Having now completed these biographical sketches, we may close with a few pages relating to the literature of the subject. On this, indeed, a larger volume might well be penned.
The first edition of the authorized version was printed, as has been stated, in 1611, and in a black-letter folio. The first edition in quarto appeared the next year. The successive reprints, in different styles and sizes, became very numerous. In 1638, an edition revised by the command of Charles I., for the purpose of typographical correction, was prepared by a number of eminent scholars, among whom were Dr. Samuel Ward and Mr. Bois, two of the original Translators. The edition in folio and quarto, revised and corrected with very great care by Benjamin Blaney, D. D., under the direction of the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford, and the Delegates of the Clarendon Press, in 1769, has been the standard edition ever since; till one was published in 1806, by Eyre and Strahan, printers to his Majesty. This impression approaches as near as possible to what is called “an immaculate text,” as only one erratum, and that very slight, has been detected in it. Among so many reprints of the Bible, and in so many different offices, it would have been a mass of miracles had not many inaccuracies crept in through error and oversight on the part of printers and correctors of the press. As this is a point on which every reader of the Bible must feel some anxiety, it may be well to make the following statement. A very able Committee of the American Bible Society, spent some three years in a diligent and laborious comparison of recent copies of the best edition of the American Bible Society, and of the four leading British editions, namely, those of London, Oxford, Cambridge, and Edinburgh, and also of the original edition of 1611. The number of variations in the text and punctuation of these six copies was found to fall but little short of twenty-four thousand. A vast amount! Quite enough to frighten us, till we read the Committee’s assurance, that “of all this great number, there is not one which mars the integrity of the text, or affects any doctrine or precept of the Bible.” At this, however, is a point in which the minutest accuracy is to be sought, that Committee have prepared an edition wherein these variations are set right, to serve as a standard copy for the Society to print by in future.
Infinite is the debt of gratitude which the world owes to its Maker for the Bible. Scarcely less is its debt to his goodness, in raising up competent instruments for its translation into different tongues, unlocking its treasures to enrich the nations. This matter is finely touched by Dr. Field, a divine of the seventeenth century, in whose writings that great critic, S. T. Coleridge, was wont to take a deep and admiring delight. “That most excellent light of Christian wisdom, revealed in the sacred books of the Divine Oracles, is incomparable and peerless, and whereupon all others do depend; the bright beams of which heavenly light do show unto us the ready way to eternal happiness, amidst the sundry turnings and dangerous windings of this life. And lest either the strangeness of the languages wherein these Holy Books were written, or the deepness of the mysteries or the multiplicity of hidden senses contained in them, should any way hinder us from the clear view and perfect beholding of the heavenly brightness; God hath called and assembled into his Church out of all the nations of the world, and out of all people that dwell under the arch of heaven, men abounding in all secular learning and knowledge, and filled with the understanding of holy things, which might turn these Scriptures and Books of God into the tongues of every nation; and might unseal this Book so fast clasped and sealed, and manifest and open the mysteries therein contained, not only by lively voice, but by writings to be carried down to all posterities. From hence, as from the pleasant and fruitful fields watered with the silver dew of Hermo, the people of God are nourished with all saving food. Hence the thirst of languishing souls is restinguished, as from the most pure fountains of living water, and the everlasting waters of Paradise.”
It is of the highest importance, that the Bible in English should be placed in the hands of all who may be able to read it. This is due to the excellence of the translation itself; and much more to the value of its contents. To the inquirer after religious truth, the Scriptures stand in the same relation, as the works of nature stand in to the inquirer after scientific truth. The natural philosopher who should shut his eyes upon all the facts and phenomena of the material universe, could not fall into greater blunders and follies, than the theologian who closes the lids of his Bible. Without this blessed Book, Protestantism is nothing. Says Luther, a most enthusiastic student and translator of the Bible,--”This volume alone deserves to occupy the tongue, the heart, the eyes, the ears, the hearts of all.” (Solus hic liber omnium lingua, manu, oculis, auribus, cordibus, versaretur) And again, --”While the Word of God flourishes, all things flourish in the Church. (Florente verbo, omnia florent in Ecclesia.)
