HOW WE GOT OUR BIBLE
TO TRACE the story of the Sacred Scriptures from the days when the
first inspired autographs were made by godly men, divinely chosen for the work, down
through the stormy vicissitudes of the centuries, to this era in which we enjoy them in
the English language printed and bound in handy book form, is a story without a parallel
in the whole range of sacred or secular history. As I have explained beforethrough
the many streams, Hebrew, Chaldee, Greek, Syriac, Latin, AngloSaxonthe Sacred Word
has flowed increasingly onward.
In the scope of this article, we
purpose to deal with versions and translations. Many have the conception that God inspired
the King James Bible. Not long since a professor wrote me saying
that the King James version was ninetynine and fourfifths per cent pure! It is passing
strange that men, claiming to be informed, will indulge in such loose statements. Let it
be remembered that God inspired the original documents of the Scriptures, but He did
not inspire versions made of them by men.
It is a rather
appalling condition that so many are ignorant of the fact that there were many versions
of the Scriptures made before the King James Bible.
Keeping in mind that God inspired
the sacred originals in Hebrew, Chaldee, and Greek, we now give our attention to versions
made from them. The ancient versions or translations of the Scriptures into the language
of the early saints, shows us the Bible as used by men, some of whose parents
might easily have seen the apostles themselves. They are of great value in determining the
original in some instances.
THE SYRIAC (ARAMAIC) VERSION
The Syriac or
Aramaic Version is the most important, and dates from as early as A. D. 170. It is called
the Peshitto, and means a very simple and plain version without the addition of the
allegorical or mystical glosses. The people among whom our Lord moved were
bilingual, and this version very nearly represents the dialect used in the
familiar talk of the household. However they all understood Greek, which was almost a
universal language at that time.
THE EGYPTIAN (COPTIC) VERSION
Before the close
of the second century A. D., at least two translations of the Scriptures had been made
into the Egyptian dialectsthe Bohairic and Sahidic.
THE GOTHIC VERSION
About 350 A.D.,
Ulfilas, Bishop of the fierce Gothic tribes, made a version from the Septuagint. This
beautiful silverlettered book, with its leaves of purple parchment, is most precious to
the student of language, as the long fragments of the gospels and Pauline epistles contain
the oldest specimens of Teutonic literature.
THE ARMENIAN VERSION
of the Scriptures into the Armenian language falls between 354441 A. D. It was begun at
Edessa by Mesrop and continued by his nephew of Khoren. It was based on the Septuagint.
THE ETHIOPIC VERSION
In the fourth
century, missionaries from Tyre evangelized Ethiopia, and by the fifth and sixth centuries
A.D., the Scriptures had been translated into Ethiopic.
THE LATIN VERSIONS
versions saw the light in the early part of the fourth century, but were very imperfect,
and, in 383 A. D., Pope Damasus of Rome commissioned Eusebius Hieronymus, better known to
us as St. Jerome, to revise the Latin version, which became known as the Vulgate.
No other work has had such an influence on the history of the Bible. For more
than a thousand years it was the parent of every other version of the Scriptures in
Western Europe, and its influence is quite perceptible, even in the King James
Bible of today.
Yet we wish to
note just here that, in that day, Jeromes version was attacked as heretical,
revolutionary, and impious, a work that was calculated to undermine the faith of the
church! The church people of that day had their old Bible, which they
venerated highly and believed to be quite correct. Probably the sound of its sentences was
as musical in the ears of those who could associate them with the holiest moments of their
lives, as the King James Bible of today is to us. But Jerome fought his
battle, perhaps with more temper than necessary, insisting that no amount of sentiment
could be a plea for a faulty Bible. In writing to Marcella, he mentions
certain poor creatures (homunculos), who studiously calumniate him for his
correcting words in the Gospels. I could afford to despise them,
he says, if I stood upon my rights; for a lyre is played in vain to an ass. If they
do not like the water from the pure fountainhead, let them drink of the muddy
There were multitudes then, as now,
who could not apprehend that every new version of the Scriptures was a means divinely used
to enlighten mankind as to what God had really spoken. They would cling to their old
Bibles just as their successors of today cling to the King James Version in
preference to the better and more accurate American Standard Revised or some other later
We now pass over
eight or nine hundred years, bringing us to the twelfth century, which produced several
translators and revisionists, but it was not until 1380 that John Wycliffe, with the aid
of a staff of competent assistants, gave the Englishspeaking world the first complete
Scripture revision and translation.
