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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : ADDRESS IV NATURE OF THE RENDERINGS

Addresses On The Revised Version Of Holy Scripture by C. J. Ellicott

ADDRESS IV NATURE OF THE RENDERINGS

From the text we now turn to the renderings, and to the general principles that were followed, both in the Old and in the New Testament. The revision of the English text was in each case subject to the same general rule, viz. |To introduce as few alterations as possible into the Text of the Authorised Version consistently with faithfulness|; but, owing to the great difference between the two languages, the Hebrew and the Greek, the application of the rule was necessarily different, and the results not easily comparable the one with the other.

It will be best then to consider the renderings in the two Testaments separately, and to form the best estimate we can of their character and of their subordination to the general rule, with due regard to the widely different nature of the structure and grammatical principles of the two languages through which God has been pleased to reveal His truth to the children of men.

I. We begin then with the Revised Version of the Old Testament, and naturally turn for general guidance to the Preface of those who were engaged in the long, diversified, and responsible work. Their general principles as to departures from the Authorised Version would appear to be included in the following clearly-specified particulars. They departed from the Authorised Version (a) where they did not agree with it as to the meaning or construction of a word or sentence; (b) where it was necessary, for the sake of uniformity, to render such parallel passages as were identical in Hebrew by the same English words; (c) where the English of the Authorised Version was liable to be misunderstood by reason of its being archaic or obscure; (d) where the rendering of an earlier English version seemed preferable; and (e) where, by an apparently slight change, it was possible to bring out more fully the meaning of a passage of which the translation was substantially accurate.

These principles, which I have been careful to specify in the exact words of the Revisers, will appear to every impartial reader to be fully in harmony with the principle of faithfulness; and will be found -- if an outsider may presume to make a passing comment -- to have been carried out with pervasive consistency and uniformity.

The Revisers further notice certain particulars of which the general reader should take full note, so much of the random criticisms of the revised text (especially in the New Testament) having been due to a complete disregard in each case of the Preface, and of the reasons given for changes which long experience had shown to be both reasonable and necessary.

The first particular is the important question of the rendering of the word |JEHOVAH.| Here the Revisers have thought it advisable to follow the usage of the Authorised Version, and not to insert the word uniformly in place of |LORD| or |GOD,| which words when printed in small capitals represent the words substituted by Jewish custom for the ineffable Name according to the vowel points by which it is distinguished. To this usage the Revisers have steadily adhered with the exception of a very few passages in which the introduction of a proper name seemed to be required. In this grave matter, as we all probably know, the American Company has expressed its dissent from the decision of the English Company, and has adopted the proper name wherever it occurs in the Hebrew text for |the LORD| and |GOD.| Most English readers will agree with our Revisers. It may indeed be said, now that we can read the American text continuously, that there certainly are many passages in which the proper name seems to come upon eye or ear with a serious and appropriate force; still the reverence with which we are accustomed to treat what the Revisers speak of as |the ineffable Name| will lead most of us to sacrifice the passages, where the blessed name may have an impressive force, to the reverential uniformity of our Authorised Version, and to the latent fear that frequent iteration might derogate from the solemnity with which we instinctively clothe the ever-blessed name of Almighty God.

The next particular relates to terms of natural history. Here changes have only been made where it was certain that the Authorised Version was incorrect, and highly probable that the word substituted was right. Where doubt existed, the text was left unchanged, but the alternative word was placed in the margin. In regard of other terms, of which the old rendering was certainly wrong, as in the case of the Hebrew term Asherah (probably the wooden symbol of a goddess), the Revisers have used the word, whether in the singular or plural, as a proper name. In the case of the Hebrew term |Sheol| (corresponding to the Greek term |Hades|), variously rendered in the Authorised Version by the words |grave,| |pit,| and |hell,| the Revisers have adopted in the historical books the first or second words with a marginal note, |Heb. Sheol,| but in the poetical books they have reversed this arrangement. The American Revisers, on the contrary, specify that in all cases where the word occurs in the Hebrew text they place it unchanged in the English text, and without any margin. The case is a difficult one, but the English arrangement is to be preferred, as the reader would not so plainly need a preliminary explanation.

