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The English Bible, and Revision.
WHATEVER may be the authority of the Bible as a Divine Revelation, it is certainly a wonderful book, with a wonderful history. The elder Scriptures reach back, in their earlier parts, more than 1600 years before Christ was born. This was some 700 years before Rome was founded, and some 500 years before Homer sang his immortal strains. Seventeen hundred years have passed since the canon of the New Testament was completed. We have thus a period of about 3,300 years, during which nearly all that we know of the history of the world has transpired. What influence the Book has exerted upon the progress of events in those years, in Asia and Africa, in Europe and America, and in the islands of the sea, it were beyond the province of this paper to portray. That it has been of transcendent moment, no one, who understands the subject, will attempt to question. That influence is deepening and broadening constantly, whatever may be said to the contrary; and to-day the Bible is a mightier power in the affairs of men than in any past time, is more widely circulated, and more widely and thoughtfully read and studied.
It is sometimes stated that there are more copies of the Bible, or of parts of the Bible in separate books, in the world, than there are of all other separate works combined. Whether this be so or not, it is true, as it is not of any other existing work, that if all the Bibles were simultaneously destroyed, the Book itself could be at once reproduced from other works which contain its several parts, or quotations from it-so thoroughly has it worn itself into the literature of the world. Few realize how large is the annual circulation of the Scriptures. The British Bible Society circulates something like 3,000,000 copies every year, embracing two hundred languages and tongues, mostly, however, the Vernacular. The American Bible Society circulates more than 1,000,000 copies, in about one hundred and sixty languages. But at least as many more
NEW SERIES. VOL. XVJI
copies are annually thrown out by private publishers, in Europe and America. While, fifty years ago, moreover, it was possible to tell the number of volumes issued, it is now difficult to ascertain the number of editions some of which are very large. The amount of capital invested in the publication of Bibles no one can estimate. Even outside of the Bible Societies it is immense. No book sells so well. On the publication of no book is so handsome a profit realized. There are publishing houses in the United States, as also in England, which, if the Bible Societies did not exist, would devote all their capital and energies to the publication of this one volume, and would speedily grow rich. The Bible Societies keep down the prices, and render it possible for the very poorest to possess the sacred writings. None are so poor, that they may not have the Bible. It is freely given, where occasion requires, "without money and without price."
That the demand for the Scriptures is on the increase, that larger editions are issued every year, would not seem to justify the assertions so often made, and so confidently, in these days, that the Bible has had its day, that it is effete, that it has lost its hold upon men's minds and hearts. It may have been, and may no longer be, looked upon as a Fetish. But rational, and withal reverent interest in it, is evidently on the increase. It is not only read more, but it is read more thoughtfully and more critically it is studied more profoundly, and with a pronounced determination to understand it in all its teachings and relations. No better proof of this could be had, than is furnished by the volumes upon the Bible, or some part of the Bible-Religious Literature constantly flowing from the press. They number more, far more, than upon any other subject, in art, in science, or in general literature. Whether the supply creates the demand, or the demand creates the supply, it is not necessary to inquire. There could be but one rcasonable answer. No such supply could or would be furnished, in this age of business acumen, were not the demand steady and abiding.
There has always been, since the beginnings of Christianity,
a demand for the Bible, when it could be obtained at all. It would have been strange had it been otherwise. A Book, professing to be a Revelation from God touching His relations to humanity, and concerning the most vital interests of the soul for time and eternity, would always be in demand — the more so as its influence visibly deepened and enlarged, and became enshrined in institutions, in buildings, and in symbols, affecting the daily life of the world. So far as it could be obtained, the learned studied it in the originals, or, as in Western Christendom for twelve hundred years, in the Latin of Jerome. So far as possible, the unlearned sought to know its contents through vernacular renderings, or from the lips of living teachers.
In its earlier days the Church encouraged translations, as also the diligent study and exposition of Holy Scripture. Under the sanction of the Church, missionaries gave the nations, among whom they labored, the Bible in their own tongue. In England, from the seventh to the tenth century, many fragmentary translations were made, to meet the wants of the Anglo-Saxons, and from the eleventh to the fourteenth century there were also fragmentary Anglo-Norman renderings. It is said, not without some show of authority, that the sum total of these fragments before the 10th century gave the entire Bible in the Anglo-Saxon tongue. This could not have been, had not the Church approved and encouraged. Men high in position, even aside from the clergy, engaged in the work of translation, notably King Alfred the Great (849-901).
