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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : ADDRESS V. PUBLIC USE OF THE VERSION.

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

ADDRESS V. PUBLIC USE OF THE VERSION.

We have now traced the external, and to some extent the internal history of Revision from the time, some fifty years ago, when it began to occupy the thoughts of scholars and divines, down to the present day.

We have seen the steady advance in Church opinion as to its necessity; its earliest manifestations, and the silent progress from what was tentative and provisional to authoritative recognition, and to carefully formulated procedures under the high and venerable sanction of the two Houses of the Convocation of Canterbury. We have further seen how the movement extended to America, and how some of the best scholars and divines of that Christian country co-operated with those of our own country in the arduous and responsible work of revising their common heritage, the Version of God's most Holy Word, as set forth by authority 290 years ago. We have noted too, that in this work not less than one hundred scholars and divines were engaged -- for fourteen years in the case of the Old Testament, and for ten years in the case of the New Testament -- and that this long period of labour and study was marked by regularly appointed and faithfully kept times of meeting, and by the interchange with the Revisers on the other side of the Atlantic of successive portions of the work, until the whole was completed.

And this Revision, as we have seen, has included a full consideration of the text of the original languages as well as of the renderings. In the Old Testament, adherence to the Massorite Text has left only a very limited number of passages in which consideration of the ancient Version was deemed to be necessary; but, in the New Testament, as we well know, questions of textual criticism occupied a large portion of the time and attention of the Revisers, both here and in America. In regard of the renderings, we have seen the care and thoroughness with which the Revision was carried out, the marginal notes in both Testaments showing convincingly, especially on the more difficult passages, how every rendering that could be regarded as in any degree probable received its full share of consideration. Finally, it must not be forgotten that, in the case of the New Testament, the serious question whether the research in New Testament Greek since the Revision was completed has, to any appreciable extent, affected the suggestive light and truth of really innumerable corrections and changes -- this too has been faced, and the charge fairly met, that just conclusions drawn from the true nature of the Greek, gravely affecting interpretation, have been ignored by the Revisers.

So much of the latter part of the last Address has been taken up with this necessary duty of showing that the changes in renderings cannot be invalidated by a priori considerations founded on the alleged insufficient knowledge, on the part of the Revisers, of the nature of the Greek they were translating, that I have not cited examples of the light-giving and often serious nature of the changes made in the Authorised Version. This I regretted at the time; but a little consideration showed me that it was much better for the cause in which I am engaged that I should refer you for illustrations of the nature and value of the renderings in the Revised Version of the New Testament to a singularly fruitful and helpful volume, published only four years ago, and so subsequently to the researches in New Testament Greek of which I have spoken. This volume was written by a member of our Company -- now, alas, no longer with us -- whose knowledge of the Greek language, whether of earlier or of later date, no one could possibly doubt. I allude to the |Lessons of the Revised Version of the New Testament,| by Dr. Westcott, a volume that has not yet received the full attention which its remarkable merits abundantly claim, for it.

Of this volume I shall speak more fully later on in this Address, my object now being to set forth the desirableness, I might even say the duty, of using the Revised Version in the Public Services of the Church.

After the summary I have just given of the external history of this great movement, does not the question come home to us, Why has all this been done? For what have the hundred labourers in the great work freely given their time and their energies during the four and twenty years (speaking collectively) that were spent on the work? For what did the venerable Convocation of our Province give the weight of its sanction and authority when it drew up the fundamental rules in accordance with which all has been done? Can there be any other answer than this? All has been done to bring the truth of God's most Holy Word more faithfully and more freshly home to the hearts and consciences of our English-speaking people. And if this be so, how are ministers of this Holy Word to answer the further question, When we are met together in the House of God to hear His word and His message of salvation to mankind, how hear we it? In the traditional form in which it has been heard for wellnigh three hundred years, or in a form on which, to ensure faithfulness and accuracy, such labour has been bestowed as that which we are now considering? It seems impossible to hesitate as to our answer. And yet numbers do hesitate; and partly from indifference, partly from a vague fear of disquieting a congregation, partly, and probably chiefly, from a sense of difficulty as to the rightful mode of introducing the change, the old Version is still read, albeit with an uneasy feeling on the part of the public reader; the uneasy feeling being this, that errors in regard of Holy Scripture ought not to remain uncorrected nor obscurities left to cloud the meaning of God's Word when there is a current Version from which errors are removed, and in which obscurities are dissipated. Why should not such a Version be read in the ears of our people?

