of a controversial character, occupied some portion of his time, he now set himself to work on the Old Testament. The first instalment occupied him for four years, and in 1530 the Pentateuch, translated from the original Hebrew and accompanied by strongly controversial marginal notes, was printed at Marburg. The five books must have been separately printed, since Genesis and Numbers are printed in black letter, and the others in Roman (or ordinary) type; but there is no sufficient evidence of separate publication. Only one perfect copy of this edition is known, in the British Museum. The Pentateuch was followed in 1531 by the Book of Jonah, of which also only one copy is now known to exist, likewise in the British Museum. But Tyndale had not said his last word on the New Testament. Like a good scholar, he was as fully aware as his critics could be that his version admitted of improvement, and he undertook a full and deliberate revision of it, striving especially after a more exact correspondence with the Greek. The publication of his labours was hastened by the appearance of an unauthorised revision in 1534, the work of one George Joye. Since the original publication in 1526, the printers of Antwerp had been issuing successive reprints of it, each less correct than its predecessor, and at last Joye had consented to revise a new edition for the press. Joye had taken Tyndale's version, altered it considerably, especially by com?parison with the Latin Vulgate, had introduced variations of translation in accordance with his own theological opinions, and had published the whole without any indication of a change of authorship. Tyndale was justly indignant at this act of combined piracy and fraud; but his best antidote was found in the publication of his own revised edition in the autumn of the same year. It is this edition of 1534, printed at Antwerp, which is the true climax of Tyndale's work on the New Testament. The text had been diligently corrected; introductions were prefixed to each book; the marginal commentary was rewritten in a less controversial spirit; and at the end of the volume were appended certain extracts from the Old Testament which were read as "Epistles" in the Church services for certain days of the year.

With the appearance of this edition Tyndale's work was practically at an end. The battle was substantially won; for although he himself was held in no greater favour in England than before, the feeling against an English Bible had considerably abated, and the quarrel with Rome had reached an open rupture. As early as 1530 an assembly convoked by Archbishop Warham, while repeating the official condemnation of Tyndale, announced that the king would have the New Testament faithfully translated "as soon as he might see their manners and behaviour meet, apt and convenient to receive the same." By 1535 Cromwell and Cranmer were convinced of the desirability of having the Bible translated by authority; and Tyndale was able to present a magnificent copy of his new edition to Queen Anne Boleyn, [This copy is now in the British Museum.]
who had constantly favoured the undertaking of the English Bible. But the enmity of the Romanist party against Tyndale himself was not abated; and his labour for the diffusion of God's Word was destined to receive the crown of martyrdom. He was now residing at Antwerp, a free city, and was safe as an inmate of the "English House," an established home of English merchants in that city. But in 1535 a traitor, named Henry Philips, wormed himself into his confidence and used his opportunity to betray him into the hands of some officers of the Emperor Charles V, by whom he was kidnapped and carried out of the city. The real promoters of this shameful plot have never been known. It is certain that Philips was well supplied with money, which must have come from the Romanist party, to which he belonged. Henry VIII, who was now at open war with this party, can have had no share in the treachery. The most that can be said against him is that he took no steps to procure Tyndale's release. Cromwell used his influence to some extent; but from the moment of the arrest the prisoner's fate was certain. Charles V had set himself to crush heresy by stringent laws; and there was no doubt that, from Charles's point of view, Tyndale was a heretic. After a long imprisonment at Vilvorde, in Belgium, he was brought to trial, and in October 1536 he suffered martyrdom by strangling at the stake and burning, crying "with a fervent, great, and a loud voice, 'Lord, open the King of England's eyes.' "

Before his arrest Tyndale had once more revised his New Testament, which passed through the press during his imprisonment. This edition, which appeared in 1535, differs little from that of 1534, and the same may be said of other reprints which appeared in 1535 and 1536. These cannot have been supervised by Tyndale himself, and the eccentricities in spelling which distinguish one of them are probably due to Flemish compositors. We shall see in the following pages how his work lived after him, and how his translation is the direct ancestor of our Authorised Version. The genius of Tyndale shows itself in the fact that he was able to couch his translations in a language perfectly understanded of the people and yet full of beauty and of dignity. If the language of the Authorised Version has deeply affected our English prose, it is to Tyndale that the praise is originally due. He formed the mould, which subsequent revisers did but modify. A specimen of his work may fitly close our account of him. [Another specimen will be found in Appendix II, where it can be compared with the versions of his successors.] It is his version of Phil. ii. 5-13 as it appears in the edition of 1534, and readers will at once recognise how much of the wording is familiar to us in the rendering of the Authorised Version:

"Let the same mynde be in you the which was in Christ Jesu. Which beynge in the shape of God, and thought yt not robbery to be equal with God. Neverthelesse, he made hymsiife of no reputacion, and toke on him the shape of a servaunte, and becam lyke unto men, and was founde in his apparell as a man. He humbled hym sylfe and becam obedient unto the deeth, even the deeth of the crosse. Wherfore God hath exalted hym, and gyven hym a name above all names, that in the name of Jesus shulde every knee bowe, both of thingis in heven and thingis in erth and thingis under erth, and that all tonges shulde confesse that Jesus Christ is the lorde, unto the prayse of God the father. Wherfore, my dearly beloved: as ye have alwayes obeyed, not when I was present only, but nowe moche more in myne absence, even so performe youre owne health with feare and tremblynge. For yt is God which worketh in you, both the wyll and also the dede, even of good wyll."

top

2. Coverdale's Bible, 1535.

Coverdale's treatment of the Apocrypha | The Apocrypha in Subsequent English Bibles

Tyndale was burnt; but he, with even greater right than Latimer, might say that he had lighted such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as should never be put out. His own New Testament had been rigorously excluded from England, so far as those in authority could exclude it; but the cause for which he gave his life was won. Even before his death he might have heard that a Bible, partly founded on his own, had been issued in England under the protection of the highest authorities. In 1534 the Upper House of Convocation of Canterbury had petitioned the king to authorise a translation of the Bible into English, and it was probably at this time that Cranmer proposed a scheme for a joint translation by nine or ten of the most learned bishops and other scholars. Cranmer's scheme came to nothing; but Cromwell, now Secretary of State, incited Miles Coverdale to publish a work of translation on which he had been already engaged. Coverdale had known Tyndale abroad, and is said to have assisted him in his translation of the Pentateuch; but he was no Greek or Hebrew scholar, and his version, which was printed abroad in 1535 (probably, according to the latest expert view, at Marburg) and appeared in England in that year or the next, professed only to be translated from the Dutch [i.e., German] and Latin.

Coverdale, a moderate, tolerant, earnest man, claimed no originality, and expressly looked forward to the Bible being more faithfully presented both "by the ministration of other that begun it afore" (Tyndale) and by the future scholars who should follow him; but his Bible has two important claims on our interest. 
Though not expressly authorised, it was undertaken at the wish of Cromwell, and a dedication to Henry VIII, printed apparently by Nycholson of Southwark, was inserted among the prefatory matter of the German-printed sheets, which were no doubt imported unbound. It is thus the first English Bible which circulated in England without let or hindrance from the higher powers. It is also the first complete English printed Bible, since Tyndale had not been able to finish the whole of the Old Testament. A page of it is shown in Plate XX. In the Old Testament Coverdale depended mainly on the Swiss-German version published by Zwingli and Leo Juda in 1524-9, though in the Pentateuch he also made considerable use of Tyndale's translation. The New Testament is a careful revision of Tyndale by comparison with the German. It is to Coverdale therefore that our English versions of the poetical and prophetical books are primarily due, and in handling the work of others he showed great skill. Many of Coverdale's phrases have passed into the Authorised Version. In one respect he departed markedly from his predecessor? namely, in bringing back to the English Bible the ecclesiastical terms which Tyndale had banished.

In addition to the Bible issued in 1535-6, Coverdale, in 1538, published a revised New Testament with the Latin Vulgate in parallel columns. [This was printed in England, but so inaccurately that Coverdale had a second edition printed at once in Paris. This no doubt led to a coolness with his English printer, Nycholson, of Southwark, who issued another edition, also very inaccurate, substituting the name of "Johan Hollybushe" for that of Coverdale on the title-page.] Meanwhile the demand for the Bible continued unabated, and a further step had been made in the direction of securing official authorisation. Two revised editions were published in 1537, this time printed in England by Nycholson; and one of these, in quarto, bore the announcement that it was "set forth with the king's most gracious license." The bishops in Convocation might still discuss the expediency of allowing the Scriptures to circulate in English, but the question had been decided without them. The Bible circulated, and there could be no returning to the old ways. top

Coverdale's Treatment of the Apocrypha.

