By the late Rev. Neil MacIntyre *
Extracted from The Free Presbyterian Magazine, Volume 9 (1904-5), and edited.
(Continued from last month)
Part 5 – The Geneva Bible and The Authorised Version
THE next translation which appeared was the Geneva Bible. This Bible was the first complete translation from the original languages into English. During the bloody reign of Queen Mary, whose pronounced Romanism cost many a saint of God life and liberty, a number of godly and learned men fled to the continent, and in Geneva found a home and welcome. Among the number of refugees were Whittingham, whose wife was John Calvin’s sister; Coverdale, the indefatigable Bible translator; John Knox, “who never feared the face of man,” and many others. They at once commenced a new translation of the Bible, and in 1557 the New Testament was completed. In 1560 the whole Bible appeared and soon became exceedingly popular, rapidly passing through, we are told, more than a hundred editions. It was addressed to “the brethren in England, Scotland, and Ireland”, and was first published in quarto size, but afterwards was sent out in various sizes. On account of the rendering of Genesis 3:7, “They sewed fig-tree leaves together and made themselves breeches,” this Bible came to be nicknamed the Breeches Bible. The popularity of this the Geneva Bible may be estimated from the fact that it was printed and circulated for more than thirty years after the publication of the Authorised Version of 1611.
About eight years after the Geneva Bible was published, a revision of the Cranmer Bible or Great Bible appeared, and was called the Bishop’s Bible. This name originated from the fact that Archbishop Parker of Canterbury was the master-mind in the preparation of this revision, assisted by about fifteen scholarly men. Various portions of Cranmer’s Bible were assigned to these learned men, the whole being subject to the Bishop’s own personal supervision. It was used in the Churches for many years. The last edition of it was published about 1606, but when the Authorised Version appeared, it soon fell into general disuse.
In passing, we may draw the attention of our readers to the Douay Bible, which Bible is used by the Roman Catholic Church. 1 The priests being baffled in their efforts to stop the circulation of the Word of God, resolved to execute a version of their own. Accordingly, William Allyn, Gregory Martyn, and Richard Bristow translated and printed at Rheims, in 1582, the New Testament. This version was made from the Vulgate translation, and has all the defects of that translation. In 1609 the whole Bible was completed and printed by Laurence Killam at Douay in Flanders: hence the name Douay Bible. Words and expressions are often used in it with a view to gain scriptural countenance for Romish doctrines rather than to set forth the true meaning of Scripture. For example, the word “repent” is translated “penance.” Mary is said to be “full of grace” instead of “highly favoured” (Luke 1: 28). Jacob is said to have “adored the top of his rod” instead of “leaning upon the top of his staff.” No doubt this version was originally intended to counteract the Geneva Bible, but it had little success.
We have considered the different versions of the Bible presented to the English-speaking people, and which now, to a large extent, are left behind and fallen into disuse. The Authorised Version, which falls next to be noticed, has stood the test of three hundred years.
The history of our Authorised Version is rather interesting. In the year 1604 a conference was held, known as the Hampton Court Conference, to consider the grievances of the Puritans. Little was done, however, to meet their difficulties, but in the course of the proceedings the Puritan Dr. Reynolds proposed a new version of the Bible. It was felt by all parties that sooner or later an entirely new version must be prepared, and the cordial approval by the King (James I) of Dr. Reynolds’ proposal silenced any opposition from the conformist party. The measures adopted to secure a new version of the Holy Scriptures were of the most complete and satisfactory kind. A Committee of fifty-four (only forty-seven acted) were appointed, among whom were Dr Reynolds, Dr Andrewes, and Dr Miles Smith, and others hardly less celebrated for their learning. Of this Committee fifteen met at Cambridge, fifteen at Oxford, and seventeen at Westminster. Their method of working was as follows: each member took a chapter, wrote out all the changes he thought necessary, and at the next meeting of his company he read out his suggestions. Then a general discussion followed, and what appeared best to all was taken.
