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Textual criticism, as applied to the Greek New Testament, forms a special study of much intricacy and difficulty, and even now leaves room for considerable variety of opinion among competent critics. Different schools of criticism have been represented among us, and have together contributed to the final result. In the early part of the work every various reading requiring consideration was discussed and voted on by the Company. After a time the precedents thus established enabled the process to be safely shortened; but it was still at the option of every one to raise a full discussion on any particular reading, and the option was freely used. On the first revision, in accordance with the fifth rule, the decisions were arrived at by simple majorities. On the second revision, at which a majority of two thirds was required to retain or introduce a reading at variance with the reading presumed to underlie the Authorised Version, many readings previously adopted were brought again into debate, and either re-affirmed or set aside.
Many places still remain in which, for the present, it would not be safe to accept one reading to the absolute exclusion of others. In these cases we have given alternative readings in the margin, wherever they seem to be of sufficient importance or interest to deserve notice. In the introductory formula, the phrases 'many ancient authorities,' 'some ancient authorities,' are used with some latitude to denote a greater or lesser proportion of those authorities which have a distinctive right to be called ancient. These ancient authorities comprise not only Greek manuscripts, some of which were written in the fourth and fifth centuries, but versions of a still earlier date in different languages, and also quotations by Christian writers of the second and following centuries.
2. We pass now from the Text to the Translation. The character of the Revision was determined for us from the outset by the first rule, 'to introduce as few alterations as possible, consistently with faithfulness.' Our task was revision, not re-translation.
In the application however of this principle to the many and intricate details of our work, we have found ourselves constrained by faithfulness to introduce changes which might not at first sight appear to be included under the rule.
The alterations which we have made in the Authorised Version may be roughly grouped in five principal classes. First, alterations positively required by change of reading in the Greek Text. Secondly, alterations made where the Authorised Version appeared either to be incorrect, or to have chosen the less probable of two possible renderings.
Thirdly, alterations of obscure or ambiguous renderings into such as are clear and express in their import. For it has been our principle not to leave any translation, or any arrangement of words, which could adapt itself to one or other of two interpretations, but rather to express as plainly as was possible that interpretation which seemed best to deserve a place in the text, and to put the other in the margin.
There remain yet two other classes of alterations which we have felt to be required by the same principle of faithfulness. These are,— Fourthly, alterations of the Authorised Version in cases where it was inconsistent with itself in the rendering of two or more passages confessedly alike or parallel. Fifthly, alterations rendered necessary by consequence, that is, arising out of changes already made, though not in themselves required by the general rule of faithfulness. Both these classes of alterations call for some further explanation.
The frequent inconsistencies in the Authorised Version have caused us much embarrassment from the fact already referred to, namely, that a studied variety of rendering, even in the same chapter and context, was a kind of principle with our predecessors, and was defended by them on grounds that have been mentioned above. The problem we had to solve was to discriminate between varieties of rendering which were compatible with fidelity to the true meaning of the text, and varieties which involved inconsistency, and were suggestive of differences that had no existence in the Greek. This problem we have solved to the best of our power, and for the most part in the following
Where there was a doubt as to the exact shade of meaning, we have looked to the context for guidance. If the meaning was fairly expressed by the word or phrase that was before us in the Authorised Version, we made no change, even where rigid adherence to the rule of translating, as far as possible, the same Greek word by the same English word might have prescribed some modification.
There are however numerous passages in the Authorised Version in which, whether regard be had to the recurrence (as in the first three Gospels) of identical clauses and sentences, to the repetition of the same word in the same passage, or to the characteristic use of particular words by the same writer, the studied variety adopted by the Translators of 1611 has produced a degree of inconsistency that cannot be reconciled with the principle of faithfulness. In such cases we have not hesitated to introduce alterations, even though the sense might not seem to the general reader to be materially affected.
The last class of alterations is that which we have described as rendered necessary by consequence; that is, by reason of some foregoing alteration. The cases in which these consequential changes have been found necessary are numerous and of very different kinds. Sometimes the change has been made to avoid tautology; sometimes to obviate an unpleasing alliteration or some other infelicity of sound; sometimes, in the case of smaller words, to preserve the familiar rhythm; sometimes for a convergence of reasons which, when explained, would at once be accepted, but until so explained might never be surmised even by intelligent readers.
This may be made plain by an example. When a particular word is found to recur with characteristic frequency in any one of the Sacred Writers, it is obviously desirable to adopt for it some uniform rendering. Again, where, as in the case of the first three Evangelists, precisely the same clauses or sentences are found in more than one of the Gospels, it is no less necessary to translate them in every place in the same way. These two principles may be illustrated by reference to a word that perpetually recurs in St. Mark's Gospel, and that may be translated either 'straightway,' 'forthwith,' or 'immediately.' Let it be supposed that the first rendering is chosen, and that the word, in accordance with the first of the above principles, is in that Gospel uniformly translated 'straightway.' Let it be further supposed that one of the passages of St. Mark in which it is so translated is found, word for word, in one of the other Gospels, but that there the rendering of the Authorised Version happens to be 'forthwith' or 'immediately.' That rendering must be changed on the second of the above principles; and yet such a change would not have been made but for this concurrence of two sound principles, and the consequent necessity of making a change on grounds extraneous to the passage itself.
