labour of deciding between different readings, which formed one of the most important duties of the New Testament company. But the advance in the study of Hebrew since the early part of the 17th century enabled them to give a more faithful translation of the received text. The value of their work is evident, especially in Job, Ecclesiastes and the prophetical books.
It is the work of the New Testament committee which has attracted most attention, whether for blame or praise. The critical resources at the disposal of scholars in 1611 were very meagre, and the few early manuscripts with which they were acquainted failed to receive the attention they deserved. The results of modern critical methods could not fail to make the incompleteness of the “Received Text,” and of the “Authorized Version,” which was based on it, obvious. It had long been the opinion of all competent scholars that a thorough revision was necessary. A proposal in favour of this course was made in Convocation in 1856, but it was not until fourteen years later that the committee was appointed to undertake the work. The revisers’ first task was to reconstruct the Greek text, as the necessary foundation of their work. In this difficult duty they were no doubt influenced by Westcott and Hort’s edition of the New Testament. These two scholars were members of the committee which prepared the Revised Version, and on the question of various readings they appear to have exercised a predominating influence. The revisers were privately supplied with instalments of Westcott and Hort’s text as their work required them. But it is scarcely necessary to say that the Revised Version is not the work of one or two scholars. Different schools of criticism were represented on the committee, and the most careful discussion took place before any decision was formed. Every precaution was taken to ensure that the version should represent the result of the best scholarship of the time, applied to the work before it with constant devotion and with the highest sense of responsibility. The changes in the Greek text of the Authorized Version when compared with the textus receptus are numerous, but the contrast between the English versions of 1611 and 1881 is all the more striking because of the difference in the method of translation which was adopted. The revisers aimed at the most scrupulous faithfulness. They adopted the plan—deliberately rejected by the translators of 1611—of always using the same English word for the same Greek word. “They endeavoured to enable the English reader to follow the correspondences of the original with the closest exactness, to catch the solemn repetition of words and phrases, to mark the subtleties of expression, to feel even the strangeness of unusual forms of speech.”
The revision of the New Testament was completed in 407 meetings, distributed over more than ten years. It was formally presented to Convocation on May 17, 1881. The revision of the Old Testament occupied 792 days, and was finished on June 20, 1884. The revised Apocrypha did not make its appearance until 1895.
The text of the Revised Version is printed in paragraphs, the old division of books into chapters and verses being retained for convenience of reference. By this arrangement the capricious divisions of some books is avoided. Various editions of the New Version have been published, the most complete being the edition of the whole Bible with marginal references. These references had their origin in the work of two small subcommittees of the revisers, but they received their present form at the hands of a specially appointed committee. The marginal references given in the original edition of the Authorized Version of 1611 have been retained as far as possible.
The work of the revisers was received without enthusiasm. It was too thorough for the majority of religious people. Partisans found that havoc had been played with their proof texts. Ecclesiastical conservatives were scandalized by the freedom with which the traditional text was treated. The advocates of change were discontented with the hesitating acceptance which their principles had obtained. The most vulnerable side of the revision was that on which the mass of English readers thought itself capable of forming a judgment. The general effect of so many small alterations was to spoil the familiar sonorous style of the Authorized Version. The changes were freely denounced as equally petty and vexatious; they were, moreover, too often inconsistent with the avowed principles of the revisers. The method of determining readings and renderings by vote was not favourable to the consistency and literary character of the Version. A whole literature of criticism and apology made its appearance, and the achievement of so many years of patient labour seemed destined to perish in a storm of resentments. On the whole, the Revised Version weathered the storm more successfully than might have been expected. Its considerable excellences were better realized by students than stated by apologists. The hue and cry of the critics largely died away, and was replaced by a calmer and juster appreciation.
The work of the revisers has been sharply criticized from the standpoint of specialists in New Testament Greek. Dr Rutherford stated the case briefly and pointedly in the preface to his translation of the Epistle to the Romans (London, 1900). He maintains that “the Greek of the New Testament may never be understood as classical Greek is understood,” and accuses the revisers of distorting the meaning “by translating in accordance with Attic idiom phrases that convey in later Greek a wholly different sense, the sense which the earlier translators in happy ignorance had recognized that the context demanded.”
The use of the new Version has become general. Familiarity has mitigated the harshness of the revisers’ renderings; scholarship, on the whole, has confirmed their readings. The Version has been publicly read in parish churches both in London and in the country. In Canterbury cathedral and Westminster Abbey it has definitely displaced the older Version. Bishops have acquiesced and congregations approved. It is no longer possible to maintain the plausible and damaging contention that the Revised Bible is ill suited for public use. The Upper House of the Convocation of Canterbury in May 1898 appointed a committee to consider the expediency of “permitting or encouraging” the use of the Revised Version in the public services of the Church. (H. H. H.*)
Bibliography.—The principal works dealing with the separate versions have been referred to in the text of the article. The following authorities may also be cited:
For the version as a whole: J. R. Dore, Old Bibles (2nd ed., 1888); J. Eadie, The English Bible: an External and Critical History of the various English Translations of Scripture (2 vols., 1876: the most complete account); A. Edgar, The Bibles of England (1889); H. W. Hoare, The Evolution of the English Bible (2nd ed., 1902: gives historical setting of the Versions); F. G. Kenyon, Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts (1895); J. H. Lupton, article on “English Versions,” in Hastings’ Dict. of the Bible (extra vol.); R. Lovett, The Printed English Bible, 1525-1885 (1894); G. Milligan, The English Bible, a Sketch of its History (1895); J. I. Mombert, English Versions of the Bible (1883); F. Moulton, The History of the English Bible (2nd ed., 1884); T. H. Pattison, History of the English Bible (1894); J. Stoughton, Our English Bible, its Translations and Translators .
For the earlier history: J. Lewis, History of English Translations of the Bible (1818); the historical accounts prefixed to Bagster’s issue of The English Hexapla and of Forshall and Madden’s edition of the Wycliffite Versions (Oxford, 1850). These are all to a great extent antiquated, their errors being repeated in almost all subsequent accounts of the subject. The only trustworthy authority on the Anglo-Saxon Bible is A. S. Cook’s “Introduction on Old English Translations of the Bible,” in Biblical Quotations in Old English Prose-writers.
For the 14th and 15th centuries: See A. C. Paues, The Bible in the Fourteenth Century.
For the early printed Bibles: H. Cotton, List of Editions of the Bible (1852), Rhemes and Doway (1855); F. Fry, The Bible by Coverdale (1867); Description of the Great Bible, 1539 (1865); Bibliographical Descriptions of the Editions of the New Testament (1878); N. Pocock, “On the Bishops’ and Genevan Bible,” (Bibliographer, vols. i.-iv.); Prime Wendell, Fifteenth-Century Bibles (1888); John Wright, Early Bibles of America (1893).
For the Authorized Version: F. H. A. Scrivener, The Authorized Edition of the English Bible (1884). See also R. Gell, Essay toward the Amendment of the Authorized Version (1659); W. Kilburne, Dangerous Errors in ... Bibles (1659); R. C. Trench, On the Authorized Version of the New Testament in connexion with some recent proposals for its revision (2nd ed., 1859).
For the Revised Version: J. B. Lightfoot, On a Fresh Revision of the English New Testament (London, 1871; 3rd ed. 1891); Westcott, Some Lessons of the Revised Version (London, 1897); Kennedy,