« Prev Preface to the Edition of A.D. 1885 Next »

PREFACE TO THE EDITION OF A.D. 1885

THE Revision of the Authorised Version was undertaken in consequence of a Resolution passed by both houses of the Convocation of the Province of Canterbury, as has been fully explained in the Preface to the Revised Version of the New Testament, which was first published in May 1881. When the two Companies were appointed for carrying out this work, the following General Principles, among others, were laid down by the Revision Committee of Convocation for their guidance:--

"1. To introduce as few alterations as possible into the Text of the Authorised Version consistently with faithfulness."

"2. To limit, as far as possible, the expression of such alterations to the language of the Authorised and earlier English Versions."

"4. That the Text to be adopted be that for which the evidence is decidedly preponderating; and that when the Text so adopted differs from that from which the Authorised Version was made, the alteration be indicated in the margin."

"7. To revise the headings of chapters and pages, paragraphs, italics, and punctuation."

In order to show the manner in which the Old Testament Company have endeavoured to carry out their instructions, it will be convenient to treat the subjects mentioned in the foregoing rules in a somewhat different order.

It will be observed that in Rule 4 the word "Text" is used in a different sense from that in Rule 1, and in the case of the Old Testament denotes the Hebrew or Aramaic original of the several books. In this respect the task of the Revisers has been much simpler than that which the New Testament Company had before them. The Received, or, as it is commonly called, the Massoretic Text of the Old Testament Scriptures has come down to us in manuscripts which are of no very great antiquity, and which all belong to the same family or recension.11The earliest MS. of which the age is certainly known bears date A.D. 916 That other recensions were at one time in existence is probable from the variations in the Ancient Versions, the oldest of which, namely the Greek or Septuagint, was made, at least in part, some two centuries before the Christian era. But as the state of knowledge on the subject is not at present such as to justify any attempt at an entire reconstruction of the text on the authority of the Versions, the Revisers have thought it most prudent to adopt the Massoretic Text as the basis of their work, and to depart from it, as the Authorised Translators had done,22See, for instance, 2 Sam. xvi. 12; 2 Chr. iii.1, xxii. 6; Job xxxvii. 7; Ezek. xlvi. 10; Am. v.26; Hag. i.2 only in exceptional cases. With regard to the variations in the Massoretic Text itself, the Revisers have endeavoured to translate what appeared to them to be the best reading in the text, and where the alternative reading seemed sufficiently probable or important they have placed it in the margin. In some few instances of extreme difficulty a reading has been adopted on the authority of the Ancient Versions and the departure from the Massoretic Text recorded in the margin. In other cases, where the versions appeared to supply a very probable though not so necessary a correction of the text, the text has been left and the variation indicated in the margin only.

In endeavouring to carry out as fully as possible the spirit of Rules 1 and 2, the Revisers have borne in mind that it was their duty not to make a new translation but to revise one already existing, which for more than two centuries and a half had held the position of an English classic. They have therefore departed from it only in cases where they disagreed with the Translators of 1611 as to the meaning or construction of a word or sentence; or where it was necessary for the sake of uniformity to render such parallel passages as were identical in Hebrew by the same English words, so that an English reader might know at once by comparison that a difference in the translation corresponded to a difference in the original; or where the language of the Authorised Version was liable to be misunderstood by reason of its being archaic or obscure, or finally, where the rendering of an earlier English version seemed preferable, or where by an apparently slight change it was possible to bring out more fully the meaning of a passage of which the translation was already substantially accurate.

It has been thought advisable in regard to the word "JEHOVAH" to follow the usage of the Authorised Version, and not to insert it uniformly in place of "LORD" or "GOD," which 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. It will be found, therefore, that in this respect the Authorised Version has been departed from only in a few passages, in which the introduction of a proper name seemed to be required.

Terms of natural history have been changed only where it was certain that the Authorised Version was incorrect and where there was sufficient evidence for the substituted rendering. In cases of doubt the alternative rendering has been given in the margin; and even where no doubt existed, but where there was no familiar English equivalent for the original word, the Old Version has been allowed to remain,33As for instance, "coney" (Lev. xi. 5), "fitches"(Is. xxviii. 25,27), "gourd" (Jon. iv. 6). and the more accurate term has been placed in the margin.