One important characteristic of our English Bible makes its first appearance in Coverdale's Bible of 1535. This is the segregation of the books which we call the Apocrypha. As has been stated above (p.54), these books formed an integral part of the Greek Old Testament, being intermixed among the books which we know as canonical. They were, however, rejected from the Hebrew Canon as formed about AD100. Many of the early Fathers concurred in this rejection. The Syrian version omitted them; in the Canon of Athanasius they were placed in a class apart; and Jerome refused to include them in his Vulgate. They had, however, been included in the Old Latin version, which was translated from the Septuagint; and the Roman Church was reluctant to abandon them. The provincial Council of Carthage in 397, under the influence of Augustine, expressly included them in the Canon; and in the Latin Bible they remained, the Old Latin translation of them being incorporated in Jerome's Vulgate. When the Reformation came, however, Luther reverted to the Hebrew Canon, and placed these books apart under the title of "Apocrypha." At the same time he segregated Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation at the end of the New Testament, as books of lesser value. Tyndale followed this arrangement in his New Testament, and would probably have done the same in the Old, since he was translating from the Hebrew and was much under the influence of Luther. Certainly Coverdale does so.
His Old Testament is divided into five parts:

  1. Pentateuch;
  2. Joshua-Esther;
  3. Job - "Solomon's Balettes" (i.e.. Song of Solomon);
  4. Prophets;
  5. "Apocripha, the bokes and treatises which amonge the fathers of olde are not rekened to be of like authorite with the other bokes of the byble, nether are they founde in the Canon of the Hebrue."
This example was followed in all subsequent English Bibles, though without going to the length, now unfortunately common, of omitting altogether these books, which the Articles of our Church (agreeing in this with both Jerome and Luther) prescribe to be read for example of life and instruction of manners. The Roman Church, on the other hand, at the Council of Trent in 1546, adopted by a majority the opinion that all the books of the larger Canon should be received as of equal authority, making this for the first time a dogma of the Church, in spite of Jerome, and enforcing it by anathema.
top

The Apocrypha in Subsequent English Bibles.

To complete the story it may be noted that the Puritan party always manifested dislike for these books. They were omitted from some editions of the Geneva Bible. Copies of the Authorised Version without the Apocrypha are known as early as 1629, though the numeration of the sheets shows that the books were printed, but omitted in binding up. This practice must have existed earlier, for it was forbidden by Archbishop Abbot in 1615. Copies of which it never formed part are known from 1642 onwards. In 1644 the Long Parliament forbade the reading of lessons from it in public; but the lectionary of the English Church has always included lessons from it. The first edition printed in America (apart from a surreptitious printing in 1752), in 1782, is without it. In 1826 the British and Foreign Bible Society, which has been one of the principal agents in the circulation of the Scriptures throughout the world, resolved never in future to print or circulate copies containing the Apocrypha; and this resolution has recently debarred the Society from assisting in the printing of the Bible for the Church in Abyssinia, because the Ethiopic Bible, being translated from the Septuagint, has always contained the Apocryphal books.
top

3. Matthew's Bible, 1537.

Fresh translations, or, to speak more accurately, fresh revisions, of the Bible now followed one another in quick succession. The first to follow Coverdale's was that which is known as Matthew's Bible, but which is in fact the completion of Tyndale's work. Tyndale had only published the Pentateuch, Jonah, and the New Testament, but he had never abandoned his work on the Old Testament, and he had left behind him in manuscript a version of the books from Joshua to 2 Chronicles. The person into whose hands this version fell, and who was responsible for its publication, was John Rogers, a disciple of Tyndale and an earnest Reformer; and whether "Thomas Matthew," whose name stands at the foot of the dedication, was an assistant of Rogers, or was Rogers himself under another name, has never been clearly ascertained.
[It has also been suggested that Matthew stands for Tyndale, to whom the greater part of the translation was really due. The appearance of Tyndale's name on the title-page would have made it impossible for Henry VIII to admit it into England without convicting himself of error in proscribing Tyndale's New Testament.]
There is, however, no doubt that Rogers was the person responsible for it, and that "Matthew" has no other known existence. The Bible which Rogers published in 1537, at the expense of two London merchants, consisted of Tyndale's version of Genesis to 2 Chronicles, Coverdale's for the rest of the Old Testament (including the Apocrypha), and Tyndale's New Testament according to his final edition in 1535; the whole being very slightly revised, and accompanied by introductions, summaries of chapters, woodcuts, and copious marginal comments of a somewhat contentious character. It was printed abroad, probably at Antwerp, was dedicated to Henry VIII, and was cordially welcomed and promoted by Cranmer. Cromwell himself, at Cranmer's request, presented it to Henry and procured his permission for it to be sold publicly; and so it came about that Tyndale's translation, which Henry and all the heads of the Church had in 1525 proscribed, was in 1537 sold in England by leave of Henry and through the active support of the Secretary of State and the Archbishop of Canterbury. top

4. The Great Bible, 1539-1541.

The English Bible had now been licensed, but it had not yet been commanded to be read in churches. That honour was reserved for a new revision which Cromwell (perhaps anxious lest the substantial identity of Matthew's Bible with Tyndale's, and the controversial character of the notes, should come to the king's knowledge) employed Coverdale to make on the basis of Matthew's Bible. It was decided to print it in Paris, where better paper and more sumptuous printing were to be had. The French king's licence was obtained, and printing was begun in 1538. Before it was completed, however, friction arose between the English and French courts, and on the suggestion of the French ambassador in London the Inquisition was prompted to seize the sheets. Coverdale, however, rescued a great number of the sheets, conveyed printers, presses, and type to London, and there completed the work, of which Cromwell had already in September, 1538, ordered that a copy should be put up in some convenient place in every church. The Bible thus issued in the spring of 1539 is a splendidly printed volume of large size, from which characteristic its popular name was derived. Prefixed to it is a fine engraved title page (reproduced as the frontispiece to the present volume), believed (though not with certainty) to be the work of Holbein. It represents the Almighty at the top blessing Henry, who hands out copies of the Bible to Cranmer and Cromwell on his right and left. Below, the archbishop and the Secretary of State, distinguished by their coats of arms beneath them, are distributing copies to the clergy and laity respectively, while the bottom of the page is filled with a crowd of people exclaiming Vivat Rex! ("Long live the King!"). Cromwell's own copy, on vellum with illuminations, is now in the library of St. John's College, Cambridge. In contents, it is Matthew's Bible revised throughout, the Old Testament especially being considerably altered in accordance with Munster's Latin version, which was greatly superior to the Zurich Bible on which Coverdale had relied in preparing his first translation. The New Testament was also revised, with special reference to the Latin version of Erasmus. Coverdale's characteristic style of working was thus exhibited again in the formation of the Great Bible. He did not attempt to contribute independent work of his own, but took the best materials which were available at the time and combined them with the skill of a master of language. He had intended to add notes, and with this view inserted marginal marks, which he explains in his prologue; but the Privy Council refused to sanction them, and after standing in the margin for three editions these signposts were withdrawn.

In accordance with Cromwell's order, which was repeated by royal proclamation in 1541, copies of the Great Bible were set up in every church; and we have a curious picture of the eagerness with which people flocked to make acquaintance with the English Scriptures in the complaint of Bishop Bonner that "diverse wilful and unlearned persons inconsiderately and indiscreetly read the same, especially and chiefly at the time of divine service, yea in the time of the sermon and declaration of the word of God." One can picture to oneself the great length of Old St. Paul's (of which the bishop is speaking) with the preacher haranguing from the pulpit at one end, while elsewhere eager volunteers are reading from the six volumes of the English Bible which Bonner had put up in different parts of the cathedral, surrounded by crowds of listeners who, regardless of the order of divine service, are far more anxious to hear the Word of God itself than expositions of it by the preacher in the pulpit. Over all the land copies of the Bible spread and multiplied, so that a contemporary witness testifies that it had entirely superseded the old romances as the favourite reading of the people. Edition after edition was required from the press. The first had appeared in 1539; a second (in which the books of the Prophets had again been considerably revised by Coverdale) followed in April 1540, with a preface by Cranmer, and a third in July. In that month Cromwell was overthrown and executed, and his arms were excised from the title page in subsequent editions; but the progress of the Bible was not checked. Another edition appeared in November, and on the title page was the authorisation of Bishop Tunstall of London, who had thus lived to sanction a revised form of the very work which, as originally issued by Tyndale, he had formerly proscribed and burnt. Three more editions appeared in 1541, all substantially reproducing the revision of April 1540, though with some variations; and by this time the immediate demand for copies had been satisfied, and the work alike of printing and of revising the Bible came for the moment to a pause.
[Several of the editions of the Great Bible were printed by Whitchurch, and it is under the name of Whitchurch's Bible that the rule laid down for the guidance of the revisers of 1611 refers to it. The rule (which instructs the revisers to refer to "Tindale's, Matthew's, Coverdale's, Whitchurch's" and the "Geneva" translations) is quoted in the preface to the Revised New Testament of 1881.]

