This is not a work of compromises, or of conjectural interpretations of the sacred Scriptures, neither is it a paraphrase, but a strict literal rendering. It neither adds nor takes away; but aims to express the original with the utmost clearness, and force, and with the utmost precision. It adopts, however, except in the prayers, a thoroughly modern style, and makes freely whatever changes are necessary for this purpose.
Besides being a contribution to Biblical science, it is designed to be a still more important contribution to practical religion, for which the Bible in its original languages and in all its translations is chiefly valuable. The translation depends mainly on its superior adaptation to this end, under the blessing of God, for its success and usefulness. If it shall be found on trial to be a superior instrument of piety and virtue, it will doubtless meet with favor and do good. The ascendency of practical religion is not so general or complete, that any additional help for its promotion can be deemed unnecessary.
New translations of the Scriptures are generally introduced with apologies and received with caution and distrust. In many cases men have resisted them as dangerous innovations, and attempted to exterminate them with fire and sword. This was the case with the translations of Wickliffe and of Tindal. But truth and the kind providence of God were too mighty for their enemies, and these translations lived to see their persecutors in the dust, and to laugh them to scorn. "Wickliffe's translation was published in 1380, in a dark age. Many good men anticipated from it the greatest calamities, and resisted it with the most intemperate zeal, and every species of denunciation was used against it. It was made from the Vulgate, and not from the Greek and Hebrew, and was imperfect; but it was a great improvement on what existed before, and it proved a great blessing.
Tindal was contemporary with Luther, and undertook to give a new translation of the Bible to England, as Luther did to Germany. He completed his New Testament against the greatest opposition, and published it in 1525, and was engaged on the Old Testament, when he was arrested, imprisoned a year, and then brought to the stake and strangled and burnt, at the age of fifty-nine, A.D. 1536. He was the morning star of the Reformation in England, and became by his translation of the New Testament and a part of the Old, and by the interest he excited in the subject of improved translations in England, one of the great benefactors of his race. He was a man of great gentleness, kindness, simplicity of character, and benevolence, and his life is without a stain. Coverdale translated the whole Bible, and published it in 1535 while Tindal was in prison waiting for his crown of martyrdom. Several other translations followed, and that of King James last of all, in 1611.
King James's translation was made by forty-seven translators, divided into six companies, and laboring on their work three years. The Douay Bible was first translated and published complete in 1609, almost simultaneously with the Bible of King James. It has the disadvantage of having been made from the Latin Vulgate, and not directly from the original Greek and Hebrew, but is a valuable version, and like the Bible of King James, is one of the great monuments of the times which produced it, as well as of the church which has adhered to it. It is good but not perfect; and it is hoped that its friends will not be unwilling to accept an improvement.
From the publication of Wickliffe's Bible in 1380, to that of Tindal's New Testament in 1525, was one hundred and forty-five years. From the publication of Tindal's New Testament in 1525, to that of King James's Bible in 1611, was eighty-six years. There was considerable progress made in knowledge, and the English language was considerably changed, in the interval of one hundred and forty-five years between the publication of Wickliffe's Bible and Tindal's New Testament. There was also considerable progress in knowledge, and some changes were made in the English language, in the interval of eighty-six years between the publication of Tindal's New Testament and King James's Bible.
The period that has elapsed between the publication of King James's Bible in 1611 and the present time (1858) is two hundred and forty-seven years, sixteen years more than the entire period from the publication of Wickliffe's Bible in 1388 to that of King James's in 1611. Besides, this has been a period of unparalleled activity in the investigation of Biblical subjects, and the prosecution of Biblical studies. Two hundred and forty-seven years, reckoning thirty three years to a generation, are seven generations and a half; and these seven generations and a half have been engaged in Biblical studies with unprecedented diligence and success, making great improvements in the text, detecting numerous interpolations and errors, making great improvements in the rendering, and detecting numerous errors in it; but the almost exclusive Bible of common life, of the family, the school, the church, and of private and devotional reading and study, with English Protestants, is still the Bible of King James, with its errors uncorrected, its interpolations unremoved, and its defects unsupplied.
Several new translations have been made since King James's time, but none of them have as yet been received with any considerable favor. King James's Bible, though extravagantly eulogized, was an excellent version for the times that produced it; yet it made much less improvement on the Bishop's Bible, the Geneva Bible, and Tindal's, Coverdale's, and others which it superseded, than Tindal's and Coverdale's did on Wickliffe's. Tindal, in the face of constant persecution, and cut off from many of the advantages and facilities which in more auspicious times he might have enjoyed, did more for the English Bible than all King James's translators. So did Luther for the Bible in Germany.
It is an unfortunate result of King James's translation of the Bible by an imposing council of learned men, that it has tended to discourage individual effort in respect to a labor of this kind, and to create a prejudice against it as necessarily incompetent and untrustworthy. Societies and councils have their spheres in which they are useful; yet they often transcend them and intrude on those of individuals. But there are great works which individuals can perform better than multitudes or councils. Councils did not make the Bible at first. It was made by individuals, each man acting for himself, and giving utterance to the mighty thoughts that God had given him. A council did not make Paradise Lost, and could not; nor has a council ever produced any immortal work of genius or learning, unless it is the English Bible of King James. With this exception, these are all the works of individuals. As individuals, therefore, have generally been the prosecutors of literary enterprises, in the department of Bible translation no less than in other departments, and as individuals have been eminently successful and useful in this department of labor heretofore, both in England and other countries, let it be hoped that they may be again.
