The Bibles of England: a Plain Account for Plain People of the Principal Versions of the Bible in English. By Andrew Edgar, D.D. 1889
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Dr. Edgar tells us that his work is not intended for scholastic readers. His object is to exhibit "the differentiations of successive versions and the literary peculiarities that in each translation maybe supposed most readily to attract the notice of common English readers." He tries to show how the dissatisfaction with one version led to the publication of another. He accordingly divides his treatise into eight chapters, discussing in chapter i. "The Lollards' Bible," commonly called Wyclif's Bible, 1380, as well as the revision of it by John Purvey about 1388; chaps, ii. and iii., "The Reformers' Bibles," viz. Tyndale's Testament, 1526; revised, 1534; Coverdale's Bible, 1535; Matthew's Bible, 1537; Taverner's Bible, 1539; the Great Bible or Cromwell's Bible, 1539; revised edition with prologue by Cranmer, and therefore called Cranmer's Bible, 1540; chap, iv., "The Puritans' and People's Bible," otherwise termed the Geneva or Breeches Bible, comprising under this heading, first the New Testament, 1557; second, the Geneva translation of the New Testament with the translation of the Old Testament, 1560; and third, Tomson's revised translation of the New Testament, 1576; chaps, v. and vi., "The Bibles of the Churches," No. 1 being the Bible of the Church of England commonly called the Bishops' Bible, first translation, 1568; revised translation, 1572; and No. 2 the Bible of the Catholic Church, New Testament printed at Rhemes, 1582, Old Testament printed at Douay, 1609-10; chap, vii., "The National Bible," sometimes called the King's Translation, more commonly termed the Authorized Version, 1611; and lastly chap, viii., "The International Bible," commonly called the Revised Version, New Testament, 1881; the Old Testament, 1885. This is followed by an appendix in which are discussed (a) "Early Scottish Renderings of Scripture"; (b) "Modern Scottish Versions of Scripture"; (e) "Theocracy in Geneva and Scotland," in explanation of a statement on p. 187; and (d) "The Word Mass."
Dr. Edgar still repeats the oft-exploded notion that the Catholic Church had "a widespread horror of Scripture translations, whether accompanied with notes or not and however faultlessly executed." He does not seem to know that long before the Reformation every Catholic nation all over Europe had versions of the Bible in the vernacular of the country. Between 1477, when the first edition of the French New Testament was published at Lyons, and 1535, when the first French Protestant Bible was published, upwards of twenty editions of the Bible in the French vernacular issued from the Catholic press. In Germany prior to the publication of the first edition of Luther's Bible, 1534, no fewer than thirty Catholic editions of the entire Scriptures and parts of the Bible appeared in the German vernacular. In Italy, the very seat of the Papacy, two editions of an Italian translation of the whole Bible appeared in 1471, and several other editions appeared prior to the Reformation. These facts any student can verify by a visit to the British Museum, where most of the Bibles are to be seen. The proscription and burning of the Bible in England were therefore not due to "a widespread horror of Scripture translations," but were owing to the man who translated it and to the nature of the version.
It was the greatest hindrance to the circulation of the Scriptures in the vernacular in England that the man who first undertook to translate the Bible at the beginning of the sixteenth century was not only an obscure individual who had neither distinguished himself at the university nor held any responsible position in the Church, but was simply a private chaplain who was exceedingly insulting in his manner, of a most violent temper, and unscrupulous in the defence of what he believed to be the truth. In the post-prandial discussions at the common table of his master he repeatedly insulted and abused the great beneficed dignitaries who were guests in the house. The Pope with him was Antichrist and the whore of Babylon, whilst the monks and the friars were caterpillars, horse-leeches, drone-bees, and draff.
"The parson sheareth, the vicar shaveth, the parish-priest polleth, the friar scrapeth, and the pardoner pareth: we lack but a butcher to pull off the skin."
