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Frank Schell Ballentine, Good News: The Four Gospels in a Modern American Dress. Scranton, Pa., 1897. (self-published)
Frank Schell Ballentine, The Modern American Bible … The books of the Bible in modern American form and phrase, with notes and introduction by Frank Schell Ballentine. New York: Thomas Whittaker, 1899-1901. Published in five volumes between 1899 and 1901. Vol. 1 includes the Gospel according to Mark; vol. 2, Matthew and the epistles of Peter, James, and Jude; vol. 3, Luke and Acts; vol. 4., Pauline epistles; vol. 5, the Gospel and letters of John, and the Revelation. These volumes were reprinted in 1902 as The American Bible by “Good News Publishing Company” in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Frank Schell Ballentine, The Bible in Modern English or The Modern English Bible (New Testament). A Rendering From the Originals by an American Making Use of the Best Scholarship and Latest Researches at Home and Abroad. Perkiomen Pennsylvania: Perkiomen Press, 1910. Reprinted in 1922 as A Plainer Bible for Plain People in Plain American by “Plainer Bible Press” in Jersey City, N.J.
Frank Schell Ballentine (1859-1936) was a clergyman of the Protestant Episcopal Church serving parishes in Scranton, Pennsylvania when he produced this modern English version of the New Testament. In 1906 he left Scranton to take a position as rector at St. James Church in Perkiomen, Pennsylvania (now Evansburg). His habits and his teaching while at St. James have been described as unorthodox. 1 Many in his congregation requested that he be removed, and in 1914 he was removed by the bishop of the diocese. He refused to leave his position, however, and was finally compelled to vacate the rectory by a secular court order. 2 Afterwards he held no ministerial position, and began to publish books expressing radical ideas about the interpretation of the Bible, and advocating the metaphysical teachings of Mary Baker Eddy (founder of Christian Science), under the pen-name of Craig MacCameline. 3
There is little sign of these tendencies in either the translation or notes of his Modern American Bible. The notes are very extensive, and often interesting and original, but in general they seem quite orthodox. In text-critical matters Ballentine seems merely to follow the lead of the revisers who produced the English Revised Version, and of Westcott and Hort. He rather boldly omits the Pericope Adulterae from chapter 8 of John’s Gospel, and gives it as a “seperate fragment” after the end of the Gospel, as Westcott and Hort did in their edition of the Greek text. But he does not promote or even notice higher-critical views about the composition and authorship of the New Testament books.
In the Introduction to the edition of 1897, Ballentine states that his work was inspired by Henri Lasserre’s modern French paraphrase of the Gospels, Les Saints Évangiles (Paris, 1887), whose suppression by the Vatican was a cause célèbre of the time. He might have learned of it from William Wright's article “The Power Behind the Pope: The Story of Lasserre’s Version,” in The Contemporary Review 53 (May 1888), pp. 748-56. The article was also issued as a pamphlet, with an English translation of Lasserre’s preface, in The Power Behind the Pope, with Translation of the Preface to the Gospels by Henri Lasserre ... by William Wright (London: James Nisbet, 1888). In fact most of Ballentine’s Introduction is borrowed from Lasserre’s preface, without acknowledgment. In the parts that are original, Ballentine positions himself as an advocate of “the Common Man,” and displays the spirit of truculent jingoism that became so characteristic of American public discourse in the 1890’s. Like many of his generation, he recommends the Bible not so much for its religious truth as for its supposed value as a “foundation of our American life and institutions.”
One bemusing feature of the Modern American Bible translation of Luke (1899) is Ballentine’s use of “saloon-keeper” as a translation for τελωνης (tax collector). In Luke 5:27-32 we read:
After this he went out and saw a saloon-keeper named Levi sitting in his saloon, and said to him:
He left everything, got up, and began to follow him.
Levi gave him a great reception in his house: and there was a great crowd of saloon-keepers and others who were with them at table. And the Pharisees and their Scribes kept complaining to his disciples and saying:
“Why do you eat and drink with saloon-keepers and prostitutes?”
Jesus answered them:
“Those who are well need no physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call good people but bad people to a change of mind and purpose of heart.”
