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Making of the English Bible

From Wycliffe’s Translation to the Jerusalem Bible

By F. J. Moore 

 

Thomas Babington Macaulay in a reference to the English Bible, described it as “a book which, if everything else in our language should perish, would alone suffice to show the whole extent of its beauty and power.” And Matthew Arnold, in his On Translating Homer, says, there is “one English book and one only, where. . . perfect plainness of speech is allied with perfect nobleness; and that book is the Bible.”

The English Bible, which both Macaulay and Arnold knew, was, of course, the Authorized Version of 1611 (the King James Ver­sion); and though many other versions have been made since then, it still holds its place, along with some of the plays of Shakespeare, as the crown and chief glory of English litera­ture.

But the story of the Bible in English begins over two hundred years before the appearance of the King James Version. At the end of the fourteenth century there was no Bible in English, only fragments; the Bible was in Latin, which few besides the nobility and the clergy were able to read. It was then that a priest named John Wycliffe thought the time had come to give the people the Bible in their own language. Wycliffe had been Master of Balliol College in Oxford, and was now Rector of the parish of Lutterworth near Leicester. With the help of another scholar he began in 1380 to make a translation of the Latin Vulgate (the version in common use), first the New Testament and then the Old, the latter being completed after his death in 1384 by his colleague. The whole was then revised by another scholar. All this was done before the invention of printing, and copies had to be made by hand for those fortunate enough to be able to procure them.

 

Before Wycliffe

 

We shall return to Wycliffe’s Bible shortly, but by way of Preface to it and all that fol­lows, we go back behind it for the moment to the time when the Christian Bible itself was only in the making, and no Canon (Rule) yet existed which clearly defined which books should be regarded as Sacred Scripture and as authoritative in the Church. The Canon was not fixed before the middle of the fourth century; but translations of both the Old Testament and of the books which became the New Testament had been made long before that.

The original language of the Jewish Scrip­tures was for the most part in Hebrew; but about two hundred years before Christ a trans­lation of them was made into Greek, and it was in this form that they were known and read when the Christian movement started. And since the Church at the beginning was nothing more than a Jewish Messianic sect, it held on to the Jewish Scriptures as its own sacred and inspired book. Thus, its own first Bible was the Creek Old Testament—known as the Septuagint because it was made by some seventy scholars in Alexandria.

The books—or rather documents—of the New Testament were written in Greek over a period of seventy years or so. The letters of St. Paul came first in time—between 49 and 64—with, perhaps, one or two others; the Gospels be­tween 65 and the end of the century, and the rest either in between or early in the second century. As these various documents appeared, copies were made and sent to other Christian centers; and there is evidence that some of them at least were read in gatherings of mem­bers of the Church along with portions of the Old Testament, and that it was in this way these Christian writings came at length to be placed alongside of, and to be regarded with the same reverence as, the Jewish Scriptures.

In the meantime, as the Church expanded and people of various cultures were coming into it, the need was felt for translations of its sacred books into the native languages of the people to whom the Gospel was being preached, especially so for the instruction of converts. Among the earliest of these transla­tions or versions were several in Latin—some of which were so unsatisfactory that the Bish­op of Rome in 385 requested a great scholar of the day, Jerome, to prepare a standard Latin version to supersede all the others. Jerome presented his finished work to the Pope in 405—twenty one years from the time he began. This version became known as the Vulgate (meaning for common or general use); and though, as in the case of every revision of the Bible since, many people disliked it, it be­came the standard and authoritative version of the Roman Catholic Church, and all trans­lations of the Scriptures since that time, until quite recently, by Roman Catholic scholars, have been based on it as the standard text.

Now, as we have said, it was the Vulgate that was in use in England in the time of John Wycliffe, though from about the beginning of the eighth century portions of the Bible were translated from it into Anglo-Saxon. There is an Anglo-Saxon version of the Four Gospels in the British Museum which had a strange history. It was written by a monk who later became Bishop of Lindisfarne. In King Al­fred’s time the Danes plundered the monas­tery, but some monks escaped and took the silver-gilt covered book with them. In an at­tempt to sail over to Ireland they lost it in the sea, but it was found some days afterwards washed up on the Solway sands. After resting for a while in the library of Durham Cathedral it passed into the hands of an antiquary whose valuable collection of manuscripts became national property on his death. Many of these were destroyed by fire in 1731, but fortune again followed this Anglo-Saxon version of the Gospels and it was saved.