It is worth noting that the Great Bible, in spite of its size, was not confined to use as a lectern Bible in churches. There is good evidence that it was also bought for private study. A manuscript in the British Museum (Harl.MS.590, f.77) contains the narrative of one W. Maldon of Newington, who states that he was about fifteen years of age when the order for the placing of the Bible in churches was issued:
"and immediately after divers poor men in the town of Chelmsford in the county of Essex ... bought the New Testament of Jesus Christ, and on Sundays did sit reading it in the lower end of the Church, and many would flock about them to hear their reading." He describes how his father took him away from listening to these readings:

"then thought I, I will learn to read English, and then will I have the New Testament and read thereon myself; and then had I learned of an English primer as far as pains sapientia, then on Sundays I plied my English primer. The Maytide following I and my father's prentice, Thomas Jeffery, laid our money together and bought the New Testament in English, and hid it in our bedstraw";

for which, on discovery by his father, he was soundly thrashed. The price of the folio Great Bible, which the printers had wished to fix at 13s. 4d., was reduced at Cromwell's request to 10s. in sheets or 12s. bound. A New Testament might therefore have cost about as. 6d.?
which, of course, meant far more then than now.

It is from the time of the Great Bible that we may fairly date the origin of the love and knowledge of the Bible which has characterised, and which it may be hoped will always characterise, the English nation. The successive issues of Tyndale's translation had been largely wasted in providing fuel for the opponents of the Reformation; but every copy of the seven editions of the Great Bible found, not merely a single reader, but a congregation of readers. The Bible took hold of the people, superseding, as we have seen, the most popular romances; and through the rest of the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries the extent to which it had sunk into their hearts is seen in their speech, their writings, and even in the daily strife of politics. And one portion of the Great Bible has had a deeper and more enduring influence still. When the first Prayer Book of Edward VI was drawn up, directions were given in it for the use of the Psalms from the Great Bible; and from that day to this the Psalter of the Great Bible has held its place in our Book of Common Prayer. Just as, eleven hundred years before, Jerome's rendering of the Psalter from the Hebrew failed to supersede his slightly revised edition of the Old Latin Psalms, to which the ears of men were accustomed, so the more correct translation of the Authorised Version has never driven out the more familiar Prayer-Book version which we have received from the Great Bible. It may be, it certainly is, less accurate; but it is smoother in diction, more evenly balanced for purposes of chanting; above all, it has become so minutely familiar to us in every verse and phrase that the loss of old associations, which its abandonment would produce, would more than counterbalance the advantage of any gain in accuracy.
top

5. Taverner's Bible, 1539.

One other translation should be noticed in this place for completeness sake, although it had no effect on the subsequent history of the English Bible. This was the Bible of R. Taverner, an Oxford scholar, who undertook an independent revision of Matthew's Bible at the same time as Coverdale was preparing the first edition of the Great Bible under Cromwell's auspices. Taverner was a good Greek scholar, but not a Hebraist; consequently the best part of his work is the revision of the New Testament, in which he introduces not a few changes for the better. The Old Testament is more slightly revised, chiefly with reference to the Vulgate. Taverner's Bible appeared in 1539, and was once reprinted; but it was entirely superseded for general use by the authorised Great Bible, and exercised no influence upon later translations.
top

Geneva Bible: New Testament Title Page (Section).6. The Geneva Bible, 1557-1560.

The closing years of Henry's reign were marked by a reaction against the principles of the Reformation. Although he had thrown off the supremacy of the Pope, he was by no means favourably disposed towards the teachings and practices of the Protestant leaders, either at home or abroad; and after the fall of Cromwell his distrust of them took a more marked form. In 1543 all translations of the Bible bearing the name of Tyndale were ordered to be destroyed; all notes or comments in other Bibles were to be obliterated; and the common people were forbidden to read any part of the Bible either in public or in private. In 1546 Coverdale's New Testament was joined in the same condemnation with Tyndale's, and a great destruction of these earlier Testaments then took place. Thus, in spite of a resolution of Convocation, instructing certain of the bishops and others to take in hand a revision of the errors of the Great Bible, not only was the work of making fresh translations suspended for several years, but the continued existence of those which had been previously made seemed to be in danger.

The accession of Edward VI in 1547 removed this danger, and during his reign all the previous translations were frequently reprinted. It is said that some forty editions of the existing translations?
Tyndale's, Coverdale's, Matthew's, the Great Bible, and even Taverner's?
were issued in the course of this short reign;
but no new translation or revision made its appearance. It is true that Sir John Cheke, whose memory is preserved by Milton as having "taught Cambridge and King Edward Greek," prepared a translation of St. Matthew and part of St. Mark, in which he avoided, as far as possible, the use of all words not English in origin, substituting (for example) "gainrising" for "resurrection" and "biword" for "parable"; but this version was not printed, and remains as a mere linguistic curiosity. Under Mary it was not likely that the work of translation would make any progress. Two of the men most intimately associated with the previous versions, Cranmer and Rogers, were burnt at the stake, and Coverdale (who under Edward VI had become Bishop of Exeter) escaped with difficulty. The public use of the English Bible was forbidden, and copies were removed from the churches; but beyond this no special destruction of the Bible was attempted.

Meanwhile the fugitives from the persecution of England were gathering beyond sea, and the more advanced and earnest among them were soon attracted by the influence of Calvin to a congenial home at Geneva. Here the interrupted task of perfecting the English Bible was resumed. The place was very favourable for the purpose. Geneva was the home, not only of Calvin, but of Beza, the most prominent Biblical scholar then living. Thought was free, and no considerations of state policy or expediency need affect the translators. Since the last revision of the English translation much had been done, both by Beza and by others, to improve and elucidate the Bible text. A company of Frenchmen was already at work in Geneva on the production of a revised translation of the French Bible, which eventually became the standard version for the Protestants of that country. Amid such surroundings a body of English scholars took in hand the task of revising the Great Bible. The first fruits of this activity was the New Testament of W. Whittingham, brother-in-law of Calvin's wife and a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, which was printed in 1557 in a convenient small octavo form; but this was soon superseded by a more comprehensive and complete revision of the whole Bible by Whittingham himself and a group of other scholars. Taking for their basis the Great Bible in the Old Testament, and Tyndale's last revision in the New, they revised the whole with much care and scholarship. In the Old Testament the changes introduced are chiefly in the Prophetical Books and the Hagiographa (which had not been translated by Tyndale, but had mainly been taken from the Latin), and consist for the most part of closer approximations to the original Hebrew. In the New Testament they took Beza's Latin translation and commentary as their guide, and by far the greater number of the changes in this part of the Bible are traceable to his influence. The whole Bible was accompanied by explanatory comments in the margin, of a somewhat Calvinistic character, but without any excessive violence or partisanship. The division of chapters into verses, which had been introduced by Whittingham from Stephanus' Grseco-Latin New Testament of 1551, was here for the first time adopted for the whole English Bible. In all previous translations the division had been into paragraphs, as in our present Revised Version. For the Old Testament, the verse division was that made by Rabbi Nathan in 1448, which was first printed in a Venice edition of 1524, and was adopted by Pagninus in a Latin Bible in 1528, with a different division in the New Testament. Stephanus' Latin Bible of 1555 is the first to show the present division in both Testaments, and it was this that was followed in the Geneva Bible.