One suspects that this translation was prompted by the fact that in the King James Version τελωνης is translated “publican” (borrowing the Latin publicanus as a technical legal term), which in England has come to mean “owner of a public house,” i.e., the owner of a “pub” or tavern. But of course τελωνης does not refer to a tavern owner, and Ballentine knows this. In his Introduction he explains:
The word here translated “saloon-keepers,” is translated “publicans,” in King James’ Version and in the Revised Version. In the Revised Version the marginal note to S. Matt. 5:46 says “collectors or renters of Roman taxes.” The latter is the literal meaning of the original word, but in itself it only gives a faint idea of the thought which it conveyed to our Lord’s hearers. The Jewish collectors of Roman taxes in our Lord’s time were looked down on as a despised and disreputable class of people by those in authority in the Jewish Church, and all those who were strict followers of their theories and practices. We have no class of people among us to-day which is exactly analogous to that of the Jewish Roman tax collector, nor is there any which is hated and despised with the same intensity and abandon. The saloon-keeper of to-day comes nearest to being thought of and treated by at least certain great bodies of Christian people just as the old Jewish Roman tax collector was. This is our reason for adopting this translation. It was first suggested by our reviewer in the Sunday-school Times. We have adopted the word “prostitutes” instead of sinners for a like reason. To the Jewish mind of our Saviour’s time, in fact, ages before his time, to sin against God was likened to that which the prostitute does. Cf. Hosea 4:10; 5:3; Ezekiel 6:9; 23:3; Isaiah 57:3. Then again the modern use of the word “prostitute” as one who degrades and misuses his God-given gifts is thoroughly in accord with the idea which the original conveyed to our Lord’s hearers. Compare S. Matt. 21:31, 32, a thoroughly parallel passage.
This is what modern translation theorists would call a “transculturation” or cultural “contextualization of the message.” And we also find some very modern ideas about translation in Ballentine’s Preface to the Epistles of Paul (1901), in which he defends his method of translating, refuses to accept the word “paraphrase” for it, and criticizes more literal translations for their “slavish obedience to the rule of words.”
1. Rev. Frank Schell Ballentine, D.D., The Sprague Project genealogical information database, accessed 10 Sep. 2010.
2. Rhinelander et al. v. Ballentine, The District Reports of Cases Decided in all the Judicial Districts of the State of Pennsylvania During the Year 1914, vol. xxiii (Philadelphia: H.W. Page, 1914), pp. 1093-1100.
3. Craig MacCameline, Science and Scripture Health (Detroit: Craige Publishing, 1920), passim. An appendix of this book presents "the book of Genesis and the book of Ruth, as samples of our idea of the way the Old Testament ought to be translated" (pp. 335 ff.).
Here we reproduce the Introduction of Ballentine's Four Gospels in a Modern American Dress, 1897
About eight years ago a remarkable translation of the Gospels appeared in France. It was a most excellent and unique translation from the original Greek into the most beautiful of modern French.
It was the work of Henri Lasserre. Henri Lasserre was a Roman Catholic French Priest. He was a most godly man and a most faithful Parish Priest. As such he had come to see how very few ordinary Roman Catholic Frenchmen were acquainted with the story of our Lord's life as a connected whole. He saw they knew it only in disconnected fragments without either logical or chronological order. They knew it only as they heard it read in the services of the Mass or as quoted in the sermons of preachers.
This general ignorance of the Gospel story among his fellow countrymen led Henri Lasserre to attempt such a translation as any ordinary Frenchman would read with the same interest as the latest French novel.
He made his translation. He got the necessary imprimatur of his Archhishop, the Archbishop of Paris. He sent his work to Rome. He received a letter from the Pope's secretary conveying to him the apostolic benediction of his Holiness. His work was published. It was sold and read everywhere. It began at once to accomplish most nobly the generous design and prayerful endeavor of its author.
The Jesuits got hold of it. They found fault with it. They sent it back to the Pope. It was immediately put into the Index Expurgatorius—the list of books forbidden to be read by all loyal Roman Catholics.
