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AN APOLOGY FOR A NEW TRANSLATION,
A LIVING language is continually changing. Like the fashions and customs in apparel, words, and phrases, at one time current and fashionable, in the lapse of time become awkward and obsolete. But this is not all; many of them, in a century or two, come to have a signification very different from that which was once attached to them: nay, some are known to convey ideas not only different from, but contrary to, their first signification. And were it not for books and parchments, which preserve, from one generation to another, the language of the dead; and transmit, from father to son, the words and sentences of past times; it is not improbable that, in one generation, a living language would undergo as many mutations, and admit of as many innovations, as it now does in two or three hundred years. Books, written in a style that obtains the reputation of being both correct and elegant, serve to give stability to language. They are to language, what strong holds and fortresses are to a country. Yet even these the cankering hand of time moulders away, and they cease to be a defence against invasion and revolution. And books, however reputable as the standard of a living tongue, and however much read and admired, are unable to maintain a long controversy against the versatility and love of novelty, characteristic of the human mind.
In attempting to trace the finger of God, employed in preparing the way for the introduction and consumination of a perfect revelation, some wise and learned men have thought, that the wisdom and benevolence which appear in all the divine procedure towards man, were never more conspicuously displayed, than in causing the completion of the Jewish and Christian writings, to precede but a little time the death of the Hebrew and Greek languages. Both languages had been consummated before the revelation was entrusted to them; and, that they might continue immutable and faithful guardians of a repository so precious and sacred that they might become immortal conservators of the New Institution, sealed by the blood of the Son of God, they died.
We have, in writing, all the Hebrew and Greek that is necessary to perpetu: ate to the end of time, all the ideas which the Spirit of God has communicated to the world; and these languages, being dead, have long since ceased to change. The meaning of the words used by the sacred penmen is fixed and immutable; which it could not have been, had these languages continued to be spoken.*
But this constant mutation in a living language, will probably render new translations, or corrections of old translations, necessary every two or three hundred years. For although the English tongue may have changed less during the last two hundred years, than it ever did in the same lapse of time before: yet the changes which have taken place since the reign of James 1., do now render a new translation necessary. For if the King's translators had given a translation every way faithful and correct, in the language then spoken in Britain; the changes in the English language which have since been introduced, would render that translation, in many instances, incorrect. The truth of this assumption will appear from a few specifications:
In the second Epistle to Corinth, (viii, 1. common version) Paul says, “We do
you to wit of the grace of God bestowed upon the churches of Macedonia." This was, no doubt, a correct and intelligible rendering of the Greek words, INOPIZOMEN AE TMIN, to the people of that day; but to us it is as unintelligible
* The Hebrew and Greek, which are now spoken, are not the languages of the Jewish Prophets and the Christian Apostles. It is true, much analogy exists between them, but the modern Italian is not more unlike the nervous Roman which Cicero spoke, than the modern llebrew and Greek are unlike the language of Isaiah, and that of Luke and Paul.
as the Greek original. How few are there who can translate "We do you to wit,” by We cause you to know? which is the modern English of the above sentence. The same may be observed of the term “wot,” in all places where it occurs.
The term "condersation" was a very exact rendering of the term ANAZTPOQH in that day, as the old statutes and laws of England attest; but it is now a very incorrect one. It then signified what a person did; it now denotes what a per. son says. Then it was equivalent to our word behaviour; but now it is confined to what proceeds from the lips: consequently all those passages are now mistranslated in which this term occurs-such as 1 Peter ii. 12. "Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles." Galatians i. 13. “You have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews' religion.” James iii. 13. “Let him show out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.” Excepting Phil. i. 27. iii. 20. and Heb. xiii. 5., in every other place where the word conversation occurs in the common version, it is ANAZTPOPH in Greek; and in our modern style it is always a mistranslation. In all those places substitute the word behaviour, and then we have an exact translation into the language which we speak.
We shall next instance the term “double-minded,” which was a very literal translation of the word lyrxoz; but the term "double-minded,” if, in the days of King James, it denoted a person who sometimes leaned to one opinion and sometimes to another, has come to denote a quite different character. It now, as defined by Johnson, signifies a deceitful or an insidious person,
that a deceitful person is unstable in all his ways, as the Apostle says of the doubleminded man, is not only a mistranslation in our style, but conveys a false idea to the reader: for, while a man of two minds” is unstable in all his ways, it is very far from fact to say, that “a deceitful man is unstable in all his ways."