Next to Tyndale, the authors of the Geneva Bible have exercised the most marked influence of all the early translators on the Authorised Version. Their own scholarship, both in Hebrew and in Greek, seems to have been sound and sober; and Beza, their principal guide in the New Testament, was unsurpassed in his own day as an interpreter of the sacred text. Printed in legible Roman type and in a convenient quarto or smaller form, with a few illustrative woodcuts, and accompanied by an intelligible and sensible commentary, the Geneva Bible (either as originally published in 1560, or with the New Testament further revised by Tomson, in fuller harmony with Beza's views, in 1576) became the Bible of the household, as the Great Bible was the Bible of the church. It was never authorised for use in churches, and Archbishop Parker, who was interested in its rival, described below, seems to have obstructed the printing of it in England; but there was nothing to prevent its importation from Geneva, and up to 1617 there was hardly a year which did not see one or more reprints of it. The bishops in general seem to have welcomed it, and it was powerfully supported by Walsingham; and until the final victory of King James's Version it was by far the most popular Bible in England for private reading. Many of its improvements, in phrase or in interpretation, were adopted in the Authorised Version.
[It is the Geneva Bible to which the popular title of the "Breeches Bible" is given, from its translation of Gen. iii.7. It has been observed that the "Soldier's Pocket Bible," printed for the Parliamentary armies in 1643, consists of a number of passages taken from the Geneva Bible.]
top

7. The Bishops' Bible, 1568.

With the accession of Elizabeth a new day dawned for the Bible in England. The public reading of it was naturally restored, and the clergy were required once more to have a copy of the Great Bible placed in their churches, which all might read with due order and reverence. But the publication of the Geneva Bible made it impossible for the Great Bible to maintain its position as the authorised form of the English Scriptures. The superior correctness of the Geneva version threw discredit on the official Bible; and yet, being itself the Bible of one particular party in the Church, and reflecting in its commentary the views of that party, it could not properly be adopted as the universal Bible for public service. The necessity of a revision of the Great Bible was therefore obvious, and it happened that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Matthew Parker, was himself a textual scholar, a collector of manuscripts, an editor of learned works, and consequently fitted to take up the task which lay ready to his hand. Accordingly, about the year 1563, he set on foot a scheme for the revision of the Bible by a number of scholars working separately. Portions of the Bible were assigned to each of the selected divines for revision, the Archbishop reserving for himself the task of editing the whole and passing it through the press. A considerable number of the selected revisers were bishops,
[Alley, Bishop of Exeter; Davies, Bishop of St. David's; Sandys, Bishop of Worcester; Barlow, Bishop of Chichester; Home, Bishop of Winchester; Bentham, Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry; Grindal, Bishop of London; Parkhurst, Bishop of Norwich; Scambler, Bishop of Peterborough; Cox, Bishop of Ely; Guest, Bishop of Rochester (who, however, did not perform the part allotted to him); and probably Bullingham, Bishop of Lincoln, and Jones, Bishop of Llandaff. The other revisers were Pierson, Canon of Canterbury; Perne, Dean of Ely; Goodman, Dean of Westminster; and probably Thomas Bickley, Chaplain to Parker.]
and hence the result of their labours obtained the name of the Bishops' Bible.

The Bishops' Bible was published in 1568, and it at once superseded the Great Bible for official use in churches. No edition of the earlier text was printed after 1569, and the mandate of Convocation for the provision of the new version in all churches and bishops' palaces, though not as imperative as the injunctions in the case of the Great Bible, must have eventually secured its general use in public services. Nevertheless, on the whole, the revision cannot be considered a success, and the Geneva Bible continued to be preferred as the Bible of the household and the individual. In the forty-three years which elapsed before the appearance of the Authorised Version, nearly 120 editions of the Geneva Bible issued from the press, as against twenty of the Bishops' Bible, and while the former are mostly of small compass, the latter are mainly the large volumes which would be used in churches. The method of revision did not conduce to uniformity of results. There was, apparently, no habitual consultation between the several revisers. Each carried out his own assigned portion of the task, subject only to the general supervision of the Archbishop. The natural result is a considerable amount of unevenness. The historical books of the Old Testament were comparatively little altered; in the remaining books changes were much more frequent, but they are not always happy or even correct. The New Testament portion was better done, Greek being apparently better known by the revisers than Hebrew. Like almost all its predecessors, the Bishops' Bible was provided with a marginal commentary, on a rather smaller scale than that in the Geneva Bible, and mainly merely explanatory. A large quarto edition was published in 1569, and a second folio in 1572, in which the New Testament was once more revised, while the Old Testament was left untouched; but the total demand for the Bishops' Bible, being probably confined to the copies required for public purposes, can never have been very great.
top

8. The Rheims and Douai Bible, 1582-1609.

Meanwhile the zeal of the reformed churches for the possession of the Bible in their own languages drove the Romanists into competition with them in the production of translations. For each of the principal provinces of the Latin Church a translation was provided conformable to the views of that Church on the text and interpretation of Scripture. It was not that the heads of the Roman Church believed such translations to be in themselves desirable; but since there was evidently an irrepressible popular demand for them, it was clearly advisable, from the Roman point of view, that the translated Bible should be accompanied by a commentary in accordance with Roman teaching, rather than by that of the Genevan Calvinists or the English bishops. The preparation of an English version naturally fell to the scholars of the English seminary which had lately been established in France. The original home of this seminary was at Douai, but in 1578 it was transferred for a time to Rheims; and it was during the sojourn at Rheims that the first part of the English Bible was produced. This was the New Testament, which was published in 1582. The Old Testament, for lack of funds, did not appear until 1609, when the seminary had returned to Douai; and consequently the completed Bible goes by the name of the Rheims and Douai version.

The most important point to observe about this Roman Catholic Bible is that the translation is made, not from the original Hebrew and Greek, but from the Latin Vulgate. This was done deliberately, on the ground that the Vulgate was the Bible of Jerome and Augustine, that it had ever since been used in the Church, and that its text was preferable to the Greek wherever the two differed, because the Greek text had been corrupted by heretics. Furthermore, the translators (of whom the chief was Gregory Martin, formerly Fellow of St. John's College, Oxford) held it their duty to adhere as closely as possible to the Latin words, even when the Latin was unintelligible. Bishop Westcott quotes an extraordinary instance in Ps.Ivii.10:

Before your thorns did understand the old briar; as living so in wrath he swalloweth them.

The general result is that the translation is almost always stiff and awkward, and not unfrequently meaningless. As a contribution to the interpretation of Scripture it is of slight importance; but, on the other hand, its systematic use of words and technical phrases taken directly from the Latin has had a considerable influence on our Authorised Version. Many of the words derived from the Latin which occur in our Bible were incorporated into it from the Rheims New Testament.

The Romanist Bible had no general success, and its circulation was not large. The New Testament was reprinted four times (1600, 1621, 1633, 1749) between 1582 and 1750; the Old Testament only once (1635). Curiously enough, the greater part of its circulation was in the pages of a Protestant controversialist, Fulke, who printed the Rheims and the Bishops' New Testaments side by side, and also appended to the Rheims commentary a refutation by himself. Fulke's work had a considerable popularity, and it is possibly to the wider knowledge of the Rheims version thus produced that we owe the use made of it by the scholars who prepared the Authorised Version: to which version, after our long and varied wanderings, we are now at last come.
top

9. The Authorised Version.

Its Excellence & Influence | The Authorised Version Accepted as Final | Need of a Revision in our own Time

The attempt of Archbishop Parker and the Elizabethan bishops to provide a universally satisfactory Bible had failed. The Bishops' Bible had replaced the Great Bible for use in churches, and that was all. It had not superseded the Geneva Bible in private use; and faults and inequalities in it were visible to all scholars. For the remaining years of Elizabeth's reign it held its own; but in the settlement of religion which followed the accession of James I, the provision of a new Bible held a prominent place. At the Hampton Court Conference in 1604, to which bishops and Puritan clergy were alike invited by James in order to confer on the subject of religious toleration, Dr. Reynolds, President of Corpus Christ! College, Oxford, raised the subject of the imperfection of the current Bibles. Bancroft, Bishop of London, supported him; and although the Conference itself arrived at no conclusion on this or any other subject, the King had become interested in the matter, and a scheme was formulated shortly afterwards for carrying the revision into effect. It appears to have been James himself who suggested the leading features of the scheme?
namely, that the revision should be executed mainly by the Universities; that it should be approved by the bishops and most learned of the Church, by the Privy Council, and by the King himself, so that all the Church should be concerned in it; and that it should have no marginal commentary, which might render it the Bible of a party only. To James were also submitted the names of the revisers; and it is no more than justice to a king whose political misconceptions and mismanagements have left him with a very indifferent character among English students of history, to allow that the good sense on which he prided himself seems to have been conspicuously manifested in respect of the preparation of the Authorised Version, which, by reason of its after effects, may fairly be considered the most important event of his reign.