As a loyal Roman Catholic Priest, Perre Lasserre submitted. The good work he so nobly began among French Roman Catholics came to an untimely end.
The present translation is an attempt to popularise the reading of the life of Jesus the Christ here in America on the same lines and in the same spirit as Henri Lasserre.
Here is an attempt to put the Gospel Story of Jesus the Christ into the ordinary form of our every day American Literature. It is an attempt to take the story of Jesus the son of Mary out of the exclusive shadow of the school and of the Church and to put it in the form with which all modern readers are most familiar. It is an attempt to take it out of its 16th century clothes and to dress it up in the modern style of this present year of grace.
We have used our every effort to leave off everything peculiarly English and to put in its place what is distinctively American. For this version of the Gospel Story is addressed to Americans, not Englishmen. It is addressed to Americans of this year of grace, not to those of the 16th century. It is addressed to Americans in their every day walk and conversation, not to them as scholars and churchmen alone. It is addressed to all Americans of whatever cast or class who do not find themselves entirely at home in reading the present versions of the Gospels. It is addressed to you, interested reader, if you are ready to welcome a rendering of the Gospel Story talking to you in your own distinctively American words and phrases,—the words in common use on the street and in the mill, the phrases ordinarily heard on the road, in the store, and at the desk.
"But alas!" no doubt many will say, "Alas! Will you indeed rob the Scriptures of their sacred character as the word of God? Will you bring them down to the level of the ordinary novel? Will you ruthlessly despoil them of their noble and deliciously chaste English? Strip them altogether of their sacred language? How then can you expect the common people to retain their old well established love and reverence for them?"
The story of the life of Jesus the Christ needs neither love nor reverence that is not the result of its own intrinsic charm.
Before the Reformation one of the most plausible arguments against translating the Scriptures into the modern languages, was just such an argument as this. Ignorant, so called, scholars feared to put the great truths of life into such vulgar speech. But such ignorant wisdom was providentially overruled to the breaking down of sin, Satan, and death.
When any good thing has come to us through any set form we cling to the form as well as to the substance. And so we should. For as men we cannot long hold to the one without the other. But no living thing can be forever contained in any one unchanging form. It must sooner or later burst such bonds that would thus bind it and assume a new form better suited to its changed and ever changing conditions.
It is thus with God's Word.
It is a well-spring of living water. It must ever be making for itself new and larger channels of usefulness. So as often as the Bible has been a power in the life of a people it has again and again burst the bonds the Church and the school have been content to hold it in, and has assumed the every day language of all the people.
Why is this?
It is because the words of this Gospel Story are but the outward clothing of the living and life giving Spirit of the Man among men; of the Man of the common people among the common people.
A carpenter gathers some fishermen about him. He goes about as a common man among common men. He has a despised tax-gatherer for a disciple, but never a Pharisee. He goes about seeking sinners not saints. He speaks of redemption to the hated Samaritan. He goes to be guest with men that are sinners. Yes, it must always be borne in mind, Jesus spoke and taught everywhere for all the people. In the market place as well as in the Temple, in the fields, by the roadside, the shores of lakes, and the tops of mountains. He was never more at home than among the crowds constantly pressing him on every side. Among the most ignorant as among the learned, among the evil as among the good, among the small and of no reputation as among the great, among sinners and saints, Jews, Gentiles, old, young, male, female, bond and free, among all alike, Jesus stood as prince and deliverer.
As Jesus was thus at home among all classes and conditions of the people of his day and generation, so did he make them feel with reference to himself. His every word to them was in their own every day language. It was plain, simple, homely. His every word afterwards recorded by his trusted followers was written in the same popular style. For Jesus came to save all the people and so to all the people and in their own simple language he spoke. He spoke living and life giving thought in the living language of his day. No dead language or stereotyped phrase can ever hold long the spirit of life he first breathed into them. When they have lost their usefulness for communicating his divine life to the hearts of his fellow men, they must finally give way to the common words and common phrases the common people of the time are using to express their own living thought and feeling in.