But not to be tedious on this subject, we shall only adduce another specification of this kind. 1 Thess. iv. 15. “We which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent them which are asleep.” The word "prepent" did, in that day, exactly translate toANO, used transitively; but now it does not. For then “prevent" was used as synonymous with anticipate or outstrip; but now it is commonly used as equivalent to hinder. Hence, we have found many unable to understand this important declaration of Paul to the Thessalonians. They supposed that Paul was assuring them, that those who should be alive upon the earth, at the coming of the Lord to judge the world, would not hinder the resurrection and glorious change of the dead saints. But how different the ideas communicated by the Apostle, when a proper substitute for the term "prevent” is found; such as the word anticipate or outstrip! Then it reads, “We which are alive at the coming of the Lord will not anticipate the dead"--we will not be changed an instant sooner than they. The living and dead saints at the same moment shall be glorified together. In the common version the word "prevent and its derivatives occur frequently, and are mistranslations, owing to the change in the use and meaning of words which has since that time occurred. Such are the following: “The God of my mercy shall prevent me”_"Let thy mercies speedily prevent us"_"I prevented the dawning of the morning"_"Mine eyes prevented the night watches"--"Jesus prevented him, saying, Simon, of whom do the Kings of the earth take tribute ?" and sundry other places too numerous to cite; in all of which the word anticipate would, in our time, exactly express the meaning.
These specifications are sufficient to show, that changes have taken place in our own language, within two hundred years, that make any translation of that age incorrect in numerous instances, however perfect it might have been when it first appeared. At the same time it ought to be remarked, that the English language has undergone much fewer changes in the last two hundred years, than it ever did in the same time before. This will appear to the most superficial observer, who will read any passage in the English Bibles printed two or three hundred years before James' reign. I shall give one extract from an old translation, at least two hundred years older than the common one:
Genesis i. “In the beginning God maid of nought hevene and erthe. Forsothe the erthe was idil and voide, and derknissis werun on the face of depthe, and the Spyrit of the Lord was born on the waters. And God seide, Lizt be maid, and lizt was maid; and God sez the lizt that it was good, and he departide the lizt fro derknissis; and he cleped ye lizt dai, and the derknissis nizt, and the eventyd and mornetyd was maid on dai. And (God) seide, Make we man in our ymage and likenesse, and be he souereyn to the fisshes of the see, and to the volatiles of hevene, and to unreasonable beestes of the erthe, and to eche creature, and to eche creeping beest which is movid in erthe. And God maid of nought a man to his ymage and likenesse. God maid of nought hem, male and female."
la the eleventh chapter of the third book of Kings, we have this singular translation, 2d and 3d verses :—“Therefore King Solomon was couplid to yo wymmen by moost brennynge love: and wyves as queens, were un sevene hundred to hym; and thre hundrid secondarie wyves.'
Now, however exact and literal such translations may have been, to a people who spoke so differently from us, most certainly every one will admit that, to us, they would be every way defective and incorrect. In a certain degree, then, the present version is incorrect, on the accounts already specified. And were there no other argument to be adduced in favor of a new translation, to us it appears that this would be a sufficient one.
But in the preceding remarks it has been taken for granted, that the common version was an exact representation of the meaning of the original, at the time in which it was made. This, however, is not admitted by any sect in christendom. All parties are occasionally finding fault. None are willing to abide by it in every sentence. And, indeed, there is no translation that could be made, that would prove all the tenets of any party. And if a translation that does not prove all the tenets and ceremonies of a sect, is to be censured by that sect, then there cannot exist any translation that would be considered correct. It is, however, true, that the common version was made at a time, when religious controversy was at its zenith; and that the tenets of the translators, whether designedly or undesignedly, did, on many occasions, give a wrong turn to words and sentences bearing upon their favorite dogmas. This is, perhaps, to be attributed more to the influence which Theodore Beza, the Genevese critics, and the fathers of the Geneva theology, had upon the King's translators, than to any design they had to give a partial translation. If the Arminians were the only persons who say so, it might be more questionable; but as the most distinguished critics of the Calvinistic school of the last century, have concurred in regretting the influence which Beza, and others of the same school, had upon the popular version, it adds very much to the probability, that the charge is well founded.