These insults to the highest dignitaries of the established Church of his country he embodied in the prologues and the margins of his translation as part of the Bible. Thus in the prologue to Jonah he says :—
"God now receaueth vs no moare to mercie, but of mercie receaueth vs to penaunce, that is to wete, holy dedes that make them [the prelates] fatt belies and vs their captiues, both in soule and body."
In the margin on Exodus xviii. 21 Tyndale inserts:—
"Oure prelates nethere fear God for they preach not his worde truely: ner are lesse covetouse the Judas: for they haue receaued of the devill the kyngdomes of the erth and the glorie thereof which christ refused, Mathe 4."
These are simply a few of many glosses of this nature.
Tyndale did not, however, confine his peculiar doctrines to the margin, but he tampered with the text itself. Thus he designedly discarded the ancient ecclesiastical terms, such as church, priest, confession, penance, charity, grace, idols, &c, and substituted for them congregation, senior, knowledging, repentance, love, favour, images, &c.; and he introduced these sacred terms where they are most inappropriate, to pour contempt upon the hallowed institutions. Thus Matt. xvi. 18 he translates, "Upon this rocke I wyll bylde my congregacion," whereas Acts xiv. 13 he renders, "The Jupiters priest brought oxen ad garlondes vnto the churche porche," instead of "unto the gates." Romans x. 10 he translates, "To knowledge with the mouth maketh a man safe," instead of "to confess." 2 Cor. vi. 16 he renders, "Howe agreeth the temple of god with ymages?" instead of idols. No wonder that the prelates resented this designed reproach against the established Catholic Church and charged Tyndale with handling the word of God deceitfully. "It is soknowen a treacherie of Heretikes," they declare (note on 1 John v. 21, Rhemes Testament),
"to traslate idola images they doe it of purpose to seduce the poore ignorant people, and to make them thinke that whatsoeuer in Scripture is spoken against the idols of the Gentiles is meant of pictures, sacred images, and holy memories of Christ and his Saints."
It is, therefore, not to be wondered at that the king, with the advice of his council and prelates, published an edict, May 25th, 1531,
"that the translation of the Scripture corrupted by William Tyndale should be utterly expelled, rejected, and put away out of the hands of the people, and not to be suffered to get abroad among his subjects.”
The same edict, however, adds “that the king would see to it that the New Testament should be faithfully and purely translated.” The burning of the copies was simply in accordance with the custom of those days to commit to the flames the works of opponents. Only a few years before Luther burnt the books of the canon law and the bull of Pope Leo outside the walls of Wittenberg; and Calvin in 1552 burnt all the copies of Servetus's Bible because he did not think that the marginal notes were orthodox. This is simply in accordance with the claims of the Church, whether Roman Catholic or Anglican, to rule over the consciences of men, and to prevent the dissemination of spiritual poison by heretics. This claim is distinctly set forth in the Authorized Version, where the heading to Psalm cxlix. ran as follows: “I The Prophet exhorteth to praise God for his loue to the Church, and for that power, which hee hath giuen to the Church to rule the consciences of men.” In accordance with this claim Bartholomew Leggat was burnt at Smithfield for holding Arian opinions, March 18th, 1611, the very year in which the Authorized Version was published, thus giving a practical explanation of the import of the heading to Psalm cxlix. The heading, however, was surreptitiously altered in later editions.
The bitter spirit of hostility and the insults to the established Church displayed in the margin of Tyndale's translation were continued in a still more intensified form in the so-called Matthew’s Bible, 1537, and in the Genevan or Breeches Bible, 1560. As the Genevan version became the Bible of the Puritans and of Scotland because of its predestinarian and democratic notes, the following specimens will show to what extent the English versions were used to vilify the established Church of the country.
2 Peter ii. 3, on the words “and through couetousnes shal they with fained wordes make marchandise of you,” the marginal note is:
“This is euidently sene in the Pope and his Priests which by lies and flatteries sel mens soules, so that it is certeine that he is not the successour of Simon Peter, but of Simon Magus.”
