After all the words of high praise spoken for this version, it may seem strange to pass to an extended discussion of its defects. And yet it must be confessed that this highly esteemed version is excellent, but defective. The Chairman of the American Company of New Testament Revisers, President Woolsey, D. D., LL.D., thus summarizes these defects: "Our translators of the seventeenth century, in a great many instances, misunderstood the sense. To make this as evident as it may be made we should need to write a volume .... The main deficiency in our translation proceeds from want of exact knowledge of the Hebrew and Greek languages. Not only is the sense wholly misapprehended in a number of instances--as could scarcely fail of being the case--but a perception of the finer rules of grammar and interpretation was wanting. In the use of the article, of the tenses and modes of verbs, and of participles, and in a great variety of other instances, the modern scholar by his revisions can repair and beautify the building reared by the older scholars. Thus, while no book can be written more fitted in style and expression to do its work, more truly English, more harmonious, more simply majestic, than our authorized revision; new revisers of the text and the version may hope by their salutary changes--to contribute to its preservation, in essentially the same form which it has always had, for generations yet to come."
Concerning existing defects it may be said briefly, that the variations already detected and noted as existing in various manuscripts, versions and editions, amount to about 120,000. It is doubtful whether any two editions of the Bible as now published are exactly alike. But of this large number of errors it is probable that at least 90,000 are of small importance. President Chase, of the Revision Committee, recently said of these variations: "Ninety-nine in a hundred--nay, perhaps I may say nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine in ten thousand, are practically of no importance as involving any point of faith or practice. The majority of the different readings in this formidable enumeration are mere differences in spelling. Next come slight differences in grammatical form, not affecting the substantial sense; then differences in the greater or less fullness of writing the name of our Saviour--the use of one of His names or both, the prefixing or omission before His name of the title Lord--(what might be the importance of these variations being neutralized by the fact that it is often found that the same manuscript, which, against the general current, omits one of these words in one instance inserts it in another); then comes the use of synonymous expressions--(thus of the three Greek words, all meaning to say, one manuscript will use one, and another in the same passage another, and another the third); then we have a class of variations in which the effect is merely rhetorical, the same idea being expressed in different readings with greater or less force and vividness; and the whole number of texts in which the variations of reading would affect materially the doctrines conveyed can be counted by units--I had almost said upon the fingers of one hand.
"Of the one hundred and twenty thousand differences in spelling, arrangement and phraseology which have been noticed in our sixteen hundred manuscripts, many are found only in one manuscript, or in very few; many others are obviously erroneous at first sight, like the mistakes we sometimes meet with in a letter or in a newspaper; so that the whole number of readings in which there is really any room for serious doubt or discussion--including questions of mere spelling, grammatical forms, relative position of words and the like--does not exceed from sixteen hundred to two thousand."
Volumes, instead of a few pages, might easily be written to illustrate the existing defects of the so-called "Authorized Version." From a few of the many existing compilations on this subject, some specimens will be drawn. Members of the Revision Committees have a special right to be heard on these points, and Professor Hare of this honored body gives the following illustrations:
"St. Paul says, in the Authorized Version (1 Cor. iv., 4), ' I know nothing by myself, yet am I not hereby justified.' This seems incongruous, because 'to know nothing by one's self' means 'to know nothing originally or independently.' In the older English, 'to know nothing by one's self' meant 'to know nothing lying at one's door,' and this is the only sense of which the Greek words in the passage which seems so incongruous are susceptible.
"He who reads the Gospel of St. Mark in Greek gets a vivid idea of the promptitude, the tendency to strike while the iron is hot, which cunning and malice may engender. A princess enters the banqueting room of a king, enchants him by the grace of her dancing, and evokes from his tipsy rashness the promise, 'Ask what thou wilt and I will give it thee, even to the half of my kingdom.' (St. Mark vi., 22.) The damsel, after consulting with her mother, returns to the banqueting room, points, no doubt, to the dishes on the banqueting table, and says, 'Give me forthwith, on a dish, the head of John the Baptist.' In the English Bible the speech runs, 'Give me by and by, in a charger.' 'By and by' means, in our century, a time somewhat distant from the present; the phrase has ceased to mean 'forthwith.' A charger, in modern English, signifies a war horse; the word has ceased to signify a dish or platter from which plates are charged or supplied.
"'Alexander, the coppersmith, did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works.' (2 Tim. iv., 14.) The true reading yields the sense, 'Alexander, the coppersmith, did much evil; the Lord will reward him according to his works.'
"St.. Paul, speaking of Abraham, says, 'He considered not his own body now dead, . . neither yet the deadness of Sarah's womb: he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief.' (Rom. iv., 19.) This statement conflicts with the history in the book of Genesis. This history is so far from representing Abraham as not considering at the time mentioned, that it declares that Abraham said in his heart, 'Shall a child be born unto him that is a hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?' (Gen. xvii., 17.) Textual critics agree in reading the language of St. Paul without the word 'not.' They so determine the text as to translate 'He considered his own body now dead and the deadness of Sarah's womb, but staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief.'