For why should the Holy Spirit employ the pen of despised tax-gatherers, wrong doers, ordinary workmen, poor people without either learning or acquaintance with literature,—why should such men be pressed into such a service, if it were not to put a book thoroughly understood by them all into the hands of the least learned of readers?
Yes, it is just because the great facts of the life of Jesus the Christ are for all sorts and conditions of men, the Evangelists have put them clearly before all and in a way most intelligent [sic] to all. They have done it most nobly as becomes those sent out to be the teachers of the whole round world.
Who needs a teacher to explain to him such sayings of the Evangelists as these? Blessed are the meek. Blessed are the pure in heart. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are they that are hungering and thirsting after righteousness.
The Gospels were not written to become ornaments to center tables and well selected libraries. They were written to be read. They were written to be read, not piece meal, here and there, now and then, but consecutively and constantly.
Who would think of picking up one of the latest popular novels to read a few words here and a few there? Rather, if it is not read through in one or two sittings, bow constantly and perseveringly it is sought after and read till the last sentence is finally completed.
So should it be with the reading of the Good News of Jesus the Christ. So has it always been in the great epoch making periods of his Church. It was such a reading of the Gospel Story that nourished the virile faith of the Christians of the first centuries of our era. Such a reading excited and sustained the noble ardor of the great reformers of every time and clime. It is such a reading again, in the words and style of speech of our own every day national life, that will become one of the strongest motives to manly virtue, one of the most potent nourishers of the noble Christian faith of our own great native land.
The story of Jesus the Christ as seen and known in those four books of the Bible commonly called "The Gospels" lies at the very foundation of our American life and institutions.
The history of the modifications of the common law by courts of equity is a history of the first principles in the life of Jesus the Christ gradually changing and finally abolishing the crude manners and customs of our heathen and less enlightened ancestors.
Every substantial advancement in the form of government we have come to know and to prize so highly has been due to a free step forward from the heathen, semi-civilized, and Mosaic codes, to the simple yet sublime principles declared so forcibly to the world and made known so convincingly to men in the life of Jesus the Christ.
The best of the laws of old came by Moses. The grace and truth of all modern laws, manners and customs have come through Jesus the Christ.
It is only in modern times the state as such is learning clearly how to undertake ministries of mercy as one of its own most fundamental functions. It is only at this late day the benevolence of the Christ of the Gospel Story has secured a large and ever growing place in the functions of our own civil government.
No one can at all understand the gradual development of our civil as well as our religious liberties before he has come into living contact with the life giving Story of Jesus the Christ.
All the religious influences dominating more and more the thought and action of our day are readily traced to this simple story.
Here is found the source of all those mighty forces of thought and feeling taking firmer and still yet firmer hold of the hearts of men.
Be a sectarian if you must. Own the sway over your own life, of whatever denominational "ism" you may. Yet here, in this simple story of Jesus the Christ, you must acknowledge to be found penned the history of a life of such vast influence that in comparison with it every peculiar denominational theology has been but a straw on the flood of time.
We do not pretend to lay before the reader a servile word for word translation. We agree with the Poet Horace that a faithful translator will not make a word for word translation. For as the great Jerome so well put it: "What certain minds call faithful, men truly learned call slavish ...
"Every language has its own peculiar, and so to speak, domestic genius. Who then can accuse me of falling short in my duty as a translator, if, for the purpose of rendering the true meaning of a foreign phrase, I modify the order of the words, the form of the phrase and the whole expression of it?
"A word for word translation often obscures the meaning of the original instead of translating it truly.
"Let who will be tied down to syllables and letters. For ourselves we will keep only to the meaning of what we are attempting to translate.
"A whole day would not be time enough for citing the testimony of all the translators who have uniquely sought the meaning and the truth in their translations. I confine myself to the mention of the great Hilary. In his translations of the Homilies on Job and in his many treaties on the Psalms, he guards himself carefully against bondage to the letter and so keeps himself from the perpetual twistings due to a slavish obedience to the rule of words. He seizes upon the meaning like a conqueror and transfers it most forcibly to his own native tongue."
"What I like about the young writers of to day," one of the last of the number of our first great American poets, is recently reported to have said, "What I like about the young writers of to-day is that they are so American.