Other portions of the Bible done into Anglo-Saxon in the eighth century were The Psalms by Eadheld, Bishop of Sherborne, and St. John’s Gospel by the Venerable Bede, a monk of Jarrow near Newcastle-on-Tyne. In the ninth century King Alfred himself, it is said, put the Ten Commandments at the head of his code of laws.

 

Back to Wycliffe

 

We now return to John Wycliffe and the first complete Bible in English near the end of the fourteenth century. As already noted, this was no more than a translation of the Vulgate, and on that account it might have been expected to be welcomed for the sake of those who could not read Latin. But it was not wel­comed, not by the authorities at any rate, and attempts were promptly made to suppress it. The Archbishop of York wrote to the Pope in­forming him that “that pestilent wretch, John Wycliffe, the son of the old Serpent, . . . had completed his inquity by inventing a new translation of the Scriptures,” the “iniquity” referred to being incisive attacks on the papal system while Wycliffe was Master of Balliol. Convocation (the highest council in the Church) not only condemned the new Bible but threatened to excommunicate any other translators. Later, every effort was made to destroy all the copies of Wycliffe’s Bible in England, but many escaped destruction, and there are one hundred and seventy or so in libraries today. These are in manuscript form, of course, and none was put into print until the reign of George IL The first complete printing appeared in 1850, almost five hundred years after the translator’s death. But although Wycliffe’s Bible was treated so harshly by the hierarchy, its influence remained among his followers in spite of bitter persecution, and it had introduced the idea of a Bible in the lan­guage of the English people, an idea that was not to die out.

 

Renaissance and Reformation

 

Our next chapter opens in the reign of Henry VIII in the sixteenth century. But in the intervening period three important events had occurred which affected the next stages in the making of the English Bible.

The first was the invention of printing from movable type by Johann Gutenberg in Mainz in 1450. This brought about a revolution in the making of books arid greatly increased their output. The laborious and slow process of copying manuscripts by hand was at an end; the printer had displaced the copyist. The first book printed, incidentally, was a Latin Bible, known today as the Gutenberg, after the inventor himself who printed it in about 1455. It was, of course, the Vulgate. This Bible is also known as the Mazarin Bible, be­cause a copy of it was found in the Mazarin Library in Paris in 1760 unexpectedly, which turned out to be the only one then known. It was not until 1476 that a printing-press was set up in England, when William Caxton in­stalled one in Westminster Abbey.

The second event was the capture of Con­stantinople by the Turks in 1453. This led to a great exit of Christians from the city which had been one of the most important centers of learning and influence in Christendom. The clergy and scholars who fled carried with them priceless Greek manuscripts, both classical and biblical, including some of the New Testa­ment, whose existence seems not to have been known in the West. It was this influx of Greek literature and art which encouraged, if it did not inspire, the awakening in Europe; and with these Greek manuscripts of the New Testament in their hands, the scholars began to go behind the Vulgate and to construct a text which brought them nearer to the original documents. One of the scholars was a Dutch priest named Erasmus. He went to England and lectured in both Oxford and Cambridge. In 1516 he brought out an edition of the Greek New Testament based upon these re­cently acquired manuscripts, and he made it known that he looked upon that as only a step on the way to the time when not only scholars but the common people also would have a Bible that they could read—when “the husbandman should sing portions to himself as he follows the plough; the weaver should hum them to the tune of his shuttle; the trav­eler should beguile with their stories the tedi­um of his journey.” Other editions of the Creek New Testament followed this of Erasmus, but it was his that prepared the way for the Eng­lish Bible.