"Our translators say, in their noble preface, that they have not been studious of an ' identity of phrasing ;' that is to say, they acknowledge that they have not been careful to render a Hebrew or Greek word by the same English phrase in the different places where the Hebrew or Greek word occurs. Yet an identity of phrasing is often necessary as a clue to the meaning. In the earlier books of the Old Testament a remarkable person appears under the name of the 'Angel of the Lord.' For example, when the covenant with Abraham was to be ratified, the language of Genesis is, 'The Angel of the Lord called unto Abraham in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed . . . thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.' (Gen. xxii., 15, 17, 18.) Here the Angel of the Lord appears as covenanting. In Exodus the same person under the same name appears as covenanted, ' I send an Angel before thee, . . . beware of him, . . . for my name is in him.' There is a remarkable passage in the book of Malachi (iii., 1), which, if translated with the identity of phrasing that our translators disregarded, would run, 'the Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to his temple, even the Angel of the Covenant, whom ye delight in.' Unhappily, in this passage of Malachi, the word 'messenger' is used where the Hebrew word is the same as that which is rendered 'Angel' in the places of Genesis and Exodus. He who reads the Old Testament in the original may come to the conclusion that the Angel of the Covenant, promised by Malachi, was to be the same being as had appeared in the Pentateuch, one while as covenanting, another while as covenanted. The common reader ought to have the benefit of an identity of phrasing where this identity is necessary in order to identify the thing or person meant."
A large class of errors exists which has been caused by the translators mistaking proper nouns for common, and vice versa, common nouns for proper. In such cases, what should have remained without translation is translated, or what should have been rendered in equivalent phrases is suffered to stand untouched, thus hopelessly confusing the unlearned reader. The Rev. Dr. Green, of the Old Testament Revision Committee, gives the following paragraph, illustrative of error of this nature:
"Thus, 'the house of God,' Judges xx., 26, should be 'Bethel;' 'an hollow place that was in the jaw,' Judges xv., 19, should be 'the hollow place that is in Lehi;' 'populous No,' Nah. iii., 8, should be 'No-Ammon;' 'an heifer of three years old,' Isa. xv., 5, should have been left untranslated; so should 'what he did,' Num. xxi., 14. On the contrary, 'the book of Jasher,' 2 Sam. i., 18, is not by an author of that name, but is simply the book of the upright. 'Rub-saris' and 'Rub-mag,' Jer. xxxiv., 3, are not names of men but titles of office. ' Belial ' is not the name of an evil spirit, but ' men of Belial ' ought to be rendered 'worthless' or' base men.' 'Huz-zab,' Nah. ii., 7, is not a personification of Nineveh, or a name of its queen, but a declaration that the fate of the city 'is decided.' 'Sheth,' Num. xxiv., 17, should be, 'tumult;' 'Bajith,' Isa. xv., 2, should be the 'house' or 'idol temple;' 'Gammadims,' Ezek. xxvii., 11, should be 'warriors ;' ' Pannag,' ver, 17, is not a region of country, but a species of confection; and there was no such place as 'Metheg-ammah,' 2 Sam. viii., 1."
Strange as it may seem, it is nevertheless true, that in a large number of cases the meaning of words has been wholly misapprehended. In some cases this misapprehension has arisen from wrongly dividing a word into two, or combining two into one. But even more strange are the numerous cases where the meanings of words absolutely simple have been misconceived. The following list will sufficiently illustrate this class.
The word translated "avenging," Judges v., 2, means "leaders ;" "the plain of Moreh," Gen. xii., 6, ought to be "the oak of Moreh;" "the groves," frequently spoken of in connection with idolatrous services, as Ex. xxxiv., 13, were not groves, but upright pillars. Job. xxvi, 13, does not speak of the "crooked," nor Isaiah xxvii., 1, of the "piercing" serpent; the epithet, which is the same in both cases, is 'fleet.' The psalmist does not say, Ps. lxxi., 22, "I will sing with the harp," but "I will play with the harp." Huldah did not dwell in the "college" 2 Kings xxii., 14, but in the "second ward" of the city. "Flagons of wine," Hos. iii., should be "cakes of pressed grapes;" "galleries," Cant. vii., 5, should be "curls" or "locks of hair." "All that made sluices and ponds for fish," Isa. xix., 10, is a mere guess from the connection, and should be rendered, "all that work for hire are sad at heart." Samson did not go down to "the top of the rock," Judges xv., 8, but to the "cleft of the rock." The children of Israel did not by divine direction "borrow," Ex. xi., 2, of the Egyptians what they never intended to return; they "asked" for and received gifts. "Chariots with flaming torches," Nah. ii., 3, are "chariots with flashing steel;" and "the fir trees" of the same verse are "lances made of cypress." "Hunt souls to make them fly," Ezek. xiii., 20, should be rendered, "hunt souls as birds;" and the "untempered mortar," ver. 10, should be "whitewash."
