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[Thomas Belsham et al.,] 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. London: Richard Taylor & Co., 1808. An American edition was distributed by William Wells of Boston in 1809. A fourth London edition “with corrections and additions” was printed by Richard and Arthur Taylor in 1817. These three editions were published online by Google Books in 2007-2008: London, 1808; Boston, 1809; London, 1817
This “Improved” version of the New Testament was a revision of Newcome’s version (1796), and was published anonymously, by what the title page called “A Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and the Practice of Virtue by the Distribution of Books.” The publisher’s use of the phrase “Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge” was apparently designed to give people the impression that the version was published by the well-known Anglican organization of that name founded by Thomas Bray in 1698, whose mission was to make inexpensive editions of uncontroversial, orthodox Christian books available to poor churches abroad. The Introduction neglects to mention the fact that the “Society” referred to on the title page was actually the Unitarian Society, and that the sole purpose of the version was to promote Unitarian ideas. The concealment of its true purpose was deliberate, as its principal editor later explained: “the editors … thought it needless to insert the word Unitarian in the title page, which would deter some ignorant and prejudiced people from looking into a work from which they might otherwise derive instruction.” 1 It soon became known, however, that the version was financed by the Unitarians and done mainly by Thomas Belsham, a notorious Unitarian controversialist. 2
Belsham, in an article published in 1820, explained that the “main object” of the version was “to serve as a sort of common-place book to the New Testament, by exhibiting to the inquiring and serious reader a plain and faithful account of the manner in which the most learned and approved Unitarian writers translate and explain the texts upon which the Unitarian controversy hinges, and the grounds of their interpretation.” 3 This statement of the version’s purpose was also rather misleading, however, because Unitarianism, though it ostensibly based its doctrine upon interpretations of biblical texts, was not really based upon the Bible at all.
During the eighteenth century, English Unitarians were often called Socinians by their opponents, because their beliefs resembled in some points those of a sixteenth-century heretic named Socinus, who denied the Trinity and taught that Christ was merely human. And it is true that the Unitarians found in the writings of Socinus some interpretations of biblical texts which were useful to them. But they did not call themselves Socinians, and in fact eighteenth-century Unitarianism did not derive from Socinus. It is best understood as a moderate form of Deism, the rationalistic religious philosophy of the Enlightenment which had greatly influenced the intellectual culture of eighteenth-century England. In Unitarianism the main ideas of the Deists were represented as being somehow “biblical,” or at least not totally inconsistent with the Bible. But its proponents were not willing to be guided by the teaching of the Bible when it was contrary to the tenets of their “rational religion.” Their use of the Bible was disingenuous, selective, and often downright frivolous. The rationalistic and skeptical orientation of the movement, and its implicit rejection of scriptural authority, is evident in writings of its earliest proponents. Joseph Priestley was one of these. A Unitarian historian informs us that “before 1758 he had rejected the ideas of atonement, of inspired books, and of any immediate action of God upon the human mind; by 1768, Lardner’s Letter had convinced him of the simple humanity of Christ; in 1784 he startled his friend Lindsey by rejecting the Virgin birth, and by maintaining that Christ was neither impeccable nor infallible, and in particular that Christ was under illusion respecting demoniacal possession, and had misconceived the import of some of the prophecies.” 4 With such men in the forefront of the Unitarian movement, Deists quite naturally saw Unitarians as kindred spirits and fellow-travellers. In the celebrated Encyclopédie written by French rationalists and edited by Diderot, the article Unitaires describes Unitarians as une secte de déistes cachés, a sect of covert Deists:
The Unitarians have always been regarded as Christian theologians who merely broke and tore out some branches of the tree, but remained connected to the trunk; whereas they should have been considered a sect of philosophers who, so as not to shock the cult too directly and the true or false received opinions, did not want to proclaim openly a pure deism, or reject formally and without qualification any kind of revelation; but who did continually with respect to the Old and New Testaments that which Epicurus did with regard to the gods — whom he accepted verbally but destroyed in fact. In fact, the Unitarians accepted in Scripture only what they found conforms to the natural light of reason, and served to back up and confirm the systems they had embraced. Since they regarded these works as purely human, which a bizarre and unforeseen course of circumstances (which might well not have ever happened) had made the object of faith and veneration of certain men in a certain part of the world, they did not attribute more authority to them than to the books of Plato and Aristotle, and treated them so in consequence (without ceasing to respect them, however — at least publicly). The Socinians were thus a sect of hidden deists as are found in all Christian countries, who in order to philosophize peacefully and freely without having to fear being pursued by the law and magistrates, employed all their sagacity, dialectic, and subtlety to reconcile with as much science, skill and verisimilitude as possible the theological and metaphysical hypotheses laid out in Scripture with those they had chosen. 5
Theophilus Lindsey, another early leader of the movement, was less radical than Priestley, or perhaps we should say he was less openly radical; but he defended Priestley when he was criticized. The first worship service conducted by him after making his Unitarian beliefs public and leaving the Church of England in 1774 was attended by Priestley and his friend Benjamin Franklin, the well-known American Deist, who happened to be in England at the time. Unitarian writers signalled their fellowship with Deists by habitually using Deistic shibboleths, e.g. calling God the “Supreme Being,” constantly talking about the requirements of a “rational religion,” and so forth. In 1836 one leading English Unitarian, James Martineau, expressed the Deistic attitude which was always implicit in Unitarianism when he wrote that “reason is the ultimate appeal, the supreme tribunal, to the test of which even Scripture must be brought.” 6 The fact that some eighteenth-century Unitarians were willing to adopt an apparently respectful attitude towards the Bible, for apologetic purposes, does not change the nature of the movement. Belsham has collected from their works some attempts to interpret various passages in ways that might support, or at least not flatly contradict, the teachings of modern Unitarianism. But it was not long before the standard-bearers of the movement were themselves calling these interpretations untenable and insincere, and insisting that Unitarians most be forthright in rejecting several teachings of the Bible. One notable Unitarian, Dr. George E. Ellis (1814-1894) of Harvard Divinity School, made the following remarks in a lecture delivered in November 1882 at the Unitarian Club in Boston:
“Fifty years of study, thought and reading given largely to the Bible and to the literature which peculiarly relates to it, have brought me to this conclusion, that the book — taken with the especial divine quality and character claimed for it, and so extensively assigned to it, as inspired and infallible as a whole, and in all its contents—is an Orthodox book. It yields what is called the Orthodox creed. The vast majority of its readers, following its letter, its obvious sense, its natural meaning, and yielding to the impression which some of its emphatic texts make upon them, find in it Orthodoxy. Only that kind of ingenious, special, discriminative, and in candor I must add, forced treatment, which it receives from us liberals can make the book teach anything but Orthodoxy. The evangelical sects, so called, are clearly right in maintaining that their view of Scripture and of its doctrines draws a deep and wide division of creed between them and ourselves. In that earnest controversy by pamphlet warfare between Drs. Channing and Ware on the one side, and Drs. Worcester and Woods and Professor Stuart on the other — a controversy which wrought up the people of our community sixty years ago more than did our recent political campaign — I am fully convinced that the liberal contestants were worsted. Scripture exegesis, logic and argument were clearly on the side of the Orthodox contestants. And this was so, mainly because the liberal party put themselves on the same plane with the Orthodox in their way of regarding and dealing with Scripture texts in their bearing upon the controversy. Liberalism cannot vanquish Orthodoxy, if it yields to the latter in its own way of regarding and treating the whole Bible. Martin Luther said that the Papists burned the Bible because it was not on their side. Now I am not about to attack the Bible because it is not on my side; but I am about to object as emphatically as I can against a character and quality assigned to the Bible, which It does not claim for itself, which cannot be certified for it: and the origin and growth and intensity of the fond and superstitious influences resulting in that view we can trace distinctly to agencies accounting for, but not warranting, the current belief. Orthodoxy cannot readjust its creeds till it readjusts its estimate of the Scriptures. The only relief which one who professes the Orthodox creed can find is either by forcing his ingenuity into the prooftexts or indulging his liberty outside of them.” 7
Likewise in 1888 another prominent Unitarian maintained that “it was a pardonable thing on the part of Unitarian critics half a century ago, but would be most unwise in us, to look for modern Unitarianism, or anything like it, in the early beliefs of Christendom.” 8 Another explained that the earlier Unitarians who professed to accept the authority of Scripture were not really honest about their beliefs: “In theory they accepted the supremacy of a written text, but in practice they often went beyond and sometimes against their text. Indeed, the protest against the doctrines of total depravity and predestination was a revolt of the reason in the face of the text of Paul. Though not yet formulated as an article of faith, reason was even then accepted in practice as the highest tribunal of human appeal.” 9 In a book published in 1798, Belsham indicated his awareness of the incompatibility of the New Testament with Unitarianism by arguing, just as Ellis did later, that not everything in the Bible is inspired, true, and authoritative. “The scriptures,” he wrote, “contain a faithful and credible account of the christian doctrine which is the true word of God: but they are not themselves the word of God, nor do they ever assume that title: and it is highly improper to speak of them as such, as it leads inattentive readers to suppose they were written under a plenary inspiration to which they make no pretension, and as such expressions expose christianity unnecessarily to the cavils of unbelievers.” 10
In line with this critical attitude toward the Bible, we find that the Introduction of the “Improved” version (section 2) refuses to grant the canonicity of some books of the New Testament (Hebrews, James, 2nd Peter, 2nd and 3rd John, Jude, and the Revelation), and its editors even deny that there can be a final and authoritative determination of the limits of the canon. They write: “No person, nor any body of men, has any right authoritatively to determine concerning any book, that it is canonical and of apostolical authority. Every sincere and diligent inquirer has a right to judge for himself, after due examination, what he is to receive as the rule of his faith and practice.” Moreover, the editors have also treated as inauthentic some passages within books that they otherwise seem to accept as canonical. We find that the infancy narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke are rejected as interpolations. Now it is obvious enough that these chapters were unacceptable to Belsham and his fellows for theological reasons, because, contrary to Unitarian teachings, the whole purpose of the narrative is to establish that Jesus was not a mere man. But Belsham pretends that Unitarians have rejected these chapters for text-critical reasons. The rejection of Matt. 1:17—2:23 is explained with this note:
The remainder of this chapter, and the whole of the second, are printed in Italics, as an intimation that they are of doubtful authority. They are indeed to be found in all the manuscripts and versions which are now extant, but from the testimony of Epiphanius and Jerome we are assured that they were wanting in the copies used by the Nazarenes and Ebionites, that is, by the ancient Hebrew Christians; for whose instruction, probably, 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. Nor would it 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 analogous to the miraculous birth of Isaac, Samuel, and other eminent persons of the Hebrew nation. If it be true, as Luke relates, chap. iii. 23. that Jesus was entering upon his thirtieth year (see Wakefield’s Translation) in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius, he must have been born two years at least after the death of Herod, a circumstance which alone invalidates the whole story. See Lardner’s Works, vol. i. p. 432. It is indeed highly improbable that no notice should have been taken of these extraordinary events by any contemporary writer, that no expectation should have been excited by them, and that no allusion should have been made to them in any other passage of the sacred writings. Some of the facts have a fabulous appearance, and the reasoning from the prophecies of the Old Testament is inconclusive. Also, 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. Our Lord in the gospels is repeatedly spoken of as the son of Joseph, without any intimation on the part of the historian that this language is incorrect. See Matt. xiii. 55. Luke iv. 23. John i. 45. vi. 42. The account of the miraculous conception of Jesus was 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. See upon this subject, Dr. Priestley’s History of Early Opinions, vol. 4. b. iii. c. 20; Pope on the Miraculous Conception; Dr. Williams’s Free Enquiry; Dr. Bell’s Arguments for the Authenticity of the Narratives of Matthew and Luke, and Dr. Williams’s Remarks; Dr. Campbell and Dr. Newcome’s Notes upon the text; Mr. Evanson’s Dissonance, chap. i. sect. 3. chap. iii. sect. 2; Jones’s Developement of Events, vol. i. p. 365, &c.