In the midst of his labors, he was
compelled to stop and stand trial for heresy! One of the charges brought against him was
that he had made the Bible common and more open to the laymen and even women (!) than it
was wont to be by clergy, well learned and of good understanding, so that the pearl
of the gospel is trodden under foot of swine. Though fiercely derided and
criticized, nevertheless, even in manuscript form, it reached the truthloving people and
was loyally read throughout the kingdom.
In 1525, William
Tyndale, a contemporary of Luther, began work on his famous version of the Scriptures.
Printing had been invented by this time, and Tyndale wished to put his version into the
hands of the people, for, as he says, It is impossible to establish the lay people
in any truth, except the Scriptures be laid before their eyes, in their mother
tongue. But everywhere he encountered discouragement, especially among churchmen,
preachers, and bishops! It was a dangerous period for Scripture translation. Men were
imprisoned and even executed for reading a copy of Luthers writings. So Tyndale was
forced to leave England to finish his work. Yet after many perilous adventures, this brave
revisionist produced at Worms, Germany, about 1526, the first printed English New
Testament. An octavo edition of 6000 copies was made and smuggled into England.
The whole world knows the story of
Tunstal, Bishop of London buying up and burning Tyndales New Testaments at St.
Pauls cross in London. We are informed that the London Bishop, perceiving he could
not hinder the version from coming into England, conceived what he termed a
brilliant idea! He engaged a merchant trading at Antwerp to buy up all
the copies across the waters. As the Bishop gave the merchant money to buy all the
unsold copies across the waters, he would take it to Tyndale, who furnished
him with a good supply each trip, and used the money to print more! As the version began
to reach England more abundantly the Bishop inquired of his merchant friend how
this could be. Upon which, the merchant replied: My lord, were best for your
lordship to buy up the stamps too by which they are imprinted.
The clergymen and bishops
throughout the land began frantic pulpit denunciations of the version. Yet in spite of all
the opposition, the book was being talked about sought, and read everywhere. One bishop
wrote, It passeth my power, or that of any spiritual man to hinder it now. The
path of the Bible was opened at last and no king nor bishop could stay its
progress. Gods due time for light to dawn upon Englands long night of error
and superstition had arrived.
But the lightbringer did not live
to see that day. For long dreary years he had labored for it, a worn, povertystricken
exile in a far away German town, and now when it came, his life was overthe prison
and stake had done their work! And the serious part of the matter to be noted is that the
tragedy was schemed and enacted by the clergy and bishops of the church! A traitorous
clergyman, by the name of Phillips, won the confidence of the unsuspecting exile, enticing
him some distance from his house, where lurking assistants sized and hurried him away to
the dungeons of the castle of Vilvorden. It is pitiful, indeed to read of the poor
prisoner there, in his cold and misery and rags, writing the governor, begging: Your
lordship, and that by the Lord Jesus, that if I am to remain here during the winter, you
will request the procurer to be kind enough to send me from my goods which he has in his
possession a warmer cap, for I suffer extremely from perpetual catarrh, which is much
increased by this cell. A warmer coat also, for that which I have is very thin; also a
piece of cloth to patch my leggingsmy shirts too are worn out . . . Also that he
would suffer me to have my Hebrew Bible and Grammar and Dictionary.
