To whom shall I speak, and give warning, that they may hear? behold, their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken.—Jer. 6.10

Translations of the Bible.

of the

Excerpted from:

VOL. II.         DECEMBER, 1879.         No. 12.

Paul could speak in many different languages. He says truly, "There are so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification." 1 Cor. 14.10. This being so, to execute the apostolic commission, requires that the Hebrew and Greek of the original Scriptures be translated into the languages of "all nations." The necessity for this was clearly shown by the miraculous gift of tongues on the day of Pentecost. Acts 2.6. Miracles having ceased (1 Cor. 13.8.) with the exigencies of the time, a knowledge of these languages must be acquired by ordinary means, that the Gospel, "according to the commandment of the everlasting God may be made known to all nations for the obedience of faith." Rom. 16.26. He who is unable to interpret the title of his Master, "written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin" on the cross, is not rightly qualified to be His ambassador. 2 Cor. 5.20.

A minister of the Gospel may lawfully offer criticisms on the original languages of the Bible, and also on the authorized English version; but he is neither the ablest divine nor the best linguist who deals most in criticisms. Indeed the contrary is commonly nearer the truth. Young ministers, and those, too, who have been but imperfectly educated, are disposed to find most faults in our English Bible. The bold and rash manner of a youthful preacher, in criticizing the language of the sacred Scriptures has a tendency to unsettle the Christian’s faith. We can remember a complaint by intelligent hearers against Rev. J. {368} B. Johnston when lecturing on the epistle to the Hebrews, "That he discovered so many wrong translations, the hearers were in danger of doubting the truth of the Bible." This man left the Covenanters and joined the United Presbyterians. Becoming still more liberalized, he afterwards proposed, as an expedient for uniting "all the Evangelical Churches," that the poetical parts of the Scriptures should be rendered into a metrical English version, to supplement the book of Psalms! And this proposition came before the public from a man who could not distinguish poetry from prose in the original Scriptures!!

Many years ago, a certain Alexander Campbell, who was a renegade from the Seceders, published an English translation of the New Testament, pretending to emancipate his followers from bondage to "King James’ men!" And although he taught that the Old Testament is abrogated, and all the Christian religion is contained in the New, he succeeded in making many disciples, who are known by the name of "Campbellite Baptists." Years after Campbell’s measurably successful enterprise, a better sort of Baptists undertook to make an English version of the whole Bible, but of the result we have no knowledge. All such attempts, however, are obviously sectarian in their nature.

For some years past a number of men, of different denominations; men eminent for scholarship, and on both sides of the Atlantic, have been employed harmoniously in what they call—not a new translation of the Scriptures, but a "revision of the English Bible." They were not summoned to this arduous and responsible work by any civil or ecclesiastical authority; but volunteered jointly to undertake the labor. When their work is finished, it will of course stand upon its intrinsic merits, to be judged by all parties for themselves. Some years are yet to be spent before the learned gentlemen’s labors can be completed.

No one competent to judge the merits or demerits of our English Bible will say it is faultless. It is faithful, but this is not the same as to be faultless. Nothing done by imperfect man is faultless. The distinction made by our witnessing progenitors {369} in choosing ministers applies in this case. They found no divine warrant to expect a faultless ministry, but they were warranted to look for a faithful ministry. So with a translation.

We give some examples to show that our Bible is not absolutely faultless. What are called supplements are not always judiciously introduced. Supplements are often indispensable to fill the ellipses—the vacancies left in the original text. One language cannot be rendered into another in the same number of words, and when the translation is into metrical form, the necessity for more words—supplements, increases. One word in Hebrew or Greek may require two or more in our language to give its meaning; and even then the full meaning may not be clearly given.

In our Lord’s answer to the ambitious petitions of the mother of Zebedee’s children, Matt. 20.21, the following words are all supplied in verse 23d,—"It shall be given to them." Now Christ said to this woman, "To sit on my right hand and on my left is not mine to give;" in which words, taken in connection with the words supplied, He seems to deny a right or ability to confer such honor as the mother asked for her sons. But this contradicts Christ’s promise, Rev. 3.21, where He says, "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne," &c. Here then is a handle for the infidel, who may boldly charge the Scriptures with contradiction,—yea, the Faithful and True Witness in person as contradicting himself! but the supplement is faulty. Instead of but, read except, or unless; and the consistency of Matthew with John will at once appear, and the seeming contradiction disappear: thus, "To sit on my right hand, &c. is not mine to give, except to them for whom it is prepared of my Father;" and then it is Christ’s right to give that honor, as John records the promise.