In some words of very frequent occurrence, the Authorised Version being either inadequate or inconsistent, and sometimes misleading, changes have been introduced with as much uniformity as appeared practicable or desirable. For instance, "the tabernacle of the congregation" has been everywhere changed to "the tent of meeting," on account of Exodus xxv. 22, xxix. 42, 43, and also because "the tabernacle of the congregation" conveys an entirely wrong sense. The words "tabernacle" and "tent," as the renderings of two different Hebrew words, are in the Authorised Version frequently interchanged in such a manner as to lead to confusion; and the Revisers have endeavoured throughout the Pentateuch to preserve a consistent distinction between them. Their practice in regard to the words "assembly" and "congregation" has been the same in principle, although they have contented themselves with introducing greater consistency of rendering without aiming at absolute uniformity. In consequence of the changes which have taken place in the English language, the term "meat offering" has become inappropriate to describe an offering of which flesh was no part; and by the alteration to "meal offering" a sufficiently accurate representation of the original has been obtained with the least possible change of form.

As regards the use of words, there are only a few cases in which it has been found needful to deviate from the language employed in the Authorised Version. One of these deviations occurs so frequently that it may be well to state briefly why it was adopted. The word "peoples" was nowhere used by King James's Translators in the Old Testament, and in the New Testament it occurs only twice (Rev. x. 11, xvii. 15). The effect of this was to leave the rendering of numerous passages inadequate or obscure or even positively misleading. Thus in one of the best known Psalms (Ps. lxvii.), where the Septuagint has λαοί and the Vulgate pqpuli, the English had "Let the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise thee;" leaving it at least doubtful whether the "nations" of verse 4, or God's people, Israel, be referred to. And in Isaiah lv. 4, "Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people, a leader and commander to the people," the word people" is naturally understood by the English reader to refer to Israel.

Again, the Hebrew word goyim "nations," which is applied to the nations of Canaan dispossessed by the Hebrews, and then also to the surrounding nations among whom the people of Israel were afterwards dispersed, acquired in later times a moral significance, which is represented in the Authorised Version by the rendering "heathen" or "Gentiles." While recognizing this moral sense of the word, the Revisers have employed it much more sparingly than their predecessors had done.

Similarly, the Hebrew Sheôl which signifies the abode of departed spirits, and corresponds to the Greek Hades, or the under world, is variously rendered in the Authorised Version by "grave," "pit," and "hell." Of these renderings "hell," if it could be taken in its original sense as used in the Creeds, would be a fairly adequate equivalent for the Hebrew word; but it is so commonly understood of the place of torment that to employ it frequently would lead to inevitable misunderstanding. The Revisers therefore in the historical narratives have left the rendering "the grave" or "the pit" in the text, with the marginal note "Heb. Sheol" to indicate that it does not signify "the place of burial"; while in the poetical writings they have put most commonly "Sheol" in the text and "the grave" in the margin. In Isaiah xiv. however, where "hell" is used in more of its original sense and is less liable to be misunderstood, and where any change in so familiar a passage which was not distinctly an improvement would be a decided loss, the Revisers have contented themselves with leaving "hell" in the text, and have connected it with other passages by putting "Sheol" in the margin.

In connection with this it may be mentioned that "Abaddon," which has hitherto been known to the English reader of the Bible only from the New Testament (Rev. ix. 11), has been introduced in three passages (Job xxvi. 6; Prov. xv. 11, xxvii. 20), where a proper name appears to be required for giving vividness and point.

The Hebrew word Ashêrah, which is uniformly and wrongly rendered "grove" in the Authorised Version, most probably denotes the wooden symbol of a goddess; and the Revisers therefore have not hesitated to introduce it as a proper name in the singular (Judg. vi. 25, etc.), with the plurals Asherim (Ex. xxxiv. 13, etc.) and Asheroth (Judg. iii. 7, etc.), following the analogy of the Baalim (Judg. iii. 7) and the Ashtaroth (Judg. ii. 13), which are already familiar.