The last case that it here seems necessary to allude to is the change everywhere of the words |the tabernacle of the congregation| into |the tent of meeting,| as the former words convey an entirely wrong sense. These and the use of several other terms are carefully noted and explained by the Revisers, and will, I hope, induce every careful reader of their revision to make it his duty to study their prefatory words. The almost unavoidable differences between them and the American Revisers, as to our own language, are alluded to by them in terms both friendly and wise, and may be considered fully to express the sentiments of the New Testament Company, by whom the subject is less precisely alluded to.

In passing from the Preface to the great work which it introduces, I feel the greatest difficulty, as a member of a different Company, in making more than a few very general comments. In fact, I should scarcely have ventured to do even this, had I not met with a small but very instructive volume on the revision of the Authorised Version of the Old Testament written by one of the American Revisers, and published at New York some fifteen or sixteen years ago. The volume is entitled -- perhaps with excusable brevity -- A Companion to the Revised Old Testament. The writer was Rev. Dr. Talbot W. Chambers, of the Collegiate Reformed Dutch Church of New York, from whose preface I learn that he was the only pastor in the Company, the others being professors in theological seminaries, and representing seven different denominations and nine different institutions. The book is written with great modesty, and as far as I can judge, with a good working knowledge of Hebrew. The writer disclaims in it the position of speaking in any degree for the Company of which he was a member, but mentions that his undertaking was approved of by his colleagues, and received the assistance, more or less, of all of them. He was a member of the Company during the last ten years of its labours.

I can recommend this useful volume to any student of the Old Testament who is desirous to see a selected list of the changes made by the Revisers in the Pentateuch, Historical Books, Poetical Books, and Prophetical Books. These changes are given in four chapters, and in most cases are accompanied by explanatory comments, which from their tenor often seem to be reminiscences of corporate discussion. I mention these particulars as I am not aware of any similar book on the Old Testament written by any one of the English Company. If there is such a book, I do sincerely hope the writer will forgive me for not having been so fortunate as to meet with it.

The remaining comments I shall venture to make on the rendering of the Old Testament will rest on the general knowledge I have acquired of this carefully-executed and conservative revision, and on some consideration of the many illustrations which Dr. Chambers has selected in his interesting manual. The impression that has long been left on my mind by the serious reading of the Old Testament in the Revised Version is that not nearly enough has been said of the value of the changes that have been made, and of the strong argument they furnish for the reading of the Revision in the public services of the Church. Let any serious person read the Book of Job with the two English versions in parallel columns, and form a sober opinion on the comparison -- his judgement I am confident will be, that if the Revision of this Book be a fair sample of the Revision generally, our congregations have a just right to claim that the Revised Version of the Old Testament should be publicly read in their churches. Ours is a Bible-loving country, and the English Bible in its most correct form can never be rightly withheld from our public ministrations.

I shall now close this portion of the present Address with a few comments on the four parts of the Revision to which I have already alluded -- the Pentateuch, and the Historical, Poetical, and Prophetical Books of the Old Testament.

What the careful reader of Genesis will not fail to observe is the number of passages in which comparatively small alterations give a new light to details of the sacred narrative which, in general reading, are commonly completely overlooked. A new colouring, so to speak, is given to the whole, and rectifications of prevailing conceptions not unfrequently introduced, either in the text or, as often happens, by means of the margin, where they could hardly have been anticipated. The prophecy of Jacob as to the future of his children (chap. xlix) will supply an instance. In the character of Reuben few of us would understand more than general unsteadiness and changefulness in purpose and in act, but a glance at the margin will show that impulse and excitability were plainly elements in his nature which led him into the grievous and hateful sin for which his father deposed him from the excellency of a first-born.