Dr. Campbell, though a dignitary in that side of the house, has not spared Junius and Tremellius, nor the great Beza, in his "Preliminary Dissertations and Notes,” for their boldness with the original text. He has not only insinuated, that these fathers of the Calvinistic Israel, did wilfully and knowingly interpolate the scriptures, and torture many passages to favor their system; but he has unequivocally accused and convicted them of the crime. In vol. ii. p. 228, on an extract from Beza, in which he gives his reasons for certain translations, the Doctor remarks—“Here we have a man who, in effect, acknowledges that he would not have translated some things in the way he has done, if it were not that he could thereby strike a severer blow against some adverse sect, or ward off a blow which an adversary might aim against him. Of these great objects he never loses sight. I own,” says the Doctor, “that my ideas on this subject are so much the reverse of Beza's, that I think a translator is bound to abstract from, and, as far as possible, forget all sects and systems, together with all the polemic jargon which they have been the occasion of introducing. His aim ought to be invariably to give the untainted sentiments of the author, and to express himself in such a manner, as men would do, amongst whom such disputes had never been agitated.”
An apology is offered for Beza by our author, for his wilful mistranslations. After adducing several examples of his glosses and interpolations, he quotes a passage from the Epistle to the Hebrews, where Beza is defending the perseverance of the saints. Bishop Pearson had before observed, that this passage was unfaithfully translated by Beza. “But,” says our author, “this is one of the many passages, in which this interpreter has judged, that the sacred penmen, having expressed themselves incautiously, and having given a handle to the patrons of erroneous tenets, stood in need of him more as a corrector, than as a translator. In this manner Beza supports the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, having been followed in the first of these errors by the French and English translators, but not in the second; and not by the Italian translator in either, though as much a Calvinist as any of them." This apology is not more severe than just: for, in fact, Beza, and others of the same school, have written and translated, as though they considered themselves correators of the too unguarded style of the Apostles and Evangelists. In doing this they may have been conscientious.
It is neither insinuated nor affirmed, that the Arminian critics have been faultless in these respects; but as the common translation was not made by them, we have nothing to say of them in this place. We introduce these strictures on Beza, not from any other design than to show that, in the estimation of his own party, he was a very unfaithful translator; and because not only the translator of the narratives of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but other eminent translators and critics, have shown, that the veneration in which Beza was held by the King's translators, gave to their translation a sectarian character, and introduced many inaccuracies into it.
But it may be asked, Where shall we find translators, in a sectarian age, who are not enlisted under the banners of some system—who are not prejudiced in favor of some creed? and will not the religious prepossessions of a translator, however eminent or how faithful he may be, in some measure tincture or vitiate his translation? We must answer, that it is almost, if not altogether, impossible to find any eminent translator, who is not either enlisted under some system, or some way or other identified with it, and that every man's prepossessions must either directly or indirectly affect his own thoughts, reasonings, and expressions on all religious subjects. Yet it may so happen that, nowand then, once or twice in a hundred years, an individual or two may arise, whose literary acquirements—whose genius, independence of mind, honesty, and candor, may fit them to be faithful and competent translators; and, of their honesty and faithfulness the greatest proof which can be presented, is their correcting the mistakes of their own party, and with perfect impartiality cen. suring the errors of their own denomination, as they censure those of other denominations; and with cheerfulness commending the virtues, and acknowledging the attainments of those who are ranked under another name, as they do those of their own people. Such, in a very eminent degree, were the translators of this version.
It is much more likely, that we shall find a faithful and perspicuous translation coming from individuals, who, without concert or the solicitations of a party, undertake and accomplish it, having no national or sectional cause to abet; than to expect to find one coming from those summoned by a King and his Court, and paid for their services out of the public treasury: convened, too,* from one part of those elements of discord, which had distracted and convulsed a whole nation.
It is probable, that a new translation into our language will never again be undertaken by public authority. The people would not now submit to any