This is but one of many instances of consequential alterations which might at first sight appear unnecessary, but which nevertheless have been deliberately made, and are not at variance with the rule of introducing as few changes in the Authorised Version as faithfulness would allow.
There are some other points of detail which it may be here convenient to notice. One of these, and perhaps the most important, is the rendering of the Greek aorist. There are numerous cases, especially in connexion with particles ordinarily expressive of present time, in which the use of the indefinite past tense in Greek and English is altogether different; and in such instances we have not attempted to violate the
idiom of our language by forms of expression which it could not bear. But we have often ventured to represent the Greek aorist by the English preterite, even where the reader may find some passing difficulty in such a rendering, because we have felt convinced he true meaning of the original was obscured by the presence of the familiar auxiliary. A remarkable illustration may be found in the seventeenth chapter of St. John's Gospel, where the combination of the aorist and the perfect shews, beyond all reasonable doubt, that different relations of time were intended to be expressed.
Changes of translation will also be found in connexion with the aorist participle, arising from the fact that the usual periphrasis of this participle in the Vulgate, which was rendered necessary by Latin idiom, has been largely reproduced in the Authorised Version by 'when' with the past tense (as for example in the second chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel), even where the ordinary participial rendering would have been easier and more natural in English.
In reference to the perfect and the imperfect tenses but little needs to be said. The correct translation of the former has been for the most part, though with some striking exceptions, maintained in the Authorised Version: while with regard to the imperfect, clear as its meaning may be in the Greek, the power of expressing it is so limited in English, that we have been frequently compelled to leave the force of the tense to be inferred from the context. In a few instances, where faithfulness imperatively required it, and especially where, in the Greek, the significance of the imperfect tense seemed to be additionally marked by the use of the participle with the auxiliary verb, we have introduced the corresponding form in English. Still, in the great majority of cases we have been obliged to retain the English preterite, and to rely either on slight changes in the order of the words, or on prominence given to the accompanying temporal particles, for the indication of the meaning which, in the Greek, the imperfect tense was designed to convey.
On other points of grammar it may be sufficient to speak more briefly.
Many changes, as might be anticipated, have been made in the case of the definite article. Here again it was necessary to consider the peculiarities of English idiom, as well as the general tenor of each passage. Sometimes we have felt it enough to prefix the article to the first of a series of words to all of which it is prefixed in the Greek, and thus, as it were, to impart the idea of definiteness to the whole series, without running the risk of overloading the sentence. Sometimes, conversely,
we have had to tolerate the presence of the definite article in our Version, when it is absent from the Greek, and perhaps not even grammatically latent; simply because English idiom would not allow the noun to stand alone, and because the introduction of the indefinite article might have introduced an idea of oneness or individuality, which was not in any degree traceable in the original. In a word, we have been careful to observe the use of the article wherever it seemed to be idiomatically possible: where it did not seem to be possible, we have yielded to necessity.
As to the pronouns and the place they occupy in the sentence, a subject often overlooked by our predecessors, we have been particularly careful; but here again we have frequently been baffled by structural or idiomatical peculiarities of the English language which precluded changes otherwise desirable.
In the case of the particles we have met with less difficulty, and have been able to maintain a reasonable amount of consistency. The particles in the Greek Testament are, as is well known, comparatively few, and they are commonly used with precision. It has therefore been the more necessary here to preserve a general uniformity of rendering, especially in the case of the particles of causality and inference, so far as English idiom would allow.
Lastly, many changes have been introduced in the rendering of the prepositions, especially where ideas of instrumentality or of mediate agency, distinctly marked in the original, had been confused or obscured in the translation. We have however borne in mind the comprehensive character of such prepositions as 'of' and 'by,' the one in reference to agency and the other in reference to means, especially in the English of the seventeenth century; and have rarely made any change where the true meaning of the original as expressed in the Authorised Version would be apparent to a reader of ordinary intelligence.
3. We now come to the subject of Language.
The second of the rules, by which the work has been governed, prescribed that the alterations to be introduced should be expressed, as far as possible, in the language of the Authorised Version or of the Versions that preceded it.
To this rule we have faithfully adhered. We have habitually consulted the earlier Versions; and in our sparing introduction of words not found in them or in the Authorised Version we have usually satisfied ourselves that such words were employed by standard writers of nearly the same date, and had also that general hue which justified