The history of these translations is deeply interesting, but can only be glanced at here. The Anglo-Saxons called themselves "English"- Englise-from the fifth century, and from that century may be dated the real history of the English language, for, with whatever variations or developments, the language has been essentially the same from that time to this. The history of the English Bible must date from the earliest attempts at any translation into English of any of its parts, or of any Church Book containing any considerable amount of Scripture. They have all left their impress on suc
ceeding renderings. Some of them are to-day represented in the Prayer Book of the Episcopal Church, notably in the Psalter. How much King James's Version is dependent upon the previous translations, is confessed in its title page, which says, "Translated out of the original tongues, and with the former translations diligently compared and revised."
The first effort, of which we have any definite account, to open the wonders of the Scriptures to the common people is in the shape of a poetic paraphrase, by Caedmon, a monk of the seventh century. As he does not appear to have been a learned man, his work must have been in the nature of a compilation thrown into metrical form. He must have been dependent upon former renderings. Certainly there is evidence, that from a very early time the youth of parts of England were trained to say the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, the Ten Commandments, and portions of the Psalms in the vulgar tongue. This implies translations, oral, if not written. Soon after Caedmon, a version of the Psalms was produced by Guthlac, a monk of Croyland, and, in 706, another version by Aldhem, Bishop of Sherborne, a man of royal blood. The Gospel of St. John was put into Anglo-Saxon by the Venerable Bede, a monk of Yarrow, about 735. It was the work of his last days, and there is something pathetic and prophetic in the manner in which his labor closed. The last words were wrung from him in the very act of dying, but as they were written down a joyous smile of triumph spread over his features. He seemed to realize that the good work begun would not end until the "Word of the Lord" should "run and be glorified" in the languages of all people in all lands. Falling on his knees in his rude and narrow cell, he sang the "Gloria Patri," and with the last word on his lips he expired.
Besides these, and the work of Alfred, already noticed, there have come down interlinear translations of portions of Holy Scripture. Preserved in the British Museum is a MS. called the "Book of Durham," the "Gospels of St. Cuthbert," or the "Lindisfarne Gospels." They were transcribed in Latin by Eadfrith, Bishop of Lindisfarne, about 680. The interlinear
gloss was furnished by a priest of Holy Isle, named Aldred, about 946-8. Other glosses of like character also exist-a very fine one in the Bodleian Library. Early in the eleventh century, Aelfric, Abbot of Peterborough, and afterward Archbishop of York, translated large parts of the Pentateuch, and the Books of Joshua, Judges, Kings, Esther, Job, &c. He fails not, patriotically, to call the Vernacular, English. All these renderings were, of course, from the Latin. This Latin Version is worth a moment's attention. It is more than probable that portions of Holy Scripture were rendered into Latin before the death of St. John. Certainly the African Church, soon after his death, possessed the Latin Old Testament. The original Vulgate exists only in fragments. Jerome undertook the correction of the Italic Version, which dated from the middle of the second century, and which was made from the Septuagint, but while engaged upon the work was led to attempt a new translation, this time from the Hebrew. He be gan his labors about 385, and the translation was completed about 405. So far as the hand of Jerome can be certified, his work is of great value, as it is generally thought that he had access to some MSS. now lost. The new Version, with all its faults, and they were many, and notwithstanding its variations from the LXX., and from the Vetus Itala, on account of which Jerome was actually accused of heresy by Rufinus, gradually made its way into general use, and in 200 years after Jerome's death was the Received Version in the West. By the ninth century, however, through various causes, the Latin text had become very corrupt, and Alcuin undertook a Revision by authority of Charlemagne. This Revision was further revised by Lanfranc in the eleventh century, and in the twelfth by Cardinal Nicolaus. By this time the work of Jerome was in great confusion. Nevertheless, the Council of Trent, 1546, declared it the authorized Version of the Roman Catholic Church, but ordained the preparation of a corrected edition. What professed to be such an edition was published, under Sixtus V., in 1590, but it was immediately suppressed on account of its numerous inaccuracies. Under Clement VIII.,