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ART. VI. The New Testament, in an improved Version, upon the Basis of Archbishop Newcome's new Translation, with a corrected Text, and Notes critical and explanatory; published by a Society for promoting Christian Knowledge, and the Practice of Virtue, by the Distribution of Books. pp. 612. 8vo. London, Johnson, 1808.

[pp. 315-336] [original article in PDF format]

  1. THE advantages derived from the labours of the many eminent men, who have devoted their talents to the elucidation of the holy scriptures, have been so great and decided, that the public must always receive with pleasure every honest and judicious attempt to add to their acquirements in this unspeakably important branch of learning. Those indeed who call to mind that the most learned and distinguished divines have published works of this description under the modest title of 'New versions' or 'Attempts at revising the present English translation,' will probably be startled at the arrogant appellation of an 'Improved version'—an appellation, evidently assuming a fact, of which, not the authors, but the public, are the judges. The name of Archbishop Newcome, however, must command respect; a Society for promoting Christian knowledge cannot be suspected, à priori, of coming forward with any sinister design; and a hope may reasonably be indulged, that there will be found in this publication, if not the highest merit, at least some useful suggestions, the result of accurate research and diligent inquiry, made in a spirit of impartial candour, and dictated by a desire of advancing religious truth.

  2. It is then with no small regret, that we impart to our readers [315] the disappointment which we have experienced, and inform them that they have here a work produced in a spirit most adverse to fair investigation, and conducted on a plan which must ever tend to propagate error to a dangerous extent. We have occasion to look very little beyond the title-page, before the disguise is thrown off, and the real nature of the publication betrayed by no unequivocal proofs. It is perceived to come from a society of Socinians, and to have for its main object the propagation of the peculiar tenets of that sect. This object is pursued with persevering industry and audacious freedom. The sacred code of Christian faith is mutilated and perverted with the most unsparing violence. Every allowed rule of fair criticism is occasionally violated. The meaning of expressions is twisted from the acknowledged sense by constructions at once forced and unauthorised.—Confident assertion and gratuitous assumption stand frequently in the place of reasoning: and reasoning, where it is attempted, consists of wrong conclusions built on ill-founded premises. In fact, we think ourselves fully warranted in affirming, that a more systematic and daring attempt to make the holy scriptures bend to the sanction of particular tenets, never issued from the British press.

  3. Much as we reprobate the matter of this publication and the plan on which it is conducted, the means which are employed to insinuate it into public notice, strike us as yet more reprehensible. The assumption of the name of a respected prelate of the Church of England for the sanction of a work, in which every doctrine professed by that church, and by that respected member of it, is directly attacked, is something more than an artifice; it is a falsehood and a fraud. It can have no other object than that of procuring a circulation by drawing in unsuspecting purchasers. It is the dagger of an enemy under the cloak of a friend!

  4. We proceed to lay before our readers a statement of the contents of this publication. The version is preceded by an introduction which occupies 33 pages. In this are contained, a detail of the origin, progress, and design of the work—an account of the canon of the New Testament and of the different editions of it—also of the means of improving the text by MSS. ancient versions, and critical conjecture. The latter part treats of the different editions from Mill to Griesbach, with short observations on the various readings. A table is subjoined of the dates of the several books of the New Testament, and of the most useful editions. [316]

  5. As to the origin and design of the work, we are told that, in the year 1791, a Society was formed in London for promoting Christian knowledge, with which it was from the first a chief object to publish an improved version of the scriptures, particularly of the New Testament. They applied for this purpose, they inform us, to the 'late pious and learned Gilbert Wakefield,' but were prevented from availing themselves of his labours by his premature death. The design was in 1806 entrusted to a committee of the Society, by whom it has been carried into effect. It is stated that they were induced to adopt Archbishop Newcome's translation for their basis, from its general accuracy, simplicity, and fidelity, and from its following the text of Griesbach.

  6. They have collected notes, they say, from different commentators, which, however, they cannot hope will be equally acceptable to all readers—it was not their object, they observe, to give a version, correct as to verbal criticism, but an improved one, which should be generally perspicuous and intelligible, with a more correct text than has yet appeared in the English language—'also by divesting the sacred volume of the technical phrases of a systematic theology, which has no foundation in the scriptures themselves, to render the New Testament more generally intelligible, or at least to preclude many sources of error; and, by the assistance of notes, to enable the judicious and attentive reader to understand scripture phraseology, and to form a just idea of true and uncorrupted Christianity, which is a doctrine worthy of all acceptation, and is able to make us wise to everlasting life.'

  7. Now we must freely state, that, without looking beyond this representation of their motives, we should have suspected that more was meant than was openly expressed. They wish, it seems, as a Society for promoting Christian knowledge, to give an improved version of the New Testament, not one which may be critically correct, but which may be generally perspicuous and intelligible. Are we from this to understand, that, in their opinion, our present version is not generally perspicuous and intelligible? We have known indeed many faults objected to it—we have heard that here and there a word may be obsolete, ill-chosen, or inelegant—that partial ambiguities may arise in some places, and that the meaning of the original is not in all passages accurately rendered: but the insinuation that it is not generally perspicuous and intelligible, viz. that it does not, in general, convey the meaning of the original in a language which all [317] must understand, is too palpably remote from truth to be seriously made. Thus then, from their own account, we should have inferred, that underneath their ostensible purpose (which cannot be the real one) there lurked some desire of conveying new interpretations, and of giving currency and sanction to doctrines not generally received.

  8. The account of the different MSS. versions and editions is extracted principally from Lardner, Michaelis, and other writers of eminence; and as far as we have observed, is sufficiently correct.