In 1611 the Authorised Version appeared, the result of seven years’ labour. It is unrivalled for its simplicity, and force and vigour of language. It is, in fact, a compendium of literary excellencies, and what is still better, a faithful and accurate translation of the very words of the Holy Ghost. Dr. Miles Smith was appointed to write a preface, which is not now printed in our Bibles. A sentence may here be given which shows the spirit in which the translators engaged in their onerous work: “They trusted in Him that hath the key of David, opening and no man shutting: they prayed to the Lord, O let Thy Scriptures be my pure delight; let me not be deceived in them, neither let me deceive by them’.”
On the whole, the wise measures adopted for the translation, and the number and character of the translators engaged in the work, inspired general confidence, while the translation itself so accurate, so artless, yet withal so vigorous in style and diction, commanded universal love and respect, and has continued to do so for now nearly three hundred years. 2 With the publication of the Authorised Version, the Bishop’s Bible went out of date and fashion, and even the Geneva Bible (which was the version in use when the Authorised Version appeared), ceased to be used after some years.
We now come to the Revised Version of the English Bible. It was issued in the year 1881. The movement for a revision of the Authorised Version officially commenced on May 6th, 1870, in the Convocation of Canterbury. In preparing this version, a Committee was appointed composed of members from England and Scotland. These met regularly in the Jerusalem Chamber, Westminster. Soon after the formation of the English Committee, another was organised in America for the same purpose, and in conjunction with the English one. The American Committee met in the Bible House, New York. Both Committees were in constant and confidential correspondence, so that, as far as possible, there might be mutual agreement in the results of their combined labours. Both the English and the American Committees were divided into two sections, one having the Old and the other the New Testament. The English company on the Old Testament consisted of twenty-seven members, with Dr. E. H. Browne as chairman. The New Testament company consisted of twenty-five, and had Dr. Ellicott, Gloucester, as chairman. The American Committee on the Old Testament consisted of fourteen members, Professor W. H. Green of Princeton being chairman. On the New Testament Committee there were thirteen members, including the chairman, Dr. T. D. Woolsey, New Haven, Connecticut.
No doubt there were able and scholarly men on both Committees, but it is questioned by many competent scholars if the Revised Version is an ample reward for all the time and scholarship spent upon it. It certainly does not bear the marks of the piety and manifest reverence for the Word of God which distinguished the revisers and translators of the Authorised Version, and to all appearances it will never come to be regarded as anything more than a critical help to the study of the sacred Scriptures. Its irritating and needless changes grate upon the ear of the reader, and even useful changes have failed to maintain the grace of that style which characterises the Authorised Version. Much more serious is the fact that it is unfaithful to the inspired text, for the translators, instead of following the faithful Received Text which underlies the Authorised Version, were under the baneful influence of the erroneous textual theories of Professor Westcott and Professor Hort, whose own Text of the New Testament was published in 1881.
Dean Burgon (who, it may be said, gave the death blow to the Revised Version), in dedicating his book The Revision Revised to the Hon. Viscount Cranbrook, said, “My one object had been to defeat the mischievous attempt which was made in 1881 to thrust upon this Church and realm a revision of the sacred text which I am thoroughly convinced, and am able to prove, is untrustworthy from beginning to end.” Again he says, “It is to me simply unintelligible how a company of scholars can have spent ten years in elaborating such a very unsatisfactory production.” And again, “The revisers are observed to separate off the last twelve verses of the Gospel of Mark from their context, in token that they are no part of the genuine gospel.”
In view of all this, we can say that this attempt at a revision of our Authorised Version has been a complete failure, and we trust that many years will pass before another attempt is made.
To be continued
* See the January issue for a biographical note about the Rev Neil MacIntyre.
1. This was the only English version of the Bible approved by the Church of Rome until the appearance of Ronald Knox’s translation, also from the Vulgate, in 1945-9. This is now followed by a Roman Catholic version of the Revised Standard Version, and the Jerusalem Bible.
2. It is to be remembered that this was written in 1904.