The Bible Today
For We Walk by Faith not by Sight Art Print
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From 1611 to 1870 the changes made in the "Authorized" Version were of only minor importance, chiefly matters of punctuation, spelling, and typography. But the Revised Version of 1881-85 was a major change which troubled many readers and proved wholly unacceptable to some; it never won acceptance by the majority of Bible readers, and to this day most Bibles read at public worship or in private study or devotional meditation are the King James. The most magnificent handset Bible of modern times, the famous edition composed by Bruce Rogers, is the King James "Authorized" Bible.
Many Christians cling to it as inspired and therefore sacred. The frequent reference to a "St. James Bible" is more than a joke or a slip of the tongue. As St. Augustine and others viewed the Septuagint as inspired, and as some Roman Catholics view the Vulgate, so many Protestants think of the traditional English text --which no one should attempt to alter. Mr. William Collins, the British publisher, has said, "When the first traveller takes a Bible to the moon, you may be sure it will be a copy of the Authorized Version." Perhaps it will offset the Soviet insignia landed there in advance, by rocket! But is this the real purpose of the publication, or the reading, of the Bible? It is like Bibles buried in cornerstones, or kept in courtrooms where oaths are administered!
The critics of the King James Version refer to its mellow and mellifluous cadences, even in lines that call for harsh broken tones. For example, "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish" ( Luke 13:3, 5). Or the Cry of Dereliction, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" ( Mark 15:34). Or the screaming words of the demoniac in Capernaum, "Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God" ( Mark 1:24). The tone is as calm as the reply of Jesus that follows: "Hold thy peace, and come out of him." Of course, the language is supported by the original; this is what the Greek says. But the tone is relaxed, "churchy," almost soporific.
Moreover, the "Authorized" Version is so familiar to most Bible readers that they are lulled rather than stirred by it. One would never suspect the King James Bible of containing "dynamite," as James Russell Lowell said of the Sermon on the Mount. And this relaxed tone is a quality one does not want --or should not seek for--in the Bible; it is no soft, soothing lullaby but a shout of warning. In many a passage--in all parts of both Old Testament and New it is meant to "stab our spirits broad awake" and keep them so, through the perilous times that are upon us. The somnolent mellifluity of the old version is only too compatible with the one-sided presentation of Christian ethics and moral theology one often hears today, for which the cardinal virtues have become humility and patience. But there are intolerable evils in our world, and both Bible and Prayer Book command us to "make no peace with oppression" ( Book of Common Prayer, p. 44). Half the earth is still "full of darkness and cruel habitations," and no Christian or Jew or even humanist can close his eyes to the horrible conditions which doom whole generations to a brutish, subnormal way of life, and whole families to hunger, filth, and vice. Certainly the Bible--as well as the Prayer Book should be set free to speak clearly and unmistakably to our own time, and deliver its message, which is nothing less than God's word to all men everywhere, "beginning with us," as we say in the well-known prayer!
To revert once more to Eduard Meyer's insistence upon the "anthropological" or sociological background of history, it was probably impossible in the 1870's to produce a version which should be looking ahead rather than backward. The lush times of Queen Victoria's middle years, the seemingsafe passage beyond the dark era of the Industrial Revolution, the Corn Laws, factory riots at home and revolutions abroad, encouraged a self-assured outlook in theology and religious life. A little rewriting here and there, the substitution of words still well understood, but really "good old"
Jacobean terms found in the literature of England's Silver Age, a slight change in word-order to correspond more closely to that of the original Greek or Hebrew, but retaining the hallowed, time-honored Bible language, "thee, thou, and thy"--this was all that was needed! No wonder the Revised Version, especially in its American edition, was not a great success. And no wonder that two major projects for revision or retranslation have been undertaken in our time. The first is the American Revised Standard Version of 194652-57; the second is the new English translation, promised for 1961.
Of course, Bible translation is an endless process, as languages change, as additional copies of ancient manuscripts continue to turn up, and as scholars come to know and understand the ancient languages better. Our age is conspicuously an age of Bible translation and revision, like the sixteenth century, the period beginning with Tyndale and ending with King James. The University of Chicago Professor Richard G. Moulton Modern Readers' Bible ( 1907-26) was an early example, in this century, of the "literary" study of the Bible, especially of its poetic and dramatic forms. It made use of the Revised Version, slightly amended by the incorporation of marginal readings in the text.
A wholly fresh American rendering of the New Testament appeared in 1898-1901, with the title, The Twentieth Century New Testament. It was based on Westcott and Hort's Greek text, with prefaces and paragraph headings. But it was produced by an anonymous committee, which was --certainly in our century--a handicap rather than an advantage. Dr. Richard Francis Weymouth New Testament in Modern Speech appeared in 1903, a version based upon his own edition of the Greek text, entitled The Resultant Greek Testament ( 1886), in which he averaged the best modern editions.