The refusal of Popery to allow the common people free access to the Scriptures in their vernacular tongues, condemns their divine Author for not having originally inspired his prophets and apostles to write them in dead languages, and unknown tongues. God was not afraid to give the Old Testament to the Hebrews in their mother tongue; nor to publish the New Testament in the Greek speech, which was then more widely spoken and understood than any other. Has it ever been supposed, that the Churches at Corinth and Colosse, for instance, suffered any detriment in receiving those inspired Epistles from the Apostle Paul in a language familiar to all their members? Why, then, may not the people of modern Italy safely read the same writings rendered into their own tongue wherein they were born?
For many centuries, while the Greek was a living and widely diffused language, the New Testament in its original form was as freely circulated and read as it could be in manuscript. And the early Latin versions were also industriously diffused among old and young in the Roman empire. We have a letter full of godly counsels, written by a bishop Theonas to Lucian, chief chamberlain to the Emperor Dioclesian before the latter had become a bitter persecutor. Theonas says,--”Let not one day go by without reading at a set time some portion of Holy Writ, and meditating thereon. Neglect not the reading of the Bible. Nothing so nourishes the heart, and enriches the mind, as the reading of the Bible.” (This admirable letter is to be found in D’Achery’s Spicilegium, III. 298.) In a most beautiful sketch of the religious life of any pious husband and wife, Tertullian says,--”They read the Scriptures together, they pray together, they fast together, they mutually instruct, exhort, and sustain each other.” (In Psal. 90, Serm. II.) The sermons and other treatises of Augustine abound in exhortations to his hearers of every degree, to make themselves familiar with the contents of the Sacred Writings. In one place, he urges them to this, that they may be able to give a reason of the hope that is in them to any of the inquiring or the skeptical from among the heathen who may apply to them for instruction, rather than to the ecclesiastics. (Ad Uxorem, Ep. II. 8.) Like Chrysostom, Augustine often closed his sermon with some important question to be discussed in his next preaching, in order to excite his hearers to reflect upon the subject, to search the Scriptures in regard to it, and to talk it over among themselves. As many as were unable to read, the rulers of the church took care that there should be a daily reading of the Scriptures in course for their benefit. Alluding to this, Augustine says,--”Since many of you cannot read, either because you have no time, or know not how, such must not forget to gain the doctrine of salvation at least through diligent hearing.” (Serm. 105. para. 2) In another place he says,--”The weak and the strong both drink of the same stream, and quench their thirst. The water saith not, ‘I am proper for the weak!’ --thus repulsing the strong. Neither saith it,--’Let the strong draw near; but if the weak cometh, he shall be swept away by the force of the stream.’ It flows so sure and so gentle, as to quench the thirst of the strong without frightening the weak away.--To whom speaks the resounding Psalm? and who exclaims,--’It is too high for me!’ What the Psalm resounds, be it even of the deepest mysteries, it so resounds, that the very children are delighted to hear, and the unlearned draw near, and pour out the full heart in the song.” (In Psal. 103, Serm. III. para. 4.) Ambrose, the famous pastor of Milan, exhorted his congregation to the daily study of the Scriptures. “In such studies,” he says, “the soul is quickened by the word of God. This is the principle of life in our souls whereby they are fed and ruled. The more the word of God abounds in our souls, and is there conceived and understood, the more their life abounds; and, on the other hand, as the word of God is wanting there, so their life decays.” (In Psal. 118, Serm. VII., para. 7.) Jerome also constantly stirs up his readers to diligent study of the Scriptures. Thus he commends Laeta, a Roman lady, for making her daughters early conversant with them. “Instead of jewels and silks, let them the rather delight themselves in the Holy Scriptures, never having the gospels out of their hands,” and “absorbing the Acts and Epistles of the Apostles with all the eagerness of the soul.” (Epis. 107.) But perhaps none of the Fathers has spoken on this point so often, so fully, so earnestly, as the eloquent Chrysostom, who preached in the very language in which the New Testament was originally written. Costly as manuscripts then were, he insists that even the poorer class should possess copies of the Scriptures, as well as of the tools used in their worldly callings. He often, both in conversation and preaching, exhorted his hearers not to be content with what they heard read from the Scriptures at church, but to read them with their families at home. (For references on this point, consult Chrysostom’s Homilies III. and IV. de Statuis; Hom. XI. and XXIX. in Genes.; Ser. III. and IV. de Lazaro; Hom. I. and II. in Matt.; Hom. X. XI. XXX. XXXI. XXXII. and LVIII. in Joan.; Hom. XIX. in Acta.; Hom. I. ad Rom.; and IX. ad Coloss.)