We were educated on Miss Edgeworth's 'Frank,' and 'Parents' Assistant,' on 'Original Poems,' 'Evenings at Home,' and 'Cheap Repository Tracts.' There we found ourselves in a strange world, where James was called Jem, not Jim, as we always heard it; where boys played at taw, not marbles; where one found cowslips in the field, while what we saw were buttercups; where boys studied in forms, where there were fags, ushers, barrings-out; where there were larks and nightingales, instead of yellow birds and bobolinks; where the robin was a little domestic bird that fed at the table, instead of a great, fidgety, jerky, whooping, thrush.
The end was we all grew up with a mental squint which we could never get rid of. We saw the lark and the cowslip and the rest on the printed page with one eye, with the other in nature the bobolink and the buttercup.
But those English children's books seemed perfectly simple and natural—as they were to English children—and yet were so alien to our youthful experience that the Houzhnhumn primer could not have muddled our intellects more hopelessly.
I am glad the young writers of to-day are so inclined to write what they themselves as Americans think and see and feel. I believe in being American."
The present version of the Gospel Story is made in the spirit of such distinctively national sentiment and scholarship. So instead of 'pounds,' 'shillings,' 'pence' and 'farthings,' dollars and cents are here to be found. Instead of the old use of the word 'meat,' meaning food in general, the word 'food' is here used. Instead of the word 'cornfield,' which the ancients never had in our modern American sense, the word 'wheatfield' here gives the true meaning. Instead of 'damsel,' 'girl.' Instead of 'charger,' 'dish.' Instead of the Syrian word, 'mammon,' our native equivalent, 'money.' Instead of such and such a 'watch of the night,' 'first hour,' 'second hour,' of the day, our modern designations of time, etc., etc.
What more shall we say?
Shall we speak of those old typographical usages that have come to be so religiously preserved in the various translations of the Gospels? As though such forms, dropped from our ordinary usage, had in themselves something priestly, inviolable, sacred. How different the pages of the Book of books has come to be in comparison with the ordinary book of our every day life! We turn the sacred page, and everywhere we are met with two long and narrow columns of small typed little paragraphs, sprinkled here and there perchance with a thousand menacing references.
Every Bible student knows that the Latin and Greek editions of the past few centuries until very recently, are arranged in chapters and verses. But what is less known is that these divisions are purely arbitrary and not at all part of the very text of the Holy Book. The division into chapters goes back to the twelfth century and was the work of Cardinal Hugues of Saint-Cher. The division into verses was introduced in the sixteenth century by the celebrated Parisian printer Robert Estienne. It was not long in being universally adopted because of its great usefulness for making citations and in looking up any passage of scripture.
This ingenious idea facilitated the work of special students of the Bible to a very considerable extent. But in transferring these divisions of the printer Estienne into the popular edition not meant for special students but for popular reading and meditation; in introducing into the discourses of our Lord and into the narrative of the Evangelist these perpetual and brutal marks of reference to trouble the mind as well as the sight; in imposing upon the intelligence, without either necessity or profit; this march constantly arrested and resumed, this method of proceeding, agitated, jerked, and tripping along, destroys more and more the intrinsic charm, the charm deep and peaceable, of the Book of life.
Have you ever tasted the sweets of an invigorating walk in some of those wild and silent roads in the deep recesses of some grand old forest? What an indescribable beauty and satisfaction was to be found in those old avenues bordered for centuries by trees in which birds were singing, enameled for ages by wild flowers in which buzzing bees were at their never ceasing work of plunder? Above your head was the infinitude of heaven, about you the great silence and the dark shadows, in you the conscious feeling of the presence of God.
How such a journey into the very heart of nature rests one? How one's whole being delights in the quieting coolness of this tranquil solitude and without effort drinks in deliciously the universal life penetrating it in every part!
Well, suppose an engineer comes along. He desires to establish for himself and others the situation of each separate detail of the ground, and so he has ditches dug across the road every twelve or fifteen feet. Is it not evident that in condemning you thenceforth each minute to leap these incessant demarcations he will have put an end to your walk in the forest? Yes, even though he has not touched branch or leaf, he has dispelled the indefinable attraction that, now in the evening, again at noon directed you to these peaceful walks.