The third of these events was the religious reformation that began in Germany with Mar­tin Luther in 1517. Within a few years of his famous protest against the Papacy, he was working on a translation of the New Testa­ment into German direct from the Greek. He had finished this by 1522, and followed it with the Old Testament in 1534. Already there was a movement towards reform under way in England in the universities and elsewhere, and there is no doubt that what was happening in Germany stimulated those in England who were moving in the same direction. In fact, the reforming group of scholars in Cambridge was dubbed “Little Germany” by those who did not share their views. At any rate, in Eng­land as in Germany, the hour had come for the people to be given the Bible in their own tongue, and based on the best text then avail­able. Arid there was an Englishman who matched the hour. His name was William Tyndale, and he is really the father of the English Bible.

 

William Tyndale

 

Tyndale was born in 1483. A student first in Oxford, he moved to Cambridge attracted by the teaching of Erasmus; and it was the study of Erasmus’s Greek Testament that fed, if it did not create, his desire to bring out a trans­lation in English. The set of his mind at this time is well illustrated by his answer to a fel­low priest who did not share his enthusiasm for such a project: “We had better,” said the other, “be without God’s laws than the Pope’s.” And Tyndale replied: “I defy the Pope and all his laws; and if God spare me I will one day make the boy that drives the plough in Eng­land to know more of Scripture than the Pope does.”

When he thought the moment to begin had arrived, he applied to the Bishop of London for permission to do the work in the bishop’s palace, under his supervision and with his patronage. But the bishop gave him no en­couragement, and after working for a year in the house of a London merchant he left Eng­land for the continent and carried on his task first in Hamburg and then in Cologne, at which place he put the sheets of his English New Testament in the printer’s hands. But a priest there somehow got wind of what was going on and tried to have the sheets seized. Tyndale heard of it and fled to Worms carry­ing his work with him. This was in 1525, a year after his leaving England. By the next year he had 6,000 copies in print and ready for shipment to England. But Tyndale had to be careful. He suspected that the priest in Cologne had warned the authorities in Eng­land of his doings, and he laid the sort of scheme that has always been laid to evade customs inspectors: he shipped his Testa­ments in barrels, in bales of cloth, in sacks of flour, and in anything else that would serve as a disguise. In spite of all precautions, how­ever, a great many were seized and promptly destroyed. But many copies escaped discovery and found their way through the country. Moreover, for all the vigilance at the ports, others continued to come in. The bishops (and others) were worried, especially Tunstall, Bishop of London. Tyndale’s New Testament must be destroyed, but how? Kill it at the source, he thought. And he tried to do that. He got hold of a London merchant named Pakington who traded with Antwerp and asked him about the possibility of buying up all the copies over there. The following dia­logue between them is recorded in Halle’s Chronicle: 

“My lord,” replied Pakington (who was, by the way, a secret friend of Tyndale), “if it be your pleasure I could do in this matter probably more than any merchant in England; so if it be your lordship’s pleasure to pay for them—for I must dis­burse money for them—I will insure you to have every book that remains unsold.” “Gentle Master Pakington,” said the bish­op (deemyng that he hadde God by the toe, whanne in truthe he hadde, as after he thought, the devyl by the fist), “do your diligence and get them for me, and I will gladly give you whatever they may cost, for the books are naughty, and I intend surely to destroy them all, and to bum them at Paul’s Cross.”

A few weeks later Pakington was talking with Tyndale.

“Master Tyndale, I have found you a good purchaser for your books.”

“Who is he?” asked Tyndale.

“My lord of London,” Pakington replied. “But if the bishop wants the books it must be only to burn them,” said Tyn­dale.

“Well, what of that?” replied Pakington. “The bishop will burn them anyhow, and it is best that you should have the money for them, enabling you to print others in­stead.”

 

And so, says the Chronicle, that was the way it went. “The bishop had the books, Pak­ington had the thanks, and Tyndale had the money.” Nothing the Bishop of London could do, however, was of any avail in stopping the flow of Tyndale’s New Testament into Eng­land and its distribution throughout the coun­try, and it became evident even to the authori­ties that the tide in favor of a Bible in Eng­lish was too strong to be turned back.

But Tyndale himself did not live to see the day of his triumph. He never, in fact, saw England again. A friend of Sir Thomas More—a priest named Phillips—wormed his way into Tyndale’s confidence and contrived to get him thrown into prison under a decree of Charles V, Emperor of Germany. From prison he was led to the stake and strangled, and his body was then burned to ashes. His last words were “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.” His prayer was to be answered sooner than he himself could probably have hoped for. The scene just described took place at Vilvorde in Belgium on October 6, 1536.

