This article by the British author William Hoste B.A. is of historical interest to any concerned with the “Bible Version issue”.
The publication, in 1881, of the Revised Version, marked the introduction of the first major English Bible revision since the King James (Authorised) Version (1611/1769). However, the “R.V.” was much more than a mere “revision”. It involved the replacement of the underlying Greek New Testament “Received Text”, with the “Westcott and Hort New Testament Greek text”, as the working text for translation. Most modern versions (NIV, ESV, etc.) are based on this new text, which has now evolved into what is called the Nestle-Aland text (NA28) or the United Bible Societies text (UBS5), which contains the same base text.
A number of scholarly authors took exception to the R.V. when it was published in 1881. Thomas Newberry (1811-1901) expressed dismay at the Westcott and Hort text’s reliance on two particular ancient Greek manuscripts, Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus. Said he, “My own conviction, founded on a careful investigation of the subject, is that these last named manuscripts, although preferred by the revisers, are quite unworthy of the confidence reposed in them. They are, in fact, copies made about the 4th century, when the professing Church was leavened with Arius, and contain the most serious errors and omissions” (T. Newberry, The Parables of the Lord Jesus, Glasgow: Pickering & Inglis, p. 16-17).
Sir. Robert Anderson K.C.B., LLD. (1841-1918), author of many scholarly works, likewise expressed his dismay at the R.V. in his book The Bible and Modern Criticism: “In the Revised Version of the New Testament, textual criticism has done its worst. It is inconceivable that it will ever again be allowed to run riot as in the work of the Revisers of 1881.”
William Hoste B.A., from London, England, whose collected writings contain almost nothing but plain Bible exposition, was moved to take the unusual step of writing to express his concerns about the Revised Version in an article called “Why I Abide by the Authorised Version”. Hoste’s article is reproduced here:
Why I Abide by the Authorised Version
by William Hoste B.A.
We cannot ignore the arduous labours of the Revisers of 1881-4, in conjunction with the American Committees, or the improvements they have in some cases introduced, more especially in the Old Testament, discounted to many by the mass of changes and omissions in the New Testament, which, after 50 years [article written in the 1930’s] , are still awaiting their justification.
If I cannot claim to be an expert textual critic, I may venture as a simple juryman to weigh the evidence, and state briefly why I prefer the A.V., viewed both as to its general character, and the influences behind it. A work, like water, does not rise above its sources. Few will question that soundness in the faith is indispensable for the task the Revisers undertook, and the ultimate test is how the Person and Work of Christ are affected.
In my judgment,
1. The A. V. (though, of course, not perfect) was translated on more Reliable Principles
The Revisers seem to have thought that to translate faithfully, they must construe literally, whereas as Dr. Christopher Wordsworth, himself originally a Reviser, says “The best of all translations is that which you forget is a translation”.1 Can we forget the Revised is this, when we read such specimens as “Even as Thou gavest Him authority over all flesh, that whatsoever Thou hast given Him, to them He should give eternal life” John 17:2) or, “Father, that which Thou hast given Me, I will that where I am, they also may be with Me” (v24) or, “They shall become one flock, one Shepherd” (John 10:16) or again, “O Jerusalem…which stoneth them that are sent unto her! how often would I have gathered thy children” etc.? (Matt. 23:37); and so on indefinitely.
If “faithfulness violates sense and idiom” then the “reading” is wrong, or the translation. It seems as impossible to construe tenses, articles, etc., literally from N.T. Greek into English, as from French.2 At any rate one wonders the Revisers so lightly marred ten thousand phrases enshrined in the memory of English-speaking Christians everywhere.
As Dr. Wordsworth says again “To pass from A.V. to R.V. is as it were, to alight from a well-built carriage…To get into one with bad springs or none at all, in which you are jolted in ruts, with aching bones…”3
2. The Revision was Unnecessary
All knew the Authorised contained archaisms (which practically everyone understood), and some “plain and clear” blemishes.4 It was not necessary to alter the complexion of the whole to correct these. It has been thrown in the teeth of objectors to the R.V. that the A.V. itself was a revision. We have no objection to a revision as such, when necessary, but to a clumsy and exaggerated revision, there must be a limit. As a matter of fact, the A.V. was not a revision but as its preface declares, “one more exact translation of the Holy Scriptures into the English tongue”. Unfortunately the R.V. of 1881, while professing to be a revision, was, as we shall see, based on a new, private and untested Greek Text by two of the Revisers – Drs. Westcott and Hort. It has been well remarked: “Not the Revisers’ least service is their showing how very seldom the A.V. is materially wrong”.5 But the Revision was a great ill to cure a lesser.
3. The Revision was not Generally Wanted
A thousand ministers of the Gospel presented “The Millenary Petition, for the A.V.”, but there was no united call for Revision. Twice the Government refused its sanction. Even the Established Church was divided. But Rome, in the guise of the Oxford Movement, was coming in like a flood, and the A.V. must be superseded. The power behind the Revision was an agitation of ecclesiastics, no doubt very earnest men, but for most part in full sympathy with the Romanising movement.
4. The Revisers Exceeded their Mandate
The first resolution of Convocation of Feb 10th, 1870, limited corrections to “plain and clear errors“. No continuous new Greek Text was contemplated only necessary alterations to be made, etc.6
How were these instructions carried out? In 1881 the R.V. appeared, with changes at the rate of 4 1/2 to each verse of the New Testament, or 36,191 in all. Was the general consternation at such a revolution unreasonable?
Had the Board of Works entrusted”Big Ben”7 to some firm of horologists, to cleanse it of “plain and clear” blemishes, what would be the public indignation to find the familiar face scoured and scraped out of all recognition, some of “the hours” gone, and the chimes ringing false? But what is “Big Ben” to the precious heirloom the A.V., has been to millions down the centuries?
It has been asserted that the R.V. changes are “more simple and homely” than the A.V.. Even were this
admitted for the sake of argument, the question would remain, are they justified? A man might revise his current “Bradshaw” [a well-known Train Time-table of the 193o’s) to suit his taste or convenience, but the Railway Companies would stick to their time-tables, and the reviser would find himself left on the platform.
It can hardly be claimed that any large proportion of the R.V. changes were necessary. We find continually such changes as “to” for “unto”; “alway” for “always”; “we that” for “we which”; “underneath” for “under; “God’s steward” for the “steward of God”; “device of man” for “man’s device”; “to this end” for “for this purpose”; “cushion” for “pillow”; “bear witness” for “testify”; “the birds” for “fowls”; “resist” for “withstand”; “maid” for “damsel”; “race”for “kindred”; “teaching” for “doctrine”, and so on ad infinitum. Dr. Wordsworth compares “the multitudes of little irritating corrections to a swarm of minute and venomous insects, which annoy their victims all the more because they are so small”. To hear it read aloud in public is a veritable penance to many.
No doubt little lists of niceties of translation can be made out by enthusiasts, but some bright colours in a bad picture do not prove it well designed or executed, nor do small advantages compensate for great losses.
A gardener, once hired by the present writer to tidy up his garden, dug up some weeds, and also his bed of lilies of the valley, the pride of the garden. It was fine digging, but poor gardening. Nothing has seemed too sacred for the Revision majority to “dig up” in faithfulness to their few favourite manuscripts.
5. The Methods of the A. V. were more Reliable
There was no secrecy in connection with the A.V.. Competent scholars outside were kept informed and opinions invited. The Revisers sat with closed doors for ten years: all was secret.
At the start, a surprise entirely foreign to the injunctions of Convocation, was sprung on the Committee. Proof sheets of a New Greek Text were distributed by Drs. Westcott and Hort (their own work) to each member, and as the Revision proceeded more were handed round, and all on pledge of secrecy. This New Greek Text embodying 5,337 changes from the Received Text, and introduced thus strangely, at once became its rival standard of reference. It exercised a determinant influence on the work of Revision. It was adopted by Dr. Schaff, the head of the American Revision Committee, a man of profoundly unsound views,8 both Romanising and Germanising.
In the work of Revision, the chairman tells us “it was often a kind of critical duel”9 between Dr. Scrivener (believed by many to be the greatest textual critic in the company) on conservative lines, and Dr. Hort, the dominant will of the Committee determined to carry out “the thorough scheme” which he and Westcott had in view. Then the Committee, most of whom made no claim to be experts on textual criticism, were called upon to vote on the spot, and thus the reading was “settled”.
Sir E. Beckett remarks, “If this is not a kind of joke, it is quite enough to ‘settle’ the Revisers’ Greek Text in a very different sense”.10 The Dublin Review (R.C.) sarcastically remarks “It must be confessed that Gospel by ballot is an essentially modern idea”.
The R.V. is not thus a revision based on the old Greek Text, as most imagine, but a Translation of a new and revolutionary text introduced unexpectedly to the Revision Committee by its authors.
6. The Manuscripts of the A.V. were more Reliable
Certainly the Revisers had more MSS. but Dean Burgon affirms, “Nineteen twentieths of these documents might just as well be still lying in the monastic libraries from which they were obtained”11, i.e. they were not taken into account.
Dr. F. C. Cook, editor of the Speakers Commentary, who had declined to join the Revisers, explains the anomaly, “by far the greater number of innovations including those which give the severest shocks to our minds are adopted on the authority of two MSS., or even of one, against the distinct testimony of all other manuscripts, uncial and cursive“.12
Drs. Westcott and Hort practically staked their all on a few MSS. mostly on two uncials, Aleph (Codex Sinaiticus) and B (Codex Vaticanus), the last named being to them of preeminent authority. “We always come back to B, as Westcott and Hort is practically B.”13
Even Dr. Schaff, a great ally of Drs. Westcott and Hort admits: “If Westcott and Hort have failed, it is by an over estimate of the Vatican Codex (i.e. B) to which…they assign supremacy.“14
There is indeed good reason for believing that these two manuscripts sprang from a depraved 2nd century source, when manuscripts were systematically corrupted by heretical leaders.15 The ten correcting hands in Aleph, (i.e. the Codex Sinaticus which was purchased by the British Museum for £100,000) from the 4th to 12th centuries, seem to bear this out. They were probably two of the 50 copies of the Bible ordered by Constantine the Great of Eusebius, and would thus be produced in a hurry, which would account for their numerous omissions.16
The canon in vogue in 1881 – the shorter the reading the stronger it is17 – stands seriously challenged today. Certainly it is easier to omit unintentionally than to add. Erasmus had full opportunity of knowing readings of Codex Alexandrinus (A.) and also those of B., when he was making his Textus Receptus, and later in 1533, but he had no confidence in B. at all, and rejected in general its readings.18 I believe the revision needed today is a revision of any confidence we may have allowed ourselves in the changes in the Greek text adopted by the R.V.. That Revision is a pyramid on its apex, and even the apex is unsound.
7. The Margin of the A.V. is More Reliable
By Rule 4 of Convocation, the Revisers were only allowed to alter the Received Greek Text on “decidedly
preponderating evidence“, and such changes were to be indicated in the margin. The Revisers dispensed themselves from this rule on the ground that “it proved inconvenient!“to record them in the margin. Naturally the margin would have been blocked with the thousands of changes adopted by the Revision majority.
The margin seems often misused to register what “many authorities”, etc. have said; in this way stereotyping doubts in readers’ minds, as though a critical edition for students was being prepared, instead of a book for the millions. Thus the last verses of Mark are surrounded by suspicion, on the authority of the two manuscripts of Drs. Westcott and Hort’s predilection (Aleph and B.), and even “a different ending to the Gospel” is mentioned, which no one would dream of adopting. Also in some instances a primary meaning is inserted in the margin, like “Greek ‘presence’ ” (for parousia), which belittles the true sense of the word, and the second advent which it announces.
Also such idiomatic phrases as “for ever and for ever” have in margin “Greek, to the ages of the ages”, which is “information” which does not inform, but rather raises doubts in favour of the “Larger Hope”. No doubt such R.V. marginal glosses have contributed their quota to the general unsettlement on this solemn subject. Sometimes without any “preponderating evidence” the A.V. rendering is put into the margin, and some new suggestion into the text, e.g. in the case of 2 Tim 3:16, where surely the reverse process would have been fairer.
8. The Men of the A.V. were More Reliable
Some people are so dazzled by great names and titles, that to question the Revisers’ soundness in the faith savours almost of blasphemy. We must avoid, however, having two weights and two measures. The same standard, the Holy Scriptures, must apply to all.
The A.V. translators were no less scholars than the Revisers, and they had also suffered for the truth. They had eschewed Rome and all her works. Well would it be if the same could be said of the Revision Majority. There can be no injustice in taking a man’s beliefs from his own words. Several prominent Revisers, including Drs. Westcott and Hort, were in full sympathy with the Romanising movement. Westcott’s share in its success must be fully recognised,19 indeed he and Hort seemed to have leanings to Mariolatry.20 Westcott writes to the Archbishop of Canterbury: “I wish I could see to what forgotten truth Mariolatry bear witness.” I would suggest to the sinful tendency of the human heart to idolatry, of which the second commandment warns us. It is recorded in Westcott’s Official Life, as a proof of his piety, that on one occasion abroad in R.C. France he and his party came across a wayside shrine containing an image of the Virgin and the dead Christ (a “pieta”). Westcott tells us how he would gladly have spent hours kneeling before it, had he been alone. Strange gesture for a Protestant clergyman! Hort writes: “The pure Romish view (i.e. of sacraments) seems to be nearer and more likely to lead to the truth than the Evangelical…we dare not forsake the sacraments or God will forsake us”.21 He speaks of his “serious differences with Evangelicals; on authority, and especially on the authority of the Bible”.22 He sneers at “the crazy horror of the idea of…priesthood” among Protestants.23 October 26th, 1867, he writes to Lightfoot, “But you know I am a staunch sacedotalist.” Newman was his hero,24 his ideal of “greatness and goodness.” The wonder is he did not follow him to what he calls “great Rome”.25
Surely these admirers of Rome made up for it by extra soundness as to the Person and Work of Christ! I fear nothing could be further from the truth. All know the scandal of an open Unitarian being invited on to the Committee, but perhaps few are aware how Hort gloried in the fact,26 or that Westcott would have retired altogether had the Unitarian been forced to resign.27 Both he and Hort denied the vicarious atonement of Christ, which Hort, writing to the other, calls “an immoral counterfeit” of the truth. They thought atonement was affected by some mysterious union with Christ through the Incarnation (!) then, think they, a person28 “does what Christ has done”.29 They both favoured “the Larger Hope”, the Darwinian hypothesis, and the O.T. Higher Criticism, e.g. “No one now, I suppose, holds that the first three chapters of Genesis, for example, give a literal history,” writes Westcott, March 4th, 1890, and Hort, “I am inclined to think that no such state as ‘Eden’ (I mean the popular notion) ever existed,” and so on, and so on.3o But why continue? Could men so unsound in the fundamentals of the faith (and others of the company, such as Stanley, Thirlwall, the Unitarian Vance Smith, etc. might be cited) be God’s chosen channels for conveying to His Church fresh light on His Holy Word? I find it impossible to believe.
9. The Doctrine of the A.V. is More Reliable
It were a miracle were it not so, after what we have just seen, and the jubilation of the enemies of evangelical truth over the R.V. affords an undesigned confirmation. The attitude of Roman Catholics to the A.V. has ever been one of bitter hostility. That “vile” Protestant version they would call it, and Newman denied its “claim upon our interior consent” (see Tract 90, from the Oxford Movement’s Tracts for the Times). Cardinal Wiseman exulted over the Revision, as vindicating the R.C. Bible.31 Luke 1:72 (R.V.) is welcomed by another R.C. writer as favouring purgatory,32 and the R.V. alteration of “Search the Scriptures” is gloated over by another who asserts, “Thus Protestantism has lost the very cause of its being.”33 Another writes”One of the greatest benefits conferred by the Revisers is…that all the wicked translations (!) have been ruthlessly swept away by the besom of the Revisers”.34 It may be justly asked what were these “wicked translations”, and if there are none more wicked or fatuous in the Revised.
Dean Farrar, whose trend of doctrine is only too well known, and a close ally of Drs. Westcott and Hort writes, “hundreds of texts” were so changed that the Revisers restored conceptions “profound and remarkable” in the “verbs expressive of the great crises of Christian life.”35 Probably he referred to such changes as ‘turn’ for ‘be converted’; ‘eternal’ always for ‘everlasting’; ‘Hell of fire’ for ‘Hell fire’, etc.
Westcott makes it clear that such doctrinal changes and others were intentional, indeed the aim of the Revisers.36 The Unitarian Reviser said “Hell of fire opened the way for the other (!) hells of pagan mythology”.37
As for 1 Tim 3:16, which Scrivener calls “the crux of the critics”, surely the word “God” was not “plain and clear error” enough to be deleted in favour of “He who”! No wonder the Unitarian Reviser applauded such a change! I believe God is necessary in the sense here, for the sentence is not as usually quoted “God manifest in the flesh”, but a positive statement “God was manifested in the flesh” and “He Who” refers, it is understood, to the Lord Jesus. This might be so, were the phrase as quoted above, but it is not correct to say that the Lord Jesus “was manifested in the flesh” for that implies He was Jesus before incarnation. It must be God Who was manifested in flesh as Jesus.
Socinian influence38 is again seen in the marginal note on Rom 9:5, that wonderful testimony to the Deity of our Lord.
To quote one more case – the change in 2 Tim 3:16. It is vain to pretend that this change leaves the testimony to the inspiration of the Scriptures unaltered. It goes a long way toward undermining all confidence in it, as is shown by the R.C. comment, “It (Protestantism) has been robbed of its only (!) proof of Bible Inspiration by the R.V. correct (!) rendering.”39 No doubt Modernists with one voice adopt the R.V. rendering as more in harmony with their views.4o Strangely enough some good men seem unable to perceive that the R.V. here is ambiguous, meaning either “being inspired of God” (which is only an anaemic edition of the A.V. and this might have been left alone), or, “if inspired of God”, which is how it is usually understood. As the Greek word for “Scripture” is as technical in the N.T. as “Bible” is with us, the effect is to create a complete uncertainty as to what is inspired in the Bible and what is not. In my judgment had the Revisers made no other change than this, it would suffice to condemn their Version as unreliable and unsound.
The difference between the A.V. and R.V. might be summarised as follows: the former contains a certain number of archaisms and defective renderings, though in the main it is trustworthy and excellent; the latter offers a certain number of improvements, along with a mass of needless or harmful changes. We can no more reject the A.V. for its few blemishes, than accept the R.V. for its few betterments. In conclusion, as one has well said, “When we consider the men who dominated the Committee and consequently determined the content of the Revised Work, and when we consider their critical bias, their sympathy with the germinal ideas of Modern Religious Liberalism, their advocacy Ritualism, and their fondness for Rome, simple intelligence compels us to wonder if the ‘scheme’ (i.e. ‘the thorough scheme’ of Drs. Westcott and Hort) did not embrace a subservience to these predilections.”41
A Summary of the Whole
To sum up then, the A. V. is consistent with itself but the R.V. introduces a discordant system, the translation of a Revised Greek Text, with a change in every two verses out of three, and a corresponding revision of doctrine. In contending for the A.V. as a whole, I believe we are “upholding the Ancient Landmarks” and “contending for the faith once delivered to the saints”.
1. Lincoln “Diocesan Address”, 1881, p.16
2. A French idiomatic sentence construed literally on the Revision principle illustrates this: “I am arrived here yesterday at the evening, sound and safe. I love the England, but better the France where I am born, and have been brought up.”
3. Dr. Wordsworth.
4. e.g. “prevent” for “precede” (1 Thess 4:15) “children of God” for “sons” and vice versa (1 John 3:1), etc.
5. Sir. E. Beckett on R.V. p.16 (speaking of which book, the late W.E. Gladstone said, “He convincingly reveals the failure of the R.V.”).
6. Hemphill, History of R.V. p.15
7. “Big Ben” is the bell on which the chimes are struck, used by metonymy now for the clock itself.
8. “Life of Dr. Schaff”, pp.245, 417 (see also pp.233-243, Wilkinson’s “Our Authorised Bible Vindicated”, a valuable work to which I avow myself in debt).
9. Ellicott, Addresses p.61
10. Article “The Revised”, July, 1881
11. “Revision Revised”, p.124
12. “Revised Version”, pp.227, 231
13. Hoskier, “Genesis of the Versions”, p.416
14. “Companion to Greek Text”, p.277
15. Scrivener, Introduction, Fourth Edition, Vol. 2, p.264
16. In case of B. 2,877 moissions from the “Textus Receptus”.
17. Brevior lectio potior.
18. S.P. Tregelles, “On the Printed Texts of the Greek Text”, p.22
19. Kempson, “Church and Modern England”, p.100
20. “Life of Westcott”, Vol. 1, p.81, 251, 256. Life of Hort, Vol. 2, p.30
21. “Life of Hort”, Vol. 1, p.76
22. Idem, vol. 2, p.30
23. Idem, p. 51
24. Idem, p. 18
25. Idem, p. 30
26. Idem, p. 140
27. “Life of Westcott”, Vol. 1, p.394
28. Westcott only believed in the “union” as embracing all Christians, i.e. “all baptised persons”. Hort went further, and included the whole himan race.
29. “Life of Hort”, Vol 1, p.430 and Vol. 2, p.140 and “Life of Westcott”, Vol 1, p.231
30. “Life of Hort”, p.275, and Westcott, “Some Lessons”, p.195. (Vol. 1, p.81).
31. Wiseman’s Essays, Vol. 1, p.104
32. Mullen, Canon, p.352
33. “Dublin Review”(R.C.), July, 1881.
34. Dr. James A. Corcoran (R.C.) (as quoted in Dr. Warfield “Collection of Opinions”, Vol. 2, p.82).
35. Contemporary Review, March, 1882.
36. Westcott, “Some Lessons”, pp.184, 185; also Dr. Vance Smith’s “Texts and Margs, of R.V.” p.45
37. The Greek is “The Hell of the fire”, i.e. The Hell of eternal fire, as distinguished from some figurative hell (Ge-hinnom) on earth (Matt 5:22). Texts and Margs. of R.V. p.45
38. That of Dr. Ezra Abbot, the”Unitarian” American Reviser (see Riddle’s “Story of American R.V.”, p.69).
39. Dublin Review (R.C.), July, 1881
4o. See “Revision Revised” (Burgon), pp.98-106, 165, 316, 424 etc.
41. Authorised Bible Vindicated (Wilkinson) p. 182