So as long ago as the fourteenth century, when the popish bishops in the House of Lords brought in a motion to suppress the use of the Bible, as then translated into English by Wiclif, they were stiffly opposed by “old John of Gaunt, time-honored Lancaster.” This noble duke argued earnestly for the free circulation of the Scriptures. He was seconded by others who said, that “if the gospel by its translated into English, was the occasion of men’s running into error, they might know that there were more heretics to be found among the Latins, than among the people of any other language. For that the decretals reckoned no fewer than sixty-six Latin heretics; and so the gospel must not be read in Latin, which yet the opposers of its English translation allowed.” The debate was closed by throwing the bill out of the house. And well might it be discarded. How much less than blasphemy is it to hold that it is dangerous that a book should be generally circulated and read, which has God for its author, and his eternal truth as its subject-matter, and which he has commanded all men to obey as the condition of their everlasting salvation?
Robert Boyle, that devout son of science, on whom first the mantle of Lord Bacon fell, has said,--”I can scarce think any pains misspent that bring me in solid evidence of that great truth, that the Scripture is the word of God, which is indeed the GRAND FUNDAMENTAL. --And I use the Scriptures, not as an arsenal to be resorted to only for arms and weapons to defend this or that party, or to defeat its enemies; but as a matchless Temple, where I delight to be, to contemplate the beauty, the symmetry, and the magnificence of the structure, and to increase my awe, and to excite my devotion to the Deity there preached and adored.” Another scholar of the highest genius, S. T. Coleridge, who went as far in metaphysical studies as did Boyle in the pursuit of natural philosophy, has spoken in the like experimental manner of the Bible,--”I can truly affirm of myself, that my studies have been profitable and availing to me, only so far as I have endeavored to use all my other knowledge as a glass, enabling me to receive more light in a wider field of vision from the Word of God.” (Literary Remains, III. 139.)
As to the Bible in its English form, it is safe to assume the impossibility of gathering a more competent body of translators, than those who did the work so well under King James’s commission. Since then, a great many revisions of particular books in the Bible have been published in English, and some of them embodying the best labors of the most distinguished scholars. But who has dreamed of substituting so much as one of them all, in the place of such books as they now stand in the common version? The late Professor Stuart was a man of learning and piety, whose candor ran almost to excess. He prepared elaborate translations of the Epistles to the Romans and to the Hebrews; but while we gladly use them as helps toward the better understanding of those portions of the Bible, who would think of using them for devotional purposes, either to settle his faith, or to stir up its activities? An edition of the Bible, with those labors of that celebrated Professor substituted for those in the common editions, would be a strange affair indeed! It is quite certain that no portion of the work has been done over again since 1611, by any divine of England or America, in a way which, by general consent of the Christian community, could supplant the corresponding portion as it stands in our family and pulpit Bibles.
And what has not been done by the most able and best qualified divines, is not likely to be done by obscure pedagogues, broken-down parsons, and sectaries of a single idea, and that a wrong one,--who, from different quarters, are talking big and loud of their “amended,” “improved,” and “only correct” and reliable re- translations, and getting up “American and Foreign Bible Unions” to print their sophomorical performances. How do such shallow adventurers appear along side of those venerable men whose lives have been briefly sketched in the foregoing pages! the newly-risen versionists, with all their ambitious and pretentious vaunts are not worthy to “carry satchels” alter those masters of ancient learning. Imagine our greenish contemporaries shut up with an Andrews, a Reynolds, a Ward, and a Bois, comparing notes on the meaning of the original Scriptures! It would soon be found, that all the aid our poor moderns could render would be in snuffing the candles,--and these, it is to be feared, would too often be snuffed out! It were better for them to be framing a Hamlet that shall supersede the master-piece of the “bard of Avon;” or a “Paradise Lost” that shall throw the great epic of the seventeenth century into the shades of oblivion. Let tinkers stick to the baser metals; and heaven forefend that they should clout the golden vessels of the sanctuary with their clumsy patches. When one of these nibbling critics tries his puny teeth upon this glorious and indestructible version, it seems as unnatural as that scaring portent mentioned in “Macbeth;”
Was by a mousing owl hawked at, and pecked.”
But it is not well to be too much vexed at these petty annoyances, which will speedily pass away and be forgotten, as has been the fate of all previous pests of the kind.