What has been said of the Book of Genesis is equally applicable to the remainder of the Pentateuch. The object throughout is elucidation, not simply correction of errors but removal of obscurity, if not by changes introduced into the printed text, yet certainly always by the aid of the margin; as, for example, in the somewhat difficult passage of Exodus xvii.16, where really, it would seem, that the margin might rightly have had its place in the text. Sometimes the correction of what might seem trivial error, as in Exodus xxxiv.33, gives an intelligible view of the whole details of the circumstance specified. Moses put on the veil after he had ceased speaking with them. While he was speaking to them he was speaking as God's representative. In Numbers xi.25 the correction of a mistranslation removes what might otherwise lead to a very grave misconception, viz. that the gift of prophecy was continuous in the case of the whole elderhood. In the chapters relating to Balaam, independently of the alterations that are made in the language of his remarkable utterances, the mere fact of their being arranged rhythmically could not fail to cause the public reader, almost unconsciously, to change his tone of voice, and to make the reading of the prophecy more distinct and impressive. Among many useful changes in Deuteronomy one may certainly be noticed (chap. xx.19), in which the obscure and difficult clause in regard of the tree in the neighbourhood of the besieged city is made at any rate intelligible.

In the historical books attention may be particularly called to the Song of Deborah and Barak, in which there are several important and elucidatory corrections, and in which the rhythmic arrangement will be felt to bear force and impressiveness both to reader and to hearer. In the remaining Books changes will be found fewer in number and less striking; but occasionally, as for example in 1 Kings xx.27, we come across changes that startle us by their unlooked-for character, but which, if correct, add a deeper degradation to the outpoured blood of Ahab in the pool of Samaria.

Of the poetical Books, I have already alluded to the Book of Job and to the high character of the Revision. The changes in this noble poem are many, and were especially needed, for the rendering of the Book of Job has always been felt to be one of the weakest portions of the great work of the Revisers of 1611. Illustrations I am unable to give, in a cursory notice like the present, but I may again press the Revisers' version of this deeply interesting Book on the serious attention of every earnest student of the Old Testament.

It is difficult to say much on the Revised Version of the Book of Psalms, as Coverdale's Version, as we have it in our Prayer Book, so completely occupies the foreground of memory and devotional interest, that I fear comparatively few study the Bible Version or the careful and conservative work of the Revisers. This Revision, however, of the version of the Book of Psalms deserves more attention than it appears to have received. Not only will the faithful reader find in it the necessary corrections of the version of 1611, but clear guidance as to the meaning of the sometimes utterly unintelligible renderings of the version of the Great Bible which still holds its place in our Prayer Books. To take two examples: let the reader look at the Authorised Version and Prayer Book Version of Psalm lxviii.16, and of lxxxiv.5, 6, and contrast with both the rendering of the Revised Version. This last-mentioned rendering will be found, as I have said, to correct the Authorised Version, and (especially in the second passage) to remove what is unintelligible in the Prayer Book version. It may thus be used by the Prayer Book reader of the Psalms as a ready and easily accessible means of arriving at the real meaning of the many ambiguities and obscurities which long familiarity with the Prayer Book Version has led him to pass over without any particular notice. The revision of the Prayer Book Version has been long felt to be a very real necessity. To read and to hear read in the daily services of the Church what, in parts, cannot be understood can never be spiritually good for reader or hearer. And yet, such is the really devout conservatism of the bulk of our congregations, that though a careful revision, sympathetically executed, has been strongly urged by some of our most earnest scholars and divines, it is more than doubtful whether such a revision ever will be carried out. If this be so, it only remains for us so to encourage, in our schools and in our Bible classes, the efficient explanatory help of the Revised Version. If this is steadily done, nearly all that is at present obscure or unintelligible in the Prayer Book Version will no longer remain so to the greater part of our worshippers.