As already indicated, Tyndale’s translation was something new. While not ignoring the Vulgate, he went behind it to both Greek and Hebrew manuscripts, though those accessible to him then were not as ancient as many we have now. Still, it was a significant step for him to take, and his work became at once the base and the standard of later trans:1atio~s. “The peculiar genius,” said James Anthony        Froude, “which breathes through the English Bible, the mingled tenderness and majesty, the Saxon simplicity, the grandeur, unequalled, unapproached in the attempted improvements of modem scholars—all are here, and bear the impress of the mind of one man, and that man William Tyndale.”

Tyndale died before he could complete his translation of the Old Testament, but he did bring out parts of it, including the Pentateuch. Of all the copies of his New Testament only two, and a fragment, so far as is known, have survived. One is in the possession of St. Paul’s Cathedral, just outside of which copies had been east onto a bonfire by the then Bishop of London.

 

Translation Continues

 

If the authorities thought that with Tyndale out of the way they had seen the end of Bibles in English they were greatly mistaken. Even before his death another translation was on the way, made by Miles Coverdale. This was based on the Vulgate and a Gennan version, and also on Tyndale; but it is of no more than historical interest. Then appeared one by John Rogers under cover of the name of “Matthews,” which was a combination of Tyndale and Coverdale. But this was no more acceptable than the others.

Then at last came the opening of the King of England’s eyes. Not himself caring for the new translations, he nevertheless saw which way the wind was blowing, and he gave or­ders for a translation to be made which would put a stop to these unauthorized attempts and provide the people with a Bible in English that would be generally acceptable. This was done in 1539, and the book became known as the Great Bible. It was made by Coverdale and was really a revision of the “Matthews” Bible which owed everything to Tyndale and Coverdale himself. This Bible was put out by Royal authority and ordered to be set up in churches, where it could be seen and read by all and sundry. It was chained to the lectern so that nobody could run off with it. It is amusing in an ironical way to note that an inscription on the title-page of the second edi­tion says this “Great Bible” was “oversene and perused at the commandment of the King’s Highness” by the Bishop of Durham and the Bishop of Rochester. The Bishop of Durham was none other than Tunstall, previously the Bishop of London who bad thrown Tyndale’s New Testament into the fire outside St. Paul’s. The elaborate Frontispiece of this Bible was drawn by Holbein, and it shows Henry hold­ing the center of the stage just below the Al­mighty. But the day of publication of the “Great Bible” in April 1539 was a great day for Henry, as it was in the story of the English Bible.

Incidentally, a good example of the style of this Bible can be seen in the Psalter in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. That is Coverdale’s work as found in the “Great Bible.” The First Prayer Book in English ap­peared in 1549 and the Psalms were taken over from the Bible 0f 1539, and left un­changed when the King James Version was made in 1611.

In the meantime, however, between Henry’s Bible of 1539 and that of James in 1611, four other translations were made which call for notice. One by a layman named Taverner left no mark. Next came one done by scholars exiled in Geneva during the reign of Mary, who had brought Roman Catholicism back into England. It was published in 1560, and because of its place of origin it became known as the Geneva Bible. This Bible was very popu­lar. It was the first English Bible to be printed in Roman type and to have numbered verses. The division of the books of the Bible into chapters, incidentally, was made in the thir­teenth century by Stephen Langton, Arch­bishop of Canterbury. The Geneva has the fur­ther distinction of being known as the “Breeches Bible,” because of its translation of Genesis 3:7—Adam and Eve “sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves breeches.”

After this came the Bishop’s Bible in 1568, so called because it was the work of a num­ber of bishops and other scholars under the supervision of Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury. This Bible took the place of the “Great Bible” in churches during the reign of Elizabeth.

Then, in 1582, there was published what must have been a surprising New Testament in English. It was made from the Vulgate by Roman Catholic scholars in the English Col­lege at Rheims in France, for English boys there looking towards the priesthood. It was followed by the Old Testament, made at the English College at Douay in 1609, and the complete work is known as the Douay Version.