In regard to the language of the Authorised Version, the Revisers have thought it no part of their duty to reduce it to conformity with modern usage, and have therefore left untouched all archaisms, whether of language or construction, which though not in familiar use cause a reader no embarrassment and lead to no misunderstanding. They are aware that in so doing they will disappoint the large English-speaking race on the other side of the Atlantic, and it is a question upon which they are prepared to agree to a friendly difference of opinion. The principle by which they have been guided has been clear and consistent. Where an archaic word or expression was liable to be misunderstood or at least was not perfectly intelligible, they have substituted for it another, in equally good use at the time the Authorised Version was made, and expressing all that the archaism was intended to convey, but more familiar to the modern reader. In such cases the gain was greater than the loss. But in other instances where the word or expression, although obsolete, was not unintelligible, it was thought that the change would involve greater loss than gain, and the old rendering was therefore allowed to stand. More especially was this the case when the archaism was a perfectly correct rendering of the original and there was no exact modern equivalent for it. The principle adopted by the Company will be best illustrated by two typical examples. The verb "to ear" in the sense of "to plough" and the substantive "earing" for "ploughing" were very reluctantly abandoned, and only because it was ascertained that their meaning was unknown to many persons of good intelligence and education. But it was easy to put in their place equivalents which had a pedigree of almost equal antiquity, and it would have been an excess of conservatism to refuse to substitute for an unintelligible archaism an expression to which no ambiguity could be attached. On the other hand the word "bolled" (Ex. ix. 31), which signifies "podded for seed" and is known in provincial dialects, has no synonym in literary English. To have discarded it in favor of a less accurate or more paraphrastic expression would have been to impoverish the language; and it was therefore left, because it exactly expresses one view which is taken of the meaning of the original.

 

One of the few instances in which the language of the Authorised Version has been modified in accordance with later usage is the change of the neuter possessive pronoun from "his" to "its." It is well known that "its" does not occur in the Bible of 1611, and it does not appear to have been introduced into any edition before 1660. But it is found ten times in Shakespeare, and there is other evidence to show that at the time of the Authorised Version it was coming into use. It was found necessary in some cases to substitute "its" for "his" in order to avoid obscurity, and there seemed no good reason, when it was once introduced, for refusing to admit it generally when it referred to purely inanimate objects.

In making minor changes, whether in translation or language, the Revisers have followed the example of the translators of the Authorised Version, who allowed themselves in this respect a reasonable freedom, without permitting their liberty to degenerate into license.

It will be at once seen that the old division of the books into chapters and verses has been abandoned in favour of the arrangement in paragraphs, the numbering of the chapters and verses being however retained for convenience of reference. Where the change of subject seemed to require a greater break than was marked by the beginning of a new paragraph, it has been indicated by a space before the paragraph. Occasionally the divisions of the chapters in the Authorised Version differ from those in the common Hebrew Bibles. In such cases the variations are given in the margin. In the Psalms, the titles are printed in smaller type, as in some modern English Bibles, which differ in this respect from the edition of 1611. One consequence of the arrangement in paragraphs has been the omission of the headings of chapters, which for other and more important reasons it was thought advisable to abandon, as involving questions which belong rather to the province of the commentator than to that of the translator. With the headings of chapters the headlines of pages naturally disappeared also, and for the same reason.

In the poetical portions, besides the division into paragraphs, the Revisers have adopted an arrangement in lines, so as to exhibit the parallelism which is characteristic of Hebrew Poetry. But they have not extended this arrangement to the prophetical books, the language of which although frequently marked by parallelism is, except in purely lyrical passages, rather of the nature of lofty and impassioned prose.

In the use of italics the Revisers departed from the custom of the Authorised Version and adopted as their rule the following resolution of their Company:

"That all such words now printed in italics, as are plainly implied in the Hebrew and necessary in English, be printed in common type."

But where any doubt existed as to the exact rendering of the Hebrew, all words which have been added in order to give completeness to the English expression are printed in italic type, so that the reader by omitting them may be able to see how far their insertion is justified by the words of the original. This of course is especially true of those renderings for which an alternative is given in the margin, where the roman and italic type play exactly opposite parts.

To complete the account of the Revised Version it remains only to describe the marginal notes. These will be found to contain

  1. The renderings of such variations in the Massoretic Text as appeared to be of sufficient importance. These variations are known by the technical names of K'ri (read) and C'thib (written), which denote that the K'ri, or reading in the margin of the Hebrew Bible, is to be substituted for the C'thib which appears in the written text. The Revisers have generally, though not uniformly, rendered the C'thib in the text, and left the K'ri in the margin, with the introductory note "Or, according to another reading," or "Another reading is." When the K'ri has been followed in the text, the C'thib has been placed in the margin, if it represented a variation of sufficient importance.
  2. Alternative renderings, introduced by "Or." These are either different meanings of the word or passage, or they serve to connect it with other renderings elsewhere.
  3. Literal renderings of the Hebrew or Aramaic, indicated by the prefix " Heb." or "Aram.'
  4. Changes of text made on the authority of the ancient Versions.
  5. Readings from ancient Versions which appeared to be of sufficient importance to be noticed.
  6. Renderings of the Hebrew consonants as read with different vowel points, or as differently divided. These are introduced by the words "Or, as otherwise read."
  7. Marginal references to other passages, which are either strictly parallel, or serve the purpose of illustrating or justifying a particular rendering.
  8. Explanations of certain proper names, the meaning of which is referred to in the text.