  9. As to the version itself, they announce their intention of not deviating unnecessarily from Archbishop Newcome's text; and to this rule they commonly adhere in passages where no new doctrines are to be inculcated. In these, their alterations are neither frequent nor important—scarcely any pretension is made to original criticism, or to a power of nicely ascertaining the sense of the sacred text. Where a different translation is given, a reason is seldom assigned; and the only merit, to which a claim is preferred, seems to be that of selecting with judgment from the labours of others. The notes, critical and explanatory, in cases where no peculiar doctrine is to be supported, are few in number, scanty in measure, and weak in substance.

  10. In all passages however, where the peculiar doctrines of the Socinian creed are to be inculcated, a much bolder character is assumed, and more anxious industry is employed. It would seem, that these commentators are determined at all events to hold their own opinions, and to make the Scriptures support them by some means or other. The page is occasionally embellished with copious commentaries and annotations. These are for the most part raked together from writers of this persuasion: some few however, besides their great singularity, are recommended by the additional charm of novelty. The great doctrine of our Saviour's incarnation presents a most fatal obstacle to the establishment of Unitarian tenets: it becomes therefore absolutely necessary to remove this stumbling-block, before the foundation of them can be securely laid. But what is to be done? The account of the miraculous birth is so plainly and clearly given, that no possible glosses can do away the obvious meaning of the words. The only plan that remains then, is boldly to strike them off, as no part of genuine Scripture.—And accordingly, this plan, so simple, and yet so effectual, is actually adopted. The whole passages, at the beginning of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke are printed in Italic letters and included between brackets, as an intimation that they are of doubtful authority. [318] Annotations are made, explaining the reasons of this intimation—and, as these annotations exhibit no uninstructive specimen of ingenious reasoning, and contain much curious matter, we shall beg leave hereafter to advert to them.—The first chapter of St. John's Gospel presents another formidable obstacle. Here however it is possible to explain away the sense, without having recourse to the expedient, confessedly somewhat violent, of affixing a mark of doubtful authenticity. Accordingly, the whole passage is translated with a different meaning, from that which has been received by the whole Christian world: and, lest any mistake should after all remain, a commentary is added, to impress upon the reader, that he must never understand the expressions in their literal and obvious sense.—We are not so deeply versed in the productions of Socinian writers, as perhaps we ought to be, and cannot therefore undertake to say, how many of these glosses are exclusively the property of the present annotators, and how many have been drawn from their predecessors in the same cause. Some however are so extremely singular, that we deem it but common justice to acquit all preceding commentators of having produced them, and to give the full share of merit to the authors of the present publication.—We need not add, that wherever our Saviour is spoken of as the Son of God, said to have come from God, or to have existed in heaven before his appearance on earth, the meaning is so explained as to give no support to the great catholic doctrine of his pre-existence and participation of the divine nature. And it will readily be understood that they cannot be so wanting to their cause, as to leave in their full force, and with their received meaning unperverted, any of those striking passages at the beginning of the Epistles to the Colossians, Philippians, and Hebrews, in which the doctrine of our Saviour's divine nature is considered to be most clearly and distinctly affirmed.

  11. But the other tenets of the Socinian creed are maintained with an industry no less persevering. The personality of the Holy Ghost is denied. The term is said to mean not a separate person, but a personification of quality. The doctrine of the atonement and of our Saviour's vicarious sufferings is opposed throughout. Thus, when he is said to give his life a ransom, the meaning is asserted to be, not as the suffering of a substitute, but as 'the seal and ratification of a new and better covenant.' The existence of angels and spirits is denied: Satan is represented not as a real person, but as a personification of the evil principle. The doctrine of universal restitution is [319] maintained, and the eternity of punishments rejected. Our Saviour's temptation is represented as a visionary scene. His intercession for the church and his final judgment are not allowed.

  12. We have thus given a general statement of the plan of the publication before us. Our limits prevent us from detailing every new translated passage, or noticing all the commentaries subjoined to them. We likewise hold ourselves excused from the necessity of formally disproving the arguments here adduced, and this for the best of all possible reasons, viz. that the task has already been fully and ably performed. An adventurous Priestley has at various times stept forward the champion of the cause, and an Horsley has as often repelled his attacks, and driven him with disgrace from the field. Thus, then, were we to enter on a refutation of all the old Socinian objections, here artfully revived with an imposing air of novelty and confidence, we should merely have to transcribe the pages, and to re-state the proofs of Bishop Bull, Pearson, Edwards, Leslie, Waterland, and other eminent writers on this subject.

  13. We deem it adviseable however to notice the reasons adduced to invalidate the authenticity of the accounts of the miraculous conception given by St. Matthew and St. Luke. We hold it to be of the first importance, that, on a matter which concerns so important a part of our Christian history, no ill-founded insinuations or doubts should be suffered to remain; and we think that by a little investigation of the arguments advanced on this point, we shall exhibit no improper specimen of the critical ability possessed by these writers, of the fairness of their representations, and of their pretensions to honest dealing.

  14. It is understood then, that in this publication the passages containing the account of the miraculous conception are marked as of doubtful authority, viz. from v. 17. of ch. i. to the end of ch. ii. in St. Matthew, and from v. 5. of ch. i. to the end of ch. ii. in St. Luke.