Of the remaining Poetical Books the revision of the Authorised Version of the Song of Solomon must be specially noticed. In the common version the dramatic element is almost entirely lost, the paragraphs are imperfectly noted, and obscurities not a few the inevitable consequence. In a large degree these serious imperfections are removed, and the whole tenor of this exquisite poem made clear to the general reader. The margin will show the great care bestowed on the poem by the Revisers; and the fewness and trifling nature of the changes maintained by the American Company will also show, in a confessedly difficult Book, the somewhat remarkable amount of the agreement between the two Companies. On the Prophetical Books I do not feel qualified to speak except in very general terms; and for illustrations must refer the reader to the large list of the corrected renderings, especially of the prophecy of Isaiah, in the useful work of Dr. Chambers, who has devoted at least eleven pages to the details of the Revisers' work on the Evangelist of the Old Covenant. The impression which the consideration of these details leaves on the mind of the reader will be, I am confident, the same as that which is I believe felt by all professed Hebrew scholars who have examined the version, viz. that it is not only faithful and thorough, but often rises to a very high level of poetic utterance. Let any one read aloud in the Revised Version the well-known passage, chap. xiv.12-23, already nobly rendered in the Old Version, and ask himself if the seemingly slight and trivial changes have not maintained this splendid utterance at a uniform height of sustained and eloquent vigour.

In the prophecies of Jeremiah and Ezekiel the changes are less striking and noticeable, not however from any diminished care in the work of revision, but from the tenor of the prophecies being less familiar to the general reader. Four pages of instructive illustrations are supplied by Dr. Chambers in the case of each of the two prophecies. The more noticeable changes in Daniel and Hosea are also specified by Dr. Chambers, but the remainder of the minor prophets, with perhaps the exception of Habakkuk, are passed over with but little illustrative notice. A very slight inspection however of these difficult prophecies will certainly show two things -- first, that the Revisers of 1611 did their work in this portion of Holy Scripture less successfully than elsewhere; secondly, that the English and American Revisers -- between whom the differences are here noticeably very few -- laboured unitedly and successfully in keeping their revision of the preceding version of these prophecies fully up to the high level of the rest of their work.

II. I now pass onward to the consideration of the renderings in the Revised Version of the New Testament.

The object and purpose of the consideration will be exactly the same, as in the foregoing pages, to show the faithful thoroughness of the Revision, but the manner of showing this will be somewhat different to the method I have adopted in the foregoing portion of this Address. I shall not now bring before you examples of the faithful and suggestive accuracy of the revision, for to do this adequately would far exceed the limits of these Addresses; and further, if done would far fall short of the instructive volume of varied and admirably arranged illustrations written only four years ago by a member of the Company {96}, now, alas, no longer with us, of which I shall speak fully in my next Address.

What I shall now do will be to show that the principles on which the version of the New Testament was based have been in no degree affected by the copious literature connected with the language of the Greek Testament and its historical position which has appeared since the Revision was completed. It is only quite lately that the Revisers have been represented as being insufficiently acquainted, in several particulars, with the Greek of the New Testament, and in a word, being twenty years behind what is now known on the subject {97}. Such charges are easily made, and may at first sight seem very plausible, as the last fifteen or twenty years have brought with them an amount of research in the language of the Greek Testament which might be thought to antiquate some results of the Revision, and to affect to some extent the long labours of those who took part in it. The whole subject then must be fairly considered, especially in such an Address as the present, in which the object is to set forth the desirableness and rightfulness of using the version in the public services of the Church.

But first a few preliminary comments must be made on the manner and principles in which the changes of rendering have been introduced into the venerable Version which was intrusted to us to be revised.