Likewise Luke 1:5—2:80 is printed in italics, with this note:
The remaining verses of this, and the whole of the second chapter, are printed in italics, as an indication that they are of doubtful authority: for though they are to be found in all manuscripts and versions which are now extant, yet the following considerations have induced many to doubt whether they were really written by Luke:
1. The evangelist expressly affirms that Jesus had completed his thirtieth year in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar, chap. iii. 1. 23. He must, therefore, have been born fifteen years before the death of Augustus, A. U. C. 752 or 753: but the latest period assigned for the death of Herod is the spring of A. U. C. 751, and he died, probably, the year before. See Lardner’s Works, vol. i. p. 423-428, and Jones’s Developement of Facts, vol. i. p. 365-368. Herod therefore must have been dead upwards of two years before Christ was born. A fact which invalidates the whole narration. See Grotius on Luke iii. 23.
2. The two first chapters of this gospel were wanting in the copies used by Marcion, a reputed heretic of the second century: who, though he is represented by his adversaries as holding some extravagant opinions, was a man of learning and integrity, for any thing that appears to the contrary. He, like some moderns, rejected all the evangelical histories excepting Luke, of which he contended that his own was a correct and authentic copy.
3. The evangelist, in his preface to the history of the Acts of the Apostles, reminds his friend Theophilus, Acts i. 1, that his former history contained an account of the public ministry of Jesus, but makes no allusion to the remarkable incidents contained in the two first chapters: which, therefore, probably were not written by him.
4. If the account of the miraculous conception of Jesus be true, he could not be the offspring of David and of Abraham, from whom it was predicted, and by the Jews expected, that the Messiah should descend.
5. There is no allusion to any of these extraordinary facts in either of the succeeding histories of Luke, or in any other books of the New Testament. Jesus is uniformly spoken of as the son of Joseph and Mary, and as a native of Nazareth, and no expectation whatever appears to have been excited in the public mind by these wonderful and notorious events.
6. The style of the two first chapters is different from the rest of the history—the date of the enrolment, ch. ii. 1, 2, is a great historical difficulty—that John the Baptist should have been ignorant of the person of Christ is not probable, if this narrative be true: John i. 31—34. And there are many other circumstances in the story which wear an improbable and fabulous aspect. Evanson’s Disson. ch. i. sect. 3. p. 57.
See likewise the note upon the two first chapters of Matthew, and the references there.
It has been objected, that so large and gross an interpolation could not have escaped detection, and would never have been so early and so generally received.
In reply to this objection it is observed, that this interpolation was not admitted into the Hebrew copies of Matthew’s gospel, nor into Marcion’s copies of Luke—that it is notorious that forged writings under the names of the apostles were in circulation almost from the apostolic age. See 2 Thess. ii. 2.—that the orthodox charge the heretics with corrupting the text; and that the heretics recriminate upon the orthodox—also that it was much easier to introduce interpolations when copies were few and scarce, than since they have been multiplied to so great a degree by means of the press: and finally, that the interpolation in question would, to the generality of Christians, be extremely gratifying, as it would lessen the odium attached to Christianity from its founder being a crucified Jew, and would elevate him to the dignity of the heroes and demi-gods of the heathen mythology.
It is with some reluctance that we reproduce these impious comments. As a source of factual information they are worthless, containing misrepresentations that, if not deliberately dishonest, only reveal how incompetent the editors were to discuss such matters. They are well answered by the author of A Vindication of the Authenticity of the Narratives Contained in the First Two Chapters of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke; being an investigation of objections urged by the Unitarian editors of the Improved Version of the New Testament, pp. 85-122, which the reader may consult online. We reproduce them here only to illustrate how the editors have introduced liberal higher criticism under the guise of textual criticism. What we see here is not properly called textual criticism—which rests upon the evidence and critical evaluation of documents—but a purely speculative kind of redaction criticism, guided only by subjective notions about what seems suitable, in line with the modernistic theological opinions of the editors. There are in fact no valid or critically respectable reasons to think that the Gospels of Matthew and Luke ever lacked these narratives of the birth of Christ. Belsham has relied upon some of the most infamous heretics of ancient times—Ebionites and Marcionites—as his authorities for eliminating these chapters, and his use of these sources is prejudicial and uncritical. We notice that Marcion is introduced as one who, though “represented by his adversaries as holding some extravagant opinions, was a man of learning and integrity.” But to any professional scholar, the very idea that Marcion could be used in this manner, as a reliable authority for the authentic text of the New Testament, will seem puerile and ridiculous. As for the references to treatises written in his time: Belsham has supplied these to give his argument some color of scholarship, but he fails to mention that these works were recently written by men of his own party.
Even worse is Belsham’s treatment of the prologue to John’s Gospel. We reproduce this also in its entirety below, because no second-hand description of it can do justice to such a masterpiece of perverted ingenuity. In the notes, which the Introduction says are designed “to enable the judicious and attentive reader to understand scripture phraseology, and to form a just idea of true and uncorrupted Christianity,” the meaning of nearly every word of the prologue is diabolically twisted from its true sense. From the class of “critics and commentators of the highest reputation,” as the Introduction assures us, Belsham’s main authority for these interpretations is a volume of “Critical Remarks” attributed to a recently deceased Unitarian minister, Newcome Cappe (1733–1800), as edited by his wife. 11 But we are sure that no reputable scholar would entertain these interpretations for a moment.
Besides the doctrine of Christ’s divinity, the editors of the version are opposed to several other teachings of Scripture. They reject the concept of an atonement for sin, accomplished by Christ’s vicarious suffering, and they also reject the clear teaching of Scripture that not everyone will be saved. And so the statement “the Son of man came … to give his life a ransom for many” in Matt. 20:28 is explained thus in a note:
“The word translated ransom, signifies the price paid for the liberty of a slave; and, figuratively, any means of deliverance from bondage. So Deut. vii. 8, God is said to have redeemed, or ransomed, ‘the Israelites out of the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh,’ not by paying a price for them, but by the splendid and awful miracles which he wrought for their deliverance. See also Deut. ix. 26, xiii. 5; Neh. i. 10. In like manner, the many, that is, all mankind, (Matt. xxvi. 28; Rom. v. 15. 18.) being in bondage to the Mosaic ritual, or to heathen superstition, are ransomed by the death of Christ, which is the means of their deliverance: not as the suffering of a substitute, but as the seal and ratification of a new and better covenant. See Newcome, Pearce, and Priestley on the text.”
These interpretations are contrived to support Unitarian opinions, and not based upon any careful and scholarly study of the language of the Bible. It is quite true that God did not pay the Egyptians for the Israelites, and so the verb פדה must be understood in a broader sense of rescue in Deut. 7:8, and in other places as well. However, in Matt. 20:28 we do not just have a corresponding Greek verb, but rather the phrase, “give his life a ransom for” (δοῦναι τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ λύτρον ἀντὶ), which must mean more than simply “deliver” by any means. And the word πολυς without the definite article means “many,” not “all.” So here and in Matt. 26:28 it is not legitimately translated “all.” In Romans 5:15 it is preceded by the definite article, “the many” (twice), but even when used like this with the article it does not really mean “all” but rather “the mass,” the “whole group,” and the context must be consulted to see what group is meant. So the citation of Romans 5:15 and 5:18 here is inappropriate and misleading, if it is intended to explain the meaning of the word πολυς. The fact remains that πολυς “many” is used here and in Matt. 26:28 where any Greek writer would have used πας if he had meant “all.” The reason for this is plain enough: Christ elsewhere expressly states that many will not be delivered, but will instead be condemned to hell; and so Matthew avoids using πας where he speaks of man’ redemption.