  15. In explaining their reasons for this, the writers begin with distinctly admitting that these passages 'are indeed to be found in all the MSS. and versions now extant.' Let us pause to consider the extent of this admission. Some of the MSS. now extant, the Vatican and the Cambridge particularly, are undoubtedly of very high antiquity, bearing date at latest from the 5th or 6th centuries, perhaps from the 3d. The versions carry us still higher. The old Syriac and the old Italic,* are perhaps [320] nearly coeval with the formation of the canon of the New Testament. The Coptic, Arabic, and others bear also marks of high antiquity. Some of these contain discrepancies of more or less moment from the copies generally received, but they all without exception have these parts of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke, as integral portions of the whole. The annotators might have carried their admissions further. They might have told us that the most ancient fathers allude to these passages, and that the earliest opposers of Christianity never appear to have doubted their genuineness. Justin Martyr addressed, about A. D. 150, an apology now extant to the emperor and senate of Rome. In this he makes frequent allusion to the accounts of our Saviour's miraculous birth, gives not the slightest hint that he had ever heard any doubts about them, but refers to them exactly as to other parts of Scripture. Again, we know from many sources what arguments against Christianity were advanced in early times. The same Justin Martyr, in a feigned dialogue with a Jew, produces and answers all the objections brought by the Jews of that time against the Christian histories. Amongst these, there is no reference whatever to any doubts of the authenticity of these accounts. Besides, Celsus wrote against Christianity in the middle of the 2d century, Porphyry in the 3d, and Julian in the 4th.—Their works are lost, but their arguments are preserved in the answers of their opponents. From these it appears that they were far from wanting in industry to discover means of invalidating any portion of the Gospel history. They started many objections to particular circumstances in the narration of the miraculous conception, but never entertained the most remote idea of treating the whole as of no authenticity. They contended, not as our present objectors do, that St. Matthew and St. Luke never wrote these accounts; but that in writing them they committed errors or related falsehoods. We may add a fact, by no means unimportant as an accessory proof, which is, that no objections were ever started against them in the early centuries during the heat of religious contention, when all parties sought to defend themselves, and to assail their opponents, by arguments of all kinds industriously drawn from every quarter.

  16. Surely, then, here is a body of evidence, establishing the genuineness of the narratives of the miraculous conception, and placing them on the same footing with the other parts of the Gospels, which presses on the mind with the most convincing force. All the MSS. which now exist contain them. All the versions which exist contain them,—a proof that those MSS. [321] from which they were made had them also. All the ancient Christian writers refer to them as undoubtedly genuine,—a proof that all the authentic MSS. with which they were acquainted contained them. None of the earlier opponents of the Christian faith, or of the early sects into which Christians were divided entertained, as far as we can collect, the slightest doubt of them—no inconsiderable proof that in their time no objections had been started.

  17. Against the weight of this evidence apparently so full, clear, and decisive, these annotators attempt to produce arguments partly external and partly internal. They wish to prove in the first place from external circumstances, that the narratives do not form a part of the genuine Scripture; and secondly, from the narratives themselves, to draw objections to their authenticity.

  18. As to the external argument in the case of St. Matthew's Gospel they thus express themselves: 'From the authority of Epiphanius and Jerom, we are assured that they (the accounts of the miraculous conception) were wanting in the copies used by the Nazarenes and Ebionites—that is, by the ancient Hebrew Christians, for whose instruction this Gospel was originally written, and to whom the account of the miraculous conception of Jesus Christ could not have been unacceptable, if it had been found in the genuine narrative.'—We presume the intended drift of the argument to be this. St. Matthew is known to have written his Gospel for the use of Hebrew Christians: The Nazarenes and Ebionites were Hebrew Christians: therefore the Gospel used by the Nazarenes and Ebionites was the genuine one which St. Matthew wrote. Let us attend to the premises before we allow the conclusion. The terms, Hebrew Christian, Nazarene, and Ebionite, which are here artfully classed together as if synonimous, were decidedly distinct. The Hebrew Christians for whom St. Matthew wrote were the body of Jewish converts in his time, viz. at the latest A.D. 66. The Nazarenes and Ebionites, of whom Epiphanius speaks A.D. 370, were posterior to the former by 300 years. The Nazarenes indeed were a sect of Hebrew Christians, holding some tenets peculiar to themselves, and separated from the main body: the name having been first applied to those who, banished from Jerusalem by Adrian, A.D. 130, settled in the north of Galilee. The Ebionites, by some authors confounded with the Nazarenes, by others distinguished from them, appear to have for the most part agreed with them in their main opinions and character, but to have been separated from them by some partial differences.—We are told that, 'on the authority of Epiphanius and Jerom, [322] the narrative of the miraculous conception appears to have been wanting in the copy used by the Nazarenes and Ebionites.' This statement is not quite correct. Epiphanius treats of the Nazarenes and Ebionites as two distinct sects. The former, he tells us, use a full of St. Matthew—the latter use one much altered and deficient in the two first chapters, as it begins with the account of the baptism. St. Jerom frequently mentions 'a Gospel according to the Hebrews which the Nazarenes use;' and by this he probably intends the Ebionite Gospel mentioned by Epiphanius, but he no where testifies the fact of its wanting the two first chapters.

  19. What then was the character of these Ebionites, who, as we are told by Epiphanius, used a copy of St. Matthew's Gospel without the two first chapters? They are stated by this same author to have maintained the mere humanity of Christ, and to have affirmed him to be born of Joseph and Mary—they are known also to have joined the ceremonial law with the Gospel. But what is most important to be observed, they are distinctly mentioned as notorious for corrupting the Scriptures to their prejudices, for mutilating and altering without scruple, and for rejecting at once all passages that opposed their favourite opinions. Thus they received none of the four Gospels, excepting that of St. Matthew. They rejected all St. Paul's epistles, as proceeding from one whose divine mission they thought proper not to allow, and they actually made alterations in the Acts for the purpose of proving him a false Apostle. Epiphanius says of them expressly, that they used 'a Gospel called that of St. Matthew, not entire and complete, but mutilated and corrupted.' He gives a long account of the alterations which they had made, and distinctly mentions the loss of the two first chapters.