The foremost principle to be alluded to is the one to which we adhered steadily and persistently during the whole ten years of our labour -- the principle of faithfulness to the original language in which it pleased Almighty God that His saving truth should be revealed to the children of men. As the lamented Bishop of Durham says most truly and forcibly in his instructive |Lessons on the Revised Version of the New Testament {98a};| |Faithfulness, the most candid and the most scrupulous, was the central aim of the Revisers {98b}.| Faithfulness, but to what? Certainly not to |the sense and spirit of the original {98b},| as our critics contended must have been meant by the rule, -- but to the original in its plain grammatical meaning as elicited by accurate interpretation. This I can confidently state was the intended meaning of the word when it appeared in the draft rule that was submitted to the Committee of Convocation. So it was understood by them; and so, I may add, it was understood by the Company, because I can clearly remember a very full discussion on the true meaning of the word at one of the early meetings of the Company. Some alteration had been proposed in the rendering of the Greek to which objection was made that it did not come under the rule and principle of faithfulness. This led to a general, and, as it proved, a final discussion. Bishop Lightfoot, I remember, took an earnest part in it. He contended that our revision must be a true and thorough one; that such a meeting as ours could not be assembled for many years to come, and that if the rendering was plainly more accurate and more true to the original, it ought not to be put aside as incompatible with some supposed aspect of the rule of faithfulness. Proposals were often set aside without the vote being taken, on the ground that it was not |worth while| to make them, and in a trivial matter to disturb recollection of a familiar text; but the non-voting resulted from the proposal being withdrawn owing to the mind of the Company being plainly against it, and not from any direct appeal to the principle of faithfulness. If the proposal was pressed, the vote of the Company was always taken, and the matter authoritatively settled.

The contention, often very recklessly urged, that the Revisers deliberately violated the principles under which the work was committed to them is thus, to use the kindest form of expression, entirely erroneous. I have dwelt upon this matter because when properly understood it clears away more than half of the objections that have been urged against our Revision. Of the remainder I cannot but agree with good Bishop Westcott that no criticism of the Revision -- and the criticisms were of every form and kind |pedantry, spiritless literality, irritating triviality, destroyed rhythm,| and so forth -- no criticism ever came upon us by surprise. The Revisers, as the Bishop truly says, heard in the Jerusalem Chamber all the arguments against their conclusions they have heard since; and he goes on to say that no restatement of old arguments had in the least degree shaken his confidence in the general results. Such words from one now, alas, no longer with us, but whose memory we cherish as one of the most wide-minded as well as truth-seeking of the biblical scholars of our own times, may well serve to reassure the partially hesitating reader of the Revised Version of its real trustworthiness and fidelity. But we must not confine our attention simply to the renderings that hold a place in the text of the Revised Version. We must take into our consideration a very instructive portion of the work of the Revisers which is, I fear, utterly neglected by the general reader -- the alternative readings and renderings that hold a place in the margin, and form an integral portion of the Revision. Though we are now more particularly considering the renderings, I include here the marginal readings, as the relation of the margins to the Version could hardly be fully specified without taking into consideration the margin in its entirety. As readers of the Preface to the New Testament (very few, I fear, to judge by current criticisms) will possibly remember, alternative readings and renderings were prohibited in the case of the Authorised Version, but, as we know, the prohibition was completely disregarded, some thirty-five notes referring to readings, and probably more than five hundred to alternative renderings. In the fundamental rules of Convocation for the Revision just the opposite course was prescribed, and, as we know, freely acted on.

These alternative readings and renderings must be carefully considered, as in the case of renderings much light is often thrown on the true interpretation of the passage, especially in the more difficult portions of the New Testament. Their relation however to the actually accepted Version must not be exaggerated, either in reference to readings or renderings. I will make plain what I mean by an example. Dr. Westcott specifies a reading of importance in John i.18 where he states that the reading in the margin (|God only begotten|) did in point of fact express the opinion of the majority of the Company, but did not appear in the text of the Version because it failed to secure the two-thirds majority of those present at the final revision. This, perhaps, makes a little too much of an acceptance at a somewhat early period of the labours of the Company. So far as I remember the case, the somewhat startling alteration was accepted at the first revision (when the decision was to be by simple majorities), but a margin was granted, which of course continued up to the second revision. At that revision the then text and the then margin changed places. Dr. Hort, I am well aware, published an important pamphlet on the subject, but I have no remembrance that the first decision on the reading was alluded to, either at the second revision or afterwards, in any exceptional manner. It did but share the fate of numberless alterations at the first revision that were not finally confirmed.