 

The Authorized Version

 

We come now to 1604 and James the First of England. One of his first acts after his acces­sion in 1603 was to call a conference of di­vines, including the Puritans, with a view to getting them to try to settle the differences between them in faith, practice, and polity for the good of the Christian religion and of the country. The conference was held at Hampton Court in 1604, but it was obvious after three days that no wide agreement could be reached between the parties and it came to an end. The little that was done does not concern us here. But it was at some point dur­ing the Hampton Court Conference that James let it be known that instead of so many ver­sions of the Bible in English he would like to see only one, and he went on to say that it should be “done by the best learned in both universities (Oxford and Cambridge), after them to be reviewed by the bishops and the chief learned of the Church; from them to be presented to the Privy Council; and, lastly, to be ratified by his royal authority, and so this whole Church to be bound unto it and none other.” In July of that same year he ap­pointed “certain learned men, to the number of four and fifty, for the translation of the Bible.” In 1607 the revising body met, but the number had been reduced by death to forty­-seven. They were divided into six groups, two of which met at Westminster, two at Oxford, and two at Cambridge. Each group had a separate portion of the Bible assigned to it, but each part was to be sent to the other groups “to be considered of seriously and judi­ciously.” W7hen the revision was finished in all three places, two members were chosen from each group to be responsible for the final preparation of the work.

In the London Strand magazine of April, 1934, Rudyard Kipling had an article entitled “Proofs Of Holy Writ,” in which he ascribed two fine passages in Isaiah to the personal in­fluence of William Shakespeare. In a fanciful picture he has Ben Jonson and Shakespeare sitting in a garden discussing various things, when a messenger arrives bearing sheets of proofs from Dr. Miles Smith, of Brasenose College, Oxford, who was one of the group responsible for the translation of the Old Testament from Isaiah to Malachi. Smith, so it is suggested, had sought the Bard’s assist­ance in his task; and now Shakespeare and Jonson look with a critical eye at what the scholar has done.

The passages in question are the first three verses of Isaiah 60, and the 19th and 20th verses. The discussion of the use of the right words for the best rendering of the passages is admirably done; and in the result it is Shake­speare that we have here in the King James Version. These are the verses: 

Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee.

And Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.

The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory.

The sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself: for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended.

 

It was an understandable fancy that only Shakespeare could write like that; but there is no reason for depriving Miles Smith and his colleagues of the honor of being, at least in the use of the English language, his peers.

In 1611 the new version came out, and it was described as “appointed to be read in churches.” But actually there is no proof that it was officially sanctioned by Convocation, or by Parliament, or by the King in Council. However that may be, it did not take long for it to displace all the other versions, chiefly, no doubt, as Bishop Westcott said, “by its own intrinsic superiority over its rivals.” There were, of course, voices raised in protest. One Cambridge scholar of repute let King James know that he “would rather be rent in pieces with wild horses” than agree to its use in churches.

There was one attempt made to supersede it in Cromwell’s Long Parliament in 1653, but it survived that threat, and remained the one Bible for Protestants in the British Isles and in English-speaking lands beyond the seas, until the last quarter of the nineteenth century when new considerations seemed to many to call for a new version.

 

Modern Versions

 

The new considerations were these: In the first place, since 1611 there had been discov­ered a number of manuscripts, which are earlier and of greater importance for a knowl­edge of the most authentic text than any that were known to the men who made the “Au­thorized” or King James Version. The Greek texts they used were of value chiefly in that they were at least in the language in which the New Testament was written and threw light, so to speak, over Jerome’s shoulder, since his work consisted mainly in bringing order out of the chaos of existing Latin versions.

But the situation was very different in 1870 when biblical scholars in different Christian communions thought the time had come for a revision of the version of 1611 in the light of their better knowledge of the sacred text.

To begin with, there had come to light three great and invaluable manuscripts, two of which were written in the fourth century and the other in the fifth. This latter had been in the possession of the Patriarch of Constanti­nople, and he presented it to King Charles the First of England in 1628, but this was too late for use by the makers of the version of 1611 who would doubtless have welcomed it, since it contains all but a few pages of the Old Testament and most of the New. it is a vellum codex, that is, a book of vellum leaves, and is known as the Alexandrian Code. it is now in the British Museum.