Not that the utmost verbal perfection is claimed for the English Bible as it now stands. Some of its words have, in the lapse of time, gone out of common use; some have suffered a gradual change of meaning; and some which were in unexceptionable use two hundred years ago, are now considered as distasteful and indelicate. But the number of such words is very small, considering the great size and age of the volume; and the retaining of them causes but little inconvenience, compared with the disadvantages of wholesale projectors of amendment volunteered by incompetent and irresponsible schemers. If ever the time shall come for a new revision of the Translation, let it be done with the care and solemnity which marked the labors of King James’s commissioners; and above all, let it be done by men who shall know what they are about, and how it ought to be done. It will be a vast undertaking, affecting the dearest interests of ages of time, and millions upon millions of immortals.
Meanwhile, it may help our contentment with the Bible as we have it, to notice what opinions have been expressed as to its merits by the ablest judges of a performance of this nature. These testimonials might be swelled to the size of a volume, but a few will be sufficient for the present occasion. George Hakewills, D. D., Archdeacon of Surrey, thus speaks to the point. --”Of all the auncient Fathers but only two, (among the Laintes St. Hierome, and Origen among the Grecians,) are found to have excelled in the orientall languages; this last centenary having afforded more skilfull men that way than the other fifteene since Christ. (An Apoligie or Declaration of the Power and Providence of God. 1627.)” The famous John Selden, in his Table- talk, thus utters his opinion,--”The English translation of the Bible is the best translation in the world, and renders the sense of the original best.” Dr. Brian Walton, the learned editor of a Bible, in nine different languages, and six tall-folios, assigns the first rank among European translations to the common English version. Dr. Edward Pococke, that profound Orientalist, in the Preface to his Commentary on Micah, speaks of our translation as “being such, and so agreeable to the original, as that we might well choose among others to follow it, were it not our own, and established by authority among us.” Dr. Middleton, Bishop of Calcutta, and for ever famous for his work on the Greek Article, says, --”The style of our present version is incomparably superior to any thing which might be expected from the finical and perverted taste of our own age. It is simple, it is harmonious, it is energetic; and, which is of no small importance, use has made it familiar, and time has rendered it sacred. (Doctrine of the Greek Article, page 328.)”
One Bellamy having made a blind and rabid attack on our version, in crying up some opposition-wares of his own, he was thus chastised in the London Quarterly;-- ”He has no relish or perception of the exquisite feeling of the Original, no touch of that fine feeling, that pious awe, which led his venerable predecessors to infuse into their version as much of the Hebrew idiom as was consistent with the perfect purity of our own; a taste and feeling which have given perennial beauty and majesty to the English tongue. (London Quarterly Review, No. XXXVIII. p. 455.)” Dr. White, Professor of Arabic at Oxford, to other strong commendations adds; --”Upon the whole, the national churches of England will have abundant reason to be satisfied, when their versions of Scripture shall approach in point of accuracy, purity, and sublimity, to the acknowledge excellence of our English translation.” Dr. John Taylor, of Norwich, a very learned man, but unhappily an Arian, thus delivers his testimony;--”You may rest fully satisfied, that as our English translation is, in itself, by far the most excellent book in our language, so it is a pure and plentiful fountain of divine knowledge, giving a true, clear, and full account of the divine dispensations, and of the gospel of our salvation; insomuch that whosoever studieth the Bible, the English Bible, is sure of gaining that knowledge and faith, which, if duly applied to the heart and conversation, will infallibly guide him to eternal life. (Scheme, &c., Chap. XI. In Watson’s Collection of Theological Tracts. Vol. I., p. 188.)” To this testimony let there be added that of Dr. Alexander Geddes, who himself also attempted a re-translation of the Bible into English;--”The highest eulogiums have been made on the translation of James the First, both by our own writers and by foreigners. And, indeed, if accuracy, fidelity, and the strictest attention to the letter of the text, be supposed to constitute the qualities of an excellent version, this of all versions, must, in general; be accounted the most excellent. Every sentence, every word, every syllable, every letter and point, seem to have been weighed with the nicest exactitude; and expressed, either in the text, or margin, with the greatest precision. Pagninus himself is hardly more literal; and it was well remarked by Robertson, above a hundred years ago, that it may serve as a Lexicon of the Hebrew language, as well as for a translation. (Prospectus of a New Translation, &c. Page 92. The hint of Robertson has since been realized by Bagster’s Englishman’s Hebrew and Greek Concordance to the Holy Bible.)”