Rev. ix. 11: “And they haue a King ouer them which is the Angel of the bottomless pit,” “which is Antichrist, the Pope, king of hypocrities and Satans ambassadour.”
Rev. xiii. 15: “Worship the image of the beast,” that is, “Receiue the ordinances and decrees of the seat of Rome and kisse the vilens fote, if he were put thereunto.”
Rev. xvi. 2: “And there fell a noysome and a grieuous sore vpon the men, which had the marke of the beast.” “This was like the sixt plague of Egypt, which was sores, and boiles or pockes: and this reigneth comunly amóg Canons, monkes, friers, nonnes, Priests and suche filthie vermin which beare the marke of the beast.”
These indecent and insulting attacks upon the faith of the Roman Catholic Church in the Bible which professes to be a faithful translation of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures account for the origin and nature of the marginal glosses in the Rhemes and Douay Bible, 1582–1610.
Though not so insulting, yet equally derisive are the attacks in the Geneva Bible upon the Episcopal Church. It does not scruple to adopt Tyndale's unfair rendering of Acts xiv. 23, viz., “and when they had ordeined the Elders by election in euerie Church,” and remarks in the margin against “election”:—
“The worde signifieth to elect by putting vp the hads which declareth that ministers were not made without the consent of the people.”
On Philip, i. 1, “with the Bisshops and Deacons,” the marginal gloss is:—
“By bishops here he meaneth them that had charge of the worde and gouerning, as pastours, doctors, elders: by deacons suche as had charge of the distribution, and of the poore and sicke.”
That the theological opinions exhibited in the Geneva Bible were derived from Calvin, who was the ruling spirit at Geneva at the time when this version was made, was well known; but that the translation itself is mainly due to a Huguenot French Bible which was published at Geneva a few years prior to the Geneva English Bible has escaped the notice of Dr. Edgar, simply because this fact was unknown to previous writers on the history of our English Bibles.
In 1553 there was published at Geneva a New Testament in French in duodecimo, which was revised by Calvin. This Testament exhibits the following peculiarities: (1) it is preceded by a long epistle by Calvin; (2) every book is broken up into chapters, each of which is numbered in Roman figures; (3) every chapter is preceded by a summary of contents; and (4) it is the first translation in a modern language in which the chapters are divided into verses, and in which each verse has prefixed to it its number in Arabic figures. Not only have all these features been adopted, but even the five parentheses which occur in the long and elaborate French epistle, and the very size of the book, have been copied by Whittingham, the English translator, yet Dr. Edgar assures us that “beyond all question Whittingham's version, 1557, is based either on the Great Bible or on Tyndale's Testament, or on both jointly.”
Three years later, viz., 1556, the entire Huguenot Bible appeared at Geneva with the same peculiarities. In this edition, however, Calvin's epistle is omitted, and the New Testament was thoroughly revised. Three years later, viz., 1560, the entire English Bible was published at Geneva. In this edition, too, Calvin’s epistle is omitted, the New Testament is also thoroughly revised, and all the other features of the Huguenot Bible are adopted.
For further evidence that the Geneva version derived its inspiration from the Huguenot Bible we refer to the very list given by Dr. Edgar on p. 169 for quite another purpose. Here Dr. Edgar gives in two parallel columns extracts to “illustrate the different meanings that verses of Scripture were represented to bear in the Great Bible (1540) and in the Geneva Bible respectively,” since it was the Great Bible which the Geneva translators made the basis of their revision. On carefully comparing this list it will be seen that in the majority of cases where the Geneva version differs from the Great Bible, it agrees with the Huguenot version.
But though Dr. Edgar has failed to point out the intimate connexion between the different English versions and the translations made by the Reformers on the Continent, he has produced a most useful, interesting, and readable treatise. His work is an important contribution to the history of the English Bible. Both students of our venerable versions and collectors of Bibles will find Dr. Edgar's work an indispensable manual.
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