"Headbands, and tablets, and ear-rings," Isa. iii., 20, should be "sashes, and perfume-boxes, and amulets." Joseph's "coat of many colors," Gen. xxxvii., 3, was "a long tunic with sleeves." It was not a "veil," but a "mantle," Ruth iii., 15, in which Ruth carried the barley. "Pillows to all armholes," Ezek. xiii., 18, should be "cushions for the knuckles." The men that were cast into the fiery furnace were bound, not in "their coats, their hosen and their hats," but in "their trowsers, their tunics and their mantles." "Mules," in Gen. xxxvi., 24, ought to be rendered, "warm springs." The "unicorn," Num-xxiii., 22, is a wild ox. In Isaiah xiii., 21, 22, the "owls" are "ostriches;" the "satyrs" are "goats; " the wild beasts of the islands" are "wolves," and the "dragons" are "jackals."
In cases all but innumerable the article is disregarded in the translations, thus materially damaging the sense, as where "an angel of the Lord" is substituted for "the angel of the Lord," which error puts a created being in the place of the uncreated one who is the source of all being. In Judges xxi., 19, "a feast of the Lord in Shiloh" should be "the feast of the Lord in Shiloh," referring to a definite and well-known feast, rather than making a vague allusion. Other instances of this common source of error could readily be cited.
A few additional illustrations, taken almost at random from various parts of the Scriptures, will suffice for this part of the discussion. In Job iii., 3, where Job curses the day of his birth, he represents the night of his birth as saying, with joy, "There is a man child born!" Our version has it, in which it was said, thus destroying the poetic figure, which personifies the night. It should have been, "Let the night perish, which said."
In Job xl., 19, in the description of the hippopotamus, it is said in our version, "He that made him can make his sword to approach unto him" The translation now almost universally adopted by the critics is, "His maker gives him his sword," or tusk.
In Daniel ii., 5, "The king answered and said to the astrologers, The thing is gone from me." From the heading of the chapter, "Nebuchadnezzar forgetting his dream," etc., we infer that the Authorized Version understood by the thing, the dream, and that the king had forgotten his dream. The true reason of the king's requiring them to tell the dream is given in verse 9th: "Tell me the dream, and I shall know that ye can show me the interpretation thereof." The Chaldee word, translated in our version thing, is the same word, translated, verse 9, word, and also in chapter iii., 28, the king's word. It should then have been translated, The word, or commandment, has gone from me.
In Daniel vii., 9, "I beheld till the thrones were cast down," it should be exactly the reverse--were set up.
In Matt. vi., 12, instead of "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors," the reading should be, "as we also have forgiven our debtors ;" the thought being, that the petitioner should not ask forgiveness for himself until he has already forgiven others.
In Matt. x., 23, "When they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another," should read "flee ye into the next," thus conveying not merely the idea of going to some other place, but to the next town, and so on until they had proclaimed the gospel everywhere.
In Mark ix., 22, 23, where the father, asking for the healing of his son, says, "If thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us," the Authorized Version makes Jesus reply, "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth." But the approved text reads, "If thou canst! All things are possible to him that believeth." This form expresses surprise that the question of ability should be raised at all, when to the believer everything is possible.
This part of the subject may be well closed with a paragraph from Professor Thayer's article on "Anglo-American Bible Revision." He says:
"But still more unfortunate is the translators' indifference to verbal agreements and variations when it affects matters of doctrine. Not often, probably, is a reader found so ignorant as to infer a difference of meaning from the change of rendering, in Matt. xxv., 46, 'These shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal.' But the confusion occasioned by translating 'Hades' and 'Gehenna' identically in every instance but one is not so harmless. The uniform transfer of the quasi-proper name 'Devil,' corresponding to the Hebrew ' Satan,' to those beings called 'demons' by the original writers, is also to be regretted. The unwarranted insertion of 'should' in Acts ii., 47 (compare, on the other hand, I Cor. i., 18; 2 Cor. ii., 15),--properly, ' them that were being saved,'--has probably ceased to start false theological suggestions; but undoubtedly most readers understand the words of Christ to BartimŠus, in Luke xviii., 42, ' Thy faith hath saved thee,' to be of immeasurably higher import than the declaration in Mark x., 52, 'Thy faith hath made thee whole.' That the original term, indeed, may refer to spiritual healing is by no means impossible. In the case of the ' woman which was a sinner ' (Luke vii., 50), it clearly covers the forgiveness of sins. So that if it were a translator's design to intimate that the expression is ambiguous in the Greek, the variation in rendering would perhaps be allowable, provided in each case the alternate translation were given in the margin (as is actually done in Mark). In any event, however, the English reader should know that the language is the same in both Evangelists, and the same which is elsewhere (Matt. x., 22; Mark v., 34; Luke viii., 48,) commonly rendered, 'Thy faith hath made thee whole.' A single additional illustration: every reader of Paul knows the importance he attaches to the doctrine that 'faith' is 'reckoned as righteousness.' But the proof-text from the Old Testament (Gen. xv., 6,) on which the doctrine rests is given differently by our translation every time Paul quotes it (Rom. iv., 3, compare ix., 22; Gal. iii., 6); and the verb itself, which may be called one of his technical theological terms, and which constitutes the very warp of his argument in Rom. iv., being used eleven times within the compass of twenty-two verses, receives there three different renderings."