It was in 1604 that the scheme of the revision was drawn up, and some of the revisers may have begun work upon it privately at this time; but it was not until 1607 that the task was formally taken in hand. The body of revisers was a strong one. It included the professors of Hebrew and Greek at both Universities, with practically all the leading scholars and divines of the day. There is a slight uncertainty about some of the names, and some changes in the list may have been caused by death or retirement, but the total number of revisers was from forty-eight to fifty. These were divided into six groups, of which two sat at Westminster, two at Oxford, and two at Cambridge. In the first instance each group worked separately, having a special part of the Bible assigned to it. The two Westminster groups revised Genesis?2 Kings, and Romans?Jude; the Oxford groups Isaiah?Malachi, and the Gospels, Acts, and Apocalypse; while those at Cambridge undertook 1 Chronicles?Ecclesiastes and the Apocrypha. Elaborate instructions were drawn up for their guidance, probably by Bancroft. The basis of the revision was to be the Bishops' Bible, though the earlier translations were to be consulted; the old ecclesiastical terms (about which Tyndale and More had so vehemently disagreed) were to be retained; no marginal notes were to be affixed, except necessary explanations of Hebrew and Greek words; when any company had finished the revision of a book, it was to be sent to all the rest for their criticism and suggestions, ultimate differences of opinion to be settled at a general meeting of the chief members of each company; learned men outside the board of revisers were to be invited to give their opinions, especially in cases of particular difficulty.

With these regulations to secure careful and repeated revision, the work was earnestly taken in hand. It occupied two years and nine months of strenuous toil, the last nine months being taken up by a final revision by a committee consisting of two members from each centre. (Nothing, it may be observed, is heard of revision by the bishops, the Privy Council, or the King.) It was seen through the press by Dr. Miles Smith and Bishop Bilson, the former of whom is believed to have been the author of the valuable preface of the Translators to the Reader; [This preface is not printed in the Bibles in ordinary circulation, but may be found in the Variorum Bible.] and in the year 1611 the result of the revisers' labours issued from the press. [The price of these large folio copies appears to have been 25s. in sheets and 30s. bound. A Cambridge edition in 1629, in small folio, was priced at 10s., and the King's Printers tried to drive the University Press off the market by undercutting their price, but without success.]
It was at once attacked by Dr. Hugh Broughton, a Biblical scholar of great eminence and erudition, who had been omitted from the list of revisers on account of his violent and impracticable disposition. Broughton had, so far back as 1593, tried hard to secure Burghley's support for a translation to be produced by himself, which, as he declared, sundry bishops, doctors, "and other inferior of all sort" were pressing him to undertake; but Burghley does not seem to have been responsive, and Archbishop Whitgift actively opposed it, so much so that Broughton threatened to bestow his favours upon the Scots, who, he asserts, were ready to pay him far more liberally than the English. But even this hope had come to nothing. His disappointment vented itself in a very hostile criticism of the new version; but this had very little effect, and the general reception of the revised Bible seems to have been eminently favourable. Though there is no record whatever of any decree ordaining its use, by either King, Parliament, or Convocation, the words "Appointed to be read in churches" appear on its title-page; and there can be no doubt that it at once superseded the Bishops' Bible (which, except for some half-dozen reprints of the New Testament, was not reprinted after 1606) as the official version of the Scriptures for public service. Against the Geneva Bible it had a sharper struggle, and for nearly half a century the two versions existed side by side in private use. From the first, however, the version of 1611 seems to have been received into popular favour, and the reprints of it far outnumber those of its rival. Three folio editions and at least fourteen in quarto or octavo appeared in the years 1611-14, as against six of the Geneva Bible. Between 1611 and 1644, the Historical Catalogue of the British and Foreign Bible Society enumerates fifteen editions of the Geneva and 182 of the Authorised. After 1616, however, English-printed editions of the Geneva cease almost entirely, and this may be due to pressure from above. Nevertheless, it would be untrue to say that the version of 1611 owed its success to official backing from the authorities of Church or State, for its victory became complete just at the time when Church and State were overthrown, and when the Puritan party was dominant. It was its superior merits, and its total freedom from party or sectarian spirit, that secured the triumph of the Authorised Version, which from the middle of the seventeenth century took its place as the undisputed Bible of the English nation. top

Its Excellence and Influence.

The causes of its superiority are not hard to understand. In the first place, Greek and Hebrew scholarship had greatly increased in England during the forty years which had passed since the last revision. It is true that the Greek text of the New Testament had not been substantially improved in the interval, and was still very imperfect; but the chief concern of the revisers was not with the readings, but with the interpretation of the Scriptures, and in this department of scholarship great progress had been made. Secondly, the revision was the work of no single man and of no single school. It was the deliberate work of a large body of trained scholars and divines of all classes and opinions, who had before them, for their guidance, the labours of nearly a century of revision. The translation of the Bible had passed out of the sphere of controversy. It was a national undertaking, in which no one had any interest at heart save that of producing the best possible version of the Scriptures. Thirdly, the past forty years had been years of extraordinary growth in English literature. Prose writers and poets?
Spenser, Sidney, Hooker, Marlowe, Shakespeare, to name only the greatest ?
had combined to spread abroad a sense of literary style and to raise the standard of literary taste. Under the influence, conscious or unconscious, of masters such as these, the revisers wrought out the fine material left to them by Tyndale and his successors into the splendid monument of Elizabethan prose which the Authorised Version is universally admitted to be.

Into the details of the revision it is hardly necessary to go far. The earlier versions of which the revisers made most use were those of Rheims and Geneva. Tyndale no doubt fixed the general tone of the version more than any other translator, through the transmission of his influence down to the Bishops' Bible, which formed the basis of the revision; but many improvements in interpretation were taken from the Geneva Bible, and not a few phrases and single words from that of Rheims. Indeed, no source of information seems to have been left untried; and the result was a version at once more faithful to the original than any translation that had preceded it, and finer as a work of literary art than any translation either before or since. In the Old Testament the Hebrew tone and manner have been admirably reproduced, and have passed with the Authorised Version into much of our literature. Even where the translation is wrong or the Hebrew text corrupt, as in many passages of the Prophets or the last chapter of Ecclesiastes, the splendid stateliness of the English version makes us blind to the deficiency in the sense. And in the New Testament, in particular, it is the simple truth that the English version is a far greater literary work than the original Greek. The Greek of the New Testament is a language which had passed its prime and had lost its natural grace and infinite adaptability. The English of the Authorised Version is the finest specimen of our prose literature at a time when English prose wore its stateliest and most majestic form.

The influence of the Authorised Version, alike on our religion and our literature, can never be exaggerated. Not only in the great works of our theologians, the resonant prose of the seven?teenth-century Fathers of the English Church, but in the writings of nearly every author, whether of prose or verse, the stamp of its language is to be seen. Milton is full of it; naturally, perhaps, from the nature of his subjects, but still his practice shows his sense of the artistic value of its style. So deeply has its language entered into our common tongue, that one probably could not take up a newspaper or read a single book in which some phrase was not borrowed, consciously or unconsciously, from King James's version. No master of style has been blind to its charms; and those who have recommended its study most strongly have often been those who, like Carlyle and Matthew Arnold, were not prepared to accept its teaching to the full.

But great as has been the literary value of the Authorised Version, its religious significance has been greater still. For nearly three centuries it has been the Bible, not merely of public use, not merely of one sect or party, not even of a single country, but of the whole nation and of every English-speaking country on the face of the globe. It has been the literature of millions who have read little else, it has been the guide of conduct to men and women of every class in life and of every rank in learning and education. No small part of the attachment of the English people to their national church is due to the common love borne by every party and well-nigh every individual for the English Bible. It was a national work in its creation, and it has been a national treasure since its completion. It was the work, not of one man, nor of one age, but of many labourers, of diverse and even opposing views, over a period of ninety years. It was watered with the blood of martyrs, and its slow growth gave time for the casting off of imperfections and for the full accomplishment of its destiny as the Bible of the English nation.
top

The Authorised Version Accepted as Final.