For the learned, all criticism of the version is probably superfluous, because its bias is much too obvious to be denied. As we have seen, the version failed to convince even the Unitarians that their beliefs were scriptural. But for the sake of simple Christians who might have been misled by this deliberately misleading work, the version did receive much criticism from Christian authors when it appeared. Thomas Hartwell Horne writes:
This version is avowedly made to support the modern Socinian scheme; for though the name of Archbishop Newcome is specified in the title-page, as a kind of model, his authority is disregarded whenever it militates against the creed of the anonymous editors. The errors and perversions of this translation have been most ably exposed by the Rev. Dr. Nares, in his “Remarks on the Version of the New Testament, lately edited by the Unitarians,” &c. 8vo. London, 1808 (2d edit. 1814); by the Rev. T. Rennell, in his “Animadversions on the Unitarian Translation by a Student in Divinity,” 8vo. London, 1811; and by the Rev. Dr. Laurence (afterwards archbishop of Cashel), in his “Critical Reflections on some important Misrepresentations contained in the Unitarian Version of the New Testament,” 8vo. Oxford and London, 1811; and especially in the “Vindication of the Authenticity of the Narratives contained in the first two chapters of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke,” by a Layman. London, 1822. 8vo. The three last-mentioned treatises discuss various topics, which it did not fall within Dr. Nares’s plan to notice. Two short but very able critiques on this Version may also be seen in the Quarterly Review, vol. i. pp. 315-336., and in the Eclectic Review for 1809, vol. v. pp. 24-39., 236-251. 12
All of these works mentioned by Horne are now available online, and we provide links to them in the Bibliography below.
1. Thomas Belsham, Memoirs of the Late Reverend Theophilus Lindsey (London: Rowland Hunter, 1820), pp. 347-359.
2. “Advertisement” in vol. 1 of The Epistles of Paul the Apostle Translated, with an Exposition, and Notes, by the rev. Thomas Belsham, Minister of Essex Street Chapel (London: R. Hunter, 1822), p. ix. “The Author of the present Work regards it as an honour to have been one of a Committee appointed by the Unitarian Society for publishing the Improved Version of the New Testament. He was indeed the party chiefly concerned in carrying it through the press. He is also responsible for the whole of the Introduction, and for many, perhaps the major part, of the Notes: but whatever credit may be due to the alterations in the Primate’s text, to this he can lay but a very limited claim. It having been determined to adopt Archbishop Newcome’s text as the basis of the Improved Version, it was his own wish, in no case to have departed from that text, excepting in those instances in which the learned Prelate’s predilection for system might be supposed to have given a bias to his Version. Others, however, members of the same Committee, thought differently; and many contributed, some in a greater and others in a less degree, their corrections of the Primate’s Version; which corrections were admitted and published. It was, however, agreed, that every variation from the Primate’s text should be noted in the margin, and that his own words should be inserted there; that so his character might be protected from every shadow of responsibility for any alteration that was introduced. This rule was invariably observed, except in very few instances, owing to inadvertency, which candour, not indeed always exercised, would readily excuse. This being the state of the case, it is surely no great breach of decorum in the Editors to have given the Work the title of the Improved Version, at which some have taken such great offence. No biblical scholar can deny the great superiority of Archbishop Newcome’s Version, with all the helps and discoveries of the last two centuries, over that of King James’s translators, which was made in the beginning of the seventeenth century, and, for the time in which it appeared, is no doubt excellent, but which makes no pretensions to be either inspired or immaculate.”
3. Monthly Repository for 1820, vol. xv, pp. 213-14, as quoted by John Bevans, in A Vindication of the Authenticity of the Narratives Contained in the First Two Chapters of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke; being an investigation of objections urged by the Unitarian editors of the Improved Version of the New Testament (London, 1822), p. iv.
4. Alexander Gordon, Heads of English Unitarian History (London: Philip Green, 1895), p. 40.
5. English translation from The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d’Alembert Collaborative Translation Project at the University of Michigan, 2010. The original French article, written by Diderot’s friend Jacques-André Naigeon, was published in vol. 17 (dated 1765), p. 388ff., and reads thus: On a toujours regardé les Unitaires comme des théologiens chrétiens qui n'avoient fait que briser & arracher quelques branches de l'arbre, mais qui tenoient toujours au tronc; tandis qu'il falloit les considérer comme une secte de philosophes, qui, pour ne point choquer trop directement le culte & les opinions vraies ou fausses reçues alors, ne vouloient point afficher ouvertement le déisme pur, ni rejetter formellement & sans détours toute espece de révélation; mais qui faisoient continuellement à l'égard de l'ancien & du nouveau Testament, ce qu'Epicure faisoit à l'égard des dieux qu'il admettoit verbalement, & qu'il détruisoit réellement. En effet, les Unitaires ne recevoient des Ecritures, que ce qu'ils trouvoient conforme aux lumieres naturelles de la raison, & ce qui pouvoit servir à étayer, & à confirmer les systèmes qu'ils avoient embrassés. Comme ils ne regardoient ces ouvrages que comme des livres purement humains, qu'un concours bisarre & imprévu de circonstances indifférentes, & qui pouvoient fort bien ne jamais arriver, avoit rendu l'objet de la foi & de la vénération de certains hommes dans une certaine partie du monde, ils n'y attribuoient pas plus d'autorité qu'aux livres de Platon & d'Aristote, & ils les traitoient en conséquence, sans paroître néanmoins cesser de les respecter, au - moins publiquement. Les sociniens étoient donc une secte de déistes cachés, comme il y en a dans tous les pays chrétiens, qui, pour philosopher tranquillement & librement sans avoir à craindre la poursuite des lois & le glaive des magistrats, employoient toute leur sagacité, leur dialectique & leur subtilité à cocilier avec plus ou moins de science, d'habileté & de vraissemblance, les hypothèses théologiques & métaphysiques ex posées dans les Ecritures avec celles qu'ils avoient choisies.
6. James Martineau, The Rationale of Religious Inquiry or, the question stated of Reason, the Bible, and the Church (London, 1836). p. 119.
7. As quoted in Augustus Hopkins Strong, Systematic Theology: A Compendium and Common-Place Book Designed for the Use of Theological Students, 8th edition (Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1907), p. 308.
8. J. H. Allen, “Early Christian Doctrine,” In Unitarianism: Its Origin And History. A Course Of Sixteen Lectures Delivered In Channing Hall, Boston, 1888-89 (Boston: American Unitarian Association, 1890), p. 2. I should add that Allen also denies that the fully developed Nicene doctrine of the Trinity can be found in the New Testament. But no orthodox theologian has ever claimed that it could. We say, rather, that the Nicene doctrine is implied in Scripture, and that the Christology of Scripture cannot be understood rightly by those who deny it. Unitarians, on the other hand, acknowledge that their beliefs are incompatible with many statements and implications of Scripture. And that is the real point at issue here.
9. Seth C. Beach, “Unitarianism and the Reformation,” in Unitarianism: Its Origin And History. A Course Of Sixteen Lectures Delivered In Channing Hall, Boston, 1888-89 (Boston: American Unitarian Association, 1890), p. 54.
10. Thomas Belsham, A Review of Mr. Wilberforce’s Treatise, Entitled "A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians," etc. In Letters to a Lady (London: J. Johnson, 1798), reprinted in Tracts Printed and Published by the Unitarian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and the Practice of Virtue, Second Series, vol. vii. (London, 1805), pp. 9, 14. It is not clear to us how Belsham can object to our calling the Scriptures the Word of God, when the New Testament authors frequently identify the Scriptures of the Old Testament with the Word of God; or how he can maintain that they “make no pretension” to plenary inspiration, when the Apostles clearly do interpret the Scriptures as being verbally inspired. If Belsham’s point here is merely a quibble about the fact that we cannot find the statement “the Bible is the Word of God” in the Bible itself, this is unworthy of an answer.
11. Critical Remarks on Many Important Passages of Scripture: together with Dissertations upon Several Subjects, Tending to Illustrate the Phraseology and Doctrine of the New Testament, by the Late Reverend Newcome Cappe; to which are Prefixed Memoirs of his Life by the Editor, Catharine Cappe. 2 volumes. York: J. Johnson , 1802. We note with interest the following sentences from the “Memoirs” prefixed to the first volume: “During the three years Mr. Cappe spent at Northampton, some doubts were in his mind respecting the evidences of Christianity; and feeling it impossible to engage in the ministry, if these doubts should continue, he determined to investigate the subject in the most impartial manner. For this purpose he read carefully the writings of the French and English Deists, weighing, as he went along, their various objections, the greater part of which appeared clearly to be levelled not against the Christianity really contained in the Scriptures, although these writers might conceive them to be, but against the corruptions and additions which, in the lapse of ages, have from time to time been added to it.” (pp. 7-8.) That is to say, Mr. Cappe had lost his faith, and, instead of studying Christian authors he began to read the works of Deists, whose criticism of Christianity he largely agreed with. And yet after his apostasy he continued to pose as a Christian minister, by pretending to believe that the authors of Scripture were themselves Deists. A polite reviewer of this work in The British Critic 21/1 (Jan. 1803), pp. 66-74, very aptly writes, “if we give the author credit for sincerity, we must honestly confess it is all we can fairly allow him.”
12. Thomas Hartwell Horne, An Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures ninth ed., vol. 5 (London, 1846), p. 354.
ORIGIN, PROGRESS, AND DESIGN OF THE WORK.