The effect produced by the division of the various translations of the Gospels into verses is altogether the same. It troubles the reader. It wearies him. It at times almost irritates him. It turns him away from the sacred grove.
You now realize the purpose of the present undertaking, dear reader. Read it and judge of its merits for yourself. It is a weak attempt to accomplish a great thing.
To be aware of what is wanted and to have the ability to supply that want are two different things. How much easier it is to realize a need than to supply it!
But is that fact a sufficient reason for not attempting to supply it?
Most surely not.
If a difficulty is simply insurmountable on the face of it that is one thing. But to desist from action because of a difficulty however great shows not only a want of courage but a forgetfulness of duty. More than that. It shows a complete misconception of that grace of God infallibly accorded every man who bravely faces a difficulty and consecrates his feeble strength to the overthrow of evil and the establishment of good.
Our Lord does not demand success or victory. He gives this when he pleases. What he does demand always and everywhere is a right good will and a noble effort. These are always effective. Yes, they are effective even when for the time being they appear to have amounted to nothing. For what one begins, another finishes. What to-day one makes a rough sketch of, defter hands will later on bring to perfection.
So the work of the humble and weak, even if it does not attain the end it set out to accomplish, at least prepares the way for it. It clears the road and makes it easier for him who comes after. It sets up a beacon light, even if it does so only on the rocky shoals of its own mistakes and failures.
May the blessing of heaven rest on us in this feeble effort to further the building up of the Kingdom of God and his Christ among men.
May the work of the living Evangelists lose none of its living power and renewing virtue in passing through our unworthy hands.
May you be able, O Divine Book, to show the living God to those ignorant of him.
Always the same in your divine substance in this new form peculiar to our time and native land, may you strengthen the weak and wavering, console the sorrowing, breathe good cheer into the hearts of the despondent, give the power of a living hope to the hopeless, give renewing faith in the Kingdom of God and his Christ to those sighing in pain and woe here below.
Go then, O Holy Word, and notwithstanding the faults of our work and the imperfections of our speech, carry light into heart and soul. Be like the sun in the firmament of heaven. Show to all men the Son of righteousness shining upon them with healing in his wings. Yes, in spite of the fogs and mists of unbelief show how he will never cease to lighten the world and pour fertility on it.
Frank Schell Ballentlne.
Scranton, Pa., Ascensiontide, 1897.
In his preface to “The Epistles of Paul in Modern English,” Professor Stevens, of Yale University says he has “sought to reproduce the thought of Paul’s epistles, and the kindred letter to the Hebrews, in the language of to-day. The terms of our English versions have purposely been avoided, so far as practicable, because their very familiarity is often a hindrance to the apprehension of the meaning. I have hoped to awaken a fresh interest in the Apostle’s thoughts by breaking up the form in which he expressed them, and by setting forth his ideas in a free modern rendering.
“The reading of a ’literal,’ or verbal, translation of Paul’s letters is attended by many difficulties. The Apostle’s carelessness of form, his vehemence in utterance, his use of complex figures, and his involved and elliptical style, are among the peculiarities which often render his meaning obscure. Now a translation can only represent in English words the form of the original. It is debarred not only from introducing explanatory words, but even, to a great extent, from the use of free idiomatic English renderings. A literal translation is a kind of Anglicized Greek text. It necessarily reproduces, in large part, the idioms of the Greek language in English words, and taxes the mind of the reader by compelling him to grapple with all the perplexing irregularities of the Apostle’s style.
“It has seemed to me that a paraphrase, or thought-translation, which purposely disregards the form, and expresses in idiomatic English the substance of the Apostle’s thought, would greatly aid the understanding of our popular versions by presenting the meaning in a fresh setting, by disentangling, in some instances, the idea from its figurative form, by expressing the implied thought of many passages, and by concentrating attention upon the main drift of the argument.”