With the publication of the Authorised Version the history of the English Bible closes for many a long year. Partly, no doubt, this was due to the troubled times which came upon England in that generation and the next. When the constitutions of Church and State alike were being cast into the melting-pot, when men were beating their ploughshares into swords, and their pruning-hooks into spears, there was little time for nice discussions as to the exact text of the Scriptures, and little peace for the labours of scholarship. But the main reason for this pause in the work was that, for the moment, finality had been reached. The version of 1611 was an adequate translation of the Greek and Hebrew texts as they were then known to scholars. The scholarship of the day was satisfied with it as it had been satisfied with no version before it; and the common people found its language appeal to them with a greater charm and dignity than that of the Genevan version, to which they had been accustomed. As time went on the Authorised Version acquired the prescriptive right of age; its rhythms became familiar to the ears of all classes; its language entered into our literature; and Englishmen became prouder of their Bible than of any of the creative works of their own literature.
[A few bibliographical details may be added. The first edition was generally well printed, but errors began to creep in at once; and the history has been inextricably confused by the printers' habit of binding up together sheets from different printings. In 1629 a group of Cambridge scholars superintended a carefully printed edition, and this salutary revision was carried further in 1638. Meanwhile an edition in 1631 earned the title of the "Wicked Bible" by omitting the word "not" in the Seventh Commandment. In 1701 Bishop Lloyd superintended an edition at Oxford, in which Archbishop Usher's dates for Scripture chronology were added in the margin. In 1717 a fine but inaccurate edition printed by Baskett at Oxford acquired notoriety as the "Vinegar Bible," from the misprint Vinegar for Vineyard in the headline to Luke xx. Editions carefully revised for the removal of printers' errors were produced in 1762 at Cambridge under the editorship of Dr. T. Paris, and in 1769 at Oxford under the editorship of Dr. B. Blayney. In 1833 the Oxford University Press produced a line-for-line reprint of the editio princeps, and at the tercentenary in 1911 a facsimile in a reduced size, with a bibliographical introduction by A. W. Pollard, subsequently expanded into his Records of the English Bible (1911), which remains the most authoritative treatment of the subject.]
top

Need of a Revision in our own Time.

What, then, were the causes which led to the revision of this beloved version after it had held its ground for nearly three hundred years? They may be summed up in a single sentence: The increase of our knowledge concerning the original Hebrew and Greek texts, especially the latter. The reader who will glance back at our history of the Greek texts in Chapters VI? VIII will see how much of our best knowledge about the text of the New Testament has been acquired since the date of the Authorised Version. Of all the manuscripts described in Chapter VII scarcely one was known to the scholars of 1611; of all the versions described in Chapter VIII not one was known except the Vulgate, and that mainly in late and corrupt manuscripts. The editions of the Greek text chiefly used by the translators of 1611 were those of Erasmus, Stephanus, and Beza, and these had been formed from a comparison of only a few manuscripts, and those mostly of the latest period [Stephanus consulted two good uncials, D and L, but only to a slight extent.]. The translators used the best materials that they had to their hands, and with good results, since their texts were substantially true, though not in detail; but since their time the materials have increased to such an extent as to revolutionise the situation entirely.

The Authorised Version had, indeed, hardly seen the light when a beginning was made in a movement which was ultimately to undermine it. Only sixteen years after its publication the Codex Alexandrinus (see p.135) reached England; and the inclusion of the more important of its variant readings in Walton's Polyglot of 1657 showed scholars that it was not safe to depend on manuscripts of the fifteenth century when manuscripts of the fifth century were available. Thenceforth there began the search for manuscripts, the results of which provided the materials for our Chapters VII and VIII, and the labours of scholars which were summarised in the appendix to Chapter VII. The climax was reached in the work of Tischendorf and Tregelles in the middle of the nineteenth century, and especially in the publication by the former of the two great fourth-century manuscripts, the Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Vaticanus. It was then obvious that the time had come for the preparation of a new Greek text, established on critical principles on a mass of evidence far older and better than that which King James's translators had before them. The successive editions of Tischendorf and Tregelles showed what such a revised text would be, and the climax was reached in the New Testament of Westcott and Hort, published in 1881.

In the matter of a revised English translation a move had been made even before the discovery of the Sinaiticus. About the year 1855 the subject began to be mooted in magazine articles and in motions in Convocation. The way was paved by the enterprise of a small group of scholars, Dr. Ellicott, afterwards Bishop of Gloucester, Dr. Moberly, head master of Winchester and afterwards Bishop of Salisbury; Dr. Barren, Principal of St. Edmund's Hall, Oxford; the Rev. H. Alford, afterwards Dean of Canterbury; the Rev. W. G. Humphry and the Rev. E. Hawkins, who in 1857 published a revision of the Authorised Version for the Gospel of St. John, following it up with six of the Epistles in 1861 and 1863. This gave the general public an idea of what revision would mean, and prepared men's minds for the operations which eventually led to the production of the Revised Version.
top

10. Revised Version

Characteristics of the RV - | A. Changes in Text | B. Changes in Interpretation | C. Changes in Language | Reception of the RV

The history of the revision is told at sufficient length in the preface to the New Testament. The initiative was taken by the Convocation of the Province of Canterbury. In February of the year 1870 a definite proposal was made that a revision of the Authorised Version should be taken into consideration. In May the broad principles of the revision were laid down in a series of resolutions, and a committee of sixteen members was appointed to execute the work, with power to add to its numbers. The committee divided itself into two companies, one for each Testament, and invitations were issued to all the leading Biblical scholars of the United Kingdom to take part in the work. The invitations were not confined to members of the Church of England. The English Bible is the Bible of Nonconformists as well as of the Established Church, and representatives of the Non?conformist bodies took their seats among the revisers. Thus were formed the two companies to whom the Revised Version is due. Each company consisted originally of twenty-seven members, but deaths and resignations and new appointments caused the exact numbers to vary from time to time; and it cannot be questioned that most of the leading Biblical scholars of the day were included among them. Further, when the work had barely begun, an invitation was sent to the churches of America asking their co-operation; and in accordance with this invitation two companies were formed in America, to whom all the results of the English companies were communicated. The suggestions of the American revisers were carefully and repeatedly considered, and those of their alterations on which they desired to insist, when they were not adopted by their English colleagues, were recorded in an appendix to the published version.
[An edition (unauthorised) incorporating the readings of the American revisers in the New Testament was issued in 1881, and an authorised edition in 1898. A further revision was made in 1901. But it does not appear that any of these editions had much success.]
The Revised Version is, consequently, the work not of the English Church alone, nor of the British Isles alone, but of all the English-speaking Churches throughout the world; only the Roman Catholics taking no part in it.

The methods of the revision left little to be desired in the way of care and deliberation. The instructions to the Revisers (which are given in full in their preface) required them to introduce as few alterations as possible consistently with faithfulness; to use in such alterations the language of the Authorised or earlier versions, where possible; to go over their work twice, in the first revision deciding on alterations by simple majorities, but finally making or retaining no change except two-thirds of those present approved of it. Thus the Revised Version represents the deliberate opinions of a large majority of the best scholars of all English-speaking Churches in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

It was on the 22nd of June, 1870, that the members of the New Testament Company, having first received the Holy Communion in Westminster Abbey, held their first meeting in the Jerusalem Chamber; the Old Testament company entered on their work eight days later. The New Testament Company met on 407 days in the course of eleven years, the Old Testament Company on 792 days in fifteen years. It was on the 11th of November, 1880, that the New Testament Revisers set their signatures to the preface of their work, and the Revised New Testament was issued to a keenly expectant world on the 17th of May, 1881. The Old Testament followed almost exactly four years later, the preface being signed on July 10th, 1884, and the volume published on May 19th, 1885. The revision of the Apocrypha was not part of the undertaking of Convocation, but was commissioned by the two University Presses. The work was shared by the two companies, the New Testament Company, which was the first to be set free from its main task, distributing Ecclesiasticus, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, and 1 and 2 Maccabees among three groups of its members, while the Old Testament Company appointed a small committee to deal with the remaining books. The work dragged on over many years, involving some inequalities in treatment, and the book was finally published in November, 1895. It may be observed that the Revisers incorporated the missing fragment of 2 Esdras (vii.36-105) which is not in the Authorised Version, but which was discovered in 1875 by R. L. Bensly in a manuscript at Amiens. Curiously enough, after Professor Bensly had made his discovery public, it turned out that nearly fifty years earlier Professor Palmer had actually transcribed the fragment from another MS. at Madrid, but had never announced or published it.

