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For the first printed English translation of the scriptures we are indebted to William Tindal. He printed this translation at Antwerp in Flanders; and the copies were brought thence into England. So great was the opposition to this by the Roman Catholic clergy, that the bishop of London endeavoured to buy up whole editions as fast as they were printed, to burn them. This effort, however, produced little effect. Copies of the New Testament were multiplied. It is said, that on one occasion Sir Thomas More, then chancellor of England, asked how Tindal contrived to maintain himself abroad. To which it was replied that the bishop of London supported him, by purchasing the scriptures as fast as they could be printed.
In 1535 the whole Bible, translated into English, was printed in folio, and dedicated to the king, by Miles Coverdale. This was the first English translation of the Bible allowed by royal authority.
Various editions and translations of the scriptures, with various degrees of correctness, were printed in successive years, till, in 1568, the edition appeared which was called "the Bishop's Bible," or the Great English Bible." This was prepared by royal authority. It was the work of much care and learning. Different learned men undertook to translate different parts of the Bible, and after being carefully performed and compared, it was printed, and directed to be used as an authorized English translation of the scriptures. This, after being reprinted many times, and after being in use for half a century, was succeeded by the translation at present in use.
As this is, in many respects, the most important of all English translations of the Sacred Scriptures, it is proper to dwell more fully on the circumstances under which it was made.
It was undertaken by the authority of king James I. of England. He came to the throne in 1603. Several objections having been made to "the Bishop's Bible," then in general use, he ordered a new translation to be made. This work he committed to fifty-four men : but before the translation was commenced, seven of them had either
for rigtwisnesse for the kyngdom of hevenes is hern. : Ye schul be blessid whanne men schul curse you, and schul pursue you and schul seye al yvel agens you liynge for me. Joie ye and be ye glade for your meede is plenteous in hevenes: for so thei han pursued also prophetis that weren bifore you. Ye ben salt of the erthe, that if the salt vanishe awey wherynne schal it be saltid ? to nothing it is worth over, no but it be cast out, and be defoulid of men. Ye ben light of the world, a citee sett on an hill may not be hid. Ne me teendith not a lanterne and puttith it undir a bushel; but on a candilstik that it give light to alle that ben in the hous. So, schyne your light bifore men, that thei see youre gode workis, and glorifie your fadir that is in hevenes. Nyle ghe deme that I cam to undo the Lawe or the prophetis, I cam not to undo the lawe but to fuffille. Forsothe I sey to you till hevene and erthe passe, oon lettre, or oon title, schal not passe fro the Lawe till alle thingis be don. Therefore he that brekith oon of these leeste maundementis, and techith thus men, schal be clepid the Leest in the rewme of hevenes; but he that doth, and techith, schal be clepid greet in the kyngdom of hevenes. Baber's Edit.
died, or had declined the task, so that it was actually accomplished by forty-seven. All of them were eminently distinguished for their piety and for their profound acquaintance with the original languages. This company of eminent men was divided into six classes, and to each class was allotted a distinct part of the Bible to be translated. to meet at Westminster, and to translate from Genesis to the end of the second book of Kings. Eight assembled at Cambridge, and were to translate the remaining historical books, the Psalms, Job, Canticles, and Ecclesiastes. At Oxford seven were to translate the four greater Prophets, the Lamentations of Jeremiah, and the twelve minor prophets. The four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, and the Revelation, were assigned to another company of eight at Oxford; and the Epistles were allotted to a company of seven at Westminster. Lastly, another company at Cambridge were to translate the Apocrypha."
To these companies the king gave instructions to guide them in their work of which the following is the substance:
The Bishop's Bible, then used, to be followed, and to be altered as little as the original would permit.
The names of the sacred writers to be retained as they were commonly used.
When a word had different significations, that to be kept which hath been most commonly used by the fathers, and most eminent writers. No alteration to be made in the chapters and verses. No marginal notes to be affixed, except to explain the Greek and Hebrew words that could not be briefly and fitly explained in the text. Reference to parallel places to be set down in the margin.
Each man of a company to take the same chapters, and translate them according to the best of his abilities; and when this was done all were to meet together, and compare their translations, and agree which should be regarded as correct.
Each book, when thus translated and approved, to be sent to every other company for their approbation.
Besides this, the translators were authorized, in cases of great difficulty, to send letters to any learned men in the kingdom to obtain their opinions.
In this manner the Bible was translated into English. In the first instance each individual translated each book allotted to his company. Secondly, the readings to be adopted were agreed upon by that company assembled together. The book thus finished was sent to each of the other companies to be examined. At these meetings one read the English, and the rest held in their hands some Bible, of Hebrew, Greek, Latin, French, Spanish, &c. If they found any fault, says Selden, they spoke; if not he read on.
