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THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MATTHEW - Chapter 1 - Verse 2
THE writings which are regarded by Christians as the sole standard of faith and practice, have been designated at various periods by different names. They are frequently called The Scriptures, to denote that they are the most important of all writings; The Holy Scriptures, because composed by persons divinely inspired, and containing sacred truth; and The Canonical Scriptures. The word canon means a rule; and it was applied by the Christian fathers to the books of the Bible because they were regarded as an authoritative rule of faith and practice; and also to distinguish them from certain spurious or apocryphal books, which, although some of them might be true as matter of history, or correct in doctrine, were not regarded as a rule of faith, and were therefore considered as not canonical.
But the most common appellation given now to these writings is THE BIBLE. This is a Greek word signifying book. It is given to the Scriptures by way of eminence, to denote that this is the Book of books, as being infinitely superior to every unassisted production of the human mind. In the same way, the name Koran or reading is given to the writings of Mohammed, denoting that they are the chief writings to be read, or eminently the reading.
The most common and general division of the Bible is into the Old and New Testaments. The word testament, with us, means a will; an instrument in writing, by which a person declares his will in relation to his property after his death. This is not, however, its meaning when applied to the Scriptures. It is taken from the Greek translation of the Hebrew word meaning covenant, compact, or agreement. The word is applied to the covenant or compact which God made with the Jews to be their God, and thus primarily denotes the agreement, the compact, the promises, the institutions, of the old dispensation, and then the record of that compact in the writings of Moses and the Prophets. The name" Old Testament," or" Old Covenant," therefore, denotes the books containing the records of God's compact with his people, or his dispensations under the Mosaic or Jewish state. The phrase New Covenant, or Testament, denotes the books which contain the record of his new covenant or compact With his people under the Messiah, or since Christ came. We find mention made of the Book of the Covenant in Ex 24:7, and in the New Testament the word is once used, (2 Co 3:14,) with an undoubted reference to the sacred books of the Jews. By whom, or at what time, these terms were first used to designate the two divisions of the sacred Scriptures, is not certainly known. There can be no doubt, however, of the great antiquity of the application.
The Jews divided the Old Testament into three parts, called THE LAW, THE PROPHETS, and THE HAGIOGRAPHA, or the holy writings. This division is noticed by our Saviour in Lu 24:44. See Barnes "Lu 24:44".
"All things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses, and in the Prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning me." Josephus, the Jewish historian, also makes mention of the same division. (Against Apion). "We have," says he, "only twenty-two books which are to be believed to be of Divine authority; of which five are the books of Moses. From the death of Moses to the reign of Artaxerxes, son of Xerxes, king of Persia, the prophets who were the successors of Moses have written in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain hymns to God and documents of life for the use of men." It is probable that precisely the same books were not always included in the same division; but there can be no doubt that the division itself was always retained. The division into twenty-two books was made partly, no doubt, for the convenience of the memory. This was the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. The English Bible contains thirty-nine instead of twenty-two books in the Old Testament. The number which Josephus reckons may be accurately made out as follows:
The first division, comprehending the five books of Moses, or THE LAW.
The second, including,
1st, Joshua; 2nd, Judges, with Ruth; 3rd, Samuel; 4th, Kings; 5th, Isaiah; 6th, Jeremiah, with Lamentations; 7th, Ezekiel; 8th, Daniel; 9th, the twelve minor prophets; 10th, Job; 11th, Ezra, including Nehemiah; 12th, Esther; 13th, Chronicles:
these thirteen books were called THE PROPHETS. The four remaining will be Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon. In regard to the second division, it is a fact well known, that the twelve smaller prophets, from Hosea to Malachi, were for convenience uniformly united in one volume; and that the small books of Ruth and Lamentations were attached to the larger works mentioned, and Ezra and Nehemiah were long reckoned as one book. The arrangement of the books of the Bible has not always been the same. The order followed in the English Bible is taken from the Greek translation called the Septuagint. Probably the best way to read the Bible is to read the books as nearly as possible in the order in which they were written. Thus Isaiah informs us, (Isa 1:1) that his prophecies were delivered in the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah; and, to be correctly understood, should be read in connexion with the record of those reigns in Kings and Chronicles.