In the year 1791, a Society was formed in London, the professed design of which was to promote religious knowledge and the practice of virtue by the distribution of books. Of this Society, from its first origin, it has always been a principal object to publish an Improved Version of the Holy Scriptures, and particularly of the New Testament. With this view, a deputation of the Society was commissioned about twelve years ago to wait upon the late pious and learned Gilbert Wakefield, to request his permission to republish and to circulate his new and accurate Translation of the New Testament at the expense of the Society; to which that gentleman most readily expressed his assent, and at the same time promised to revise his translation with great care, and to give it to the Society in its most perfect state. It appeared, however, in the sequel, that the engagement, into which he had entered with his bookseller upon the publication of his second edition, precluded him from fulfilling his promise to the Society till that edition was disposed of. In the mean time those unfortunate events took place, which are but too well known to the public; and, to the great and irreparable loss of religion and literature, the life of that eminent scholar was closed in the midst of its career.
After the decease of Mr. Wakefield, it being found impracticable to make use of his Translation, the design for some time lay dormant, till it was resumed by another Society in the West of England, which was formed upon the same principles with the Society in London. This effort proved abortive in consequence of the sudden and much lamented removal of that active, zealous, and persevering advocate of pure and uncorrupted Christianity, the late reverend and learned Timothy Kenrick of Exeter.
The design, however, of publishing an Improved Version of the New Testament was never totally abandoned: and it was resumed with great unanimity and spirit at the annual meeting of the London Society, in April 1806, when a Committee was appointed, consisting of all the ministers who were members of the Society, together with some gentlemen of the laity, to carry the intentions of the Society into effect with all convenient despatch. To this Committee it appeared, on many accounts, more eligible to adopt as the basis of their Work a known and approved translation already existing, than to make a new and original Version. And Mr. Wakefield’s being unattainable, they fixed their choice upon the excellent Translation of the late most reverend Dr. William Newcome, Archbishop of Armagh, and Primate of all Ireland, a worthy successor of the venerable and learned Archbishop Usher. And to this choice they were induced, not only by the general accuracy, simplicity, and fidelity of the Primate’s Translation, but principally because he professes to have followed the text of Griesbach’s edition, which, having been formed from a careful collation of many manuscripts and versions, exhibits a text by far the most correct of any, which have been published since the revival of learning in the fifteenth century.
Having selected Archbishop Newcome’s Translation as their basis, it became an object with the Committee to guard, as much as possible, against giving their improved Version a motley appearance, by departing unnecessarily from the Primate’s text. To this end they assumed it as a principle, that no alteration should be made in the Primate’s Translation, but where it appeared to be necessary to the correction of error or inaccuracy in the text, the language, the construction, or the sense, And so closely have they adhered to this rule, that, in some instances, they have rather chosen to place, what appeared to them the more eligible translation, at the foot of the page, than to alter the Primate’s text where some judicious readers might think it unnecessary. In justice to the Archbishop, they have placed the words of his Translation at the bottom of the page, wherever they have deviated from it in the Improved Version; and where it was thought necessary, a short note has been subjoined, assigning the reasons for the alteration, which, to the candid and discerning, they flatter themselves will generally appear satisfactory. Also, in every instance, in which either the Primate’s Version or their own differs from the Received Text, they have placed the words of the Received Text at the foot of the page: and in all important cases they have cited the authorities by which the variation is supported.
The Committee have also added Notes for the illustration of difficult and doubtful passages, which are chiefly collected from critics and commentators of the highest reputation. They cannot flatter themselves with the expectation that these Notes will be equally acceptable to all readers: but they hope that they will be of use to the inquisitive, the liberal, and the judicious. These notes, having swelled to a greater number and magnitude than was originally expected, have considerably increased both the labour of the Committee, and the expense of the Work;—but, it is hoped, not without a due equivalent.
The encouragement which this Work has received from the subscriptions, which have been raised to defray the expense of carrying it through the press, has far exceeded the most sanguine expectations. The exemplary liberality and the active zeal of some generous individuals would well deserve to be entered upon record. But they seek not honour from their fellow-creatures. The consciousness of their own pious and benevolent views and feelings, and the hope, that whatever they have contributed to this important object, may be a sacrifice of grateful odour to that Being, who is witness to all that passes within the temple of the heart, is to them of far greater value than human applause.
The design of the Committee, and indeed of the Society, in the publication of this Improved Version, is to supply the English reader with a more correct text of the New Testament, than has yet appeared in the English language, and to give him an opportunity of comparing it with the text in common use. 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 the 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.
In this Version verbal criticism has not been attended to in the degree that some might wish and expect. It has not, however, been wholly neglected: but, in general, the judgement of the learned Primate has been adopted in difficulties of this nature; the design of the Committee not being to exhibit a version critically correct in every minute particular, but generally perspicuous and Intelligible. Their professed object was an improved, not a perfect Version. But, though they cannot expect to satisfy the fastidious critic, they are not without hope, that their labours may be acceptable to serious and inquisitive christians, and particularly to those by whom their trust was delegated, and to the numerous and liberal Subscribers by whom the work has been encouraged. And this, next to the approbation of conscience and of Heaven, is the only reward to which they aspire.
CANON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT. DISTINCTION BETWEEN THE DISPUTED AND THE UNDISPUTED BOOKS.
The Canon of the New Testament is a collection of books written by the apostles; or by men who were companions of the apostles, and who wrote under their inspection.
These books are called the Canon, from a Greek word which signifies a rule, because to a christian they constitute the only proper and sufficient rule of faith and practice.
These books are also called The Scriptures, or The Writings, because these Writings are held by christians in the highest estimation. They are the Scriptures of the New Testament, or, more properly speaking, of the New Covenant, because they contain a complete account of the christian dispensation, which is described as a covenant, by which Almighty God engages to bestow eternal life upon the penitent and virtuous believer in Christ. For this reason the christian scriptures, and particularly the books which contain the history of Jesus Christ, are called the Gospel, or Good News, a literal translation of the word ευαγγελιον; as these sacred writings contain the best tidings which could be communicated to mankind.
The Canon of Scripture is either the Received Canon or the True. The Received Canon comprehends the whole of that collection of books which is contained in the New Testament, and which are generally received by christians as of apostolical authority. The True Canon consists of those books only, the genuineness of which is established upon satisfactory evidence.
When, or by whom, the received Canon was formed is not certainly known. It has been commonly believed that it was fixed by the council of Laodicea A. D. 364, but this is certainly a mistake. The first catalogue of canonical books, which is now extant, was drawn up by Origen A.D. 210. It leaves out the Epistles of James and Jude.
The genuineness and authority of every book in the New Testament rests upon its own specific evidence. No person, nor any body of men, has any right authoritatively to determine concerning any book, that it is canonical and of apostolical authority. Every sincere and diligent inquirer has a right to judge for himself, after due examination, what he is to receive as the rule of his faith and practice. The learned Jeremiah Jones on the Canon, and Dr. Lardner’s laborious work upon the Credibility of the Gospel History, contain the most accurate and copious information upon this subject.
The most important distinction of the books of the New Testament, is that mentioned by Eusebius bishop of Cesarea, in the third book of his Ecclesiastical History. He distinguishes them into the books which were universally acknowledged, ‘ομολογουμενα, and those, which though generally received, were by some disputed, αντιλεγομενα.
The books universally acknowledged are, the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, thirteen Epistles of Paul, the first Epistle of Peter, and the first Epistle of John. “These only,” says Dr. Lardner, “should be of the highest authority, from which doctrines of religion may be proved.”
The disputed books, αντιλεγομενα, are the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Epistle of James, the second of Peter, the second and third of John, the Epistle of Jude, and the Revelation. “These,” says Dr. Lardner, “should be allowed to be publicly read in christian assemblies, for the edification of the people, but not be alleged as affording alone sufficient proof of any doctrine.”
These distinctions prove the great pains which were taken by the primitive christians in forming the Canon, and their solicitude, not to admit any book into the code of the New Testament, of the genuineness of which they had not the clearest evidence. It is a distinction of great importance to all, who desire to appreciate rightly the value and authority of the several books, which compose the received Canon.
From Thomas Belsham, Memoirs of the Late Reverend Theophilus Lindsey (London: Rowland Hunter, 1820), pp. 347-359.
In the spring of the year 1789, Dr. Priestley, whose active and benevolent mind was always engaged in some scheme for the instruction and improvement of mankind, formed a project, which he communicated to Mr. Lindsey, for a continually improving translation of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament. This plan was matured at the annual interview which he had with his friend in the month of April; and it was determined immediately to engage a competent number of coadjutors, and to complete the work within the year. The general idea was, that the whole Scripture should be distributed among a certain number of translators; that the translators should adhere to certain rules which were laid down for the purpose; the principal of which was, not to deviate from the public version without an evident necessity: and superintendents were appointed to revise and correct the translation previously to its being sent to the press.* Dr. Priestley undertook to translate the Hagiographa, and engaged the writer of this Memoir to assist him in the book of Job. Mr. Frend, whose abilities and learning are well known, and who had lately seceded from the Established Church, and resigned all his well-founded hopes of preferment in it for the sake of truth and a good conscience, undertook to translate the Pentateuch, or the historical books. Mr. Dodson was applied to for translating the prophetical writings; but that gentleman not having leisure sufficient, Dr. Priestley undertook the whole. Mr. Garner, a learned, liberal, and respectable clergyman at Bury St. Edmund’s, in Suffolk, engaged for, and executed, the translation of the whole New Testament. Mr. Lindsey and Mr. Dodson were to revise the work. The task, however, was found to be too great even for Dr. Priestley’s energies to accomplish within the year; and it having been postponed till the summer of 1791, the riots of Birmingham unfortunately intervened, and the ruffians who broke into Dr. Priestley’s house, among other valuable papers, demolished his translation of the New Testament, and in their demoniac fury they left not a wreck behind.*
This disastrous event put an entire termination to the promising project of a new and continually improving translation. But the design was never lost sight of for a moment; and when the Unitarian Society was instituted in 1791, and especially after the destruction of Dr. Priestley’s manuscripts, the translation of the Scriptures, and particularly of the New Testament, was a main object of their attention.