What, then, of the result of this prolonged and conscientious labour? Is the Revised Version a worthy successor to the Authorised Bible, which has entered so deeply into the life of Englishmen? Has it added fresh perfection to that glorious work, or has it laid hands rashly upon sacred things? What, in any case, are the characteristics of the revision of 1881-5 as compared with the version on which it is based?
top

Characteristics of the Revised Version.

A. Changes in Text.

The first class of changes introduced in the Revised Version consists of those which are due to a difference in the text translated; and these are most conspicuous and most important in the New Testament. The version of 1611 was made from a Greek text formed by a comparison of very few manuscripts, and those, for the most part, late (see pp. 103, 235). The version of 1881, on the other hand, was made from a Greek text based upon an exhaustive examination, extending over some two centuries, of all the best manuscripts in existence. In Dr. Hort and Dr. Scrivener the New Testament Company possessed the two most learned textual critics then alive; and when it is remembered that no change was finally accepted unless it had the support of two-thirds of those present, it will be seen that the Greek text underlying the Revised Version has very strong claims on our acceptance. No one edition of the Greek text was followed by the Revisers, each reading being considered on its own merits; but it is certain that the edition and the textual theories of Drs. Westcott and Hort, which were communicated to the Revisers in advance of the publication of their volumes, had a great influence on the text ultimately adopted, while very many of their readings which were not admitted into the text of the Revised Version yet find a place in the margin. The Greek text of the New Testament of 1881 has been estimated to differ from that of 1611 in no less than 5,788 readings, of which about a quarter are held notably to modify the subject-matter; though even of these only a small proportion can be considered as of first-rate importance. The chief of these have been referred to on p. 17, but the reader who wishes for a fuller list may compare the Authorised and Revised readings in such passages as: Matt. i.25; v.44; vi.13; x.3; xi.23; xvii.21; xviii.11; xix.17; xx.22; xi.14; xxiv.36; xxvii.35. Mark vii.19; ix.44, 46, 49; xv.28; xvi.9-20. Luke i.28; ii.14; ix.35, 54, 55; xi.2-4; xvii.36; xi.15, 17. John iv.42; v.3, 4; vi.69; vii.53; viii.11; viii.59. Acts iv.25; viii.37; ix.5; xv.18, 34; xviii.5, 17, 21; xx.15; xxiv.6-8; xxviii.16, 29. Rom. iii.9; iv.19; vii.6; viii.1; ix.28; x.15; xi.6; xiv.6; xvi.5, 24. 1 Cor.ii.1; vi.20; viii.7; xi.24, 29; xv.47. 2 Cor.i.20; .i. Gal.iii.1,17; iv.7; v.1. Eph.iii.9, 14; v.30. Phil.i.16, 17. Col.i.2, 14; ii.2, 18. 1 Thess.i.1. 1 Tim.iii.3, 16; vi.5, 19. 2 Tim.i.11. Heb.vii.21. 1 Peter iv.14. 1 John iv.3; v.7, 8, 13. Jude 23. Rev.i.8, 11; ii.3; v.10; xi.17; xiv.5; xvi.7; xxi.24; x.14. This list, which any reader of the Variorum Bible may extend indefinitely for himself (with the advantage of having the evidence for and against each change succinctly stated for him), contains some of the more striking passages in which the Revised Version is translated from a different Greek text from that used in the Authorised Version, and few scholars will be found to deny that in nearly every case the text of the Revised Version is certainly superior.

In the Old Testament the case is different. This is not because the translators of the Old Testament in the Authorised Version were more careful to select a correct text than their colleagues of the New Testament, but simply because our knowledge of the Old Testament text has not increased since that date to anything like the extent that it has in respect of the New Testament. As we have seen in the earlier chapters, all extant manuscripts of the Hebrew Scriptures contain what is known as the Massoretic text, and they do not greatly differ among themselves. Such differences of reading as exist are traced by a collation of the early versions?
e.g.,
the Septuagint or the Vulgate; but we know too little as yet of the character and history of these versions to follow them to any great extent in preference to the Hebrew manuscripts. The Revisers, therefore, had no choice but to translate, as a rule, from the Massoretic text; and consequently they were translating substantially the same text as that which the authors of King James's Version had before them. This is one explanation of the fact, which is obvious to every reader, that the Old Testament is much less altered in the Revised Version than the New;
[A well-known example of an altered reading occurs in Isa.ix.3 (the first lesson for Christmas Day),
"Thou hast multiplied the people and not increased the joy; they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest," etc.; the marginal reading being to him. In the Revised Version these readings change places, "his" (lit. to him) being in the text, and not in the margin. The note in the Variorum Bible explains that in the Hebrew both readings are pronounced alike.]
and the reader who wishes to learn the improvements which might be introduced by a freer use of the ancient versions must be referred to the notes in the Variorum Bible.
top

B. Changes in Interpretation.

The situation is reversed when we come to consider the differences, not of text but of interpretation, between the Authorised Version and the Revised. Here the advance is greater in the Old Testament than in the New, and again the reason is plain. The translators of the New Testament in the Authorised Version were generally able to interpret correctly the Greek text which they had before them, and their work may, except in a few passages, be taken as a faithful rendering of an imperfect text. On the other hand, Hebrew was less well known in 1611 than Greek, and the passages in which the Authorised Version fails to represent the original are far more numerous in the Old Testament than in the New. The reader who will take the trouble to compare the Authorised and Revised Versions of the prophetical and poetical books will find a very considerable number of places in which the latter has brought out the meaning of passages which in the former were obscure. To some extent the same is the case with the Epistles of St. Paul, where, if we miss much of the familiar language of the Authorised Version, we yet find that the connection between the sentences and the general course of the argument are brought out more clearly than before. But it is in the Old Testament, in Job, in Ecclesiastes, in Isaiah and the other Prophets, that the gain is most manifest, and no one who cares for the meaning of what he reads can afford to neglect the light thrown upon the obscure passages in these books by the Revised Version.
[The most striking single passage in the New Testament where the Revised Version has altered the interpretation of the Authorised Version is Acts xxvi.28, where for the familiar "almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian" we find "With but little persuasion thou wouldest fain make me a Christian" ?unquestionably a more correct translation of the Greek.]
top

C. Changes in Language.

Besides differences in text and differences in interpretation, we find in the Revised Version very many differences in language. By far the greater number of the changes introduced by the Revisers are of this class, and it is on them that the general acceptance, or otherwise, of the new translation very largely depends. Sometimes these changes embody a slight change of meaning, or remove a word which has acquired in course of time a meaning different from that which it originally had. Such are the substitution of "Sheol" or "Hades" for "hell," "condemnation" for "damnation," and "love" for "charity" (notably in 1 Cor.i.). Others are attempts at slightly greater accuracy in reproducing the precise tenses of the verbs used in the Greek, as when in John xvii.14 "the world hated them" is substituted for "the world hath hated them." Others, again, are due to the attempt made to represent the same Greek word, wherever it occurs, by the same English word, so far as this is possible. The translators of the Authorised Version were avowedly indifferent to this consideration; or, rather, they deliberately did the reverse. Where there were two or more good English equivalents for a Greek word, they did not wish to seem to cast a slight upon one of them by always using the other, and so they used both interchangeably.
[See the Translators' Preface (unfortunately omitted from our ordinary Bibles, but very rightly inserted in the Variorum Bible, p.xi): "Another thing we think good to admonish thee of, gentle Reader, that we have not tied ourselves to an uniformity of phrasing, or to an identity of words, as some peradventure would wish that we had done, because they observe, that some learned men somewhere have been as exact as they could that way. Truly, that we might not vary from the sense of that which we had translated before, if the word signified the same thing in both places, (for there be some words that be not of the same sense every where,) we were especially careful, and made a conscience, according to our duty. But that we should express the same notion in the same particular word; as, for example, if we translate the Hebrew or Greek word once by purpose, never to call it intent; if one where journeying, never travelling; if one where think, never suppose; if one where pain, never ache; if one where joy, never gladness, &c. thus to mince the matter, we thought to savour more of curiosity than wisdom, and that rather it would breed scorn in the atheist, than bring profit to the godly reader. For is the kingdom of God become words or syllables? Why should we be in bondage to them, if we may be free? use one precisely, when we may use another no less fit as commodiously? ... Now if this happen in better times, and upon so small occasions, we might justly feel hard censure, if generally we should make verbal and unnecessary changings. We might also be charged (by scoffers) with some unequal dealing towards a great number of good English words. For as it is written of a certain great Philosopher, that he should say, that those logs were happy that were made images to be worshipped; for their fellows, as good as they, lay for blocks behind the fire: so if we should say, as it were, unto certain words. Stand up higher, have a place in the Bible always; and to others of like quality. Get you hence, be banished for ever; we might be taxed peradventure with St. James's words, namely. To be partial in ourselves, and judges of evil thoughts. Add hereunto, that niceness in words was always counted the next step to trifling; and so was to be curious about names too: also that we cannot follow a better pattern for elocution than God Himself; therefore He using divers words in His holy writ, and in?differently for one thing in nature: we, if we will not be superstitious, may use the same liberty in our English versions out of Hebrew and Greek, for that copy or store that He hath given us.]

