English Revised Version (1881-1895)

New Testament 1881. C.J. Ellicott, et al., The New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Translated out of the Greek: Being the Version Set Forth A.D. 1611, Compared with the Most Ancient Authorities and Revised, A.D. 1881. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1881.

The New Testament version commonly called the “Revised Version” (RV) or the “English Revised Version” (ERV) of 1881, of which the American Standard Version was an American edition. This version is a revision of the King James version made on the basis of Westcott and Hort 1881 and Tregelles 1857. The readings adopted by the committee of revisers were presented in a continuous Greek text in Palmer 1881, which includes marginal notes showing every departure from the Greek text presumed to underlie the King James version (for which see Scrivener 1881). See the version’s preface for detailed explanations of the principles and method of revision.

Old Testament 1885. The Holy Bible containing the Old and New Testaments translated out of the original tongues : being the version set forth A.D. 1611 compared with the most ancient authorities and revised. Oxford: University Press, 1885. 4 vols.

Though the title runs “The Holy Bible ... ”, the binding is lettered “Old Testament Revised Version.” The general title and lists of books of both Testaments are given in each volume. Vol. 1 contains a preface, dated 10 July 1884, dealing with the work of the Old Testament Revision Company. With the issue on the 19 May 1885 of the four volumes of the OT, the publication of the revision of the Old and New Testaments begun in 1870 was completed. The Apocrypha did not appear until 1895. Contents: Vol. 1 Genesis-Ruth - Vol. 2 I Samuel-Esther - Vol. 3 Job-Song of Solomon - Vol. 4 Isaiah-Malachi.

Bible 1885. The Holy Bible containing the Old and New Testaments translated out of the original tongues : being the version set forth A.D. 1611 compared with the most ancient authorities and revised. Oxford: University Press, 1885.

Apocrypha 1895. The Apocrypha: translated out of the Greek and Latin tongues: being the version set forth A.D. 1611 compared with the most ancient authorities and revised A.D. 1894. Oxford: University Press, 1895.

The Preface states, “Considerable attention was paid to the text; but the materials available for correcting it were but scanty.” The revisers, however, were able to use Professor Bensly’s reconstruction of the Latin text of 2 Esdras, and to incorporate the ‘missing fragment,’ ch. vii, 36-105. The last portion of the revision of King James’ version, begun in 1870. The preface describes how the work was divided between three small committees, formed from the New Testament Company in 1879, and a fourth committee chosen from the Old Testament Company in 1884. The Americans took no part in the revision of the Apocrypha. The work was completed in 1894, and published early in 1895.

American Revision 1901. Philip Schaff, ed., The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments, Translated out of the Original Tongues, Being the Version Set Forth A.D. 1611, Compared with the Most Ancient Authorities and Revised A.D. 1881-1885, Newly Edited by the American Revision Committee A.D. 1901, Standard Edition. New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1901. Further information.

This version has often been criticized as being difficult and ungraceful, because of its severely literal character. One reviewer of the New Testament called it “unidiomatic,” “servile,” and “pedantic.” 1 Another wrote:

The revisers were not appointed to prepare an interlinear translation for incompetent schoolboys, but to remove acknowledged blemishes from a noble version. In conclusion we reiterate our disappointment with this Revised Version as a whole. It will remain a monument of the industry of its authors and a treasury of their opinions and erudition; but, unless we are entirely mistaken, until its English has undergone thorough revision it will not supplant the Authorised Version. After all, the chief use of the present attempt will be as a work of reference in which the grammatical niceties of the New Testament diction are treated with laboured fidelity. 2

Along the same lines, the influential Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon compared it unfavorably with the King James Verison:

With regard to the Revised New Testament, in answer to many enquiries we are only able to go thus far. It is a valuable addition to our versions, but it will need much revision before it will be fit for public use. To translate well, the knowledge of two languages is needed: the men of the New Testament company are strong in Greek, but weak in English. Comparing the two, in our judgment the old version is the better. 3