With this view, application was first made by a deputation from the Society, consisting of Mr. Lindsey, Mr. Dodson, and the writer of this Memoir, to the late celebrated and learned Gilbert Wakefield for leave to introduce his valuable translation into the Society’s catalogue; to which request Mr. Wakefield not only gave his cordial consent, but promised to revise his translation with the utmost care, and to render it as perfect as he was able for the Society’s use. In this generous purpose he was defeated by the contract which he had made with his bookseller, who had not then disposed of all the copies of the second edition. Afterwards, the Unitarian Society in the West of England formed a project for a new translation of the New Testament, which was soon abandoned in consequence of the sudden and unexpected decease of the Reverend Timothy Kenrick, who took the lead in that and every other scheme for promoting learning, truth, and genuine Christianity in principle and practice in that district of the united kingdom.
Here the matter rested till the General Meeting of the London Unitarian Society in April, 1806, when it was unanimously resolved, that this important undertaking should be no longer deferred; and a committee, consisting of all the ministers who were members of the Society, and of a certain proportion of lay gentlemen, was nominated to carry the resolution into effect. It was also unanimously agreed, that instead of a translation entirely new, some respectable version already in existence should be adopted as the basis of the new publication, into which might be inserted the alterations which were judged necessary. The principal reasons for this decision were, that a new translation would require a considerable length of time; that few persons had leisure sufficient for the purpose, or were willing to incur the responsibility; and that such a version, however impartially conducted, would be exposed to the vulgar cavil of an intentional warping of the Scripture to support an unscriptural hypothesis. As Mr. Wakefield’s Version could not be obtained, Archbishop Newcome’s Translation was selected, with the full consent of the late Mr. Johnson, to whom it was understood that the copyright belonged. And the reasons for selecting this Version were, that, though not faultless, it was in the main excellent; that the style in general was simple and unaffected; that the translation was fair and impartial; that it rectified many errors in the public Version; but chiefly, because the learned prelate had, in his translation, followed the corrected text of Griesbach. And though it was taken from Griesbach’s first edition, the variations in the second, though numerous, are in general very inconsiderable; that learned and laborious critic having himself remarked, that his later inquiries had in general served only to confirm the critical principles and to justify the variations which he had introduced into the first edition. Another inducement for adopting the Primate’s Version was, that it was out of print, without the least probability of its ever being printed again.* In order to preserve the uniformity of style, it was resolved that no alterations should be made in the Primate’s language but those which were judged to be absolutely necessary. And, to preclude every possibility of misleading the reader, wherever it was thought proper to give a different translation of any passage, or to deviate even in a single expression from the Primate’s text, his own words, with the initials of his name, were required to be set down at the foot of the page. So that the editors of the Improved Version, far from desiring to cast a slur upon the Primate’s orthodoxy, or to avail themselves improperly and dishonourably of his truly respectable name, to give currency to opinions contrary to his avowed sentiments, really considered themselves as entitled to thanks for having rescued a meritorious work from oblivion, and having given a wider extent to its circulation; and they conscientiously believed that the pious and venerable prelate himself, had he been living, would not have condemned the liberty which they have taken with it.*
It was an object of primary consideration with the society, that the Version published under their sanction should contain notes explanatory of those passages which are commonly understood as giving the greatest countenance to popular errors, and especially of those which bear upon the Unitarian controversy. And it was judged expedient that these notes should commonly be extracted from the works of authors who are esteemed by Unitarians as the most judicious expositors of the Scriptures, and, as far as might be, should be expressed in their own words; and, at any rate, without any asperity of censure upon Christians of different sentiments who interpret the Scriptures in a different manner. By the introduction of these notes, in which brevity was to be consulted as far as was consistent with perspicuity, it was intended that Unitarian Christians who might be in possession of the Improved Version, might at all times be able to recur to the most approved interpretations of difficult and disputed texts, especially those which are of the greatest importance for establishing the doctrine of the Unity and unrivalled supremacy of God, and of the proper humanity of Jesus Christ; and others who wished to know what the real sentiments of the Unitarians are, and how they explain those texts which are commonly understood as contradicting their opinions, might gain the information which they desire.
It was determined to publish two large editions at the same time; one in royal octavo, the other for common use in royal duodecimo. And as some expressed a wish for the Version without the explanatory Notes, a numerous edition in a smaller form was printed for their satisfaction. It was also resolved that a subscription should be opened to defray the expense of the undertaking, and that the money should be paid in advance; that the Committee, who were appointed to superintend the publication, might be in possession of ready money to enable them to go to the best market.
This plan of an Improved Version with explanatory Notes was adopted by the Unitarians and their friends with the greatest ardour. The subscription was filled rapidly. The venerable patriarch, who is the subject of this Memoir, delighted and grateful to Divine Providence that he had lived to see the accomplishment of the fervent and favourite wish of his heart, approving most heartily, in concurrence with his intelligent and zealous consort, of every part of the plan, was eager to open the subscription with a liberal donation of fifty pounds; the Duke of Grafton gave fifty guineas, and a second donation of fifty pounds. Samuel Prime, Esq., in whom every scheme for the improvement and happiness of mankind found an enlightened and munificent patron, gave fifty guineas to the first and twenty to the second subscription. The example of liberality set by these eminent characters was followed by many others equally willing, if not equally able to contribute; and in a short time the sum requisite for the commencement of the undertaking was raised, and the press was not delayed for an hour by the want of necessary funds. In two years the work was complete; and the several parts, as they were printed, were placed in Mr. Lindsey’s hands, who was pleased to express his high approbation both of the plan and of the execution; and it may truly be said that the perusal of the Improved Version, reading it himself or hearing it read by others, constituted the principal part of Mr. Lindsey’s enjoyment during the remainder of his life.
Of a work in which many are so deeply interested, and of which every one thinks himself competent to judge, it is impossible that there should not be a great diversity of opinion, both as to the design and execution. Accordingly, when the Improved Version made its appearance it soon became an object of rigid criticism and severe animadversion.
The “Title” was objected to as arrogant and assuming. The editors, however, are not conscious of being influenced by an improper spirit. They called it an Improved Version, because they regarded Archbishop Newcome’s translation as a very great improvement upon the public Version, and they conceived their own alterations to be an improvement upon the Version of the learned prelate. Nor did they see that there was greater arrogance in calling their work, or rather that of the Primate, an Improved Version, than in calling Dr. Clarke’s Liturgy, a Reformed Liturgy, or the Protestant Church, a Reformed Church.
The editors are also blamed for stating that their Version is “upon the basis of Archbishop Newcome’s,” as though they intended to impose upon their readers, and to make the Archbishop responsible for their opinions. But the reasons which induced them to adopt the learned Primate’s Version have been assigned already: and not to have acknowledged the obligation would have justly exposed them to the charge of fraud and plagiarism. That they intended to shelter their own peculiar opinions under the authority of the Primate’s name cannot be believed for a moment by any person of common understanding who reads beyond the title page.
It has even been surmised that the editors, professing that the Improved Version is “published by a society for promoting Christian knowledge and the practice of virtue by the distribution of books,” intended to insinuate that they published under the patronage of the society at Bartlett’s Buildings for distributing Bibles and Common Prayer Books. But the venerable society may rest assured that it was an object the most remote from the thoughts of the editors to take shelter under their fostering wing. They did not even know that the title of the society, under whose direction they acted, so nearly accorded with that of any other society. In fact, they thought it needless to insert the word Unitarian in the title page, which would deter some ignorant and prejudiced people from looking into a work from which they might otherwise derive instruction. The learned and the honest Whitby did not think it necessary to write Armenian in his title page; nor Guyse, nor Doddridge, Calvinist in theirs; but each of those pious and laborious expositors explained the sacred text to the best of his own judgement: so do the editors of the Improved Version.
It has been alleged as a great offence, that these editors have “given up the authenticity of the prefaces of Matthew and Luke.” But they have assigned their reasons for this conclusion, and let their adversaries refute them if they can.
It is further objected, that “they appeal to Lardner as favourable to their hypothesis,” though he decides directly against them. But all which they appeal to Lardner for, is to prove, which he has done most abundantly, that Herod died at least seventeen years before Augustus; but Luke himself informs us, that Jesus was but lately turned of thirty in the fifteenth year of Tiberius: and consequently he must have been born two years after Herod’s death. And as to the idle fiction of the double date of Tiberius’s reign, it is well known to all who are conversant with Roman history, that this is a distinction which never existed till the time of the Lower Empire.
It is further charged upon these daring editors, that they have presumed to “print the suspected chapters in a different type.” Had they, indeed, left out a passage that is found in all manuscripts which are now extant, however suspicious in itself, there might have been some reason for charging them with indiscretion. But it was their fixed rule not to remove from the text any passage which was supported by the consent of manuscripts, however doubtful upon other grounds, and whatever proof there might be of its omission in copies of greater antiquity. But being convinced by the evidence alleged that these chapters are a palpable forgery, they considered themselves as fully justified in fixing the mark of reprobation upon them, though they would not wholly omit them.
Some have objected to the introduction of any “theological Notes” whatever, as savouring too much of a sectarian spirit, and of dogmatism. But it has been already observed, that the main object of the society in publishing the Improved Version, was to represent what they believed to be the genuine sense of the sacred writings, and to guard against popular delusions. And of course the editors, being from inquiry and conviction Unitarians, would interpret the text in the Unitarian sense. And what should hinder them from doing so ? It is a practice in use among all parties, and laudably so. Had they, indeed, distorted the Scriptures, or forged texts to support their doctrines, they would have been justly liable to censure; but of this they are either not accused, or not convicted.