  20. Here then let us pause, to ask a question—Do these annotators give credit to the testimony of the Ebionites, in ascertaining the genuineness of Scripture, or do they not? If they bow to their authority, why agree with them merely in rejecting the account of the miraculous conception; why not adopt all their alterations; deny, with them, the genuineness of the other three Gospels, and strike out of their Bibles all the epistles of St. Paul? If they do not consider the testimony of such notorious mutilators as worthy of the slightest credit, what an insult is it to common sense, what a departure from common honesty, what an arrogant presumption on the ignorance of the public, seriously to pretend to attach any weight to their rejection of the passages in question. [323]

  21. Since, however, it is insinuated that none of the Jewish Christians received the account of the miraculous conception, we must oppose this insinuation by positive proofs of the contrary. Epiphanius says of the Nazarenes, that sect of Hebrew Christians, who are commonly understood to have held other opinions, that he cannot affirm, for certain, whether they believe that our Saviour was begotten of Mary by the Holy Ghost; a doubt which implies the persuasion, on his part, that some Jewish Christians, at least, received the accounts. Jerom expressly says of them, that 'they believe in Christ, the Son of God, born of the Virgin.' We have, besides, another proof, the more valuable because entirely accidental. A few fragments of the writings of Hegesippus, an Hebrew Christian, who lived about A. D. 170, happen to be preserved by Eusebius. In one of these, he makes mention of Herod in a manner which positively proves his knowledge of the account of our Saviour's birth.

  22. But we are told, 'the account of the miraculous conception would not at all have militated against the doctrine of the proper humanity of Christ, which was universally held by the Jewish Christians, it being a fact analagous to the miraculous birth of Isaac, Samuel, and other eminent persons of the Hebrew nation.' We certainly cannot help conceiving, that the clear and distinct detail of his being the Son of God, born by the operation of the Holy Ghost, must, at all times, and to all apprehensions, have militated against the idea of his mere humanity; and we suspect that we discern the full conviction these annotators feel of it, in the anxiety which they betray to get rid, at all events, of this account. But, to the assertion, that the doctrine of Christ's humanity was universally held by the Jewish Christians, (an assertion no less boldly made by Priestley) we have to oppose, with Horsely, a most full denial. The author of the epistle bearing the name of St. Barnabas, (a work written undoubtedly in the Apostolic age) was, from internal evidence, an Hebrew Christian, and he decidedly professes a belief an our Saviour's Divinity, and appears to be writing to persons professing the same belief. Jerom, as we have seen, affirms the orthodoxy of some Nazarenes on this point; and many eminent moderns, researchers into ecclesiastical history, Mosheim, Grotius, Spencer, Huetius, have embraced the same opinion. Again: with what possible colour of reason can it be affirmed, that our Saviour's miraculous birth was merely analagous [sic] to that of Isaac, Samuel, and other eminent persons? Isaac, Samuel, and others, were born in the regular course of nature, in consequence of immediate notices or promises from God. Precisely analogous with these events was [324] the birth of John the Baptist. But the birth of our Saviour, being caused by the operation of the Holy Ghost, and effected out of the regular order of nature, was clearly and essentially distinct from them in kind.

  23. But, as we before asked, whether these annotators consider the Ebionites as affording good authority for ascertaining the genuineness of Scripture, we will now bring them to answer for themselves. Our readers recollect that the first sixteen verses of St. Matthew are, in this publication, allowed to be genuine. Let us observe the reasons assigned for this concession.

    'Epiphanius says, that Cerinthus and Carpocrates, who used the Gospel of the Ebionites, which was probably the original of Matthew, written in the Hebrew language for the use of Jewish believers, argued from the genealogy at the beginning of the Gospel, that Christ was the son of Joseph and Mary; but that the Ebionites had taken away even the genealogy, beginning their Gospel with these words, "And it came to pass, in the days of Herod the King," &c.'

  24. Here then (in the very page preceding that to which we before referred) we find the same persons confessing their full knowledge that the Ebionites were mutilators of the sacred text: and we find them actually rejecting their authority on the very ground that they were not to be depended upon, in ascertaining the genuineness of Scripture. Was there ever such strange inconsistency? Can it be tolerated for a moment, that the same authority should be received or rejected at pleasure; that the same witnesses should be decried in one page, as unworthy of credit, and, in the next, held forth as sure and certain guides to truth? Do not these annotators, in fact, set up their own caprices and opinions, as the test of the genuineness of Scripture? Must we most admire the boldness displayed in bringing forward such reasoning, on such a subject, or the simplicity of not concealing the artifice even under a thin disguise?

  25. But they discover, it seems, a contradiction in the deduction of our Saviour's descent by this genealogy, and in the following narrative, which shews him not to have been the son of Joseph. Few of our readers, we believe, will require to be reminded, that as St. Matthew was writing for the Jews, his object was to deduce our Saviour's regal descent, his title by law to the throne of David; and that this line was to be traced, according to all Jewish law and custom, through the espoused husband of his mother. It will be recollected, that, at the conclusion, Joseph is called, not the father of our Saviour, but the husband of his mother: and it will be perceived, that, when the Evangelist, after detailing [325] this legal descent, proceeds immediately to preclude all misapprehension by distinctly stating that Christ was not the natural son of Joseph, he betrays no incongruity, but, on the contrary, shews a most strict and beautiful consistency.