The Revisers were not ignorant of English, of course; but they believed that literal accuracy was more important than English style. In a book defending the Revised Version against the charge of excessive literalism and pedantry, Brooke Foss Westcott explains:

3. It has been, I repeat, a satisfaction to the Revisers to find, from the attacks which have been made upon their work, that they were able to take account of all that could be said against the conclusions which they deliberately adopted with a full sense of their responsibility. But it is a far deeper satisfaction to them that their work has given a powerful impulse to a close and patient investigation of the apostolic texts. And the claim which they confidently make—the claim which alone could justify their labours—is that they have placed the English reader far more nearly than before in the position of the Greek scholar; that they have made it possible for him to trace out innumerable subtleties of harmonious correspondence between different parts of the New Testament which were hitherto obscured ; that they have given him a copy of the original which is marked by a faithfulness unapproached, I will venture to say, by any other ecclesiastical version. And while they have done this, they have at the same time given him the strongest possible assurance of the substantial soundness of the familiar English rendering which they have reviewed with the most candid and unreserved criticism.

4. This endeavour after faithfulness was indeed the ruling principle of the whole work. From first to last, the single object of the Revisers was to allow the written words to speak for themselves to Englishmen, without any admixture of gloss, or any suppression of roughness. Faithfulness must, indeed, be the supreme aim of the Biblical translator. In the record of a historical Revelation no sharp line can be drawn between the form and the spirit. The form is the spirit. The Bible is, we believe, not only a collection of most precious literary monuments, but the original charter of our Faith. No one can presume to say that the least variation is unimportant. The translator, at any rate, is bound to place all the facts in evidence, as far as it is possible for him to do so. He must feel that in such a case he has no right to obscure the least shade of expression which can be rendered; or to allow any prepossessions as to likelihood or fitness to outweigh direct evidence, and still less any attractiveness of a graceful phrase to hinder him from applying most strictly the ordinary laws of criticism to the determination and to the rendering of the original text. He will accept, without the least misgiving, the canon that the Bible must be interpreted ‘like any other book’; and his reward will be, to find that it is by the use of this reverent freedom he becomes assured with a conviction, rational and immovable, that it is not like any other book.

5. Difficulties and differences of opinion necessarily arise in determining the relative claims of faithfulness and elegance of idiom when they come into conflict. But the example of the Authorised Version seems to show that it is better to incur the charge of harshness, than to sacrifice a peculiarity of language, which, if it does nothing else, arrests attention, and reminds the reader that there is something in the words which is held to be more precious than the music of a familiar rhythm. The Bible, indeed, has most happily enriched our language with many turns of Hebrew idiom, and I believe that the Revision of the New Testament does not contain anything unusual either in expression or in order which is not justified by the Old Version. 4


1. William Burgon, in The Quarterly Review vol. 153, no. 306 (April 1882), p. 313.

2. Edinburgh Review vol. 154, no. 315 (July 1881), p. 188.

3. The Sword and the Trowel, 1881.

4. Brooke Foss Westcott, Some Lessons of the Revised Version of the New Testament (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1898), pp. 4-7.

Related Pages on this Site:

Literature (including the ASV of 1901)

The parallel Bible. The Holy Bible, containing the Old and New Testaments: being the Authorized Version arranged in parallel columns with the Revised Version. Cambridge: The University Press, 1885.

The Holy Bible Two-version edition: being the Authorised version with the differences of the Revised version printed in the margins so that both texts can be read from the same page. Oxford University Press, 1899.

Edmund Beckett, Should the Revised New Testament Be Authorised? London: John Murray, 1882. Detailed criticism of the revision.

John Burgon, The Revision Revised: Three Articles Reprinted from the Quarterly Review : I. The New Greek Text. II. The New English Version. III. Westcott and Hort’s New Textual Theory: To Which is Added a Reply to Bishop Ellicott’s Pamphlet in Defence of the Revisers and their Greek Text of the New Testament, Including a Vindication of the Traditional Reading of 1 Timothy III.16. London: John Murray, 1883.