Professor Steven’s Paraphrase does all he purposes and desires for it. It is not only profitable. It is delightful reading. It is fresh and invigorating. It is a decidedly great aid to the understanding of our popular versions.
But it does this as a Paraphrase, and not as a translation. As he well says : “A literal translation is a kind of Anglicized Greek text. It necessarily reproduces, in large part, the idioms of the Greek language in English words, and taxes the mind of the reader by compelling him to grapple with the perplexing irregularities of the Apostle’s style.”
But a literal translation is not a true translation. And so it is not a fact that a genuine “translation can only represent in English words the form of the original.” It is not a fact that such a translation “is debarred not only from introducing explanatory words, but even, to a great extent, from the use of free idiomatic English renderings.”
On the contrary, a translation is to be esteemed as such in the proportion in which it represents the thought of the original most faithfully, not simply in words, but in English idioms. To do this effectively, it must of necessity introduce “explanatory words.” But it introduces these, not simply as such, but as part and parcel of the equivalent English expressions which must necessarily be used to translate the thought fully and forcibly.
Such a translation, like those of the great Hilary of Poitiers, is guarded carefully from bondage to the letter and is kept from the perpetual twistings due to a slavish obedience to the rule of words. And, like Hilary, again, he who makes such a translation must seize on the meaning of the original like a conqueror and transfer it most forcibly to his own native tongue.
In an appreciative review of the first two volumes of the Modern American Bible (S. Mark and S. Matthew,) the Standard of Chicago says: “It does not become colloquial and weak in its effort to be modern. In fact, the modernization of the Gospels (as compared with that of the Prophets or the Apocalypse, for example) involves little more than changing the verb endings, inverting transposed words, and substituting modern terms for a few obsolete nouns.”
To our mind one of the most important points in the translation of the Gospels, besides those mentioned in the Standard’s review, is what the Sunday School Times of Philadelphia mentions as the greatest innovation in our work, that is, “the close rendering of the tenses of the original Greek.”
But the main feature which we wish to emphasize, appears more prominently in the present volume. It is the one already referred to, that is, the broad principle of translation on which it proceeds. The present translator has done his work with the understanding with himself that if it is his first duty to reproduce the text of the original as faithfully as possible, his final duty is to reproduce it in good, terse, strong, idiomatic English, and that, too, not of yesterday or three hundred years ago, as it was then used in England, but of to-day, as it is now used in this country in giving expression to our everyday thoughts and feelings.
For while it must be admitted that King James’ translation has been deservedly held in very high estimation by the most competent of critics, as well as by the people as a whole, yet it is now coming to be realized more and more as the years roll round, that it is not filling the need of the rising generations. This feeling was given most forcible expression to in the putting forth of the Revised Version of 1881. It is now being given expression to in the various private translations of different parts of the Bible which are issuing from the press. It will be brought to a triumphant culmination when the results of all these many and various efforts are gathered up into one great effort, and we have a translation of the whole Bible which is the product of the latest and best Christian scholarship, and meets the needs of the great body of well educated and thoughtful Christian minds.
The Revised Version of 1881 cannot do this. It cannot do it because it is not a modern translation. Nor does it pretend to be. As the revisers themselves say in their introduction: “Our task was revision, not re-translation.” And this was according to one of the rules of the Convocation of Canterbury under which they acted, and in which it was distinctly stated that “we do not contemplate any new translation of the Bible, or any alteration of the language, except where in the judgment of the most competent scholars such change is necessary.” And even then it is as distinctly stated that where such necessary changes are made they must be made in “the style of the language employed in the existing version.”
In other words, the Revised Version not only does not use modern English, it distinctly avoids its use. It does not render accurately the tenses of the verbs in many instances, just because of its fixed purpose to retain an expression in harmony with its predecessor. It often fails to translate the original into modern idiomatic English for the same reason.