  26. Such is the external proof brought against St. Matthew's account of the miraculous conception. In the case of St. Luke's Gospel, the ground of their argument is still more singular. The first two chapters of St. Luke, they tell us, 'were not found in the copies used by Marcion, a reputed heretic of the second century.' Are our readers aware what was the nature of Marcion's reputed heresy? The notions he maintained were among the most wild that can be conceived—that our Saviour was man only in outward form; that he was not born like other men, but appeared first on earth in a full grown form. He rejected the Old Testament, and mutilated the New, where it contained quotations from the Old. He received only eleven books of the New Testament—no Gospel besides St. Luke's, and this completely disguised by alterations, interpolations, and omissions, of which a long account is given by Epiphanius. His copy began thus: 'In the fifteenth year of Tiberius, Christ descended into Capernaum, &c.' We shall say no more; but must assure our readers that these annotators have all the appearance of being in earnest, when they produce the authority of this Marcion to invalidate St. Luke!

  27. We trust it has sufficiently appeared, that not a single particle of valid external argument has been brought against these passages; that the authority of notorious and convicted mutilators is totally undeserving of the slightest attention, and that the narratives of the miraculous conception rest on the same clear and full evidence as the other parts of the Gospel histories. On proceeding to notice the proofs of an internal nature, we must remark that these are of far inferior consideration; our great and main enquiry is, Whether we believe, on full and sufficient evidence, that these passages, in common with the other parts of the Gospels, proceeded from inspired writers? When we are satisfied on this point, we must unravel difficulties as we can. We shall do well always to bear in mind, that they may, in most cases, lie in our own want of collateral information; but we must never think of rejecting whole passages, as spurious, merely because we find in them some points which we cannot clearly understand or explain.

  28. The first argument advanced, is the well-known chronological difficulty of our Saviour's age, as referred to the death of Herod, and the reign of Tiberius. Our Saviour, (Luke iii, 1.) [326] when about thirty years old, began his ministry in the fifteenth year of Tiberius. Reckoning from the death of Augustus, which occurred A.U. 767, this beginning of his ministry must been A.U. 782. Thus his birth is referred to A.U. 752. On the other hand, he was born at least a year and an half before Herod's death; Herod's death cannot have been later than the spring of A.U. 751. Therefore, our Saviour cannot have been born later than the autumn of A.U. 749. Thus there is a discrepancy of three years. This difficulty has been weighed by numbers of learned men. Usher, Capellus, Prideaux, Pearce, and others, have explained it by dating Tiberius's reign from a period antecedent, by three years, to the death of Augustus. They have found, on the authority of Paterculus and Dio, that Augustus actually took Tiberius into partnership three years before his death; and that, in point of fact, there has been this two-fold computation of Tiberius's reign. Others have founded an explanation on the general terms in which St. Luke mentions our Saviour's age at the beginning of his ministry. By either method the difficulty becomes too unimportant to have any serious weight attached to it. The objectors are pleased to call this apparent discrepancy 'a fact which invalidates the whole narration.' If we were wholly unable to give any probable solution, we should positively deny such a conclusion. Chronological difficulties have subsisted in the best historians; but it would be the height of injustice and absurdity to consider these as invalidating the truth of their general relations.

  29. The annotators proceed to object, that 'it is highly improbable no notice should have been taken of these extraordinary events by any contemporary writer; that no expectation should have been excited by them, and no allusion be made to them in any other passage of the sacred writings.' We are wholly at a loss to know why all this is here advanced solely against the narrative of our Saviour's birth, which, in whatever degree it has weight, bears equally against other parts of the Gospel history.

  30. It is allowed to be highly remarkable that so little allusion should be found, in contemporary writers, to the circumstances of our Saviour's ministry; but it is in no degree more remarkable that the events of his birth are thus passed over, than that his miracles, his sufferings, and death, are so. We deem the silence of Josephus* on these points to be studied and designed; and we [327] account for that of heathen writers, by the contemptuous indifference with which the haughty Gentile regarded all that concerned the Jewish nation. That so little expectation should have been excited by the striking events of our Saviour's nativity, and by the arrival of the magi from the east, is singular, no doubt. It is still more singular that so little expectation should have been excited by his heavenly doctrines, his astonishing miracles, his power of suspending the course of nature. We account for the facts by the excessive blindness and stubborn prejudices of the Jews amongst whom he appeared. Again, if if [sic] we could allow that 'no allusion is made to these events in any other passage of the sacred writings,' we should, by no means, allow that this applies as an objection to the miraculous birth exclusively. Many highly important facts of our Saviour's history are not alluded to in other parts of the sacred writings. But, far from conceding the point, we positively aver that most frequent allusion is made to the accounts of his supernatural birth. We affirm that this fact is implied throughout his whole history; that it is implied wherever he is spoken of as being God himself, and the Son of God; that it is supposed and understood in the whole doctrine of the atonement. We maintain, likewise, that when we read Gal. iv. 4. 'God sent forth his Son, born of a woman' we have not merely an allusion to his miraculous conception, but an express mention of it. We perceive that these translators think proper to pervert, to other meanings, all the sentences by which the doctrines of the Divinity of our Saviour, and of the atonement, are proved. But what a system is this! They urge an objection which they do not find, but themselves create. They so explain and interpret Scripture as to make it contain no confirmation of the narrative of the miraculous birth, and then produce, as an argument against this narrative, that it is wholly unsupported by other passages of Scripture. We maintain the consistency of the whole. We affirm that, as this narration rests on authority the most clear and indisputable, so its truth is confirmed by the whole tenor, the plain understanding and obvious drift of all the sacred writings.

  31. They proceed to tell us, that 'some of the facts have a fabulous appearance, and the reasoning, from the prophecies of the Old Testament, is inconclusive—also, that if this account be true, the proper name of Jesus, according to the uniform custom of the Jews, would have been Jesus of Bethlehem, not Jesus of Nazareth.'