The editors of the Improved Version are further accused of not having “strictly adhered to Griesbach’s text, and of not adopting all the improvements of his second edition.” But everyone who is acquainted with Griesbach knows that more than nine tenths of his various readings are of the most trivial kind, and make not the least alteration in the sense. But to have introduced every trifling variation into the text, and to have supported it by notes and references in the margin, would have wasted much time; would have answered no one valuable end; and would either have swelled the work to too large a size, or would have occupied the space of more useful exegetical Notes. The design of the editors was to introduce the variations of Griesbach’s interior margin; and if they have omitted even one which would make a difference in the sense of the text, it was on their part wholly unintentional, and they will feel obliged to any friendly critic who will point out the error that it may be corrected in succeeding editions. As to various readings by which the sense is not affected, a very minute attention to these was not within the scope of their design. Yet they do not deny that where gentlemen have leisure and inclination to undertake the task, a translation including all Griesbach’s preferable readings, supported by his authorities, would be a gratification to the curious.
* The following is the plan, accompanied with the rules of translating, which was printed, and circulated among those whose assistance was solicited, or to whom it was thought expedient to communicate the design:
A Plan to procure a continually improving Translation of the Scriptures,
I. Let three persons, of similar principles and views, procure the assistance of a number of their learned friends, and let each of them undertake the translation of a portion of the whole Bible, engaging to produce it in the space of a year.
II. Let each of the translations be carefully perused by some other person than the translator himself; and especially let each of the three principals peruse the whole, and communicate their remarks to the translators.
III. Let the three principals have the power of making what alterations they please; but if the proper translator prefer his own version, let the three principals, when they print the work, insert his version in the notes or margin, distinguished by his signature.
IV. If any one of the three differ in opinion from the other two, let his version be also annexed with his signature.
V. Let the whole be printed in one volume without any notes, except as few as possible relating to the version, or the phraseology.
VI. Let the translators, and especially the three principals, give constant attention to all other new translations of the Scriptures, and all other sources of information, that they may avail themselves of them in all subsequent editions, so that this version may always be in a state of improvement.
VII. Let the three principals agree upon certain rules of translating, to be observed by all the rest.
VIII. On the death of any of the three principals, let the survivors make choice of another to supply his place.
IX. Let all the profits of the publication be disposed of by the three principals to some public institution in England, or any other part of the world, or in any other manner that they shall think most subservient to the causes of truth.
RULES OF TRANSLATING.
I. Let the translators insert in the text whatever they think it was most probable that the authors really wrote, if it has the authority of any ancient version or MS.; but if it differ from the present Hebrew or Greek copies, let the version of the present copies be inserted in the margin.
II. If the translators give the preference to any emendation of the text not authorized by any MS. or ancient version, let such conjectural emendation be inserted in the margin only.
III. Let the additions in the Samaritan copy of the Pentateuch be inserted in the text, but distinguished from the rest.
IV. Let not the present English version be changed, except for the sake of some improvement.
V. In the Old Testament, let the word Jehovah be rendered by Jehovah, and also the word κυριος in the New, in passages in which there is an allusion to the Old, or where it may be proper to distinguish God from Christ.
VI. Let the present division of chapters be adhered to with as little variation as possible, and the whole be divided into paragraphs, not exceeding about twenty of the present verses; but let all the present divisions of chapters and verses be noted in the margin.
VII. To each chapter let there be prefixed a summary of the contents, as in the common version.
* For a complete account of the irreparable loss which the theological, the philosophical, and the learned world sustained from this unparalleled outrage, see Dr. Priestley’s Appeal to the Public on the Riots in Birmingham, p. 36. Of these losses, if the writer of this Memoir may presume to judge, the greatest and the most irreparable is a manuscript volume containing Illustrations of Hartley’s Doctrine of the Association of Ideas, and further Observations on the Human Mind. No one ever understood Dr. Hartley’s theory better than Dr. Priestley, and no writer ever exceeded him in simplicity and clearness of exposition, or in appositeness of illustration.
* It is very well known that the Translation was printed while the Primate was living, but that it was withheld from the public at the request, and by the influence, of some in high station, who thought it not expedient for an Archbishop to let the public into the secret, that the common Version is capable of improvement, and that the received text, formed by the meritorious but not infallible labours of Erasmus, Stephens, Beza, and Elzevir, is not inspired. Unfortunately, the impression of the Primate’s Works was much damaged in crossing the water, in consequence of being carelessly packed. So that the copies which were left for sale were comparatively very few.
* The only person, excepting the possessor of the copyright, who had a right to be offended at the liberty taken by the editors in adopting the Primate’s Version as the basis of their own, was Dr. Stock, the late venerable Bishop of Killala, and afterwards of Waterford, who published an interesting account of the invasion of Ireland by the French, who seized the Episcopal palace at Killala, and made it their head-quarters, detaining the Bishop and his family prisoners. This worthy and learned prelate also distinguished himself by bis new Version of the books of Job and Isaiah; and being a near relative by affinity of the venerable Primate, he may be regarded as the proper guardian of his reputation. From this learned and respectable prelate the author of this Memoir received the following mild and polite expostulation, very different from the gross language in which the Improved Version is commonly attacked:
“Reverend Sir, Bath, Aug. 7, 1809.
“ I shall with pleasure avail myself, when occasion offers, of your kind invitation to call on you at Hackney. I may then, perhaps, be allowed to expostulate with you, not on the religious opinions you maintain, for these I leave to every man’s own conscience, but on the covert, I had almost said the unfair, manner in which your Society have endeavoured, by the means of the New Translation, to instill those opinions into the minds of the common people. Two things I mainly object to you; the name your Society has assumed, which is calculated to deceive by its resemblance in sound to that of another and more ancient Society in London, whose labours have been confined to the spreading of gospel truths without any mixture of opinions disputed among Christians. And, secondly, your adopting through the greater part of your work the Version of Archbishop Newcome, while, by alterations of your own, and by your comments, you endeavour to lead the reader into opinions which that respected Father of our Church entertained no more than I do. It is true you have sought to obviate this charge, by marking in your notes the difference between your interpretation and our Primate’s; but common readers will not be ready to advert to such distinctions; neither can the friends to Primate Newcome’s reputation be pleased to see his name coupled, as it was sometimes most untruly in his lifetime, with those of the Unitarians and Socinians. I have the honour to be, with respect, Reverend Sir, your most obedient humble servant. “Joseph Killala.”
The author of this Memoir wrote an answer to the venerable and liberal prelate, which, he trusts, satisfied his Lordship that the editors, even if they erred in their judgment, intended nothing disingenuous or unfair. He hoped to have had an opportunity by personal intercourse to have effaced every remaining unfavourable impression. But his Lordship’s infirm health, and his professional avocations, did not admit of his return to the metropolis.
The reader will judge how far the Bartlett’s Buildings Society, who do not venture to circulate the Bible itself but in connection with the Common Prayer Book, are entitled to the worthy prelate’s encomium, of “confining themselves to spreading gospel truths without any mixture of disputed opinions.” And as to the rumour that the late learned Primate favoured the Unitarian principles, it is a certain fact that the Primate’s own brother, who was a worthy tradesman in London, not perhaps deeply versed in theological lore, did assure Dr. Priestley that his brother’s opinions coincided with Dr. Priestley’s, and that he had heard the Primate say it. The Primate’s Works, and Dr. Stock’s testimony, prove that this respectable gentleman was mistaken. Perhaps, however, the learned Primate, who was certainly a profound theologian, and mighty in the Scriptures, might satisfy his mind, as Mr. Lindsey once did, with Dr. Wallis’s hypothesis, sanctioned by the University of Oxford, and the three names in the Trinity, of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, were nothing more than three different titles of the same individual person; like the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; which is, in fact, the purest Unitarianism.
The Word was in the beginning, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god. This Word was in the beginning with God. All things were done by him; and without him was not any thing done that hath been done. By him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shone in darkness; and the darkness overspread it not.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a testimony, to testify of the Light; so that through him all might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to testify of that Light. That was the true Light, which having come into the world is enlightening every man. He was in the world, and the world was enlightened by him, and yet the world knew him not. He came to his own; and yet those who were his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them he gave authority to be the children of God, even to them who believe in his name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, [nor of the will of man,] but of God. And the Word was flesh, and full of kindness and truth he dwelt among us: and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only son who came from the Father; for of his fulness we have all received; and favour for favour. For the law was given by Moses; but favour and truth were by Jesus Christ. No man hath seen God at any time; the only [Son] that is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.