Alan Cadwallader, “The Politics of Translation of the Revised Version: Evidence from the Newly Discovered Notebooks of Brooke Foss Westcott,” Journal of Theological Studies 58 (2007), pp. 415-439. Westcott’s notebooks give a detailed account of the textual and translational arguments over almost every verse of Matthew.

Talbot W. Chambers, A Companion to the Revised Old Testament. New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1885.

Geoffrey Cumberlege, ed., The Interlinear Bible: The Authorised Version and the Revised Version, Together with the Marginal Notes of Both Versions and Central References. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1906. A convenient comparison of the ERV with the KJV.

Frederic C. Cook, The Revised Version of the First Three Gospels Considered in its Bearings upon the Record of our Lord’s words and of Incidents in his Life. London: John Murray, 1882.

Samuel Davidson, On a Fresh Revision of the English Old Testament. London: Williams and Norgate, 1873.

C. Dunkley, ed., “Papers and Addresses on the Revised Version of the Old Testament,” presented at the Church Congress held at Portsmouth, October 1885, in the offical Report of the Church Congress held at Portsmouth, on October ... 1885, edited by the Rev. C. Dunkley (London: Bemrose and Sons, 1885), pp. 40-67.

Charles J. Ellicott, Considerations on the Revision of the English Version of the New Testament. London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1870.

[Charles J. Ellicott and Edwin Palmer,] The Revisers and the Greek Text of the New Testament, by Two Members of the New Testament Company. London: MacMillan and Co., 1882.

Charles J. Ellicott, Addresses on the Revised Version of Holy Scripture. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1901.

Frederick Field, Notes on the Translation of the New Testament, Being the Otium Norvicense (Pars Tertia) by the late Frederick Field, Reprinted with Additions by the Author. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1899.

Isaac H. Hall, ed., The Revised New Testament and History of Revision, giving a literal reprint of the Authorized English Edition of the Revised New Testament, with a brief history of the origin and transmission of the New Testament Scriptures, and of its many versions and revisions that have been made, also a complete history of this last great combined movement of the best scholarship of the world; with reasons for the effort; advantages gained; sketches of the eminent men engaged upon it, etc., etc. prepared under the direction of Professor Isaac H. Hall, LL.B.; Ph. D. Philadelphia: Hubbard Brothers; Atlanta: C.R. Blackall & Co.; New York: A.L. Bancroft & Co., 1881.

William G. Humphry, A Commentary on the Revised Version of the New Testament. London: Cassell, Petter, Galpin, & Co., 1882. Explains the reasons for many changes.

Henry Ierson, Notes on the Amended English Bible, with Special Reference to Certain Texts in the Revised Version of the Old and New Testaments Bearing upon the Principles of Unitarian Christianity. London: British and Foreign Unitarian Association, 1887.

Benjamin H. Kennedy, Ely Lectures on the Revised Version of the New Testament: with an Appendix Containing the Chief Textual Changes. London: Richard Bentley & Son, 1882.

J. B. Lightfoot, Richard C. Trench, and C. J. Ellicott, The Revision of the English Version of the New Testament. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1873.

Joseph B. Lightfoot, On a Fresh Revision of the English New Testament. London: MacMillan and Co., 1871; second ed. 1872; third ed. 1891.

Solomon Caesar Malan, A Plea for the Received Greek Text and for the Authorised Version of the New Testament, in Answer to Some of the Dean of Canterbury’s Criticisms of Both. London: Hatchards, 1869.

Samuel Newth, Lectures on Bible Revision. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1881.

Klaus Penzel, ed., Philip Schaff: Historian and Ambassador of the Universal Church: Selected Writings. Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1991.

Matthew Brown Riddle, The Story of the Revised New Testament, American Standard Edition. Philadelphia: Sunday School Times, 1908.

Alexander Roberts, Companion to the Revised Version of the English New Testament. London: Cassell, Peter, Galpin & Co., 1882.

David S. Schaff, The Life of Philip Schaff, in Part Autobiographical. New York: Scribners, 1897.

Philip Schaff, Historical account of the work of the American Committee of Revision of the Authorized English Version of the Bible. New York: Scribner, 1885.