It is not enough to think of the New Testament as written in Greek. If it was written in Greek it was written, with the exception of S. Luke, by Jews. And S. Luke, as well as the others, gave expression to the product of Jewish surroundings and environment. The New Testament Greek, then, must always be thought of as Greek spoken by a Jew. Hebrew images abound in it. Hebrew idioms are to be found everywhere. New Testament Greek not only conveys its thought to us in Greek figures of speech, it conveys it also in Hebrew figures of speech. Its writers not only express themselves in Greek idioms, they express themselves in Hebrew idioms. King James’ Version and the Revised Version, following it, time and time again, transfer both the Hebrew and Greek idioms into English, instead of translating them into their equivalent modern English idioms. For this reason the Revised Version cannot become acceptable as a modern up-to-date translation, even if we say nothing about its archaic use of words and phrases otherwise unfamiliar to our modern ears.
Both the Revised Version and King James’ Version, then, are very often nothing more than a transliteration of the original, instead of being a translation. The theory of verbal inspiration seems to have hampered the revisers as well as the King James’ translators. And yet such a theory militates against any translation at all, as well as against such a translation as is now being called for, and such a translation as can alone satisfy the hearts of studious and thoughtful Christian men.
Such a translation will not be a servile word for word translation. “A faithful translator,” as the Poet Horace has so well asserted, “will not make a word for word translation.” * For every language has its own peculiar and, so to speak, domestic genius. For the purpose of rendering the true meaning of a foreign phrase, therefore, it is often necessary to modify the order of the words, the form of the phrase, and the whole expression of it. In other words, A word for word translation often obscures the meaning of the original instead of translating it truly.
As a writer in the Sunday School Times well says: “No living language is stationary. Part of it is dying, and part of it is either attaching new meanings to old words or gaining a new vocabulary. What was in many expressions plain English to Wyclif was obsolete to Tyndale, and what was plain to Tyndale was obsolete to King James’ revisers. If King James’ Version were printed today just as it was first issued, it would be understood only by antiquarians. If this is true of successive centuries in the same country, it is equally true of different countries with the same tongue in the same century. The American use of words differs largely from the English. So it will hardly be denied that spellings and meanings that are foreign to us and make the Bible harder to be understood in America, ought to be replaced by spellings and words that are usual and clear with us. There is no good reason why our Bible should contain words which cannot be found in our best school dictionaries.
The Bible in Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek was, by deliberate choice, written in the language of the plain people. The writers had a large vocabulary at hand, but they all chose the plain, strong words of their people.
Translators and revisers should strive to make the Bible as clear to their people as the original writers made it to their people. There is no sufficient excuse for preserving words or usages in the Bible that cannot be understood by intelligent people not trained in antiquarian lore.”
As the New York Churchman in a leading editorial well says : “The modern world is searching the Scriptures with an intensity that no previous generation has shown. Everywhere there is zeal to examine the testimony, to cross-question the witnesses, to get at the message from above that men everywhere feel is there. The world has the zeal, and more and more it is becoming a zeal according to knowledge. There may be eddies here and there, delusions of literal interpretation, but the main current is unmistakable. Bibliolatry is being replaced by a more rational and a more spiritual attitude of mind, by a more reasonable service.”
What is to be found in the following pages, then, is an attempt at a faithful translation of St. Paul’s letters, and the Letter to the Hebrews. It is not a “literal” or “verbal ” translation, on the one hand, nor is it a paraphrase, on the other. With the Poet Horace and the great Hilary as our guides, we have attempted to place before the American reader, not only the essential substance of St. Paul’s arguments and exhortations, but the subordinate phases of his thought as well, and to do this, not only with constant reference to the original Greek, but also to the Hebrew idioms which it so often contains.
With the confident assurance that the same Spirit who inspired the effort and brought it to its culmination, will also see to its effect, this translation is sent out to accomplish the Father’s purpose, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Frank Schell Ballentine,
Christ’s Church Rectory,
Scranton, Pa., Whitsuntide, 1901.
* The reference is to Horace’s Ars Poetica, lines 133-34: nec verbo verbum curabis reddere fidus interpres. But Ballentine mistakes the meaning, because Horace is here giving advice to poetic imitators, who should not play the servile part of a faithful translator. The line should be translated “nor must you be so faithful a translator, as to take the pains of rendering your author word for word” (Christopher Smart, The works of Horace, translated literally into English prose, London, 1756). —M.D.M.
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