The American Revisers, it will be observed, agree as to the reading in question with their English brethren; and the same too is the judgement of Professor Nestle in his carefully edited Greek Testament to which I have already referred.

I have dwelt upon this particular case, because though I am especially desirous to encourage a far greater attention to the margin than it has hitherto received, I am equally desirous that the margin should not be elevated above its real position. That position is one of subordination to the version actually adopted, whether when maintaining the older form or changing it. It expresses the judgement of a legal, if not also of a numerical, minority, and, in the case of difficult passages (as in Rom. ix.4), the judgement of groups which the Company, as a whole, deemed worthy of being recorded. But, not only should the margin thus be considered, but the readings and renderings preferred by the American Committee, which will often be found suggestive and helpful. These, as we know, are now incorporated in the American Standard Edition of the Revised Bible; and the result, I fear, will be that the hitherto familiar Appendix will disappear from the smaller English editions of the Revised Version of the Old and New Testament. It is perhaps inevitable, but it will be a real loss. All I can hope is that in some specified English editions of the Old and New Testament each Appendix will regularly be maintained, and that this token of the happy union of England and America in the blessed work of revising their common version of God's holy Word will thus be preserved to the end.

But we must now pass onward to considerations very closely affecting the renderings of the Revised Version of the Greek Testament.

I have already said that very recently a new and unexpected charge has been brought against the Revisers of the Authorised Version. And the charge is no less than this, that the Revisers were ignorant in several important particulars of the language from which the version was originally made that they were appointed to revise.

Now in meeting a charge of this nature, in which we may certainly notice that want of considerate intelligence which marks much of the criticism that has been directed against our revision, it seems always best when dealing with a competent scholar who does not give in detail examples on which the criticism rests, to try and understand his point of view and the general reasons for his unfavourable pronouncement. And in this case I do not think it difficult to perceive that the imputation of ignorance on the part of the Revisers has arisen from an exaggerated estimate of the additions to our knowledge of New Testament Greek which have accumulated during the twenty years that have passed away since the Revision was completed. If this be a correct, as it is certainly a charitable, estimate of the circumstances under which ignorance has been imputed to us in respect of several matters relating to the Greek on which we were engaged, let us now leave our critics, and deal with these reasonable questions. First, what was the general knowledge, on the part of the Revisers, of the character and peculiarities of New Testament Greek? Secondly, what is the amount of the knowledge relative to New Testament Greek that has been acquired since the publication of the revision? and thirdly, to what extent does this recently acquired knowledge affect the correctness and fidelity of the renderings that have been adopted by the Revisers? If these three questions are plainly answered we shall have dealt fully and fairly with the doubts that have been expressed or implied as to the correctness of the revision.

First, then, as to the general knowledge which the revisers had of the character and peculiarities of the Greek of the New Testament.

This question could not perhaps be more fairly and correctly dealt with than by Bishop Westcott in the opening words of his chapter on Exactness in Grammatical Detail, in the valuable work to which I have already referred. What he states probably expresses very exactly the general view taken by the great majority, if not by all, of the Revisers in regard of the Greek of the New Testament. What the Bishop says of the language is this: |that it is marked by unique characteristics. It is separated very clearly, both in general vocabulary and in construction, from the language of the LXX, the Greek Version of the Old Testament, which was its preparation, and from the Greek of the Fathers which was its development {106}.|