Of the two from the fourth century, the older, probably, is in the Vatican and is called the Vaticanus. It has been in the Vatican Li­brary since 1481, but the authorities there not only did nothing with it until 1857 and 1859 when they produced editions of it later found to he full of mistakes, but they refused access to it by Protestant scholars until Pius XI al­lowed a complete photographic facsimile of it to be made for their study.

The other Codex of the fourth century is known as the Sinaiticus. It gets its name from the fact that it was discovered at the Monas­tery of St. Catherine on the side of Mount Sinai. This was in between 1844, when a Ger­man scholar named Tischendorf made his first find, and 1859 when he got possession of the whole thing. It is one of the most amazing and luckiest finds in history. On his first visit, look­ing into a waste-paper basket of “rubbish” ready for the burning, he saw leaves from what he knew was a Bible older than any he had ever seen. It was part of a Greek Old Testament. If Tischendorf had had a poker face he would have done better than he did. The monks saw his excitement and allowed him to take only a few leaves away. But he returned again in 1853 and did a little better. Then in 1859 he made his strike. By sheer luck—or guile—he discovered that they had a copy of the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), and with it a complete New Testament and two early Christian writings. He then found a way of persuading them to present the complete book to the Tsar of Rus­sia, who was both the traditional protector of the Eastern Orthodox Churches and patron of his own travels. The Tsar put the volume in the Imperial Public Library of St. Petersburg, where it lay until after the Revolution in 1917. The Soviet Union was then in need of money and was ready to sell it at a price. We had no money to spare around 1930, and it went to the British Museum in 1933 for one hun­dred thousand pounds, the British Govern­ment being responsible for half, while schol­ars raised the rest.

Besides these three great codices, there were a number of others, ranging from the fifth century on, which had come to light since 1611; and by a careful study of all of them the scholars were satisfied that they could achieve a more authentic text than that which lay behind the King James Version. So a revision was undertaken by a select group of scholars representative of all the churches, except the Roman Catholic, in the British Isles and in the United States. The revision was published in 1881-1885 and called The Revised Version, but it was never really popular and did not displace the King James Version in the majority of local churches. The American members of the revising body thought they could improve on it here and there, and their preferred readings were printed at the end of the book. Eventually, American scholars brought out a revision of their own in 1901, and this was entitled The American Standard Version. And this in turn led to another Ameri­can revision nearly fifty years later.

 

The Revised Standard Version

 

What has just been said about the first reason for the revision of 1881-1885 can aiso be said about the origin of this one, published in two parts—the New Testament in 1946, and the whole Bible in 1952. Only by this time many more manuscripts, large and small and fragments, some of them earlier than the fourth century, had been discovered, and much more was known about the Creek language. So a new translation was decided upon and the task put into the hands of a committee of scholars appointed by the International Coun­cil of Christian Education which held the copyright of the American Standard Version, with assistance in review from representatives of the denominations in the Council. It is indicated in the Preface that it was the stated intention of the revisers to keep as far as possi­ble to the style of 1611, while at the same time rendering it in contemporary English and making the most of the new knowledge gained from the increasing discoveries of early manu­scripts since 1885. This double aim was achieved with distinction. The literary beauty and dignity of the King James Version has been preserved almost entire, while words and idioms long outgrown have been given under­standable equivalents in the language of our time. It is impressive testimony to its exact scholarship and high literary quality that not only was it soon authorized to be read in most English-speaking churches, but that it has recently been adopted by the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Great Britain, with a few minor changes, as the Bible for use in homes and churches. This fact alone assures for the Re­vised Standard Version a strong position among modern translations for many years to come. But the end of new Bibles was not yet.