The names of most of the books in the Bible are taken from the Greek translation above mentioned. The books of the Bible were anciently written without any breaks, or divisions into chapters and verses. For convenience, the Jews early divided the Old Testament into greater and smaller sections. These sections in the law and prophets were read in the worship of the synagogues. The New Testament was also early divided in a similar manner.
The division into chapters and verses is of recent origin. It was first adopted in the 13th century by Cardinal Hugo, who wrote a celebrated commentary on the Scriptures. He divided the Latin Vulgate, the version used in the church of Rome, into chapters nearly the same as those which now exist in our English translation. These chapters he divided into smaller sections by placing the letters A, B, C, etc., at equal distances from each other in the margin.
The division into verses was not made until a still later period. The division of Cardinal Hugo into chapters became known to Rabbi Nathan, a distinguished Jew, who adopted it for the Hebrew Bible, and placed the Hebrew letters, used also as numerals, in the margin. This was used by Rabbi Nathan in publishing a concordance, and adopted by Athias in a printed edition of the Hebrew Bible in 1661.
The verses into which the New Testament is divided are still more modern, and are an imitation of those used by Rabbi Nathan in the fifteenth century. This division was invented and first used by Stephens, in an edition of the New Testament printed in 1551. The division was made as an amusement while he was on a journey from Lyons to Paris, during the intervals in which he rested in travelling. It has been adopted in all the subsequent editions of the Bible.
In regard to this division into chapters and verses, it is clear that they are of no authority whatever. It has been doubted whether the sacred writers used any points or divisions of any kind. It is certain that they were wholly unacquainted with those now in use. It is further evident that, in all cases, these divisions have not been judiciously made. The sense is often interrupted by the close of a chapter, and still oftener by the break in the verses. In reading the Scriptures, little regard should be had to this division. It is of use now only for reference; and inaccurate as it is, it must evidently be substantially retained. All the books that have been printed for three hundred years, which refer to the Bible, have made their reference to these chapters and verses; and to attempt any change now would be to render almost useless a great part of the religious books in our language, and to introduce inextricable confusion in all attempts to quote the Bible.
The first translation of the Old Testament was made about the year 270 before the Christian era. It was made at Alexandria, in Egypt, into the Greek language, and probably for the use of the Jews, who were scattered among pagan nations. Ancient writers inform us, indeed, that it was made at the command of Ptolemy Philadelphus, to be deposited in the Library at Alexandria. It bears internal marks of having been made by different individuals, and no doubt at different times. It came to be extensively used in Judea, and no small part of the quotations in the New Testament were taken from it. There is no doubt that the apostles were familiar with it; and as it had obtained general currency, they chose to quote it rather than translate the Hebrew for themselves. It is called the Septuagint, or the version by the Seventy, from a tradition that seventy elders of Israel, deputed for that purpose, were employed in making the translation.
The language Spoken by our Saviour and his apostles was a corruption of the Hebrew, a mixture of that and the language spoken in Chaldee, called Syro-Chaldaic, or more commonly the Syriac. The reason why the New Testament was not written in this language was, that the Greek had become the common language used throughout the eastern nations subject to the Romans. This general use of the Greek language was produced by the invasion and conquest of those nations by Alexander the Great, about 330 years before Christ. The New Testament was, however, early translated into the Syriac language. A translation is now extant in that language, held in great veneration by Syrian Christians, said to have been made in the first century, or in the age of the apostles, and acknowledged by all to have been made before the close of the second century.
About the beginning of the fourth century, the Bible was translated into Latin by Jerome. This translation was made in consequence, as he says, of the incorrectness of a version then in use, called the Italic. The translation made by Jerome, now called the Latin Vulgate, is the authorized version of the church of Rome. [For an account of this version, See Barnes on "Is 1:1".]
The Bible was translated by Luther in the beginning of the Reformation. This translation has done much to fix the German language, and is now the received version among the Lutheran churches.