  32. In this assertion, that 'many of the facts have a fabulous appearance,' we have to lament that a departure is made from all [328] semblance of real argument, and recourse had to vague and un intelligible insinuation. We presume the meaning to be, that the facts bear internal marks of being fictions, May we not ask, what these marks are? from what proofs this inference is made? Do not all the facts of our Saviour's history, his several miracles, his resurrection, bear the same fabulous appearance? that is, are they not facts wholly out of the common course of nature, which we should never have believed if they had not been pressed upon our conviction by evidence which we cannot question? We know not how far these persons may carry their scepticism; but this we know, that they would only act in perfect consistency with what they here advance, if they deemed all that our Saviour taught and did, to be 'cunningly devised fable.' But 'the reasoning from the Old Testament is inconclusive'—We know of no reasoning whatever from the Old Testament in these passages. We perceive here, as in other parts of the Gospels, accommodations of expressions from the Old Testament to the events which the Evangelists were recording; and applications of prophecies, which, referring in their immediate sense to some parts of Jewish history, respected these Christian events in their more remote and secondary sense; but we are wholly at a loss to discover the 'inconclusive reasoning' here mentioned. Again: as to Christ's being named from Nazareth although he was actually born at Bethlehem,—His family had been settled at Nazareth; his supposed parents were known there; he was there educated and brought up; his fame first spread from thence, and in that vicinity his earliest miracles were wrought: how, then, is it otherwise than conformable with general custom and propriety that he should have received his title from that place?

  33. But we are, lastly, told 'our Lord is repeatedly spoken of as the son of Joseph, without any intimation, on the part of the historian, that this language is incorrect.' Our Saviour is mentioned five times as the son of Joseph. In one, (John i. 45.) the name is given by a new convert, ignorant, as yet, of his nature and ministry. In another, (John vi. 42.) it is urged, as an objection to his mission, by the unbelieving Jews. In two others, (Luke iv. 22. and Mark vi. 3.) his hearers, astonished at what they hear and see, exclaim, 'Is not this Joseph's son?' and he expressly disclaims the title, by saying 'No prophet is accepted in his own country.' In the fifth instance (Luke iii. 23.) his genealogy begins 'Being, , the son of Joseph, &c.' is translated, in the common version, 'as was supposed;' it has been by some interpreted, 'as was entered on the register.' If the first be allowed, it refers only to the vulgar opinion; if [329] the second, it regards the legal mode of tracing his ancestry through the espoused husband of his mother: neither tends to prove the fact of his being the actual son of Joseph. Where then is the slightest ground for the argument intended by these objectors? In the last case, the title is qualified and explained; in all the rest, it is applied from the ignorance, or the malice, of his hearers.

  34. After this string of unsupported objections, advanced with all the confidence of bold assertion, it is pretended that the spuriousness of these narratives of the miraculous conception is fully proved; and it is affirmed, that 'they were probably the fiction of some early Gentile convert, who hoped, by elevating the dignity of the founder, to abate the popular prejudice against the sect.' Now the improbability of a successful forgery being carried to such an extent, we deem to be so great, that we should not fear to rest, if it were necessary, on this alone the authenticity of the passages. The Gospels were read in the different churches from the earliest times, and copies widely dispersed. Would the Evangelists themselves have concurred in such a forgery? Would Christians of all countries, sects, and opinions, have been willing, silently, and at once, to adopt it? Would history have preserved no record of such an alteration in the code of Christian faith? Would no doubts or suspicions have remained in the minds of any? Would no enemies of Christianity have heard of such an interpolation, and gladly have exposed it? Would the contending sects of Christians never have urged it against each other, in the heat of religious warfare? We could even produce, if we deemed it necessary, passages from these narratives themselves, which, it is highly improbable, would have come from the hand of a forger. But, we apprehend, the case is too clear, and our readers must be too well satisfied on the subject, to require any further statement or illustration.

  35. The length of the preceding remarks imposes on us the necessity of being brief in what we have next to offer. We have stated already, that, in passages where no doctrines are concerned, these translators deviate in no important degree from the text of Newcome. They sometimes succeed, sometimes fail, in expressing a tense or a preposition more accurately than he has done. But, upon the whole, their version, as to the plain parts of the narrative, possesses no decided character of difference from his. As to their translation of passages for the support of their peculiar doctrines, we have stated already, that, even if our limits would at all permit, we should deem it superfluous to restate all the arguments by which the tenets of the Socinian creed have [330] been long since refuted, merely because an attempt is here made to support them with as much confidence as if no such refutation had ever taken place. We subjoin a few of the many passages which we had noted for animadversion.

  36. In the account of our Saviour's temptation (Matt. iv. 1.) at the words, 'he was led up by the spirit into the desert,' it is observed, in a note, 'this form of expression denotes that the historian is about to describe a visionary scene, and not a real event. See Revel, i. 10. Acts, xi. 5.' Now, on turning to these references, we find that, in the first, St. John is describing his vision: 'I was in the spirit,' he says on the Lord's day.' In the second, we have the words of Peter: 'I was praying in the city of Joppa, and, being in a trance, I saw a vision,' . These forms of expression are so decidedly different from that of the Evangelist, as to afford no analogy whatever. They, in their plain and obvious sense, describe visionary scenes. The expression of the Evangelist, in its most obvious sense, certainly marks out a real scene, a positive action of our Saviour, his going into the desert, by the guidance, or at the suggestion, of the spirit. We are not entering into the question of the reality of the temptation, but are merely pointing out what we deem an instance of bad reasoning.