 

The New English Bible

 

In 1946 a desire was expressed in the Church of Scotland for a Bible in the language of today. Such a desire was not limited to Scot­land; throughout the British Isles there was a feeling that the King James Version had be­come out-dated and more or less of an un­known tongue. All the churches but the ~Roman Catholic responded to the appeal, and an interdenominational committee was appointed to carry the project through. Unlike the Re­vised Standard Version, this translation was to be made free entirely of reference to the King James Version—its day was over, and this was to be in recognizable modern English, and the last word in exact biblical scholarship. The first part was published in 1961—the New Testament, under the general title ‘The New English Bible.” The Old Testament and the Apocrypha are still to come, but they will be in the same style of up-to-date modern Eng­lish speech. The New Testament in this new translation has not escaped criticism—and the second part may benefit from it; but already this New Bible has been introduced into church services in many places, and is widely used for private reading. Certainly it brings life to some passages in the King James, but whether the gain or the loss is the greater re­mains to be seen.

 

The Jerusalem Bible

 

We began with John Wycliffe in England and we end in Jerusalem. The Jerusalem Bible is the latest to appear, being published only in 1966 as a complete work, and it is so called because it is the production of the Dominical Biblical School in Jerusalem. It was originally printed in French and then translated into English. But it is more than a new translation 01 the Bible: it is also a commentary and con-bins a mine of information on the books them­selves and everything related to the history and religious practices of the Jews and the beginnings of the Christian Church. Our in­terest here is only in the new translation, and it is enough to say that it is the most modern of all in its style, save perhaps for those in­dividual ones made for private reading, such as those by James Moffatt, J. B. Phillips, and others. If up-to-date English, admirably done, is what is needed today to carry the Bible’s message home, then this translation meets that need. But what was said above about the Revised Standard Version remains true: there is a quality in that which promises to stand the test of time, certainly for use in the public services of the Church.

 

The Apocrypha

 

The Apocrypha is the collective name given to a group of fourteen books, written between 300 B.C. and 100 A.D. by Jews and for Jews, which were widely read along with the books that were selected to form the Jewish Canon of sacred scripture about the year 90 A.D. The Apocrypha was not placed in the Canon, however, although it was included in the Septuagint—the Greek translation of what we call the Old Testament and which was the Bible of the early Christian Church. The Roman Catholic Church accepted it as canoni­cal and has retained it as such; but at the Reformation the English Church preferred the Hebrew Canon and gave The Apocrypha a subordinate place, at the same time making room for it in public worship by assigning cer­tain passages from it to be read on occasion during the Church Year. For that reason The Apocrypha is to be found in all Lectern Bibles in Anglican churches. Actually, The Apocrypha was printed in Bibles along with the canonical scriptures until early in the nineteenth century when the Bible Societies responsible for the production of Bibles dropped it from their general editions, though they did print it separately.

The Apocrypha has a place in The Jerusalem Bible, and it will be included with the Old Testament when the complete New English Bible is finished.

In the quaint language of the sixth of the thirty nine “Articles of Religion” in the Book of Common Prayer, “the Church doth read (these books) for example of life and instruc­tion of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine.”

 

Some Bible Oddities

 

A number of Bibles are known by odd names because of quaint old words used in them or of copyist or printer’s errors. Here are one or two examples: 

The Breeches Bible—The Geneva has the fur­ther distinction of being known as the “Breeches Bible,” because of its translation of Genesis 3:7—Adam and Eve “sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves breeches.”

The Bug Bible—because Psalm 91:5 read, “Thou shalt not be afraid of bugges by night.”

The Printers Bible—because of a punter’s error in Psalm 119:161, where instead of “Princes have persecuted me” it reads “Printers have persecuted me. . . 7

The Treacle Bible—”treacle” instead of “balm” in Jeremiah 46:11, in The Bishops’ Bible.

The Wicked Bible—so called because the compositor left out the negative “not” in the seventh commandment, making it read “Thou shalt commit adultery.”

The Vinegar Bible—another printer’s error where “The Parable of the Vineyard,” in St. Luke 20, is called “The Parable of the Vinegar.”

The Placemaker’s Bible—also a printer’s, or editorial error, where “Blessed are the peacemakers,” in St. Matthew 5:9 has be­come “Blessed are the placemakers”.

And there are others.

 

Copyright © 1967 Forward Movement Publications, 412 Sycamore St., Cincinnati, Ohio 45202.