There was no hope for escape, and
the clerical influence in England was too strong against him to appeal for help in that
quarter, and on Friday the sixth of October, 1536, he was strangled at the stake and then
burned to ashes, fervently praying with his last words, Lord open the king of
The chief aids Tyndale used were
the Greek New Testament of Erasmus (1519, 1522), the German New Testament of Luther (1523)
and the Latin Vulgate. All subsequent scholars have done nothing more than improve the
details of the translation. He fixed for all subsequent workers the standard of diction
and style of the English Bible. The vast bulk of the words we still
read are his. For example, in his version of John 10:7-10, out of eightyseven words, the
King James retained eight and the Revised Version retained seventyseven that are
identical with the 1525 New Testament of Tyndale.
OTHER ENGLISH VERSIONS
About the time
Tyndale was martyred, Myles Coverdale compiled a version from five others, yet he followed
Tyndales lines very closely. Soon after, John Rogers issued what is known as
Matthews Bible, which was almost wholly copied from Tyndales
version. A little later another Tyndale imitation appeared in what was called
None of these versions were
satisfactory to the people, so that about three years after the death of Tyndale, what is
known as the Great Bible was planned with Coverdale in charge of the work.
This famous version, issued by authority of the king, was a compilation from Tyndale,
Matthew, and Coverdale, but with Tyndale as the principal basis. So the prayer of the old
martyr had been answered!
We will pass over the various
revisions of the Scriptures that followed in the next few generationsthe principal
ones being the Geneva Bible, 1560; the Bishops Bible, 1568,
and the RheimsDuoay Bible, 15821610and will come down to the most
eventful period of modern history in which the King James Bible saw the light.
When King James
VI of Scotland became King James I of England, there were three versions of the Scriptures
in use. The Great Bible, Geneva Bible, and the Bishops
Bible. The king, a man of fair abilities, but vain and cherishing to the fullest
extent a belief in the divine right of kings, resolved to exercise his
authority as Gods anointed. So, in order that his dutiful subjects should have a
uniform version of the Scriptures, by his kingly power he set aside all three of the
versions then in use, and authorized a new revision of the entire Scriptures to be made,
which should bear the name of himselfthe King James Version.
The next few years saw stirring
times in England. The king was twice in peril of his life. The Catholics hatched the
infamous GunPowder Plot to blow up the king and Parliament and pave the way
for the restoration of Romanism. The plan was narrowly frustrated. But amid the internal
and external turmoil, the people of the united kingdomScotland and
Englandawoke one morning in 1611, to the fact that the one great act of King
James reign was complete and accomplishedthe King James Bible had
It is little known, yet it is an
incontrovertible fact, that the Authorized Version of King James was not a
translation, but simply a revision of the Bishops Bible. The
translators say in their preface, Truly, good Christian Reader, we never thought
from the beginning that we should need to make a new translation, nor yet to make a bad
one a good one, . . . but to make a good one better.
The scholars of King James
day did not have access to the treasuries of ancient manuscripts, versions, and quotations
which present day scholars possess; they did not have the science of textual criticism
which teaches the value and the best methods of dealing with the ancient documents, all of
which has sprung up since; neither did they possess the wide and thorough acquaintance
with the sacred languages and the ability to distinguish and express the delicate shades
of meaning that scholars of today are capable of doing. They were also circumscribed by
fourteen rules devised by King James, as to how they should proceed. Some withdrew and
refused to serve when the rules were submitted. They had no system by which to
effect a true version, but simply trusted to their own judgment in the matter, and when
not certain, they simply arrived at an agreement among themselves on their
opinions and put it in!
When issued, Dr. Broughton, one of
the foremost Hebrew scholars of that era, wrote King James. I would rather suffer my
body to be rent in pieces by wild horses than to have such a version forced upon the
church. He also said, In fifteen verses of Luke 3 (verses 2438), the
translators have fifteen score of idle words to account for in the Day of Judgment.
The italicized words of this chapter are not to be found in the original.
comparatively recent time, so great has been the increase of knowledge concerning ancient
lands and languages that Germany, France, Holland, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark have made revisions
of their Bibles. These were not changes of the original Scriptures
themselves, but rectifications of their old translations so they would conform more
perfectly and express more exactly the thought of the originals, the meaning and
spirit of which had not been understood before.