The little words in our Bible; such as, "and," "of," &c., occasion frequent obscurity to the unlearned. "The great God and our Saviour;" "The mystery of God, and of the Father," Titus 2.13; Col. 2.2, are a few of many instances, where the word {370} and, if rendered even, would remove much obscurity. The same is true relative to the word of, and with still more frequency. "Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness," is obscure language to some, if not to many readers: but by rendering the former of, into the word with, the meaning becomes more easily understood; and the well known usage of Greek writers, as also of "King James’ men," fully justifies more than has now been said in reference to supplements and the various renderings of the Greek particles.

Indeed, some of the most important doctrines of the gospel would be more easily understood by every reader of the sacred Scriptures, and more easily defended against the cavils of the ignorant, and the heresies of the learned, by the omission of some supplements in the authorized version. All orthodox divines are agreed that the supreme deity of the Saviour is not only important, but essential to the gospel-method of salvation. Our Lord, when "the word began to be spoken" by Himself in His public ministry, often called the attention of friends and enemies to this point. To the Pharisees He put the question,—"What think ye of Christ?" Matt. 22.42. And a similar question He puts to His disciples,—"Whom say ye that I am?" Luke 9.20. Now, from Christ’s insisting upon this point among believers and unbelievers, we must infer its supreme importance. Its importance to the glory of God and the salvation of man is demonstrated by the response of the Ethiopian eunuch to Philip,—"I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." Acts 8.37. (We are aware that different kinds of heresiarchs deny the eternal sonship, as others do the supreme godhead of our only Saviour.) In familiar converse with the two disciples going to Emmaus our Lord did not for the first time begin at Moses, expounding unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. This was his customary method, as may be learned by consulting the sixth and eighth chapters of the gospel by John, where is a record of part of the "contradiction of sinners against himself"—against His claim to be God, and also {371} to be the Son of God. Why does He speak thus,—"Before Abraham was I am?" [John 8.58.] Why am, and not was? He manifestly referred to what "Moses wrote of Him," Exod. 3.14. And so it is as true now in our case as in that of the Jews when our Lord told them:—"Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me; for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?" John 5.46,47.

When Jesus said "I am" before Abraham, He unquestionably asserted His independent and necessary existence: but, as usual, what is revealed more obscurely in the Old Testament, is made plainer in the New: for Christ declares, "I am the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty." Rev. 1.8. Eternity and omnipotence are properties of God alone. Christ is, therefore, God, "God over all." But why did the translators of our Bible omit any and all supplements in the question of age between Abraham and our Saviour? Why, as in other like cases, did they not say,—"Before Abraham was, I am" he? Obviously because subjoining that little word, he would not only obscure the Lord’s meaning, but destroy the force—the conclusiveness of his argument. Now it were to be wished that in some other places, bearing upon the glory of Immanuel and the eternal destiny of sinners, our version had omitted that little supplemental he. In that same disputation between Christ and the Jews, he uttered these weighty and awful words,—"If ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins." John 8.24. Now with deference to the learned, we think the word, he, might have been omitted, without obscuring the meaning. The Jews and the disciples were familiar not only with this form of speech, but from the writings of Moses and succeeding prophets, (Isa. 44.6,) they knew its reference to Jehovah: therefore the weight and force of Christ’s declaration seems to be enervated by the addition of the word he. "If ye believe not that I am" (that is, Jehovah,) "ye shall die in your sins," appears to be more energetic.

Even when the same Greek word is frequently rendered more {372} freely in colloquial phrase, "It is I," the force of the original is thereby impaired. "I am, be not afraid," would have been understood by our Lord’s disciples. [Matt. 14.27; Mark 6.50; John 6.20.]

From the remarks now made upon the authorized English version of our Bible, it may appear that it is not altogether faultless, and consequently that it is susceptible of improvement. While, therefore, every minister of the gospel ought to be capable of analyzing the original text, in order to show the mind of the Holy Spirit more fully and clearly than is possible in any translation; more than ordinary learning and piety are requisite in such as undertake to revise the labors of predecessors.