Originally, as most of us must know, the Old Testament Scriptures were written in the Hebrew language. As early as the year 300 B.C. all the books bad been written, gathered and, by the careful judgment and general consensus of the church herself com piled into what we now know as the O.T. Canon.
The New Testament was written originally in the Greek language. It was some time after the year 100 AD. before these 27 books were all gathered and in the same way of prayerful examination and careful judgment combined into what we now know as the N. T. Canon.
Since then and as the church of Jesus Christ extended its borders into all nations and peoples there have been numerous translations of the Bible, of course. In fact, well over 400 including our English language. Not only was the Bible translated into our own language, but we have several versions and more are in the making.
The earliest translation of any kind is known as the Septuagint Version. This was a Greek translation of the O. T. Hebrew, the fruit of some seventy scholars from Alexandria, which was completed in the year 277 B.C., hence the name “Septuagint” meaning seventy. Long before the first ad vent of Christ many Jews had already been dispersed among the nations of that time. Gradually these Jews had adopted the Greek language and either entirely or in part they had forgotten their own Hebrew. Hence the need of this Greek translation of the O. T. Canon.
As time marched on and the white horse of the Apocalypse (the Gospel) galloped farther and wider over the earth other translations became necessary, of course. In time Greek supremacy gave way to Roman dominion and toward the close of the second century after Christ the Latin language had quite well superseded the Greek. Consequently the need was felt for a Latin translation and thus the Vulgate Version came into the world. This Vulgate was the only Bible in Europe for a long, long time. It was all in handwriting, of course, and consequently Bibles were very expensive and scarce. In our age, wherein Bibles are available in unlimited quantities it is quite difficult to imagine, that there was a time when the written Word of God was within reach only of a few of the world’s wealthy and elite.
In this article we are interested primarily in our English versions of the Scriptures. The first translation of the entire Bible into English did not see the light until the year 1382 A. D. and is known as the Wycliffe Bible. Before this snatches of the Scriptures had been translated, but no more. Since the Hebrew and Greek originals were not yet available, at least to Wycliffe, this great English reformer made his translation from the Latin Vulgate. It was a translation from a translation, therefore. This gigantic task took this man of God some 22 years to complete. Since printing had not yet been developed, all had to be done by hand. You can imagine the immensity of the work. Many copies were made, but each took some ten months to write. The written Word of God was precious in those days.
In course of time this first translation was succeeded by several others. In 1525 A. D. the Tyndale Bible appeared. This version was based on older and original manuscripts and was the first to appear in print. Then came the very important Geneva Bible, prepared by the reformers in Geneva, in the year 1560 AD. This version showed marked improvements over its predecessors. It was translated directly from the Hebrew and Greek. It was the first Bible to use italics, the first to be divided into verses, the first to omit the apocryphal books to which the Roman Catholics attach so much significance. Besides, because of great forward progress in the printing industry the Bible now began to appear in a form that made it portable and relatively inexpensive. For the first time in history, the first time since the Word of God began to be written some 3500 years ago, the entire Scriptures were becoming readily accessible to the entire church of Jesus Christ. How wonderful that the providence of God caused printing to be invented and developed just in time to serve the rapid spread of the Word of God to all His people.
Then came the great versions we know today. There are several, but we shall confine ourselves to the principal ones.
Toward the end of the 16th Century an increasing need was felt for a new version of Scripture. The meaning of many English words had changed considerably with time. Moreover, more and more originals were being uncovered and it was felt that the previous translations could well he improved. Accordingly, King James I appointed and authorized 54 scholars to set themselves to this task. Whence the name: King James or Authorized Version. After years of consecrated labors this majestic and much beloved version was finally published in the year 1611 A.D. For nearly 300 years it was THE Bible both in England and our own country. There was little or no talk of other versions.