Philip Schaff, ed., Documentary History of the American committee on Revision, Prepared by Order of the Committee for the Use of the Members. New York, 1885.

Philip Schaff, ed., The revision of the Old Testament: opinions of eminent German Hebraists on the revision of the Massoretic text. New York: Scribner’s, 1886. A small (62 page) book containing “The present status of the revision, circular letter of Dr. Green and Dr. Schaff to the most eminent Old Testament scholars in Germany, Replies, Translations of the preceding letters, Concluding summary.”

Philip Schaff, ed., Anglo-American Bible Revision, by Members of the American Revision Committee. New York: Bible House, 1879. Contains “Introductory Statement” by Philip Schaff, “The Authorized Version and English Versions on which it is Based” by Chas. P. Krauth, “The English Bible as a Classic” by T.W. Chambers, “Reasons for a New Revision” by Theo. D. Woolsey, “The Current Version and Present Needs” by G. Emlen Hare, “The Hebrew Text of the Old Testament” by Howard Osgood, “Hebrew Philology and Biblical Science” by W. Henry Green, “Helps for Translating the Hebrew Scriptures at the Time the Ancient Version was Made” by George E. Day, “Inaccuracies of the Authorized Version of the Old Testament” by Joseph Packard, “The New Testament Text” by Ezra Abbot, “Inaccuracies of the Authorized Version in Respect of Grammar and Exegesis” by A.C. Kendrick, “True Conservatism in Respect to Changes in the English and Greek Text” by Timothy Dwight, “The Greek Verb in the New Testament” by Matthew B. Riddle, “Unwarranted Verbal Differences and Agreements in the English Version” by J. Henry Thayer, “Archaisms; or, Obsolete and Unusual Words and Phrases in the English Bible” by Howard Crosby, “The Proper Names of the Bible” by Chas. A. Aiken, “The Use of Italics in the English Bible” by Thomas Chase, “Paragraphs, Chapters, and Verses of the Bible” by James Strong, and “Revision of the Scriptures and Church Authority” by Alfred Lee. A second edition was published in Philadelphia by the American Sunday-School Union, 1879.

Philip Schaff, A Companion to the Greek Testament and the English version. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1883.

F.H.A. Scrivener, ed., The Parallel New Testament, Greek and English: The New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Being the Authorized Version Set Forth in 1611, Arranged in Parallel Columns with the Revised Version of 1881 and with the orginal Greek According to the Text Followed in the Authorised Version, with the Variations Adopted in the Revised Version. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1882.

George H. Shriver, Philip Schaff: Christian Scholar and Ecumenical Prophet. Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1987.

G. Vance Smith, Texts and Margins of the Revised New Testament Affecting Theological Doctrine Briefly Reviewed. London: British and Foreign Unitarian Association, 1881.

Richard C. Trench, On the Authorized Version of the New Testament in Connection with Some Recent Proposals for its Revision. New York: Redfield, 1858.

Rufus Wendell, ed., The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments: Translated Out of the Original Tongues: Being the Version Set Forth A.D. 1611, compared with the most ancient authorities, and revised. The Revision of 1881 and 1885 compared with the version of 1611: Showing at a Glance what Words are Common to Both, and by Diacritical Marks and Foot-notes what are Peculiar to Each. By Rufus Wendell, editor of the “Student’s Revised New Testament.” Albany, N.Y.: Revised Bible Publishing Co., 1886.

Brooke Foss Westcott, Some Lessons of the Revised Version of the New Testament. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1897.

S.W. Whitney, The Revisers’ Greek Text: A Critical Examination of Certain Readings, Textual and Marginal, in the Original Greek of the New Testament Adopted by the Late Anglo-American Revisers. Boston: Silver, Burdett & Company, 1892.

Robert Young, Contributions to a New Revision, or, A Critical Companion to the New Testament: Being a Series of Notes on the Original Text, with the View of Securing Greater Uniformity in its English Rendering, Including the Chief Alterations of the “Revision” of 1881 and of the American Committee. Edinburgh: G.A. Young, 1881.