In order to secure a pure revision of the Scriptures in the English tongue, several things are indispensably necessary. In the first place, the English must be drawn from a pure fountain. The text of an uncorrupted original must be had. And this is no trifling matter. The autographs of the several books perished ages ago; as also did the copies made from them by the earliest copyists. But the work of copying from copies, especially when indefinitely continued, was prolific of errors. And these multiplied errors were copied and increased in number until the disagreements among the various versions were counted by thousands. From these impure texts no pure translation could be made.
It is in view of these facts that Professor Ezra Abbot, of the present Revision Committee, says: "It is an unquestionable fact that the Greek text of the New Testament from which our common English version was made contains many hundreds of errors which have affected the translation; and that in some cases whole verses, or even longer passages, in the common English Bible are spurious. This fact alone is sufficient to justify the demand for such a revision of the common version as shall remove these corruptions. Why, when so much pains is taken to obtain as correct a text as possible of ancient classical authors--Homer, Plato, or Thucydides - should we be content with a text of the New Testament formed from a few modern manuscripts in the infancy of criticism, now that our means of improving it are increased a hundred-fold? Why should the mere mistakes of transcribers still be imposed upon unlearned readers as the words of evangelists and apostles; or even of our Lord Himself?"
These questions of Professor Abbot touch the very centre of this subject, and they illustrate the necessity for a pure text from which to draw the accepted versions in the English.
Another essential thing is that from a pure text the meaning be skillfully drawn. A bungling hand, or even a skillful hand with poor appliances, will utterly fail to reproduce the meaning of the best and purest text. In such a work as that of Bible translation, therefore, skillful men must be employed, and they must have a perfected critical apparatus at hand. The grammar, lexicography, and collateral helps and proofs must be of the best class, or the best workmen will fail to secure good results. King James' revisers were a learned and faithful company, but they worked with poor tools. Their best efforts were as incompetent to produce perfect results, as are those of farmers or mechanics who work with defective implements.
So far as the pure fountain from which to draw the revision is concerned, our opportunity is vastly superior to that enjoyed in the times of King James. As has already been seen in the preceding pages of this history, several of our most important manuscripts have been brought to light. Indeed, the Codex Vaticanus and Codex Bezos were then known, but although of the highest and most ancient authorities, they were not used; but we have also the Codex Alexandrinus, Codex Ephrĉmi and Codex Sinaiticus, with others very precious. How immensely valuable these helps are has already been shown, and they are peculiarly our heritage. We tarry far below our privileges if we do not avail ourselves of the special aids which pertain to our day.
In the matter of scholarship also this age is far in advance of the attainments of the King James' age. Not that scholars are any more devout and earnest now, but the whole department of language has been reduced to far more exact and scientific forms. Science now puts matters with a clearness and forcefulness hitherto unknown. The average standing of linguistic scholars today is far above that of any previous age.
This showing of the superior advantages we possess, as compared with those of former times, cannot be closed up better than by quoting from the excellent article Professor Day published in the book on Bible Revision, issued by the American Sunday School Union. He says:
"Of the forty-eight scholars to whom we owe the present Authorized Version of the English Bible, twenty-five, divided into three companies, were engaged upon the Hebrew books of the Old Testament. There is no reason to doubt their qualifications for the work. Several of them were eminent in Oriental studies. One had the reputation of being the best Arabic scholar of his time. Five of them, either then, or subsequently, were professors of Hebrew in one or the other of the two great Universities of England. Their renderings show that they carefully weighed the considerations on which the translation of difficult passages must depend, and exercised an independent judgment. To a great degree they came to what the critical scholarship of later times has pronounced a correct decision. In other cases, where they were divided in opinion, or admitted that a different rendering from that which they adopted was worthy of consideration, they placed it, in a true Protestant spirit, in the margin. If these marginal readings and other renderings, in consequence of the progress of exegetical study, have been frequently found to deserve the preference, it only shows that the scholars of the early part of the seventeenth century were not provided, and could not be, with all the helps for a decision which have accumulated since their day. The division of labor in the whole field of the Hebrew and its cognate languages enables a student, in our time to avail himself of advantages for gaining a true knowledge of the meaning of the Old Testament which the most stupendous learning of a former age knew nothing of. Nothing, of course, can ever take the place of a familiar acquaintance with the Hebrew and other Semitic languages; but it is quite possible for an interpreter now, in consequence of the far wider range of materials at his command, to form a judgment on a difficult passage more trustworthy than it was possible for the most eminent scholars two centuries and a half ago to reach."
On the New Testament work, our advantages are thus summed up by Professor Ezra Abbot in the volume just quoted. He says: "We have seen that the text from which the common English version was made contains many known errors, and that our present means of correcting it are ample. The work of revision is in the hands of some of the best Christian scholars in England and America, and their duty to the Christian public is plain. The composition of the Committees, and the rules which they follow, are such that we may be sure that changes will not be made rashly; on the other hand we may be confident that the work will be done honestly and faithfully. When an important reading is clearly a mistake of copyists it will be fearlessly discarded; when it is doubtful, the doubtfulness will be noted in the margin; and the common English reader will at last have the benefit of the devoted labors of such scholars as Mill, Bengel, Wetstein, Griesbach, Lachmann, Tischendorf and Tregelles, who have contributed so much to the restoration of the text of the New Testament to its original purity. On the English Committee itself there are at least three men who deserve to be ranked with those I have named, Professor Westcott and Dr. Hort, two scholars of the very first class, who have been engaged more than twenty years in the preparation of a critical edition of the Greek Testament; and Dr. Scrivener, whose labors in the collation and publication of important manuscripts have earned the gratitude of all Biblical students."