History, however, goes on and with it come change and development. Certain English words were becoming increasingly obsolete; more and older originals were being found, manuscripts to which earlier translators had no access; scholarship in general had advanced greatly. Again the feeling arose that a new and if possible better version might he desirable. Consequently it was decided to attempt a revision of the King James Version. The task was undertaken by 99 learned men of whom 34were from our own America. Published in the year 1885 the initial demand for this\ newest version was stupendous. Even before it was published as many as two million copies had already been ordered. This version became rather popular in England, though not in America. As was to be expected, it did improve on the King James Version in some respects. Certain passages were bound to be more accurate; certain words more up-to-date. In other respects, however, it was not an improvement over the old. This Bible was known simply as the Revised Version.
Closely connected with this Revised Version is the one we know as the American Revised Version. The 34 American scholars mentioned above continued their work, because of differences on certain points between them and their English colleagues. This resulted in the publication of the American Revised in the year 1901. This Bible proved rather popular, also in Reformed circles, until quite recently. Today, however, it is gradually making way for the version about which so much was written a few years ago, the Revised Standard Version. There are other versions not mentioned in this article, but we shall not concern ourselves with them at this time.
What shall we say about this American Revised Version in distinction from the King James? Some of the differences between them are known to most of us. The Revised Version has all the poetic passages in poetic style; the Authorized Version does not. The Revised uses the name “Jehovah” where the King James uses “Lord.” Where the former speaks of “Holy Spirit” the latter has “Holy Ghost.” Space does not permit us to elaborate. It cannot he questioned that in many passages the Revised Version is the more accurate. A serious objection however, is the omission of several passages that do appear in the King James Bible. Such things frighten us. I for one would far rather see a passage retained in the Bible that may not have been in the original, than see one elided that was. As mentioned, however, this version is on the way out, making way for the new Revised Standard Version. And so versions come and go, while our old, sublime, stately and deeply solemn King James Version continues majestically and triumphantly on its way.
What shall we say about this new version that is seeking now to make its way into the church and hearts of God’s people, the Revised Standard? Much criticism has been directed against it, as you may know; some of which, I feel, was exaggerated; some of which no doubt is justifiable. I have done some reading in this version; however, my study of it was not of such a nature that it could entitle me to the status of an authority. When I see how in Isaiah 7:14 the word “virgin” was changed to “young woman: and how in Isaiah 45:7 the word “evil” was changed to “woe”, I cannot help but wonder how many other passages were subjected to similar alterations. Admittedly, the men who produced this new translation were more or less avowed modernists. This, of course, is a serious objection. The strong point of this new version would seem to be its simple style and up-to-date language. Many passages seem so much more understandable than before. However, this apparent strength could well be its chief weakness. The question is: how much of all this must he credited to more liberal interpretation and exegesis rather than trustworthy translation? If the former was the case, the fact that these scholars were modern in their conceptions and tendencies becomes doubly serious, of course, All so-called translation is mixed to some extent with interpretation. It is not so that every Hebrew and Greek word has a single, readymade equivalent in the English. Some foreign words have no precise English equivalent at all. Others have various shades of meaning. It is only by way of intense effort and comparative study of Scripture’s passages, that the translator must determine the word that most nearly expresses the original. For that reason it makes so much difference who undertakes this business of translating the infallible Scriptures from one language to another.
flow about its use in our circles? I certainly would not recommend that this new version he our only Bible and that we use it in the place of the other versions. However, as a help in our study of the Word of God and to aid our understanding of the Scriptures it may prove very beneficial. Referring to it in your Bible discussions as societies can do no harm, assuming, of course, that you possess and exercise a measure of Christian discretion.
To me, meanwhile, it is most gratifying to know that our King James Version is still the most loved and popular of all. I am happy to hear that all these newer versions have failed thus far to cut in on the sales of the Authorized Version. The Gideons, who distribute so very many Bibles, plan to continue with the King James. Other trans lations, perhaps, have certain advantages over our King James. To me the latter still excels all the others by so much, that I will venture the prophecy that this world will not see the day that any version of Scripture will ever completely supplant the one that has been so clesr to so many for so long: our majestic, beautifully unique and worshipful King James Version.
Originally published in:
Vol. 18 No. 2 March 1958