The translation was commenced in 1607, and completed in about three years. At the end of that time, three copies of it were sent to London. Here a committee of six reviewed the work, which was afterwards re
viewed by Dr. Smith, who wrote the preface, and by Dr. Bilson. Ic was first printed in 1611 at London by Robert Barker.
From this account it is clear that no ordinary care was taken to furnish to English readers a correct translation of the Sacred Scriptures. No translation of the Bible was ever made under more happy auspices; and it would now be impossible to furnish another translation in our language under cirumstances so propitious. Whether we contemplate the number, the learning, or the piety of the men employed in it; the cool deliberation with which it was executed; the care taken that it should secure the approbation of the most learned men, in a country that embosomed a vast amount of literature; the harmony with which they conducted their work; or the comparative perfection of the translation, we see equal cause of gratitude to the great Author of the Bible that we have so pure a translation of his word.
From this time the English language became fixed. More than two hundred years have elapsed, and yet the simple and majestic purity and power of the English tongue is expressed in the English translation of the Bible, as clearly as when it was given to the world. It has become the standard of our language; and nowhere can the purity and expressive dignity of this language be so fully found as in the Sacred Scriptures.
The friends of this translation have never claimed for it inspiration or infallibility. Yet it is the concurrent testimony of all who are competent to express an opinion, that no translation of the Bible into any language has preserved so faithfully the sense of the original as the English. Phrases there may be, and it is confessed there are, which modern criticism has shown not to express all the meaning of the original; but as a whole, it indubitably stands unrivalled. Nor is it probable that any translation can now supply its place, or improve upon its substantial correctness. The fact that it has for two hundred years poured light into the minds of millions, and guided the steps of generation after generation in the way to heaven, has given to it somewhat of the venerableness which appropriately belongs to a book of God. Successive ages may correct some of its few unimportant errors; may throw light on some of its obscure passages; but to the consummation of all things, it must stand, wherever the English language is spoken, as the purest specimen of its power to give utterance to the meaning of ancient tongues, and of the simple and pure majesty of the language which we speak.
These remarks are made, because it is easy for men who dislike the plain doctrines of the Bible, and for those ignorant of the true history of its translation, to throw out insinuations of its unfaithfulness. From various quarters, from men opposed to the clear doctrines of the scriptures, are often heard demands for a new translation. We by no means assert the entire infallibility, much less the inspiration, of the English translation of the Bible. Yet of its general faithfulness to the original there can be no doubt. It would be easy to multiply testi
monies of the highest authority to this fact. But the general testimony of the world; the profound regard paid to it by men of the purest character and most extensive learning; the fact that it has warmed the hearts of the pious, ministered to the comfort of the wretched and the dying, and guided the steps of millions to glory for two hundred years, and now commands the high regard of Christians of so many different denominations, evinces that it is, to no ordinary extent, faithful to the original, and has a claim on the continued regard of coming generations.
It is perfectly clear, also, that it would be impossible now to translate the scriptures into the English language, under so favourable circumstances as attended the translation in the time of James I. No single set of men could so command the confidence of the christian world; no convention, who claim the christian name, could be formed competent to the task, or if formed, could prosecute the work with harmony; no single denomination could make a translation that would secure the undisputed respect of others. The probability is, there fore, that while the English language is spoken, and as far as it is used, the English Bible will continue to form the faith and direct the lives of those who use that wide-spread language; and that the words which now pour light into our minds will continue to illuminate the understandings and mould the feelings of unnumbered millions in their path to immortal life.
THE evangelical narratives, as John tells us, were written to record some of the signs which Jesus did in the presence of his disciples, in order that he might be believed to be "the Christ the Son of God: and that believing ye might have life through his name." John xx. 30, 31. The writers enjoyed an inspiration from the Holy Ghost which gives the stamp of divine authority and truth to every thing they have written. A slight inspection of their several records will show that they wrote independently of one another, and each has recorded such incidents and discourses as were necessary, along with the other narratives, to secure through all succeeding ages a tolerably complete view of the history, doings, and teachings of Him whom to know is life eternal. This fact shows that the writers of the gospels not only had one theme on which to dilate, but that they all penned their histories under the miraculous guidance of the Holy Spirit. Like the ancient prophets, they "wrote as they were moved by the Holy Ghost."
Their style is diverse, and in the structure of their narratives there are characteristic differences, the marking of which will be of some use in enabling us to understand those narratives respectively. No two of the writers have selected the same things to record; neither have they pursued the same chronological order or connexion of events. How far the observable differences among them in these respects arose out of personal character, mental constitution, or education, would be a question more curious than useful; there can be no doubt that the Spirit of God employed the several peculiarities of these "holy men " the more effectually to accomplish the object for which their gospels assumed a written form.
The general character of Matthew's gospel is that of historical argument, addressed to Jews, and designed both to prove that Jesus of Nazareth was truly the Messiah, and to illustrate for their instruction