Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The American "Standard" Bible, article in The Churchman 1901

The American "Standard" Bible, article in The Churchman 1901

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Fifteen years ago, a revision of the Old Testament in English, the joint work of English and American scholars, was published, and has slowly made its way into more or less general use in Bible-classes, for home reading, and in some Protestant pulpits. The revision of the New Testament, under the same auspices, appeared five years earlier. To this Revised Bible there was appended, as those who have used it will recall, a considerable list of points and passages on which the American revisers were unable to agree with their English brethren. The list was not exhaustive. There were many other readings that the Americans would have preferred, but they considered these of sufficient importance to justify some official recognition of them in any book that was to bear their imprimatur; while it was felt to be but right that the English companies, who had taken the initiative in the revision, should have a decisive vote in regard to what should be adopted as the received reading. It was agreed that for fourteen years no revised Bible should be issued without the American appendix, and that the American revisers should issue no standard edition of their own. That period elapsed two years ago. With the completion of their labors the English companies disbanded. The Americans retained their organization, and continued steadily at work, and, especially during the past six years, in spite of the gaps occasioned by death in their ranks, have accorded very great labor to the task, the heaviest burden of which has fallen for the New Testament on Professor Thayer, and for the Old Testament on Professor Meade. The result is before us in an authorized long primer quarto edition, with twelve good maps and an index, with appendixes giving a list of readings and renderings from the Old Testament of 1886 and the New Testament of 1881, that have been replaced by the American revisers.

On a work like this it is impossible for the reviewer to pronounce a critical judgment. Time alone can do that. It is not enough that it should commend itself to an individual, however learned, or to a group, however large, that it should justify the claim of its title to be the "Standard" Bible. Indeed, the title itself seems to us an unfortunate one, for reasons that we have already explained. All translation is an approximation. It endeavors to convey the thought of one people and time to another people and another time, and if we could conceive that that task should be perfectly performed for any tongue or any generation, it would need readjustment for succeeding generations, for language is mobile. But there is something more than that. With regard to the New Testament the Revisers have used a text that represents approximately the latest scholarship. Changes there will be, no doubt, but they are hardly likely to be radical. With regard to the Old Testament, on the other hand, the translators have been confined by the terms of their commission to a text sorely in need of correction, but certainly deserving more conservative treatment than it has received at the hands of the polychrome translators. We will content ourselves here, therefore, with endeavoring to state, with such precision as we may, wherein this work differs from the Revised Bible as we have hitherto known it.

It is something very much more than the mere transferring of what was once in the appendix to the text, and vice versa. The readings of that former appendix have themselves been revised, corrected, elaborated. Many readings have been omitted, very many more have been added. In the Old Testament they have changed, where there was occasion, "Lord" and "God" to "Jehovah," emphasizing thus, as they explain in their preface, "God as the Personal God, as the Covenant God, the God of Revelation, the Deliverer, the Friend of His People," with the feeling that a Jewish superstition regarding the utterance of the Sacred Name ought no longer to dominate in any version of the Old Testament. Again, the revisers have substituted uniformly "sheol" where that word Is rendered by the English revisers "the grave," "the pit," and "hell." It occurs sixty-four times in all. Of these the English translated nearly half by "sheol." The American revisers naturally ask, Why, then, not all? and proceed accordingly. For grammatical and rhetorical reasons they have not scrupled to change "which" to "who" and "that," to substitute "are" for "be," to drop "for" before infinitives, and to make the use of "a" and "an" accord with modern custom. They have also occasionally modified the spelling. They have also heeded the demands of consistency to a greater degree than their English brethren, substituting "justice" for "Judgment," wherever the Hebrew word is used in the abstract sense, and "ordinance" for "Judgment," in another category of usage. In a number of instances after-thought has led them to return to the version of 1611, and they claim that euphony has been more considered than by the English. Here, more than in any other category of changes, there will be wide difference of opinion. There are those, for instance, whose culture enables them to see only poetic imagery in Jer. iv. 19.

Then, too, the revisers have undertaken some idiomatic alteration, convinced that the rhetorical force and the antique flavor that we all desire to retain can be preserved without retaining "sporadic instances of uncouth, unidiomatic or obscure phraseology," such, for instance, as "forth of" for "forth from," "smell thereto" for "thereof," to be "jealous over" instead of to be "jealous of," "inquire at" for "inquire for," or the syntaxical blunder of "them" for "they" in Prov. xxvii. 3, and "whom" for "who," in St. Matt. xvi. 13. We note also that the "dragon" and that equally fabulous vertebral the "arrowsnake," have followed the "unicorn" into the limbo of zoological chimeras. To some it will be agreeable to note that David now burns the "yokes" of Araunah's oxen Instead of their "furniture," and that the "milk" of Job xxi. 24 is now carried in "pails." If several passages, especially In Proverbs, are still obscure, that is, at least in part, because the Hebrew text is itself defective, and the revisers were not at liberty to revise it.

Marginal readings in the Old Testament are reduced by five-sixths; not that the American revisers do not think the Hebrew text "probably corrupt here and there," but that they doubt if ancient versions will serve for its emendation. There has been a careful sifting of references to parallel and illustrative passages. The paragraphing is also changed, and the punctuation has been made to conform to modern usage, with less regard than was paid by the English revisers to the pausal accents of the Massoretic text.

In the New Testament the deviations are much slighter and less frequent, though made on the same general plan, with the addition of references to parallel passages and of running head-lines. The editors close their preface with an expression of the hope and belief that their work will bring a plain reader more closely into contact with the exact thought of the sacred writers, than any version now current in Christendom, and also prove itself especially serviceable to students of the Word. The version is certainly one that no thoughtful Biblical scholar can afford to neglect.

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