The Revisers of 1881-5 took a different view of their duty. Sometimes the point of the passage depends on the same or different words being used, and here it is misleading not to follow the Greek closely. So much weight is laid on the exact words of the Bible, so many false conclusions have been drawn from its phrases by those who are not able to examine the meaning of those phrases in the original Greek and Hebrew, that minute accuracy in reproducing the exact language of the original is highly desirable, if it can be had without violence to the idioms of the English tongue. One special class of passages to which this principle has been applied occurs in the first three Gospels. In these the same events are often recorded in identical words, proving that the three narratives have some common origin; but in the Authorised Version this identity is often obscured by the use of different renderings of the same words in the various Gospels. The Revisers have been careful to reproduce exactly the amount of similarity or of divergence which is to be found in the original Greek of such passages.
top

Reception of the Revised Version.

What, then, is the final value of the Revised Version, and what is to be in future its relation to the Authorised Version to which we have been so long accustomed? On the first appearance of the Revised New Testament it was received with much unfavour?able criticism. Dean Burgon of Chichester, occupying towards it much the same position as Dr. Hugh Broughton in relation to the Authorised Version, assailed it vehemently in the Quarterly Review with a series of articles, the unquestionable learning of which was largely neutralised by the extravagance and intemperance of their tone. The Dean, however, was not alone in his dislike of the very numerous changes introduced by the Revisers into the familiar language of the English Bible, and there was a general unwillingness to adopt the new translation as a substitute for the Authorised Version in common use. When, four years later, the revision of the Old Testament was put forth, the popular verdict was more favourable. The improvements in interpretation of obscure passages were obvious, while the changes of language were less numerous; moreover, the language of the Old Testament books being less familiar than that of the Gospels, the changes in it passed with less observation. Scholars, however, were not by any means universally satisfied with it, and the reviews in the principal magazines, such as the Quarterly and Edinburgh, were not favourable. It must be remembered, however, that most of the leading scholars of the country were members of the revision companies, and that the reviews, as a rule, were necessarily written by those who had not taken part in the work. The grounds of criticism, in the case of both Testaments, were two-fold: either the critics objected on scientific grounds to the readings adopted by the Revisers, or they protested against the numerous changes in the language, as making the Revised Version less suitable than its predecessor to be the Bible of the people. But with respect to the first class of criticisms, it may fairly be supposed that the opinion of the Revisers is entitled to greater weight than that of their critics. In a work involving thousands of details, concerning many hundreds of which the evidence is nearly equally balanced, it was not to be supposed that a result could be reached which would satisfy in every point either each member of the revision companies them?selves, or each critic outside; and consequently the less weight can be attached to the fact that reviewers, who themselves had taken no direct part in the work, found many passages on which their own opinion differed from that to which the majority of the Revisers had come.

More than fifty years have now passed since the publication of the Revised Version, and the dust of the original controversy has had time to die down. In less than that time the Authorised Version drove the Geneva Bible from the field; but there is no sign of a similar victory of the Revised over the Authorised. The general verdict is, we think, this. There is no doubt that the Revised represents, in the New Testament, a very superior Greek text. There is no doubt that in very many places, especially in the prophetical and poetical books of the Old Testament and in the Epistles in the New, it makes the meaning clearer and represents the original more accurately. On both these grounds the Revised Version is indispensable for anyone who really wishes to study the Bible. On the other hand, it is universally felt that very many of the verbal changes introduced by the Revisers, especially in the Gospels (where they are more noticeable because of the greater familiarity of these books), are unnecessary and disturbing. Their principle, that the same English word should always be used to represent the same Greek word, introduced in order to meet the then common habit of text-hunting and verbal quibbling, is in fact unsound. No two languages are so identical that the corresponding words are interchangeable. There are nuances of meaning and usage which defeat the word-for-word translator, and render his results unidiomatic or stiff or pedantic. The task of translation is a delicate one, and the Victorian scholars had not the same innate sense of style and verbal felicity as the Elizabethan and Jacobean. Further, the Revisers were misled by their own scholarship. They applied (in such matters as the rendering of the tenses of the verb) the principles of Attic Greek. The discoveries of Greek papyri that have been made since their time have taught us much about the Hellenistic Greek of the period of the Septuagint and the New Testament; and we realise that it had its own usages which were not so strict as those of the great classical authors. We can safely be more idiomatic in our translation, without departing from faithfulness.

A distinction must accordingly be drawn between the Old Testament and the New, and even between the Gospels and the other books. In the Gospels the sense of discomfort from the constant changes of the familiar words is too great, and the changes, where they do not rest on a change in the text translated, are unnecessary. In the Old Testament, however, and in many passages in the Epistles, the reader who uses the Revised Version will often not be aware that a change has been made, while he will find that he understands what he is reading better than he did before. It is true that the Authorised Version has struck its roots too deeply into our language and literature, and is itself too great a monument of literary art, to be dispossessed without a preponderating balance of loss. We can no more do without the Authorised Version than we can do without Shakespeare and Bacon. Nevertheless we have every reason to be grateful to the Revised Version, which puts at the English reader's disposal the results of generations of devoted labour, and supplies him with a text of the Scriptures of his faith, on the soundness of which he can rely. Both are now essential parts of our heritage; and the final verdict must be: the Revised for study, the Authorised for reading.

Of late years there has been a demand for translations of the Bible, and especially the New Testament, into the language of our own day. Some of these err on the side of excessive colloquialism. The Greek of the New Testament is not colloquial. It is literary Greek, though the amount of literary skill and conscious art varies greatly from the rough and almost illiterate Greek of the Apocalypse and the simplicity of St. Mark, to the greater mastery of style of St. Luke and the more individual mannerisms of St. John and St. Paul.
 The danger of these attempts is a loss of dignity, which detracts from the impressiveness of the books. On the other hand, a paraphrase into the language of our own day may often make a difficult passage more intelligible. As commentaries, therefore, and aids to study, these versions may serve a useful purpose. The best are probably those of R. F. Weymouth (1903), E. J. Goodspeed (1923), and especially J. Moffatt (1901, 1935). A handy modernised New Testament, keeping closer to the Revised Version and not aiming at colloquialism, is that of E. E. Cunnington (1926), which also has a useful appendix of selected "Western" readings. Still more recently a version on somewhat similar lines has been produced by the United Society for Christian Literature [The Book of Books, 1938).

If, in conclusion, the question be asked, What has been the general effect on our view of the Bible of the discoveries of the last fifty years?, the answer would seem to be this. The discoveries of Greek papyri in Egypt have materially reduced the gap between the earliest extant manuscripts of the New Testament and Septuagint and the date at which the original books were written. They have established, with a wealth of evidence which no other work of ancient literature can even approach, the substantial authenticity and integrity of the text of the Bible as we now possess it. They have also thrown much light on the conditions under which the books of the Bible circulated in the earliest Christian centuries. They have shown how different these were from the conditions applying to the works of pagan literature, and have made it easier to understand how the immense variety of readings, which we find in the extant manuscripts, came into existence. They have made us realise that there is no hard-and-fast rule for determining the original reading in every case; that the classification of authorities into separate families needs qualification, at least in the sense that the edges of such classifications must be smoothed off, and that though it is possible to decide that one group of authorities is on the whole superior, it is not possible to affirm that the truth is always to be found there and there exclusively. Our knowledge of the ancient versions, especially the Syriac and Coptic, and to a lesser degree the Armenian and Georgian, has been materially increased; and much valuable work has been done on the great mass of later manuscripts.

For all this we have every reason to be thankful. There is much work left for scholars to do; further discoveries of early manuscripts may yet be hoped for; but the general reader may await all such developments in security, confident that he has nothing to fear from the fullest and freest research; that he may, on the contrary, expect a constant accession of knowledge and of interest, and that in the end truth will prevail.
top