The Word] “Jesus is so called, because God revealed himself, or his word, by him.” Newcome. The same title is given to Christ, Luke i. 2. For the same reason he is called the Word of life, 1 John i. 1. which passage is so clear and useful a comment upon the proem to the gospel, that it may be proper to cite the whole of it. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled of the Word of life; for the Life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you, that eternal Life which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us; that which we have seen and heard, declare we unto you.” By a similar metonymy Christ is called the Life, the Light, the Way, the Truth, and the Resurrection. See Cappe’s Dissert. vol. i. p. 19.
in the beginning.] Or, from the first, i.e. from the commencement of the gospel dispensation, or of the ministry of Christ. This is the usual sense of the word in the writings of this evangelist. John vi. 64, Jesus knew from the beginning, or from the first; ch. xv. 27, ye have been with me from the beginning. See ch. xvi. 14; ii. 24; iii. 11; also 1 John i. 1; ii. 7, 8; 2 John 6, 7. Nor is this sense of the word uncommon in other passages of the New Testament. 2 Thess. ii. 13; Phil. iv. 15; Luke i. 2.
the Word was with God.] He withdrew from the world to commune with God, and to receive divine instructions and qualifications previously to his public ministry. As Moses was with God in the mount, Exod. xxxiv. 2S, so was Christ in the wilderness, or elsewhere, to be instructed and disciplined for his high and important office. See Cappe, ibid. p. 22.
and the Word was a god.] “was God,” Newcome. Jesus received a commission as a prophet of the Most High, and was invested with extraordinary miraculous powers. But, in the Jewish phraseology, they were called gods to whom the word of God came. John x. 35. So Moses is declared to be a god to Pharaoh. Exod. vii. 1. Some translate the passage, God was the Word. q. d. [quasi dicat, as if he said] it was not so properly he that spake to men, as God that spake to them by him. Cappe, ibid. See John x. 30, compared with xvii. 8, 11, 16; iii. 34; v. 23; xii. 44. Crellius conjectured that the true reading was Θεου, the Word was God’s, q. d. [quasi dicat, as if he said] the first teacher of the gospel derived his commission from God. But this conjecture, however plausible, rests upon no authority.
was in the beginning with God.] Before he entered upon his ministry he was fully instructed, by intercourse with God, in the nature and extent of his commission.
All things were done by him.] “All things were made by him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” Newcome: who explains it of the creation of the visible material world by Christ, as the agent and instrument of God. See his notes on ver. 3 and 10. But this is a sense which the word εγενετο will not admit. Γινομαι occurs upwards of seven hundred times in the New Testament, but never in the sense of create. It signifies in this gospel, (where it occurs fifty-three times) to be, to come, to become, to come to pass: also, to be done or transacted, chap. xv. 7; xix. 36. It has the latter sense, Matt. v. 18; vi. 8; xxi. 42; xxvi. 6. All things in the christian dispensation were done by Christ, i. e. by his authority, and according to his direction; and in the ministry committed to his apostles, nothing has been done without his warrant. See John xv. 4, 5, “Without me ye can do nothing.” Compare ver. 7, 10, 16; John xvii. 8; Col. i. 16, 17. Cappe, ibid.
By him was life.] “In him was life,” Newcome. Christ was the revealer of life. “With him were the words of eternal life;” John vi. 68, 1 John v. 11. Hence he is called “the Word of Life,” 1 John i. 1. “This Life,” (i. e. Jesus, who is now called the Life, as he was before called the Word,) “was the light of men,” the great instructer of mankind.
the darkness overspread it not.] See ch. xii. 35. “Its lustre was not impaired by the darkness which surrounded it,” Newcome. Or, “the darkness admitted it not.” See ver. 10—12; ch iii. 19.
a man sent from God.] This illustrates ver. 1,2. To be sent from God implies that he had been first with God. Cappe. ibid. p. 23.
which coming into the world is enlightening every man.] “which enlighteneth every man coming into the world,” Newcome: but in his notes he gives the former interpretation; and refers to ch. iii. 19 ; xii. 46. This light is enlightening every man, not every individual, but every one who is willing to improve it: or rather is diffusing light without distinction, both over the Jewish and the Heathen world. Matt. xxviii. 19; John xii. 32; Col. i. 23; Rom. ii. 10; 1 Tim. ii. 4. Cappe, ibid. p. 48.
He was in the world.] He appeared in public as the prophet and messenger of God. John xvii. 18; xviii. 37.
and the world was enlightened by him.] ὁ κοσμος δι᾽ αυτου εγενετο. The common version, adopted by Abp. Newcome, is, “the world was made by him,” meaning that “the visible material world was created by him.” But this, as was observed before in the note on verse 3, is inadmissible, as the word εγενετο never bears that sense. In the present version πεφωτισμενοι, enlightened, is understood after εγενετο, as best connecting with the preceding verse. So ver. 7, a man was sent from God, εγενετο απεσταλμενος. And Matt. xxiii. 15. προσηλυτος is understood after γενηται. Mr. Cappe translates the words, “the world was made for him;” understanding by the world, the Jewish dispensation, Gal. iv. 3; Col. ii. 8, 20, and taking δια with a genitive to express the final cause: of which he has produced several remarkable instances. Cappe, ibid. p. 50. The reader will judge which of these interpretations is to be preferred.
He came to his own, &c.] Mr. Cappe’s version is, “He came into his own country, and his countrymen received him not.” This is, no doubt, the true meaning; but the evangelist’s elliptical phraseology seems more eligible in a literal translation.
gave authority to be the children of God.] to participate of spiritual gifts. Gal. iv. 6; Rom. viii. 16. to be admitted to the privileges of children, to be partakers of a divine nature, to be heirs of better promises, to rejoice in hope of eternal life. Cappe.
believe in his name.] received him; believed in him, and honoured him as the word of God. A person’s name is a Hebraism to express a person himself. Jer. xxxiii. 9; Rev. xi. 13; Psalm xx. 1. Cappe.
who were born, &c.] to which privileges they were born; not by natural descent nor by proselytism, nor in any way which under the Jewish dispensation entitled to the privilege of that peculiarity, but the pure good-will of God. Cappe. The clause, “nor of the will of man,” is omitted in the text of the Vatican manuscript; and has the appearance of a marginal gloss. Newcome. Griesbach.
Or, Nevertheless, the Word was flesh. “Though this first preacher of the gospel was honoured with such signal tokens of divine confidence and favour, though he was invested with so high an office, he was, nevertheless, a mortal man.” Cappe. In this sense the word flesh is used in the preceding verse. “Flesh,” says Mr. Lindsey, Sequel to the Apology, p. 136, “ is frequently put for man.” Psalm Ixv. 2; Rom. iii. 20. But it frequently and peculiarly stands for man as mortal; subject to infirmities and sufferings: and as such is particularly appropriated to Christ here, and in other places. 1 Tim. iii. 16; Rom. i. 3; ix. 5; 1 Pet. iii. 18; iv. 1. ὁ λογος σαρξ εγενετο, the Word was flesh; not became flesh, which is Newcome’s translation; or, was made flesh, which is the common version. The most usual meaning of γινομαι is, to be. In this sense εγενετο is used in this chapter, ver. 6; also in Luke xxiv. 19. The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, ὁς εγενετο; who was, not who became, a prophet. See Cappe, p. 86; and Socinus in loc.
we beheld his glory.] we were witnesses to his miracles, his resurrection, the descent of the holy spirit, etc. John xvii. 1, 4, 5; xii. 16; xvi. 14; Acts iii. 12, 18. Compare 1 John i. 1.
as of the only son.] “only begotten,” N. This expression does not refer to any peculiar mode of derivation of existence, but is used to express merely a higher degree of affection. It is applied to Isaac, Heb. xi. 17. though Abraham had other sons. The same word in the Hebrew is translated indifferently μονογενης and αγαπητος. This word is applied to Christ by the evangelist John four times in the gospel, and once in his epistle: and by no other writer of the New Testament. In the epistle to the Hebrews it unquestionably signifies beloved or most beloved: and in this sense it is used by John, eh. i. 14, 18; iii. 16, 18; 1 John iv. 9. “He seems to adopt it,” says Mr. Lindsey. (Seq. p. 139) “on all occasions where the other sacred writers would have said αγαπητος.” Compare Matt. iii. 17; xvii. 5; Mark i. 11; ix. 7; xii. 6; Luke iii. 22; ix. 35. See Cappe, ibid. p. 94, and Grotius in loc. Mr. Lindsey observes, that “only begotten is most gross and improper language to be used in English, especially with respect to Deity.” List of Wrong Translations, p. 46.
And, R. T. and N. See Griesbach.
and favour for favour.] χαρις αντι χαριτος, the free gift of the gospel in the place of that of the law, as the evangelist himself explains it in the following verse. The law came by Moses, but favour and truth, (that is, true favour, the best and most excellent gift,) came by Jesus Christ. Compare ver. 9. See Beza and Castalio on the text, and Theolog. Repos. vol. i. p. 51. Abp. Newcome, with the generality of interpreters, renders the passage “favour upon favour;” explaining it of abundant graciousness, or benignity. But he justly adds, that a clear instance of αντι in this sense is wanted.
the only Son.] “ only begotten Son,” N. See above, ver. 14. Mr. Lindsey observes (Sequel, p. 139,) that it has been conjectured by interpreters of great note, that our apostle made choice of this word μονογενης, to confute the strange chimerical notions which some mystic christians fell into very early. They pretended to be acquainted with a variety of emanations or intelligences issuing from the Supreme: of these, Monogenes, or only-begotten, was one; and Monogenes produced Logos, the Word (Christ) and Life; which were the parents of all things produced after them.
that is in the bosom of the Father.] “who is his beloved Son,” Matt. iii. 17; Col. i. 13. Newcome. Rather, who was in the beginning with God, v. 1, 2; to derive instruction, and to receive authority from him. Who has now finished his mission and ministry, and is returned to God, John xiii. 1; and “is admitted to such communion with the Father, and honoured with such tokens of his favour, as have never been enjoyed by any of the sons of men.” Cappe, p. 116. There is an allusion to the situation of the most honoured guests at an entertainment, according to the ancient custom of reclining at table. See John xiii. 23. The beloved disciple inclined on the bosom of Jesus: and Lazarus is represented as in Abraham’s bosom, Luke xvi. 22, 23.
Many very eminent interpreters have given a different turn to this whole paragraph. The following is Mr. Lindsey’s version, as it appears in his List of False Readings and Mistranslations, p. 40.
“In the beginning was Wisdom, and Wisdom was with God: and God was Wisdom. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by it, and without it was nothing made. In it was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.
“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness to bear witness of the light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that light, but was sent to bear witness of that light. That was the true light, which came into the world, and enlighteneth every man.