There is a vast accumulation of knowledge to be made available by some one, or in some way, for the production of an improved English Bible, that shall bear the same relation to the advanced knowledge of these times, which Tindal's, Coverdale's, and that of King James did to theirs. More study has been expended on the sacred text and its interpretation, and more progress made in Biblical knowledge in the last seven generations, than in all time before. This knowledge is treasured up in critical editions of the original Scriptures, critical commentaries on them in Latin and other languages, in Greek and Hebrew Lexicons, and in other works in the various departments of Biblical learning, embracing commentaries on the English Scriptures, several of which are extensive and valuable. No man can gainsay them, no man can disparage them. They are monuments of the most precious and valuable learning of their times. Scholars with ample means and ample time for critical research, and those whose tastes and professions and convictions of duty incline them in that direction, may in a long series of years become masters of much of this learning, and receive the benefit of it. A few are masters of it, but how few! But how are the people to obtain it? When are they to find the time to obtain it? Where are they to find the means? The clergy are the instructors of the people on sacred subjects. Biblical learning is a part of their profession. They study it by day and by night, from youth to old age; but how are the great mass of clergymen even, amidst their parish cares and homiletical labors, and with their limited means and restricted libraries, to obtain much of this knowledge? Some of it they may obtain, but much of it they will not, and cannot.
The only way in which the vast stores of Biblical learning accumulated during the last two hundred and forty-seven years, by the labors of seven and a half generations toiling in succession, each generation beginning where that which preceded it left off, and each adding something to the stock which it received, can become available for the general benefit of the people, is by an improved text and translation of the Bible, into which, as far as possible, they shall all be brought, and to the perfection of which they shall contribute. This is the task which has been undertaken in the present work, and with what degree of success, the public will judge. The text which has been followed in this translation, is that of Tischendorf, published at Leipsic 1850. It is not only a great improvement on the received text, but on the critical texts that are in general use in this country. Tischendorf follows Griesbach, Lachmann and others, and availing himself of their labors, together with his own accurate collations of manuscripts extending to nearly all the most ancient manuscripts in the world, and following in the steps of Lachmann by editing solely from ancient authority, has brought the text of the New Testament to a degree of perfection not anticipated or even hoped for in past ages. It is a high recommendation of this translation, and will command for it an additional respect from all competent judges, that it follows this highly improved text. Readers will be able by this to see what is the Bible and what is not. It is not claimed for the text of Tischendorf that it is perfect; no text can be; but it is claimed for it, that it retains no known interpolation in the sacred books, and omits nothing known to belong to them. Future laborers will doubtless make some improvements on the text of Tischendorf, as he has done on that of Lachmann; but they cannot be expected to change it essentially.
I have deviated from Tischendorf in omitting Jesus as the proper name of Barabbas in two instances in Matt. xxv. 4, and occasionally in punctuation, and have retained two important interpolations in the text, duly noted as such, Mark, xvii. and John, x. 8.
The recent work of Trench on the English Bible came to hand after considerable progress had been made in stereotyping this volume. The translator was highly gratified to find that nearly all the improvements and corrections suggested by that eminent scholar were already made in this work, together with many others.
The arrangement of the books and divisions of the chapters and verses in this Translation are believed to be great improvements on those in common use. As such they are commended to the attention of translators and editors in different languages, and it is hoped will be found satisfactory.
The chronology of the New Testament is involved in great obscurity. The Christian Era was first proposed by Dionysius Exiguus, about A.D. 550, and was gradually adopted in the seventh and eighth centuries. By a mistake of Dionysius it was made to commence from four to six years too late. The birth of Christ was from 4 to 6 B.C.; his baptism, in the fifteenth year of Tiberius, A.D. 24; his death, probably, A.D. 28; and the events recorded in the first part of Acts prior to the death of Herod, A.D. 44, occurred considerably earlier than the dates usually assigned to them.
Matthew and Luke probably wrote their gospels A.D. 62 or 63; Mark and John, theirs A.D. 65-68. Acts was written A.D. 63. All the books of the New Testament were probably written before the destruction of Jerusalem, in the interval of seventeen years from A.D. 53 to 70. The Epistle to the Hebrews is by an unknown author. In this translation it appears in its proper place as the last of the Catholic Epistles.
The author of Revelation bears the same name as one of the Evangelists. But this does not prove that he was the same person, neither is the church tradition on the subject entitled to undoubted confidence. The author of Revelation does not claim to be an apostle; and by not making that claim in a book so extraordinary, virtually teaches that he is not such. His style also presents points of diversity from that of the Evangelist, that seem to be incompatible with the supposition that the same author wrote both works.
With these few explanations I commend this volume to the acceptance and blessing of our kind Father in heaven, and send it forth, accompanied with many prayers, to call men from sin to holiness, and from death and sorrow to the only true life and joy.
Several improvements were made in the second edition of this translation, partly to conform it to the improved Greek text of Teschendorf of 1858, partly to correct typographical errors, and in some cases to represent the original with greater precision or propriety than before. Several additional improvements are made in this edition, by which its value is believed to be considerably enhanced.
Boston, June 1, 1861.