  37. Matt. xxv. 46. 'And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into everlasting life;' . They remark, in opposition to what they call the harsh doctrine of eternal punishment, that 'the word here translated everlasting is often used to express a long but indefinite duration.' If this be granted, still it cannot be allowed that the same word is used in two different senses in the same sentence; and, as we presume, it will not be contended that the eternal life of the righteous is not expressed in this passage, the eternal punishment of the wicked must likewise be understood.

  38. The words, (John, i. 3) are translated 'all things were done by him: and without him was not any thing done that was done.' The interpretation is, that 'all things in the Christian dispensation were done by Christ'; and, in opposition to the usual application of the words to the creation of the material world by Christ, it is affirmed, that 'this is a sense which the word will not admit. occurs upwards of seven hundred times in the New Testament, but never in the sense of create.' Afterwards, at v. 10, is translated 'the world was enlightened by him,' and on this it is remarked, in a note, that 'the [331] usual interpretation "the world was made by him," is inadmissible, as the word never bears that sense, (the sense of existence by creation)'. It is worthy of observation, how much these annotators increase in boldness of assertion, as they advance; at first, they are content to affirm that never bears this signification in the New Testament, but afterwards roundly assure us, that it no where admits of this sense. Let us examine the justice of these assertions. The early Christian fathers used the word in this sense. Among others, Justin Martyr has 'By whom heaven and earth, and the whole creation (or every creature) was made. We find too, in the Septuagint, (Gen. i. 3.) : Can these annotators assert that would not be an authorized phrase for expressing the creation of light by God? But we can also shew, that, even in the New Testament, the word is thus used. Heb. xi. 3. we have 'so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear,' a text which has been acknowledged to refer to the creation of material things. To assert that the word occurs very frequently in the New Testament in other senses, is merely to assert what was never disputed. It in no degree tends to prove, either that it never bore the sense of creation, or that it does not bear it in the passages before us. But, what is very important, we can shew that it was so understood, in the earliest times, by persons who were, of course, best able to ascertain the received meaning. Not only was the opinion that the world was created by the Sou of God, most generally maintained by the orthodox primitive church, but we know that Justin, Athenagoras, Irenaus, and others, actually inferred this opinion from these very texts of St. John.*

  39. John xvii. 3. , 'that they may know thee to be the only true God, and Jesus thy messenger, to be the Christ.' This translation we deem wholly inadmissible. Had there been the article before , then, by understanding in the later member of the sentence as in the former, it would have borne this interpretation; but, as the original stands, the translation is inconsistent with the propriety of language. Newcome's translation agrees with the received 'That they may know thee, the only true God, and him whom thou hast sent, even Jesus Christ.'

  40. On the occasion of St. Stephen's praying to Christ (Acts,.vii. 59,) it is observed in a note that 'this address of Stephen to [332] Jesus when he actually saw him, does not authorise us to offer prayers to him, now he is invisible.' This reasoning we cannot understand. St. Stephen prayed to Jesus, not actually present, as one human being is present to another, but visible at a distance by the 'opening of the heavens.' This prayer would have been nugatory unless the Being, to whom it was addressed, was endowed with the divine qualities of omnipresence and omniscience. We hence therefore infer that our Saviour partakes of these divine qualities; and on this inference depends the propriety of addressing our prayers to him at all times. If he is so pre-eminent in his nature, that it was proper to pray to him when visible in the heavens, he must be a proper object of adoration, when he is invisible.

  41. Coloss. i. 15. , 'the first-born of all creation.' On the word they note 'an image, a firstborn.' The term signifies in its proper sense, 'the first offspring of parents,' and here metaphorically, 'the firstborn of creation,' or one begotten before all created being. The context fully proves and confirms this meaning, by adding, 'For to him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth.' They are pleased to affirm that the Apostle does not here intend the creation of natural substances. Amongst other reasons for this they observe that he does not say 'by him were created heaven and earth,' but 'things in heaven and things on earth.' Can they possibly be serious? Amongst the things in heaven, must undoubtedly be reckoned the sun, and other heavenly bodies: amongst the things on earth, man, with all the animal and vegetable tribes. Let it be granted that our Saviour is here called the creator of all these, and nothing further will be required.

  42. Enough perhaps has been said to shew that we lean with no great feelings of respect towards the persons concerned in bringing forward the present publication. We are entirely ignorant of their characters, except as here displayed. It is our wish to speak with liberality and mildness of all who dissent from us in religious opinion. We are aware that many do so from the purest motives. We honour the man who searches the Scriptures with a candid desire of discovering religious truth. We believe that, within the pale of the Unitarian church, are to be found many individuals of unfeigned piety and unimpeached morality. But, with these general feelings on the subject of religious dissension, we should be wanting to our duty if we withheld the language of just animadversion, whenever we perceived that character of bold misrepresentation, and of uncandid artifice, by which the road to truth must ever be obstructed. [333] We wish to appeal fairly to the persons themselves who have engaged in this publication. What would be the consequence, if all sects of Christians were to have recourse to means of advancing their doctrines similar to those here employed? Exactly on the same principle, the Papist, the Calvinist, the Baptist, might each publish a version of the New Testament, for the support of his peculiar tenets, boldly perverting to his own sense any text he pleased, and marking passages as doubtful, contrary to the evidence of all MSS., by raking together futile and unsupported objections. We protest most strongly against the admission of a principle, which, in its application and extension, has the effect of falsifying all the records of our holy faith.