In the Proper Names the Revisers have endeavoured to ascertain the system of transliteration adopted by the Translators of the Authorised Version and to carry it out with somewhat greater consistency. They have not however attempted anything like rigid uniformity, and have left unchanged all those names which by usage have become English; as, for instance, Moses, Aaron, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the like.

Among the Rules laid down by the Revision Committee of Convocation for the guidance of the Revisers was one that no change should be finally made in the text of the Authorised Version except by the vote of two-thirds of the Company present and voting; and this Rule has been invariably acted upon. The result has been that in many cases a rendering which was preferred by the majority of the Company voting has been recorded in the margin, the majority not being sufficient to give it a place in the text. But all questions of marginal readings, as well as of punctuation and division into paragraphs, except where these affected the sense of a passage, were decided by a simple majority.

It may be of some interest to describe the method observed by the Company in their work, if only to show that every question raised was carefully and deliberately considered. In the first Revision it was the practice for the Secretary to read over each verse, first in the original and then in the Authorised Version: the proposals for change were then taken; first those communicated in writing by absent members, and next those made by the members present. Each proposal was moved, and if seconded was discussed and voted upon; the decision in the first Revision being by a majority only. If a proposal met with no seconder, it was not discussed but allowed to drop. In the second Revision, the Secretary read out in order the changes which had been made at the first Revision; if these were unchallenged they were allowed to remain, otherwise they were put to the vote and affirmed or rejected according as they were or were not supported by the requisite majority of two-thirds. In the second Revision new propositions could only be made by special permission of the Company, and discussion was limited, as far as possible, to exceptional cases. In the final review, which was in reality the completion of the second Revision, the Company employed themselves in making a general survey of what they had done, deciding finally upon reserved points, harmonizing inconsistencies, smoothing down roughnesses, removing unnecessary changes, and generally giving finish and completeness to their work. Everything in this final survey was decided by the vote of a majority of two-thirds.

The Revisers had already made some progress, and had in fact gone twice through the Pentateuch, before they secured the co-operation of the American Old Testament Revision Company. The first Revision of the several books was submitted to the consideration of the American Revisers, and, except in the case of the Pentateuch, the English Company had the benefit of their criticisms and suggestions before they proceeded to the second Revision. The second Revision was in like manner forwarded to America, and the latest thoughts of the American Revisers were in the hands of the English Company at their final review. In every instance the suggestions from America were treated with the same consideration as those proceeding from the members of the English Company, and were adopted or rejected on their merits. It was a part of the terms of agreement with the American Company that all points of ultimate difference between them and the English Revisers should be placed on record, and they will accordingly be found fully stated at the end of the Old Testament, or at the end of the several portions, according as the Revised Version appears in one or more volumes. Many of them will be found to be of language which are involved in the essentially different circumstances of American and English readers; others express a preference for the marginal rendering over that given in the text; others again involve a real difference of opinion; but all show that they have been dictated by the same leading principle, the sincere desire to give to modern readers a faithful representation of the meaning of the original documents.

It could not but be expected that in the course of fourteen years many changes would take place in the members of the Company. Of the original number who first put their hands to the work on the 30th of June 1870, only fifteen now remain. Ten of the Company have been removed by death, and two resigned: the places of these were filled from time to time by others; but since October 1875 no new members have been added. The Revision was completed in eighty five sessions, ending on 20th June, 1884; and it occupied 792 days. The greater part of the sessions were for ten days each, and each day the Company generally sat for six hours. The labour therefore has been great, but it has been given ungrudgingly; and now with a feeling of deep thankfulness to Almighty God, and the earnest hope that their endeavours may with His blessing tend to a clearer knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures, the Revisers bring their long task to a close.

JERUSALEM CHAMBER,

WESTMINSTER ABBEY,

10 July, 1884.


« Prev Preface to the Edition of A.D. 1885 Next »
Please login or register to save highlights and make annotations
Corrections disabled for this book
Proofing disabled for this book
Printer-friendly version





Advertisements



| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |