|Bible Research > English Versions > 20th Century > Goodspeed and Smith|
New Testament, 1923. Edgar J. Goodspeed, The New Testament: An American Translation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1923.
Old Testament, 1927. J.M. Powis Smith, ed., The Old Testament: An American Translation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1927.
Bible, 1931. Edgar J. Goodspeed and J.M. Powis Smith, eds., The Bible: An American Translation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1931. 2nd edition, 1935.
Apocrypha, 1938. Edgar J. Goodspeed, The Apocrypha: An American Translation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1938.
Bible with Apocrypha, 1939. Edgar J. Goodspeed and J.M. Powis Smith, eds., The Bible: An American Translation. New edition with the Apocrypha. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1939.
The translation of the New Testament in this version was conceived by an editor at the University of Chicago Press, who at an academic conference in 1920 had heard Edgar Goodspeed speak about the deficiencies of the already existing modern-speech versions of the New Testament done by Moffatt and Weymouth. The editor (Guy M. Crippen) invited Goodspeed to make a translation to be published by the University Press.
Goodspeed (1871–1962) was at that time a professor of New Testament at the University of Chicago, where he had received a doctorate in Greek in 1898. He was the son of a Baptist minister. Early in his career he had edited some scholarly volumes in which recently discovered papyrus documents were published, but after 1912 he turned to the writing of popular-level books, such as The Story of the New Testament (1916). After the publication of his translation of the New Testament (1923) he continued to write books chiefly for laymen (e.g. The Story of the Old Testament in 1934, The Story of the Bible in 1936, An Introduction to the New Testament in 1937, The Story of the Apocrypha in 1939, How to Read the Bible in 1946). His translation of the New Testament should be seen as part of his continued efforts to provide up-to-date books for the education of laymen.
In his day, Goodspeed would be described as a 'liberal.' His views of the inspiration and authority of the Bible were typical of the liberal wing of Protestantism of the early twentieth century. This may be seen in his Story of the New Testament (1916, revised 1928) and in his Introduction to the New Testament (Chicago, 1937), popular-level books in which he approaches the Bible in the same critical and liberal spirit as did Harry Emerson Fosdick, the most well-known Northern Baptist author of the day (c.f. Fosdick's A Guide to Understanding the Bible, 1938). For example, in his Introduction to the New Testament Goodspeed writes that the Gospel of John "cannot reasonably be considered the original work of a Galilean fishermen ... or the translation of such a work" (p. 326). He maintains that the apostle Paul was the author of the epistle to the Colossians but was not the author of Ephesians. He also concludes that the Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus) were not written by Paul. Against the more radical school of criticism, he argues for the authenticity of 2 Thessalonians, but in a way that is not likely to commend itself to conservatives:
Two objections have been brought against the authenticity of II Thessalonians. One is the apocalyptic objection. It is pointed out that in I Thessalonians Paul declares that the Day is coming without any warning at all; it will be like a thief in the night. Everyone will be saying "What peace and safety!" when suddenly destruction will be upon them. All anyone can do is to be vigilant and composed. But now, in II Thessalonians, he declares that there will be some warning, in the coming of the Antichrist with his pretended signs and wonders and his claim of being God himself. Some scholars feel that the inconsistency between these two positions is so great that they cannot have been held by the same man. If we were to view Paul's writings dogmatically and to assume that he could never alter his position under the stress of circumstances, but must always and everywhere have agreed with himself, this objection might be valid. But if we view Paul historically, as a man of great power and sincerity and strength, grappling vigorously with immediate personal conditions that were constantly changing, we shall find no difficulty here. Paul's letters are not to be viewed like a textbook on mathematics or even dogmatics. And it is precisely the best and wisest of men who honestly and sincerely shift their ground as circumstances may demand. Moreover, this is simply another piece of that same Jewish apocalyptic messianism—the Messiah coming on the clouds of heaven to execute judgment and usher in the Day of the Lord—with which Paul was clearly saturated. (1)
In the Preface to his New Testament translation Goodspeed says that his aim is to make more widely known "the great, living messages of the New Testament," but in view of his teachings in the Introduction to the New Testament it is hard to tell what messages—or parts of messages—he considered true and relevant enough to be called "living." We might suppose that, along with most liberal religious writers of his day, he would reduce the teaching of the New Testament to some notable passages that were useful in preaching upon favorite themes, like "the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man." Again, he tells the reader that simple and colloquial language is used in his translation (despite its limitations) because "It is the meaning, not the dress, of the New Testament that is of principal importance" — but it seems rather problematic to insist upon the urgent need to convey the basic "meaning" of the text to the uneducated masses of today if the text presents obsolete "Jewish apocalyptic" delusions written by men who "shift their ground as circumstances may demand," as Goodspeed puts it. Strange indeed, that anyone with such an apparent zeal to convey "the message" would take this view of it. But next to Goodspeed in this respect we may mention Moffatt, Phillips, Bratcher, and a number of other modern translators. It seems that these men advocated colloquial translations not so much out of evangelical zeal, but rather out of a desire to make the text seem more recognizably "human" and less "sacred" than it was formerly held to be.
In the final chapter of his Story of the New Testament, Goodspeed disagrees with the idea that in his day Christians needed a collection of "authoritative" writings. He complains that this concept of the canon of the New Testament "put fetters upon the free Christian spirit which could not always remain," and he approves of the more enlightened attitude shown by modern Christians who have left behind "the dogmatic values of the past." And yet he declares "they will never cease to prize" the New Testament "for its inspiring and purifying power, and for its simple and moving story of the ministry of Jesus," and he expresses the hope that "historically understood, the New Testament will still kindle in us the spirit which animated the men who wrote it, who aspired to be not the lords of our faith but the helpers of our joy." (2)
Also in his Preface we see the opinion about the language of the New Testament that prevailed in some circles during his generation. He asserts that it was written in the "common language of everyday life," and not in any "biblical" style comparable to the Greek of the Septuagint. He lays stress upon this in his Introduction to the New Testament also, in which he asserts that "the Greek papyri discovered in the sands of Egypt in the last forty years have abundantly proved" that Paul wrote "simply and directly in the plain speech of everyday life" (p. 41). From this he argues in his Preface that "the most appropriate English form for the New Testament is the simple, straightforward English of everyday expression." Yet it is far from true that this view of the language of the New Testament had been "fully established" or "abundantly proved" by the non-literary Greek papyrus discoveries, as he claims. It was a view which prevailed briefly during the first two decades of the twentieth century, but by the middle of the cenutry it was again generally acknowledged by New Testament scholars that, for the most part, the authors of the New Testament used a style of Greek which owes much to the influence of the Septuagint and to Jewish literary habits in general. In other words, the Greek New Testament was written in the sort of religious or sacred idiom that Goodspeed deliberately tries to avoid in his English translation. This fact, which has always been acknowledged to some extent by careful scholars, had been minimized by some of Goodspeed's generation, who exaggerated the importance of the non-literary papyri discovered at the end of the nineteenth century.
We give now a sample passage of Goodspeed's New Testament, next to the more literal Revised Standard Version of 1946.
Paul, by God's will an apostle of Christ Jesus, to God's people who are steadfast in Christ Jesus; God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ bless you and give you peace.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who through Christ has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realm. Through him he chose us out before the creation of the world, to be consecrated and above reproach in his sight in love. He foreordained us to become his sons through Jesus Christ, in fulfilment of his generous purpose, so that we might praise the splendid blessing which he has given us through his beloved Son. It is through union with him and through his blood that we have been delivered and our offenses forgiven, in the abundance of his mercy which he has lavished upon us. He has given us perfect insight into his secret purpose and understanding of it, in following out the design he planned to carry out in Christ, and in arranging, when the time should have fully come, that everything in heaven and on earth should be unified in Christ—the Christ through whom it is our lot to have been predestined by the design of him who in everything carries out the purpose of his will, to win praise for his glory, by having been the first to believe in Christ. You also have heard the message of the truth, the good news of your salvation, and believed in him, and through union with him you have been marked with the seal of the holy Spirit that was promised, which is the advance instalment of our inheritance, so that we may get full possession of it, and praise his glory for it.
This is why I, for my part, since I have heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus that prevails among you and among all God's people, never cease to thank God for you when I mention you in my prayers. The God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, grant you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation through the knowledge of himself, enlightening the eyes of your mind so that you may know what the hope is to which he calls you, and how gloriously rich his inheritance is among God's people, and how surpassingly great his power is for us who believe; like the mighty strength he exerted in raising Christ from the dead, and seating him at his right hand in heaven, far above all hierarchies, authorities, powers, and dominions, and all titles that can be bestowed not only in this world but in the world to come. He has put everything under his feat and made him the indisputable head of the church, which is his body, filled by him who fills everything everywhere. You also were dead because of the offenses and sins in the midst of which you once lived under the control of the present age of the world, and the master-spirit of the air, who is still at work among the disobedient. We all lived among them once, indulging our physical cravings and obeying the impulses of our lower nature and its thoughts, and by nature we were doomed to God's wrath like other men. But God is so rich in mercy that because of the great love he had for us, he made us, dead as we were through our offenses, live again with the Christ. It is by his mercy that you have been saved. And he raised us with Christ, and through our union with Christ Jesus made us sit down with him in heaven, to show the incomparable wealth of his mercy throughout the ages to come by his goodness to us through Christ Jesus. For it is by his mercy that you have been saved through faith. It is not by your own action, it is the gift of God. It has not been earned, so that no one can boast of it. For he has made us, creating us through our union with Christ Jesus for the life of goodness which God had predestined us to live.
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. 5 He destined us in love (b) to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8 which he lavished upon us. 9 For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
11 In him, according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 we who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love (c) toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 which he accomplished in Christ when he raised him from the dead and made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come; 22 and he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all.
1 And you he made alive, when you were dead through the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among these we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of body and mind, and so we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God — 9 not because of works, lest any man should boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
a. Other ancient authorities read, who are at Ephesus and faithful
b. Or, before him in love, having destined us
c. Other ancient authorities omit and your love
Shortly after the publication of Goodspeed's New Testament, editors at the Chicago University Press decided that they would like to have a translation of the Old Testament as well, and so they asked Goodspeed to help them arrange for one. He referred them to J.M. Powis Smith of the Old Testament faculty. Smith accepted the project and recruited three other scholars to help in the work. They were Theophile J. Meek of the University of Toronto, Alexander R. Gordon of McGill University, and Leroy Waterman of the University of Michigan. The books of the Old Testament were divided up among these four scholars, and they did their work independently, not as a committee. Smith, who served as the general editor, translated the books of Job, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and the minor Prophets. Meek translated Genesis through Ruth, the Song of Songs, and Lamentations. Waterman translated 1 Samuel through Esther. Gordon translated Proverbs and the four Major Prophets. In the Preface to the Old Testament, Smith says that he "left his fellow-workers free to express themselves as they would, and has aimed at uniformity only in the most essential matters." The completed Old Testament was published in 1927, and a one-volume edition of the complete "American Translation" of the Bible appeared in 1931. In 1935 a revised edition was published. A "Publisher's Note" in that edition states that Meek was the editor of the revision, and that in it "he has followed two principal lines: on the one hand he has established a greater degree of uniformity of style and expression in the versions of the four translators; and on the other, he has used the results of the most recent investigations in the interpretation of doubtful passages."
In general it seems that the Old Testament of this version is translated somewhat more literally than Goodspeed's New Testament. In the Preface the editor advises the reader that the translation does not aim to be colloquial. He correctly states that "the content of the Old Testament is, with little exception, upon a high literary plane." He argues that "if the original be dignified, impressive, and eloquent, those qualities must not be lacking in the translation" and that "the language of the translation, therefore, cannot be allowed to fall to the level of the street." Also unlike Goodspeed, the editor has provided headings in the text to mark off topical sections. But as in the New Testament, the verse numbers are put off to the side of the text, and the version has no footnotes at all. The translators are rather bold in the use of "cutting edge" scholarship, some of which is rather questionable. Here are a few interesting verses that meet our eye in the opening chapters of Genesis, from the edition of 1935:
'An American Translation'
When God began to create the heavens and the earth, the earth was a desolate waste, with darkness covering the abyss and a tempestuous wind raging over the surface of the waters.
In the beginning God created (a) the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit (b) of God was moving over the face of the waters.
a. Or, When God began to create
b. Or, wind
Here the 'American Translation' presents an interpretation of Genesis 1:1-2 which had recently come into favor among Old Testament scholars. The grammar is interpreted in line with the opening verses of other ancient Near Eastern stories of creation, such as the Babylonian Enuma Elish, which begins, "When above, the heavens had not been named, and below, the earth had not been called by name ..." Also, the ruach of God is understood as a "wind" rather than his "Spirit." On the alleged parallels with the Babylonian myth, see the very fulll discussion by Alexander Heidel in his book The Babylonian Genesis (Chicago, 1951). But many other scholars have not been convinced that the opening verses of Genesis should be understood in this way. The translators of the Revised Standard Version's Old Testament (1953) declined to adopt the new interpreation, although they indicate it in their footnotes. It should be noted that in addition to other elements of the 'Babylonian' interpretation the translator of An American Translation here has interpreted the 'wind of God' as if it meant 'a tempestuous wind' (others 'a mighty wind'), but this interpretation of the word elohim is very precarious. Harry Olinski in his Notes on the New Translation of the Torah (Philadelphia, 1969) observes that "there is no authority for this in any tradition" and "the word elohim does not have the meaning 'mighty, tempestuous,' or the like in a single one of the some 2,570 occurances of the word in the Bible." (p. 55.)
'An American Translation'
The man called his wife's name Eve [mother], because she was the mother of all living beings.
The man called his wife's name Eve, (a) because she was the mother of all living.
a. The name in Hebrew resembles the word for living
This is unexpected, because the translator of the 'American Translation' seems to have blundered in his explanation of Eve's name. He puts in brackets the word "mother" after "Eve," as if the name meant "mother." (Evidently the bracketed word is an expedient used by the translator working under a 'no footnotes' rule.) But as the RSV footnote correctly states, the folk etymology here is comparing Eve's name (Heb. Chavah) with the word for 'living' (Heb. chay), not the word for 'mother' (Heb. em). And in addition to this error, we note that the Hebrew does not mean to imply that Eve was the mother of all 'living beings,' for this would include animals. Rather, she was the mother of all people who were to live. The extra word 'beings' added by the 'American Translation' is misleading.
'An American Translation'
The man had intercourse with his wife Eve; so she conceived and bore Cain. Then she said,
Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, "I have gotten (a) a man with the help of the LORD." 2 And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground. 3 In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4 and Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, 5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. 6 The LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is couching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it."
8 Cain said to Abel his brother, "Let us go out to the field." (b) And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him.
a. Heb. qanah, get
b. Sam Gk Syr Compare Vg: Heb lacks Let us go out to the field
Here in the first verse we question whether it was really necessary to use such explicit language as 'the man had intercourse with his wife' instead of the more decent expression, 'Adam knew his wife.' The word 'intercourse' may not be the language of the street (which the translators eschew), but it is the language of the clinic, and it is offensive in mixed company. Is the biblical 'knew' so obscure to adult readers that it had to be abandoned? We doubt it. Also in the first verse the translator stumbles again at a folk etymology, for instead of giving the reader to understand that 'Cain' is being compared to the Hebrew word for 'get' (see the RSV footnote), he gives a very eccentric interpretation of Eve's saying—"I have won back my husband; the LORD is with me!" In verse 7 "and yet he is devoted to you, while you rule over him" is another strange interpretation. It seems that the translator has understood the saying to be about the relationship of Cain to his younger brother, and not about his relationship to "sin," but can this really be the meaning? These interpretations may perhaps have been advocated in some scholarly monographs known to the translator, but clearly they do not belong in a Bible version meant for the unlearned, especially in the absence of footnotes.
Without looking further into the version we may say that the early chapters of Genesis bode ill for it. The poorly-supported renderings, eccentricities, and outright blunders here are enough to bring into question the usefulness of the work to the "average man" for whom it was intended.
1. Goodspeed, Introduction to the New Testament (Chicago, 1937), p. 19. In his earlier Story of the New Testament (revised edition, 1928) he explains, "It was a popular Jewish idea that in the last days the forces of evil would find embodiment in an individual of the tribe of Dan, who would make an impious attack upon God and his people but would fail and be destroyed by the Messiah. Paul in his letter appeals to this idea and points out that this great enemy has not yet appeared and so the Day of the Lord cannot have come. There is therefore no excuse for giving up the ordinary industry of life."
2. Goodspeed, The Story of the New Testament (revised edition, 1928), chapter 20.
The New Testament was written not in classical Greek, nor in the 'biblical' Greek of the Greek version of the Old Testament, nor even in the literary Greek of its own day, but in the common language of everyday life. This fact has been fully established by the Greek papyrus discoveries and the grammatical researches of the last twenty-five years. It follows that the most appropriate English form for the New Testament is the simple, straightforward English of everyday expression.
The invitation of the University Press to provide such a translation was accepted by the present translator in the hope that it might result in a version with something of the ease, boldness, and unpretending vigor which mark the original Greek. The writers of the New Testament had for the most part little use for literary art. The principal figure among them, the apostle Paul, said this in so many words. They put their message in the simplest and most direct terms they could command, so that it spoke directly to the common life of their day. The great passages in the New Testament owe their greatness more to the trenchant vigor of their thought, or the moral sublimity of their ideas, than to the graces of rhetoric.
The translation of such a book demands, first, the understanding of what the several writers meant to say, and second, the casting of their thought in the simplest and clearest of present-day English. It is the meaning, not the dress, of the New Testament that is of principal importance. For many of us the familiar expressions of the Authorized Version are richly freighted with memories and associations. But few indeed sit down and read the New Testament in that version continuously and understandingly, a book at a time, as it was written to be read. The antique diction, the mechanical method of translation, and the disturbing verse division retard and discourage the reader. The aim of the present translation has been to present the meaning of the different books as faithfully as possible, without bias or prejudice, in English of the same kind as the Greek of the original, so that they may be continuously and understandingly read. There is no book in the New Testament that cannot easily be read at a sitting. For American readers, especially, who have had to depend so long upon versions made in Great Britain, there is room for a New Testament free from expressions which, however familiar in England or Scotland, are strange to American ears.
The progress of recent years in the study of the text, grammar, lexicography, and interpretation of the New Testament, together with the discoveries of Greek papyri made chiefly since 1897, offers a wealth of material to the translator. The grammatical works of Blass, Burton, Moulton, and Robertson, and the new lexicons of Preuschen (1910), Zorell (1911), Ebeling (1913), Souter (1916), and Abbott-Smith (1922), with the lexical studies of Moulton and Milligan (1914—) greatly facilitate the work of the interpreter.
I have closely followed the Greek text of Westcott and Hort, now generally accepted. Every scholar knows its great superiority to the late and faulty Greek texts from which the early English translations from Tyndale to the Authorized Version were made. In a few instances, I have accepted the emendations suggested by Dr. Hort himself in his Notes on Select Readings. Under the influence of more recent investigations, I have departed from Westcott and Hort in John 19:29; Acts 6:9, 19:28, 34; James 1:17; and Revelation 13:1; and I have adopted the striking suggestion of Rendel Harris, that by an error of the eye the name of Enoch has dropped out of the text of 1 Peter 3:19. The passages marked by Westcott and Hort as interpolations have been omitted from this translation, as being no part of the original text.
The generous co-operation of the University Press has made it possible to print the translation as one would a modern book, with all those aids of quotation marks and paragraphing which make an open and inviting page, and so facilitate reading, reference, and understanding. The translator has not interspersed the text with footnotes or captions of his own devising, preferring to leave it to make its own impression upon the reader. Nor has he prefaced the several books with historical introductions, which might aid in their understanding. For such aids, he would refer to his Story of the New Testament, which the studious reader may find a helpful companion to the present translation.
It has been truly said that any translation of a masterpiece must be a failure, but if this translation can in any measure bring home the great, living messages of the New Testament a little more widely and forcibly to the life of our time, the translator will be well content.
Edgar J. Goodspeed
The University of Chicago
August 31, 1923
Why should anyone make a new English translation of the Old Testament? With the Authorized Version of King James and the British and American revisions, to say nothing of unofficial renderings, have we not enough? This question may quite fairly be asked. The only possible basis for a satisfactory answer must be either in a better knowledge of Hebrew than was possible at the time when the earlier translations were made, or in a fuller appreciation of fundamental textual problems, or in a clearer recognition of poetic structures, or in such a change in our own language as would render the language of the older translations more or less unintelligible to the average man of our day. As a matter of fact, our answer is to be found in all of these areas.
The most urgent demand for a new translation comes from the field of Hebrew scholarship. The control of the Hebrew vocabulary and syntax available to the scholar of today is vastly greater than that at the command of the translators of the Authorized Version or of its revisers. This is due partly to the greater degree of scientific methodology now practiced in the study of language in general and of Hebrew in particular, and partly to the contributions made to our knowledge of Hebrew by the decipherment of the hieroglyphic and cuneiform writings. The first requirement of a translation is that it should reproduce as fully and accurately as possible the meaning of the original documents. To this end the translators should know the language of the original as well as it can be known.
Modern studies of textual problems reinforce the need for a new rendering. These have brought out more and more clearly the uncertain state of the Hebrew text and have perfected the technique of critical method. The science of textual criticism has made great progress in recent years, and no translation of the Old Testament can afford to ignore its results. Our guiding principle has been that the official Massoretic text must be adhered to as long as it made satisfactory sense. We have not tried to create a new text; but rather to translate the received text wherever translation was possible. Where departure from this text was imperative we have sought a substitute for it along generally approved lines, depending primarily upon the collateral versions, having recourse to scientific conjecture only when the versions failed to afford adequate help. The reader who wishes to check the translation from the point of view of its loyalty to the original will find the passages in which textual change has been made listed in the Appendix. If the number of such passages seems to him unduly large, he should bear in mind certain facts. The oldest known Hebrew manuscript of the Old Testament dates from the ninth century A.D. This means that at least eighteen centuries elapsed between the earliest Hebrew written documents and our oldest manuscript; and that between the latest Hebrew document now found in the Old Testament and our oldest manuscript there was a lapse of approximately eleven centuries. Moreover, the original Hebrew text included only the consonants. The vowels were not added until about the seventh century A.D. Naturally many more errors are found in the vocalic part of the text than in the much older consonantal element. In the list of changes to be found in the Appendix it may be noted that in a large measure the vowels only have been touched. A vowel change naturally involves a very much slighter correction than is involved in the change of consonants. Anyone who has had experience in handling ancient manuscripts will be surprised, not that there are so many corrupt passages, but rather that under the circumstances there are so few. We trust that our attitude in this fundamentally important matter will commend itself to careful and cautious scholars.
The last half-century has developed a great interest in the stylistic qualities of Hebrew poetry. Much of the text that had long passed for prose is now recognized as really poetic in both form and spirit. This adds to the necessity for a new translation. Poetry should not be printed as prose. The present translation brings into clear light many of the hidden beauties of Hebrew poetry. The text is printed in poetic lines as clearly indicated by the parallelism of the structure. In cases where the elegiac measure is employed in Hebrew, the text indicates it by a deep indentation of the second or short line. Where the content and the form both point to the presence of stophes the text has been printed in stanzas. Where such structure is not clearly shown, the poetic lines are left to follow one another without a break.
The English of King James' day is not wholly natural or clear to the average man at the present time. In common everyday speech 'thou,' 'thee,' and 'thy' are no longer used; they have been retained here when they occur in language addressed to God, since they convey a more reverent feeling than the blunt 'you.' The endings 'est' for the second person and 'eth' for the third person singular of verbs are now archaic. The use of 'vinegar' in the sense of a wine or liquor for drinking has long since ceased to be recognized. 'To ear' in the sense of 'to plow' or 'to till' is obsolete; so are 'marish' for 'marsh,' 'scrabble' for 'scratch,' 'in the audience of' for 'in the hearing of,' 'all to' for 'altogether,' and many others like them. Time has wrought changes in the usage of words. The translators of the King James Version were casting no aspersion upon the character of womankind in general when they said, 'Who can find a virtuous woman?' The word 'virtuous' for them had its old force brought over from the Latin virtus. But today, when applied to woman, the word will almost inevitably be taken in a more specialized sense, and so be misunderstood. The same charge lies against 'virtuously.' The word 'prevent' once meant 'to anticipate,' but is now used in the sense of 'to hinder'; consequently its old usage in passages like Psalms 119:147 f. puzzles modern readers. Facts like these make the reading of the Bible a scholarly rather than a religious exercise, and clearly point toward the need of a new translation.
The translator to do his best work must be in sympathy with his subject matter and be able to put himself into mental and spiritual contact with its authors. From this side of his work the demand made upon him is a very heavy one. On the other hand, a translation should read well. It should be in a vocabulary and style appropriate to the thought which it is designed to express. If the original be dignified, impressive, and eloquent, those qualities must not be lacking in the translation; if it be trivial, commonplace, and prosaic, the translation must take on the same character. The content of the Old Testament is, with little exception, upon a high literary plane. The language of the translation, therefore, cannot be allowed to fall to the level of the street. In this translation the foregoing principles have been kept constantly in mind. It tries to be American in the sense that the writings of Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Wilson are American. This does not imply any limitation of our mother-tongue, but if anything an enrichment of it. Least of all does it mean that the translation is for Americans only; it aims at being easily understood wherever English is spoken. In general we have been loyal to the Hebrew in its use of symbolic and figurative language; occasionally where such figures would not be clear to the reader, we have translated the figure into more familiar terms.
One detail of the translation which requires explanation is the treatment of the divine name. As nearly as we can now tell, the Hebrews called their Deity by the name Yahweh, and in a shorter form, Yah, used in relatively few cases. In course of time they came to regard this name as too sacred for utterance. They therefore substituted for it the Hebrew word for 'Lord.' When vowels were added to the text, the consonants of 'Yahweh' were given the vowels of 'Lord.' Somewhere in the fourteenth century A.D. Christian scholars, not understanding this usage, took the vowels and consonants exactly as they were written and produced the artificial name 'Jehovah' which has persisted ever since. In this translation we have followed the orthodox Jewish tradition and substituted 'the Lord' for the name 'Yahweh' and the phrase 'the Lord God' for the phrase 'the Lord Yahweh.' In all cases where 'Lord' or 'God' represents an original 'Yahweh' small capitals are employed. Anyone, therefore, who desires to retain the flavor of the original text has but to read 'Yahweh' wherever he sees LORD or GOD.
The translators and the University Press have sought to give this work the appearance of a modern book. This purpose has determined the make-up of the page and has led to the addition of headings for paragraphs, and to the insertion of some half-titles. It has also kept the verse numbers out of the text and relegated them to the margin, so that the reading of the text may not be interrupted.
The work of translation has been shared by four men: Professor Alex. R. Gordon, of the United Theological College and McGill University, Montreal; Professor Theophile J. Meek, of the University of Toronto; Professor Leroy Waterman, of the University of Michigan; and the Editor. Each of them carries the primary responsibility for his own work. The Editor has left his fellow-workers free to express themselves as they would, and has aimed at uniformity only in the most essential matters. If it be felt that each translator has his own style, this should not be regarded as a defect, for each document in the Old Testament has a style of its own, and the extent to which such stylistic characteristics are ignored by translators is a measure of their failure. Each book ought to speak its own message in its own way, even in a translation.
The Editor wishes to express his appreciation of the self-sacrificing labor of his fellow-translators, of their conscientious devotion to the work and of their prompt responsiveness to his few suggestions. Only by such faithful and hearty co-operation could our common task have attained any measure of success.
We are well aware that in undertaking the task of presenting the Old Testament to the modern world in its own speech we have undertaken the impossible. No translation can preserve intact the full content and the symmetrical beauty of the original; in the transition from the old language to the new, much must be lost by the way. We can but hope that we have not fallen too far short of the summit of perfection; and that our work may at least serve as a stepping-stone toward those greater translations which time will surely bring.
The Editor [J.M. Powis Smith]
University of Chicago
March 8, 1927
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