If we accept this as a correct statement of the general knowledge of the Revisers as to the language of the Greek Testament, we naturally ask further, on what did they rely for the correct interpretation of it. The answer can readily be given, and it is this: Besides their general knowledge of Greek which, in the case of the large majority, was very great, their knowledge of New Testament Greek was distinctly influenced by the grammatical views of Professor Winer, of whose valuable grammar of the Greek Testament one of our Company, as I have mentioned in my first Address, had been a well-known and successful translator. Though his name was not very frequently brought up in our discussions, the influence his grammar exerted among us, directly and indirectly, was certainly great; but it went no further than grammatical details. His obvious gravitation to the idea of New Testament Greek forming a sort of separate department of its own probably never was shared, to any perceptible extent, by any one of us. We did not enter very far into these matters. We knew by every day's working experience that New Testament Greek differed to some extent from the Greek to which we had been accustomed, and from the Septuagint Greek to which from time to time we referred. But further than this we did not go, nor care to go. We had quite enough on our hands. We had a very difficult task to perform, we had to revise under prescribed conditions a version which needed revision almost in every verse, and we had no time to enter into questions that did not then appear to bear directly on our engrossing and responsible work.

But now it must be distinctly admitted that recent investigation and, to a certain extent, recent discoveries have cast so much new light on New Testament Greek that it becomes a positive duty to take into consideration what has been disclosed to us by the labours of the last fifteen years as to New Testament Greek, and then fairly to face the question whether the particular labours of the Revisers have been seriously affected by it. Let us bear in mind, however, that it may be quite possible that a largely increased knowledge of the position which what used to be called Biblical Greek now occupies may be clearly recognized, and yet only comparatively few changes necessitated by it in syntactic details and renderings. But let us not anticipate. What we have now to do is to ascertain the nature and amount of the disclosures and new knowledge to which I have alluded.

This may be briefly stated as emanating from a very large amount of recent literature on post-classical Greek, and from a careful and scientific investigation of the transition from the earlier post-classical to the later, and thence to the modern Greek of the present time. Such an investigation, illustrated as it has been by the voluminous collection of the Inscriptions, and the already large and growing collection of the Papyri, has thrown indirectly considerable light on New Testament Greek, and has also called out three works, each of a very important character, and posterior to the completion of the Revision, which deal directly with the Greek of the New Testament. These three works I will now specify.

The first, which is still in progress, and has not, I think, yet received a translator, is the singularly accurate, and in parts corrective, edition of Winer's |Grammar| by Prof. Schmiedel. The portion on the article is generally recognized as of great value and importance.

The second work is the now well-translated |Bible Studies| of Dr. Deissmann of Heidelberg {109}. This remarkable work, of which the full title is |Contributions, chiefly from Papyri and Inscriptions, to the History of the Language, the Literature, and the Religion of Hellenistic Judaism, and Primitive Christianity,| contains not only a clear estimate of the nature of New Testament Greek, but also a large and instructive vocabulary of about 160 words and expressions in the New Testament, most of which receive in varying degrees illustration from the Papyri, and other approximately contemporary sources. It must be noted, however, that the writer himself specifies that his investigations |have been, in part, arranged on a plan which is polemical {110a}.| This avowal must, to some extent, affect our full acceptance of all the results arrived at in this striking and laborious work.

The third work is a |Grammar of New Testament Greek| by the well-known and distinguished scholar, Dr. Blass, and is deserving of the fullest attention from every earnest student of the Greek Testament. It has been excellently translated by Mr. St. John Thackeray, of the Education Department {110b}. It is really hardly possible to speak too highly of this helpful and valuable work. Its value consists in this -- that it has been written, on the one hand, by an accomplished classical scholar, and, on the other hand, by one who is thoroughly acquainted with the investigations of the last fifteen years. As his Introduction clearly shows, he fully accepts the estimate that is now generally entertained of the Greek of the New Testament, viz. that it is no isolated production, as regards language, that had no historic relation to the Greek of the past or of the future. It was not, to any great extent, derived from the Greek translations of the Old Testament -- often, as Dr. Blass says, slavishly literal -- nor from the literary language of the time, but was the spoken Greek of the age to which it belonged, modified by the position and education of the speaker, and also to some extent, though by no means to any large extent, by the Semitic element which, from time to time, discloses itself in the language of the inspired writers. This last-written epithet, which I wittingly introduce, must not be lost sight of by the Christian student.