  43. We see noticed, in the introduction, the great liberality of numerous subscribers who have contributed to defray the expense of the work. We are far from hastily imputing to them the blame of designedly encouraging a publication so conducted. Many may have been deceived by the specious title. We might ourselves have subscribed to 'an improved version of the New Testament, formed on the basis of Archbishop Newcome's, and proceeding from a Society for promoting Christian Knowledge.' We perceive, in one part, an general acknowledgment of obligations conferred on sacred literature by a nobleman of high rank, the head of one of our Protestant establishments! Is the public to infer, that he has been a contributor to the production of this version? If so, has he been deceived by the title, or has he lent his approbation to a work so conducted? We merely throw out these questions for the consideration of that nobleman and his friends.

  44. As the insinuations made in this work, together with similar observations, which have come from other quarters, may tend unduly to shake the confidence of the public in our received version of the Scriptures, we wish, before we close, to say a few words on this subject.

  45. The established version prefers great and various claims to our respect. The history of the manner in which it was prepared, stamps on it no light value and authority. It was the production of the collected learning of the age—an age, by the bye, far superior in weight of biblical erudition to our own. Numbers of the most eminent men were employed upon it for upwards of three years. Portions of the work were severally assigned to different societies of these, and afterwards submitted to the careful revision and correction of the rest. Persons were invited from all parts of the kingdom to communicate the result of their critical labours. Advantage was taken, not only of all preceding English versions, but also of all the foreign, ancient and modern. [334] Surely a work, which has proceeded from so much various erudition, employed with such anxious care, has every a priori claim to be valued and esteemed.

  46. And its general intrinsic excellency well corresponds with what might be expected from this account of its preparation. It is unrivalled as a faithful translation, conveying not merely the meaning of the sacred writers, but their very style, manner, and expression. It admirably combines dignity with plainness. It addresses itself to every understanding by its general perspicuity and clearness. Without the slightest attempt at assuming a forced elevation by swelling or affected words, it never sinks into a degree of meanness which degrades the subject. We think that, in one respect, it has even improved since its first appearance. Many words and turns of expression have become obsolete, just in that degree which is desirable; that is, have somewhat receded from vulgar use, without ceasing to be fully intelligible. Thus the Scriptures have acquired a language more peculiarly their own; all approaches to colloquial familiarity have been destroyed, and much has been gained in gravity, while nothing has been lost in perspicuity.

  47. Another point should be well considered in any question of altering the established version: our ears have become habituated to the present language, as the language of Scripture. We have known, and heard, and repeated it, as such, from our childhood. It is the garb in which we have always seen the word of God arrayed, and which we therefore deem most appropriate and becoming. The very words and phrases have now become associated with our feelings of piety, and acquired, in our ideas, a degree of sanctity and solemnity, to which no other form, or combination of forms can hope to attain. Add to this, that many well-educated persons would feel their prejudices violated by a change, and require some exertion of their reason to reconcile themselves to it, while a very serious alarm might spread among the vulgar and illiterate from what, perhaps, would appear to them an impious attempt at altering the word of God. No one will urge this as a bar to any alteration under any circumstance: it behoves every considerate person, however, to take largely into the account the influence of these innocent prejudices and associations.

  48. In mentioning the general excellencies of our established version, we meant not to disallow some partial imperfections. Grammatical errors have been pointed out; passages too in which the meaning of the original is not quite correctly rendered, in which the sense of words has been changed, or in which the [335] expression is somewhat harsh, or vulgar. Ambiguities have likewise been noticed, but we must observe, that often where the phrase is ambiguous in strictness, no doubt arises in point of fact. Dr. Symonds cites, 'perhaps, the strongest instance of wrong translation.' Luke, xxiii. 32. 'There were also two other malefactors led with him to be put to death:' now this is evidently wrong, as implying, in grammatical accuracy, that our Saviour was a malefactor; still we may safely affirm that no one ever rose from reading the passage with an impression that the Evangelist had so called him.

  49. But, in preparing a new authorized version, who should be our guides? How could we agree in the persons to be employed, and how would they agree in their mode of proceeding? Have not the most learned critics differed widely in opinion? Would it not be probable that we should find more persons dissatisfied with any new translation we could make, than with the present? Amongst the attempts that have been hazarded, strange specimens are to be found. Purver translates John, xviii. 12. 'So the regiment, the colonel, and the officers, took Jesus and bound him.' Waterland, instead of (Acts, xix. 38) 'the law is open, and there are deputies,' proposes, 'it is term-time, and the judges are sitting.' Harwood, at Luke, xiii. 6. says, 'a gentleman had planted a fig-tree.' And Wakefield translates James, i. 17. 'the father of lights, with whom is no parallax nor tropical shadow!' Campbell, at Matt. iv. 15. has 'the canton of Zebulun,' for 'the land of Zebulun.' Again: in the miracle of the loaves (Matt. xvii. 24), 'How many maunds ye filled,' where, in a note, a maund is said to mean a hand-basket. Also, in the transfiguration, (Matt. xvii. 4.) 'Let us make here three booths,' for 'tabernacles.' In Newcome's translation we dislike 'mantle,' for 'cloak;' and 'Who art thou, Sir,' (Acts, ix. 5.) for 'Who art thou, Lord.' Thus the many expressions, which we find in different translators, too modern, too familiar, too technical, too low, or too refined, make us the more sensible of the purity, simplicity, and general propriety of our established version.

    'The question is not,' says Dr. Hey, 'whether new translators are likely to render some parts better than they were before; but whether, upon the whole, they are likely to produce a better translation.' Perhaps it might be practicable to introduce a few corrections into our present version, without making any general alteration; but we are decidedly of opinion, that, viewing the question in all its bearings, there exists no necessity for a new version, and that the evil of attempting it would greatly overbalance any proposed advantage.'[336]

Published @ RC

September 2006