This is the question which I am confident many a one of you, my dear friends, when you have been reading in your church -- say the Epistles -- have often felt very distinctly come home to you. Why should such a Version not be read in the ears of our people? Has it been forbidden? No, thank God; full liberty, on the contrary, has been left to us by the living voice of the synod of this Province that it may be read, subject to one reasonable limitation. Was it not the unanimous judgement of the Upper House of the Convocation of our Province, confirmed by the voice of the Lower House {122} -- |That the use of the Revised Version of the Bible at the lectern in the public services of the Church, where this is desired by clergy and people, is not open to any well-founded objection, and will tend to promote a more intelligent knowledge of Holy Scripture|? And further, was not this adopted by the Lay House of our Province, even when a few doubting voices were heard {123}, and an interpretation given to the word |use,| in the form of a rider, which, I can confidently say, never entered into the minds or thoughts of the members of the Upper House? Indeed, though I do not wish to criticise the decision of the House of Laymen, their appended words of interpretation fall to the ground. If |use| is to mean |occasional employment of Lessons from the Revised Version, where, in the interest of more accurate translation, it is desirable,| can any Lessons be found where the interest of more accurate translation is not patently concerned? If this be so, what meaning can we assign to |occasional employment|?

We see then plainly, if we are to be guided by the judgement of the venerable body to whom the authoritative inception of Revision is alone to be assigned, that the way to its use in the Public Services of the Church is open to us all -- where such use is desired by clergy and people. Now let us take these words seriously into our consideration. They clearly mean, however good the Version may be, that there is to be no sudden and precipitate use of the Revised Version in the appointed Lessons for the day on the part of the minister of any of our parishes. If introduced, its introduction must not be simply when it is desired by the clergyman, but when it is also desired by his people. So great a change as the displacement of the old and familiar Authorised Version -- for it amounts to this -- in the public reading of Holy Scripture in the Services of the Church, in favour of an altered form of the old Version (though confessedly so altered that the general hearer would hardly ever recognize the displacement) -- so great a change ought not to be made without the knowledge, and further, the desire of the congregation.

But how is the desire for the change to be ascertained? So far as I can see, there can be only one real and rightful way of bringing about the desire and the manifestation of it, and that is by first of all showing simply and plainly how, especially in the New Testament, the alterations give life, colouring and reality to the narratives of Evangelists, force and lucidity to the reasonings of Apostles, and, what is of still more vital importance, deeper insight into our relations to our saving Lord, clearer knowledge of His blessed life and work here on earth, and quickened perceptions of our present and our future, and, to a very real extent, of the holy mysteries of the life of the world to come. When changes of text and of renderings are shown, and they can be shown, to bear with them these fuller revelations of God's Holy Word, there will be no lack of desire, and of the manifestation of it, in any congregation, for the public use of a Version through which such disclosures as I have specified can be brought home to the truth-seeking believer.

My fixed opinion therefore is this, that though, after a long and careful consideration of the subject, I do sincerely desire that the Revised Version should be introduced into the churches of this diocese, I do also sincerely desire that it should not be introduced without a due preparation of the congregation for the change, and some manifestation of their desire for the change. There will probably be a few churches in our diocese in which the Revised Version is used already, and in regard of them nothing more will be necessary than, from time to time, in occasional addresses, to allude to any important changes that may have appeared in the Lessons and recent readings of Holy Scripture, and thus to keep alive the thoughtful study of that which will be more and more felt to be, in the truest sense of the words, the Book of Life. But, in the great majority of our churches -- though in many cases there may have been passing desires to read and to hear God's Word in its most truthful form -- no forward steps will have been taken. It is in reference then to this great majority of cases that I have broken my long silence, and, before my ministry closes, have resolved to bring before you the whole history of the greatest spiritual movement that has taken place since the Reformation; and also to indicate the untold blessings the Revision will bear to those who avail themselves of it in all reverent earnestness and devotion.

Thus far I hope I have made it plain that any forward steps that may be taken can only hopefully be taken when, both in the case of pastor and people, due preparation shall have been made for what, in the sequel, will be found to be an enduring spiritual change in the relation of the soul of the devout hearer or reader to the Book of Life. He will learn not only faithfully to read the inspired Word, but inwardly to love it.

But what shall we regard as due preparation in the case of pastor and people? This question, I can well believe, has already risen in the hearts of many who are now hearing these words, and to the best answer to it that I am able to give you I will gladly devote the remainder of this present Address. Let us first consider how any one of you really and truly desirous to prepare his congregation for the hearing of God's Word in the form known as the Revised Version -- how such a one should prepare himself for the responsible duty. Prayer for himself and his congregation in this great spiritual matter should ever be his first preparation. After this his next care should be to provide himself with such books as will be indispensable for faithful preparation. First and foremost, let him provide himself with a copy of what is called the Parallel Bible, the Authorised Version being on the left-hand side of the page, and the Revised Version on the right. Next let it be his duty to read closely and carefully the Preface to the Old Testament and the Preface to the New Testament. Had this been done years ago, how much of unfair criticism should we all have been spared? The next step will be to obtain some competent guide-book to explain the meaning of the different changes of rendering, the alterations due to readings having been separately noted. The guide-book, whether in the case of the Old or of the New Testament, should, in my judgement, be a volume written by a Reviser, as he would have a knowledge, far beyond what could be obtained by an outsider, of the reasons for many of the departures from the Authorised Version.