Dr. Blass quite admits that the language of the Greek Testament may be rightly treated in connexion with the discoveries in Egypt furnished by the Papyri; but he has also properly maintained elsewhere {111} that the books of the New Testament form a special group to be primarily explained by itself. Greatly as we are indebted to Dr. Deissmann for his illustrations, especially in regard of vocabulary, we must read with serious caution, and watch all attempts to make Inscriptions or Papyri do the work of an interpretation of the inner meaning of God's Holy Word which belongs to another realm, and to the self-explanations which are vouchsafed to us in the reverent study of the Book -- not of Humanity (as Deissmann speaks of the New Testament) {112} but of -- Life.

I have now probably dealt sufficiently with the second of the three questions which I have put forward for our consideration. I have stated the general substance of the knowledge which has been permitted to come to us since the revision was completed. I now pass onward to the third and most difficult question equitably to answer, |To what extent does this newly-acquired knowledge affect the correctness and fidelity of the revision of the Authorised Version of the New Testament?| It is easy enough to speak of |ignorance| on the part of the Revisers, especially after what I have specified in the answer to the question on which we have just been meditating; but the real and practical question is this, |If the Revisers had all this knowledge when they were engaged on their work, would it have materially affected their revision?|

To this more limited form of the question I feel no difficulty in replying, that I am fully and firmly persuaded that it would not have materially affected the revision; and my grounds for returning this answer depend on these two considerations: first, that the full knowledge which some of us had of Winer's Grammar, and the general knowledge that was possessed of it by the majority, certainly enabled us to realize that the Greek on which we were engaged, while retaining very many elements of what was classical, had in it also not only many signs of post-classical Greek, but even of usages which we now know belong to later developments. These later developments, all of which are, to some extent, to be recognized in the Greek Testament, such as the disappearance of the optative, the use of [Greek text] with the subjunctive in the place of the infinitive, the displacement of [Greek text], the interchange of [Greek text] and [Greek text], of [Greek text] and [Greek text], the use of compound forms without any corresponding increase of meaning, the extended usage of the aorist, the wider sphere of the accusative, and many similar indications of later Greek -- all these were so far known to us as to exercise a cautionary influence on our revision, and to prevent us overpressing the meaning of words and forms that had lost their original definiteness.

My second reason for the answer I have given to the question is based on the accumulating experience we were acquiring in our ten years of labour, and our instinctive avoidance of renderings which in appearance might be precise, but did in reality exaggerate the plain meaning intended by the Greek that we were rendering. Sometimes, but only rarely, we fell into this excusable form of over-rendering. Perhaps the concluding words of Mark xiv.65 will supply an example. At any rate, the view taken by Blass {114} would seem to suggest a less literal form of translation.

When I leave the limited form of answer, and face the broad and general question of the extent to which our recently-acquired knowledge affects the correctness and fidelity of the revision, I can only give an answer founded on an examination of numerous passages in which I have compared the comments of Dr. Blass in his Grammar, and of Dr. Deissmann in his |Bible Studies with the renderings of the Revisers.| And the answer is this, that the number of cases in which any change could reasonably be required has been so small, so very small, that the charge of any real ignorance, on the part of the Revisers, of the Greek on which they were engaged, must be dismissed as utterly and entirely exaggerated. We have now acquired an increased knowledge of the character of the Greek of the New Testament, and of the place it holds in the historical transition of the language from the earlier post-classical to the later developments of the language, but this knowledge, interesting and instructive as it may be, leaves the principles of correctly translating it practically intact. In this latter process we must deal with the language of the Greek Testament as we would deal with the language of any other Greek book, and make the book, as far as we have the means of doing so, its own interpreter.

Having thus shown in broad and general terms, as far as I have been able to do so, that we may still, notwithstanding the twenty years that have passed away, regard the Revised Version of the Greek Testament as a faithfully executed revision, and its renderings such as may be accepted with full Christian confidence, I now turn to the easier, but not less necessary, duty of bringing before you some considerations why this Version and, with it, the Revised Version of the Old Testament, should be regularly used in the public services of our Mother Church.

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