Dr. Adam Clarke, the Wesleyan, in the General Preface to his Commentary on the Bible, having spoken of the common version as superior in accuracy and fidelity to the other European versions, adds the following declaration; --”Nor is this its only praise; the translators have seized the very spirit and soul of the original, and expressed this almost ever where with pathos and energy. Besides, our translators have not only made a standard translation, but they have made their translation the standard of our language.”
The late Professor Stuart, whose mind was so constituted that he neither clung to antiquity, nor shrank from novelty, thus gives his opinion; --”Ours is, on the whole, a most noble production for the time in which it was made. The divines of that day were very different Hebrew scholars from what most of their successors have been, in England or Scotland. With the exception of Bishop Lowth’s classic work upon Isaiah, no other effort at translating, among the English divines, will compare, either with respect to taste, judgment, or sound understanding of the Hebrew, with the authorized version. (Dissertation on Studying the Original Languages of the Bible, Page 61.)” Not to crowd the court with witnesses in superfluous numbers, let us close the taking of testimony on this point with the words of the grave and judicious Thomas Hartwell Horne, in his invaluable Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures; --”We cannot but call to mind with gratitude, and admiration, the integrity, wisdom, fidelity, and learning of the venerable translators, of whose pious labors we are now reaping the benefit; who, while their reverence for the Holy Scriptures induced them to be as literal as they could, to avoid obscurity have been extremely happy in the simplicity and dignity of their expressions; and who, by their adherence to the Hebrew idiom, have at once enriched and adorned our language.”
We may well be satisfied and devoutly thankful for an English Bible whose sufficiency and excellence has such ample vouchers. And if we were not content, it is almost frightful to think of the immense multitude of printed copies which must be superseded, before any new version can be generally adopted. Since the present century began, the Bible Societies in Great Britain and America have published some thirty-seven millions of copies of the present version; and according to the laborious computations of Anderson, a still greater number have been issued on private sale. This vast amount is increasing more rapidly than ever. No book is so abundantly sold, or so freely given away. Doubtless, allowing largely for wear and tear, there are at least twenty-five millions of these copies now in actual use and service. The notion of displacing all these by copies of another, and especially if it be a very different translation, seems to be rather visionary, to say the least.
It ought to be considered, too, that the language of the current version is thoroughly blended with the whole religious literature of the English tongue. It also pervades the religious experience, and expresses the devotional feelings, of all the Christians who speak that tongue. Truly, the introduction of a very different translation,--and if not very different, there could be no reason sufficient to justify such a sweeping change,--must have a very disconcerting effect upon the public mind, and give rise to an infinity of vexations. The present translation has been, and is, the text-book for millions of Sabbath-School pupils, and religious inquirers; and is hallowed by associations so tender and sacred, that the attempt to discard it will seem to multitudes of devout men and women but little better than sacrilege. It was sufficient, they will say, for the salvation of our godly parents and others of our sainted friends,--and, with the blessing of their God and our God, it shall suffice for ours.
Especially objectionable must be the attempt to furnish translations for the use of the various Christian sects. Our common version, though prepared by members of the Church of England, was prepared before dissent from that Church had became so very extensive and earnest. Hence it was, on the whole, drawn up in a spirit remarkably free from sectarianism; and all Protestant denominations, ever since, have confidently appealed to it, as to an impartial arbiter. To these denominations, it has always been the common standard, around which they have rallied against the usurpations and impostures of Rome. Now, were each denomination to issue for itself a new translation, modified to suit the peculiar opinions of the sect, it would place them all in the same position toward each other, as that which they together occupy toward Rome. It would cut off all mutual sympathy, by leaving no common “rule of faith” which the mass of the people could consult or apply. Each class of believers having its own rule of faith, there would be as many distinct Christian religions as professed versions of the Bible. This multiplication of strictly and irreconcilably sectarian Bibles, each acknowledged only by the party from which it emanated, would proclaim a triumphant jubilee to skepticism and infidelity. If only some sects were to pursue such a course, it must prove a suicidal policy to them; for it would be a virtual and practical confession that our long received and thoroughly impartial translation is not in their favor, and that they could not sustain themselves except by a new version so framed as specially to help their cause. The denominations retaining the authorized translation would secure the whole benefit of its celebrity, its authority, and its mighty hold upon the affection and reverence of the Anglo Saxon race.