There have been many other translations of the Bible, and there are many more still in progress. More than one hundred and fifty translations of the whole Bible, or parts of it, have been made during the last half century. Those which have been mentioned, together with the English, have been, however, the principal, and are most relied on as faithful exhibitions of the meaning of the sacred Scriptures.
The English translation of the Bible now in use was made in the reign of James I. This translation was intended only as an improvement of those previously in existence. A short account of the translation of the Bible into our own language cannot fail to be interesting.
It is not easy to ascertain the precise time when the gospel was introduced into Britain, or when the inhabitants were first in possession of the Bible. The earliest version of which we have any account is a translation of the Psalms into the Saxon language, about the year 706. But the principal translation at that early period was made by the "venerable Bede," about the year 730. He translated the whole Bible into the Saxon language.
The first English translation of the Bible was executed about the year 1290 by some unknown individual. About the year 1380, John Wickliffe, the morning star of the Reformation, translated the entire Bible into English from the Latin. The great labour and expense of transcribing books, before the invention of printing, probably prevented a very extensive circulation of the Scriptures among the people. [So great was the expense of transcribing the Bible at that time, that the price of one of Wickliffe's New Testaments was not less than forty pounds sterling, or one hundred and seventy-six dollars and seventy- eight cents of our money. And it should be matter of devout gratitude to God that, by the art of printing, the New Testament can now be obtained for the trifling sum of ten cents, and the entire Bible for twenty-five]. Yet the translation of Wickliffe is known to have produced a vast effect on the minds of the people. Knowledge was beginning to be sought for with avidity. The eyes of the people were beginning to open to the abominations of the church of Rome; and the national mind was preparing for the great change which followed in the days of Luther. So deep was the impression made by Wickliffe's' translation, and so dangerous was it thought to be to the interest of the Romish religion, that a bill was brought into the House of Lords for the purpose of suppressing it. The bill was rejected through the influence of the Duke of Lancaster; and this gave encouragement to the friends of Wickliffe to publish a more correct translation of the Bible. At a convocation, however, held at Oxford, in 1408, it was decreed that no one should translate any text of the Holy Scripture into English, by way of a book, or little book, or tract; and that no book of this kind should be read that was composed in the time of John Wickliffe, or since his death. This decree led the way to a great persecution; and many persons were punished severely, and some even with death, for reading the Bible in English. The Bible translated by Wickliffe was never printed. Some years since the New Testament was printed in England.
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. Different learned men undertook to translate different parts of the Bible, and after these persons had been carefully compared, the whole 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 an century, was succeeded by the translation at present in use.
* The following is a specimen of this translation:-
Matthew, chap. v.—And Jhesus seynge the people, went up into an hil;
and whanne he was sett, his disciplis camen to him. And he openyde his
mouthe, and taughte them; and seide, Blessid be pore men in spirit; for
the kyngdom of hevenes is hereun [theirs]. Blessid ben mylde men: for
thei schulen weelde the erthe. Blessid ben thei that mournen: for thei
schal be comfortid. Blessid be thei that hungten and thirsten
rightwisnesse [Rightfulnesse, MS, plures]: for thei schal be fulfilled.
Blessid ben merciful men: for thei schul gete mercy. Blessid ben
thei that ben of clene herte: for thei schulen se god. Blessid ben
pesible men: for thei schulen be clepid goddis children. Blessid ben thei
that surften persecucioun for rightwisnesse: 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 hah pursued
also prophets that weren bifore you. Ye ben salt of the erthe, that if
the salt vanishe awey wherynne schal it be salted? 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 hil may not be hid. Ne me teendith not a
lanterne and puttith it under a bushel; but on a candlesfik 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 prophets, I cam
not to undo the lawe but to fulfille. 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, sehal 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 Edition.
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 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. "Ten were 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, etc. 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 reviewed by Dr. Smith, who wrote the preface, and by Dr. Bilson. It 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 circumstances 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 un- important 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 testimonies 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 comforts 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, therefore, that while the English language is spoken, and as far as it is used, the English Bible Will continue to form their faith, and direct their lives; 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 park to immortal life.
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