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NEW TRANSLATION OF THE BIBLE
Necessity of a new translation urged at various periods. First proposed under the usurpation of Cromwell. Dr. Gell. Anonymous “ Essay for a new translation.” Pilkington's Remarks. Bishop Lowth. Archbishop Secker. Dr. Dua rell. Lowth's Isaiah. Dr. White. Dr. Blayney. Archbishop Newcome. Mr. Wintle. Dr. Kennicott. Dr. Geddes. Archbishop Newcome's “ Historical view.” Bishop Horsley. Mr. S. Greenaway.
Our authorized Translation of the Bible has been generally esteemed an able and accurate version, as well in other nations as in our own. Writers however of no mean rank in the literary world have represented it as replete with defects; a representation, of which ignorance and malevolence has not failed to take full advantage. But granting, what however I by no means admit, the validity of the objections brought against it; yet as the defects imputed to it consist of supposed inaccuracies, altogether unimportant in their tendency, affecting neither faith nor morals, and as the very writers, who have impeached it, at the same time have acknowledged its general excellencies, I must confess that I do not see the ex
pediency, much less the necessity, of the measure proposed.
Splendid names and plausible authorities have, I am aware, considerable weight in every decision; too often indeed obtaining an undue preponderance. But in a cause of no little importance to the interests of true religion, and sober criticism, these surely can only weigh, as the dust upon the balance, when unsupported by solid argument and conclusive reasoning.
I proceed to take a brief view of what has been advanced in hostility to the old, and in recommendation of a new, version at various periods.
Half a century had not elapsed from the first appearance of our present translation, before something like public dissatisfaction with it began to be expressed. This happened during the usurpation of Cromwell. Johnson in his “Historical account of the English translations" gives the following detail of what passed on the occasion alluded to. “At a grand committee for religion in a pretended parliament, summoned by Oliver Cromwell, Anno 1656, it was ordered, that a sub-comnitiee should advise with Dr. Walton, Mr. Hughes, Mr. Castle, Mr. Clerk, Mr. Poulk, Dr. Cudworth, and such others as they thought proper, to consider of the translations and impressions of the Bible, and to offer their opinion therein to the committee; and that it should be more particularly recommended to Bulstrode Whitelock, one of the Lord Commissioners of the Treasury, to take care of that affair. The committee met frequently at Whitelock's house, where the learned men in the oriental languages attended, made many observations upon this subject, and pretended to discover some mistakes in the last English translation, which yet they allowed was the best extant. They took a great deal of pains in this business, which yet came to nothing by the dissolution of the parliament."*
* Page 99.
About the same period, viz. in 1659, appeared a work under the following title ; “An Essay toward the amend ment of the last English translation of the Bible, or a proof, by many instances, that the last translation of the Bible into English may be improved. The first part on the Pentateuch or five books of Moses. By Robert Gell, D.D., Minister of the parish of St. Mary Alder-bury, London.” This long work, consisting of 805 folio pages, is rather of a theological, than of a philological description; and is digested into twenty prolix Sermons. Thinking that what he terms “the skeleton of mere crie ticisms” would be useful to the learned only, and wishing to serve his generation as well as to condescend to the capacity of the meanest understanding, the author himself remarks, “I have clothed that skeleton of criticisms with such moral explications and applications as I thought needful to the use of edifying."*
But a more appropriate, and not the least powerful, appeal to public judgement in favour of a new version was made in a tract, published in 1702, under the title of, 6 An Essay for a new translation of the Bible ; wherein is shewn from reason and the authority of the best commentators, interpreters, and critics, that there is a necessity for a new translation. By H. R., a Minister of the Church of England.” The professed object of this essay is to remove all the cavils and exceptions of Atheists, Deists, and others against the Scriptures, and to shew, that what they think ridiculous, is only said by the translators.” In the pursuit of this object the author displays much reading, but little judgment, and more zeal for religious opinion, than for rigid criticism. He unreservedly censures not only our authorized version, but all others, which by adhering too strictly to the letter, do not sufficiently explain what he conceives to be the sense of the original ; particularly in the translation of oriental metaphor and phraseology. Thus he remarks, « when the original speaks of God's hand, it should be translated God's power ; his eyes his care and providence ; his mouth, his order or commandments ; his bowels, his most tender compassions ; &c.”* And again, when it is said " there is none that doeth good,”+ because he presumes, that the Psalmist by the expression none could only mean the generality, he proposes to insert the word almost, so as to read there is almost none that doeth good.”+ Because also libertines, as he apprehends, “imagine that God looks with indifference on the sons of men, when they read the words of Balaam, which the versions render, He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel ;$ and because othere think that God overlooks and winks at the sins of his own people, that is to be sure in their conceit, themselves and those of their sect and party ; and because the most pious and judicious are puzzled what to make of them ;" he proposes by a construction, which he asserts, that the words will bear, to read the passage thus, “ He does not approve afflictions or outrages against the posterity of Jacob, nor of vexation or trouble against the posterity of Israel ; that is, he does not approve that they should be afflicted or vexed.”
This writer is persuaded that an endeavour to give a more exact translation of the Bible than any which had hitherto appeared” would be acceptable ; adding, “and indeed it were to be wished, that those who are in power, did employ men of true learning and solid piety, free from bigotry, and blind zeal, in so noble and necessary a work."|| And in order to evince the necessity of such an undertaking he charges the existing versions, particularly our own, with following the letter rather than the sense of the original, with making Scripture occsionally contradict itself; with confounding persons, animals, countries, and actions ; with erroneously expressing coins, weights, and measures; with misunderstanding ambiguous expressions; and lastly with furnishing hardened sinners with excuses, and libertines and atheists with subjects for jesting. In what mode and upon what principles he proposes to have a new translation conducted, the preceding short specimens of his intended improvements may in some measure point out. By the adoption of any conjectural meanings which the words of the text, or, when they fail, which the sense of the context, will bear, his proposal goes to the formation of a theological version, which may obviate the scoffs of infidelity, silence controversy, and preclude scepticism. What critic can approve of such a project ?
* Page 18.
Numb. xxii. 21.
of Ps. xiv. 1.
# Page 29.
After the publication of this Essay, which passed through two editions, nothing but collateral and incidental notices seem to have been taken of the subject under consideration, until about the middle of the last century, when public attention was attracted to the laborious undertaking of Kennicot. In the year 1759 appeared a tract under the following title ; “Remarks upon several passages of Scripture : rectifying some errors in the printed Hebrew text ; pointing out several mistakes in the versions; and shewing the benefit and expediency of a more correct and intelligible translation of the Bible. By Matthew Pilkington, LL. B.” This tract is properly divided into two distinct parts. The first part is employed in attempting to prove, “that the present Masoretic copy of the Old Testament is, in many places, different from the original Hebrew text: and that the variations are frequently capable of being discovered, in such a manner, as to give us an opportunity of restoring it to its primitive purity.” The object of the second part is to show, “ that many of the improprieties, obscurities, and inconsistencies, which occur to an attentive reader of any of the ver