In regard of the Old Testament I have said in my last Address that I do not myself know of any guide-book, written by a Reviser, save the interesting volume by Dr. Talbot Chambers, to which I have been indebted for much that, being a member of another Company, I could not have brought forward without his assistance. In regard of the New Testament, however, it is otherwise. There is a useful volume by my old friend and former colleague the late Prebendary Humphry; but the volume which I most earnestly desire to name is the volume already mentioned, and entitled |Some Lessons of the Revised Version of the New Testament,| by the late Bishop of Durham. This book is simply indispensable for any one desirous of preparing himself for the duty of introducing the Revised Version of the New Testament into the Public Services of his parish. It is one of those rare and remarkable books that not only give the needed explanation, but also cast a light on the whole spiritual results of the change, and constantly awaken in the reader some portion of the enthusiasm with which the Bishop records changes that many an earnest and devout reader might think belonged only to the details of grammatical accuracy. I thus cannot forbear quoting a few lines in which the Bishop, after alluding to the change in Matt. xxviii.19, into (not in) the name of the Father and of the Holy Ghost, and the change in Rom. vi.23, eternal life in (not through) Christ Jesus our Lord, thus speaks from his inmost soul: |Am I wrong in saying that he who has mastered the meaning of those two prepositions now truly rendered -- 'into the name,' 'in Christ' -- has found the central truth of Christianity? Certainly I would gladly have given the ten years of my life spent on the Revision to bring only these two phrases of the New Testament to the heart of Englishmen.| Is it too much to say that a volume written by a guide such as this is simply indispensable for any one who prepares himself for introducing to his people -- the government of whose souls has been committed to him -- the Revised Version of the New Testament of our Lord and Master Jesus Christ.

With the help that I have specified any one of you, my dear friends, might adequately prepare himself for the duty and responsibility of taking the next step, the preparation of his congregation for hearing the Word of God in the form that most nearly approaches in our own language what prophets, evangelists, and apostles have written for our learning under the inspiration of God. This preparation may be carried on in many forms, by pastoral visitations, through our Bible classes, through the efforts of our mission preachers in the holy seasons, but obviously most hopefully and persuasively by the living voice of the faithful pastor in his public ministrations in the pulpit of his church. Parishes differ so much in spiritual culture that probably no method of preparation could be specified that would be equally applicable to all. Still in the case of our country parishes I am persuaded our preparation must come from the pulpit and in a manner carefully thought out and prearranged. Let me give some indication of a mode of bringing the subject forward in a country parish that would call out the desire for the regular use of the Revised Version in the reading of the Lessons for the day.

Let us suppose a month set apart for the preparation. On the first Sunday let an account be given of the circumstances, and especially the authority under which the Revision came into existence. On the second Sunday let illustrations be given of the nature of the Revision from those parts in Bishop Westcott's |Lessons of the Revised Version of the New Testament| which made the deepest impression during the study of that suggestive and spiritual volume. On the third Sunday let comments be made on the most striking of the changes in the two appointed Lessons for the day from the Old Testament. Here the preacher may find some difficulty, as want of knowledge of Hebrew or of the right interpretation of the passage in which the alteration is made might prevent his clearly stating the reasons for it. In such cases a good modern Commentary on the Old Testament would probably supply the needed assistance. The most available Commentary I know of for the purpose is the one published by Messrs. Cassells, and now sold at the low price -- for both Testaments -- of thirty-five shillings. On the fourth Sunday, the preacher's subject should be the most striking of the changes in the two appointed Lessons from the New Testament. For this there would be abundant help supplied by the volume of Bishop Westcott, and, if needed, by the Commentary on the New Testament to which I have alluded.

Now I sincerely believe that if this very simple and feasible plan were carried out in any parish, two results would certainly follow: first, that the Revised Version would be desired and welcomed; secondly, that an interest in God's Holy Word would be called out in the parish and its Bible classes that would make a lasting impression on the whole spiritual life of the place. We have many faults, but we are a Bible-loving nation, and we have shown it in many crises of our history; and thus, I am persuaded, in a change such as I have suggested, the old love would be called out afresh, and would display itself in a manner we might never have expected.

I feel now that I have said all that it may be well for me to have laid before you. I have used no tone of authority; I have not urged in any way the introduction of the Revised Version, or that the plan of introducing it should be adopted by any one among you. I have contented myself with having shown that it is feasible; and I have definitely stated my opinion that, if it were to be adopted, it is in a high degree probable that a fresh interest in the Holy Scriptures would be awakened, and the love of God's Holy Word again found to be a living reality.