“It (divine Wisdom) was in the world, and the world was made by it, and the world knew it not. It came to its own land, and its own people received it not. But as many as received it, to them it gave power to become the sons of God; even to them who believe on its name. Who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man; but of God.
“And Wisdom became man, and dwelt among us, and we beheld its glory; the glory as of the well-beloved of the Father, full of grace and truth.
“John bare witness of him, saying, This is he of whom I spake. He that cometh after me is preferred before me, for he was greater than me (I).”
This sense of the passage is approved by Dr. Lardner, Dr Priestley, Mr. Wakefield, and others. It is supposed to be countenanced by Solomon’s description, Prov. viii. by the custom of the Chaldee paraphrasts in using the word of God for God himself. See Isa. xlv. 12; xlviii. 13; Gen. i. 27; iii. 8. Lindsey’s Seq. p. 380; and by the use of the word Λογος by Philo and other philosophers in or near the apostolic age, to personify the wisdom and the power of God. … See Wakefield’s notes on John i. and his Enquiry into Early Opinions, p. 102, etc.
We now give the renderings and notes of the “Improved” version on several scripture passages which, in the King James Version, were regarded as scriptural proof texts for the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. In only two of these, Acts 20:28 and 1 Timothy 3:16, was any change in the translation justifiable by legitimate principles of textual criticism.
KJV: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The “Improved” version: The Word was in the beginning, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.
The “Improved” version gives this note: “Jesus received a commission as a prophet of the Most High, and was invested with extraordinary miraculous powers. But, in the Jewish phraseology, they were called gods to whom the word of God came. John x. 35. So Moses is declared to be a god to Pharaoh. Exod. vii. 1.”
KJV: No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.
The “Improved” version: No man hath seen God at any time; the only [Son] that is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.
The “Improved” version explains the rendering of μονογενης as “only” in a note on verse 14: “This expression does not refer to any peculiar mode of derivation of existence, but is used to express merely a higher degree of affection. It is applied to Isaac, Heb. xi. 17, though Abraham had other sons. The same word in the Hebrew is translated indifferently μονογενης and αγαπητος. This word is applied to Christ by the evangelist John four times in the gospel, and once in his epistle: and by no other writer of the New Testament. In the epistle to the Hebrews it unquestionably signifies beloved or most beloved: and in this sense it is used by John, ch. i. 14, 18; iii. 16, 18; 1 John iv. 9. ‘He seems to adopt it,’ says Mr. Lindsey. (Seq. p. 139) ‘on all occasions where the other sacred writers would have said αγαπητος.’ Compare Matt. iii. 17; xvii. 5; Mark i. 11; ix. 7; xii. 6; Luke iii. 22; ix. 35. See Cappe, ibid. p. 94, and Grotius in loc. Mr. Lindsey observes, that ‘only begotten is most gross and improper language to be used in English, especially with respect to Deity.’ List of Wrong Translations, p. 46.”
KJV: And Thomas answered, and said unto him, My Lord and my God.
The “Improved” version: Thomas answered, and said unto him, My Lord, and my God!
The “Improved” version has the note: “These words are usually understood as a confession. Beza says that they are an exclamation: q. d. [quasi dicat, as if he said] My Lord! and my God! how great is thy power! Eph. 19, 20. Whitby’s Last Thoughts, 2d ed. p. 78. Newcome.”
KJV: … to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.
The “Improved” version: … to feed the church of the Lord, which he hath purchased with his own blood.
The “Improved” version has this note: “The received text reads ‘God,’ upon the authority of no manuscript of note or value, nor of any version but the modern copies of the Vulgate. The Ethiopic uses an ambiguous expression; but this version is avowedly corrupted from the Vulgate; and particularly in this book. See Marsh’s Michaelis, vol. ii. p. 96. The word ‘Lord’ is supported by all the most ancient and valuable manuscripts, whether of the Alexandrian or the Western edition; by the Coptic, Syriac, and other ancient versions, and by citations from the early ecclesiastical writers. See Griesbach’s excellent note upon this text in his second edition.”
KJV: … whose are the fathers, and of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.
The “Improved” version: … whose are the fathers, and of whom, by natural descent, Christ came. God, who is over all, be blessed for ever.
The “Improved” version gives this note: “See Clarke on the Trinity, No. 539, and Mr. Lindsey’s Second Address to the Students of the two Universities, p. 278. The common version here adopted by Dr. Newcome is, ‘who is over all, God blessed for ever.’ But the translation of Dr. Clarke and Mr. Lindsey equally well suits the construction. In this sense it is probable that the early Christian writers understood the words; who do not apply them to Christ, but pronounce it to be rashness and impiety to say that Christ was God over all. The word ‘God’ appears to have been wanting in Chrysostom’s and some other ancient copies. See Grotius and Griesbach.…”
KJV: Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; and, being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
The “Improved” version: [For] let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus also: who, being in the form of God, did not eagerly grasp at the resemblance to God; but divested himself of it, and took on him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; and, when found in fashion as a man, humbled himself, and became obedient to death, even the death of the cross.
On the words “being in the form of God” the “Improved” version gives a note: “‘being invested with extraordinary divine powers.’ Lindsey’s Second Address, p. 288.” On the words “did not eagerly grasp at the resemblance to God” he gives the note: “The meaning is, he did not make an ostentatious display of his miraculous powers. Or, if it should be translated with the public version, ‘he thought it not robbery to be as God,’ the sense would be, he did not regard it as an act of injustice to exert upon proper occasions his miraculous powers.”
KJV: … who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son; in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins; who is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of every creature; for by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers—all things were created by him, and for him; and he is before all things, and by him all things consist.
The “Improved” version: … and hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his beloved Son: by whom we have redemption, even the forgiveness of our sins; and who is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of the whole creation: for by him all things were created that are in heaven, and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all these things were created by him, and for him: and he is before all things, and by him all these things subsist …
The “Improved” version gives this note: “That the apostle does not here intend the creation of natural substances is evident; for, 1st, He does not say that by him were created heaven and earth, but things in heaven, and things on earth: 2dly, He does not, in descending into detail, specify things themselves, viz. celestial and terrestrial substances, but merely states of things, viz. thrones, dominions, etc. which are only ranks and orders of beings in the rational and moral world: 3dly, It is plain from comparing ver. 15 and ver. 18, that Christ is called the first-born of the whole creation, because he is the first who was raised from the dead to an immortal life: 4thly, The creation of natural objects, the heaven, the earth and sea, and all things therein, when they are plainly and unequivocally mentioned, is uniformly and invariably ascribed to the Father, both in the Old Testament and the New. Hence it follows, that the creation, which the apostle here ascribes to Christ, expresses that great change which was introduced into the moral world, and particularly into the relative situation of Jews and gentiles, by the dispensation of the gospel. This is often called creation, or the new creation, and is usually ascribed to Jesus Christ; who was the great prophet and messenger of the new covenant. See Eph. i. 10; ii. 10-15; iii. 9; iv. 24; Col. ii. 10; 2 Cor. v. 17. This great change the apostle here describes under the symbol of a revolution, introduced by Christ amongst certain ranks and orders of beings, by whom, according to the Jewish demonology, borrowed from the Oriental philosophy, the affairs of states and individuals were superintended and governed. See Mr. Lindsey’s Sequel, p. 477, and Wetstein in loc.”
KJV: For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.
The “Improved” version: For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the deity bodily.
The “Improved” version gives this note: “Godhead, N. Compare Eph. iii. 19, where Christians are said to be filled with all the fulness of God. ‘The scholastic word godhead,’ says Mr. Lindsey, ‘is rejected, because to common readers it countenances the strange notion of a God consisting of three persons.’ Lindsey’s Second Address, p. 233, 284. ‘All those blessings which proceed from the Godhead, and wherewith we are filled, dwell in Christ, truly and substantially.’ Peirce in loc.”
KJV: And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.
The “Improved” version: And, without controversy, the mystery of godliness is great: He who was manifested in the flesh was justified by the spirit, seen by messengers, preached to the gentiles, believed on in the world, received in glory.
The “Improved” version gives this note: “The Primate [Archbishop Newcome] adopts the received text, ‘God was manifested.’ But in the margin he gives the reading retained here; which is also the reading in the text of Griesbach’s second edition. This is supported by the Alexandrian and Ephrem MSS. The Vatican is mutilated. The Clermont reads (ο) that which. Later copies have θεος, God. ‘All the old versions,’ says Dr. Clarke, (Doct. of Trin. No. 88, 89) ‘have who or which. And all the ancient fathers, though the copies of many of them have it now in the text itself θεος, God; yet from the tenor of their comments upon it, and from their never citing it in the Arian controversy, it appears that they always read it (ος) who, or (ο) which—Note, it must not be judged from the present copies of the text in Nyssen and others, but from their manner of commenting upon the place, how the text was read in their days.’ Abp. Newcome observes, that if we read (ος) he who, we have a construction like Mark iv. 25. Luke viii. 18. Rom. viii. 32.”
KJV: … looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour, Jesus Christ …
The “Improved” version: … looking for the happy end of our hope, and the glorious appearance of the great God, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ …
The “Improved” version gives no note justifying this rendering.
KJV: And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire. But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever; a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom.
The “Improved” version: And of these messengers the scripture saith, “Who maketh the winds his messengers; and flames of lightning his ministers.” But to the Son he saith, “God is thy throne for ever and ever; a sceptre of rectitude is the sceptre of thy kingdom:
The “Improved” version explains the rendering “God is thy throne” with the following note: “Wakefield, Lindsey. ‘Thy throne, O God, is,’ etc, N. ‘God is the support of thy throne," Sykes.”
|Bible Research > English Versions > 19th Century > Belsham|