THE REVISED VERSION
Version was made because of the following reasons given by the Committee: (1) Because the
Greek Testament had been carefully studied in the manuscripts and existing authorities,
and many weak points in the Authorized Version had thus become evident. (2) Because in the
course of nearly three hundred years, words or phrases had become obsolete or changed in
meaning. (3) Because Greek and Hebrew scholarship had developed to a much higher degree
than was possible in the seventeenth century.
It was objected by some, when the
revision was first proposed, that it would be dangerous to unsettle mens faith by
showing them that the old Bible, they so reverenced, contained many passages
wrongly translated, and some even which had no right to a place in it at all. But our
faith should be founded on the divine verities. It is no disparagement if we discover that
fallible men in studying and translating these words, have sometimes made mistakes, and it
is certainly no honor to the words which we profess to reverence, if we knowingly allow
the mistakes to remain uncorrected!
The English work was issued in
parts, the New Testament in 1881 and the Old Testament in 1885. A recension of this work,
called the American Standard Edition, and embodying many important emendations made by the
American Revision Committee, was issued in 1901.
The system used in this work was a
twothird majority, which often hindered the better and more correct renderings from
going into the text, as may be noted by considering the renderings given in the footnotes.
have been issued in recent years. All have some good qualities and many have much that is
to be deplored. The most important of these are as follows: Wilsons Diaglott, Ferrar
Fenton, Darby, Rotherham, Weymouth, the R.S.V., Moffatt, Phillips, the New English Bible,
and the New American Standard.
THE CONCORDANT VERSION
The question may
be asked, with all the versions enumerated, what room is there for another? This question
leads us to the consideration of the Concordant Version of the Sacred Scriptures. More
than a half century since, the late A. E. Knoch, an earnest student of the
Scriptures, desiring to understand the word of God, made the discovery that practically
all solid progress in the recovery of truth during the last century had come through the
concordance. He found that tracing words through all their occurrences was the safe and
satisfactory method of becoming assured of the real meaning God intended by their use.
Thus it was that the idea of a concordant version suggested itself to his mind. No one
could honestly object to this method, for it is the only one not based on human
scholarship, but on a worshipful recognition of the divine Authors ability to make
Himself understood. The Concordant Version is the only one which practically acknowledges
that All scripture is inspired by Godliterally,
Godspirited (2 Tim, 3:16), by using a method of translation based on
the denial of human ability to sound its depths or scale its heights, and insisting on its
superhuman perfection to the minutest detailconsidering every element and
listening to every letter.
A RESTORED GREEK TEXT
method of studying the Scriptures uses a concordance to discover the meaning of a word, not
in any version, but in the original Hebrew, Chaldee, and Greek, and discovers its
usage and fixes its signification by its inspired associations, according to the laws of
language, and turns it into English. To do this the three great witnesses to the text of
Holy Writ, have been usedthe Codex Sinaiticus, the Codex Vaticanus, and the Codex
Alexandrinusby which a restored Greek Text has been effected, conforming as
closely as possible to the inspired autographs.
A concordance of every form of
every Greek word was made and systematized and turned into English. The whole Greek
vocabulary was analyzed and translated, using a STANDARD English equivalent for each Greek
element. The Greek grammar was entirely revised in accord with the findings made in this
task of transcribing into English precisely what God has really revealed in the sacred
original. The result of this arduous and exhaustive work is the Concordant Version of the
Sacred Scriptures, which is at once scientific, systematic, uniform and consistenta
standard by which all other translations may be testedtruly the most valuable work
ever printed. Never before has such earnest endeavor been made to give the people the
revelation of God with the unvarying uniformity, consistency, and purity found in the
Concordant Version, enabling the reader to establish his faith on divine verities rather
than human authority.
Part Two of How We Got Our Bible
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