Perhaps the present time may be of greater moment in regard of the study of Holy Scripture, and especially of the language of the Greek Testament, than we may now be able distinctly to foresee. I mentioned in my last Address the large amount of research, during the last fifteen years, in reference to the Greek of the New Testament and the position which the sacred volume, considered simply historically and as a collection of writings in the Greek language of the first century after Christ, really does hold in the general history of a language which, in its latest form, is widely spoken to this very day. I mentioned also what seemed to be the most reasonable opinion, viz. that the Greek of the New Testament was the spoken Greek of the time, neither literary Greek nor the Greek of the lower class, but Greek such as men would use at that time when they had to place in the definiteness of writing the language which passed from their lips in their converse with their fellow-men. Now, that advantage will be taken of this, and that it will be used to show that the spiritual deductions that we draw from the written words cannot be fully relied on, because old distinctions have been obscured or obliterated, is what I fear, in days such as these, will often be used against the faithful reading, marking, and learning of the Written Word. But we shall hear them, I hope, with the two true conclusive answers ever present in the soul, the answer of plain human reasoning, and the deeper answer which revelation brings seriously home to us. In regard of the first answer, does not plain common sense justify us in maintaining that the writers meant what they wrote, and that when they used certain Greek words in the mighty message they were delivering to their fellow-men and to all who should hereafter receive it, they did mean that those words were to be understood in the plain and simple meaning that every plain reader would assign to them. They were not speaking; they were writing; and they were writing what they knew was to be for all time. Thus to take an example from the passages above referred to of which Bishop Westcott makes such impressive use, who can doubt, with any fair show of reason -- however frequent may be the interchange of the particular prepositions in the first century -- that, in those passages, when St. Matthew wrote [Greek text] he did mean into; and that when St. Paul used [Greek text], he did mean in, in the simplest sense of the word?

But to the devout Christian we have a far deeper answer than the answer we have just considered.

In the first place, does not the manifold wisdom of God reveal itself to our poor human thoughts in His choice of a widespread spoken language, just by its very diffusion readily lending itself to the reception of new words and new thoughts as the medium by which the Gospel message was communicated to the children of men? Just as the particular period of Christ's manifestation has ever been reverently regarded as a revelation of the manifold nature of the eternal wisdom, so may we not see the same in the choice of a language, at a particular period of its development, as the bearer of the message of salvation to mankind? Surely this is a manifestation of the Divine wisdom which must ever be seen and felt whenever the outward character of the Greek of the New Testament is dwelt upon by the truth-seeking spirit of the reverent believer.

And is there not a second thought, far too much lost sight of in our investigation of the written word of the New Testament -- that just as the writers had their human powers quickened and strengthened by the Holy Ghost for the full setting forth of the Gospel message by their spoken words, so in regard of their written words would the same blessed guidance be vouchsafed to them? And if so, is it not right for us, not only to draw from their words all that by the plain laws of language they can be understood to convey to us, but also to do what has been done in the Revised Version, and to find the nearest equivalent our language supplies for the words in the original?

These thoughts might be carried much further, but enough has been said to justify the minute care that has been taken in the renderings of the written word of the New Testament by the Revisers, and further, the validity of the deductions that may be drawn from their use of one word rather than another, especially in the case of words that might seem to be practically synonymous. It may be quite true that, in the current Greek of the time, many of the distinctions that were valid in an earlier period of the language were no longer observed; and of this we find many indications in the Greek Testament. But it must be remembered that we also find in the Greek Testament a vastly preponderating portion of what is grammatically correct according to the earlier standard, and often clear indications that what was so written must have been definitely meant by the writer. Is it not then our clearest duty, remembering always that what we are translating is the Gospel message, to do what the Revisers did, to render each passage in accordance with the recognized meaning of the words, and in harmony with the plain tenor of the context?

I now close these words and these Addresses with the solemn prayer to Almighty God that in this great matter, and in the use of that which the living voice of our synod permits us to use, we may be guided by God the Holy Ghost, through Jesus Christ, our ever-blessed and redeeming Lord and God.

* * * * *

[As the use at the lectern of the Revised Version in the Public Service of the Church may be thought likely to involve expense, I may mention that the small pica edition of the Bible, at 10s. 6d. net, and of the Apocrypha separately, at 7s. 6d., will be found sufficient in most churches. The folio edition in buckram of the Bible with Apocrypha will, I understand, be two guineas, net. Application however should be made to the University Press of Oxford or of Cambridge, or to the Christian Knowledge Society.]

OXFORD: HORACE HART
PRINTER TO THE UNIVERSITY

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