Study of the King James Bible Part 12

[1] Green, Short History of the English People.

Add to that personal appeal and that absolute fairness to humanity the constant challenge of the Bible to the nobler elements of humanity.

It never trifles. It is in deadly earnest. And it makes earnest men. Probably we cannot illustrate that earnestness more clearly than by a study of one element in Puritan history, which is confused in many minds. It is the matter of the three great antagonisms of Puritanism in England and America. They can never be understood by moral triflers. They may not be approved by all the morally serious, but they will be understood by them. What are those three marked antagonisms? The antagonism to the stage, to popular frivolity, and to the pleasure Sabbath.

1. The early English stage had the approval of virtually all the people. There were few voices raised against the dramas of Shakespeare.

But the cleavage between the Puritans and the stage grew greater as the years went on. There were riotous excesses. The later comedy after Shakespeare was incredibly gross. The tragedies were shallow, they turned not on grave scenes of conscience, but on common and cheap intrigues of incest and murder. In the mean time, "the hatred of the Puritans for the stage was only the honest hatred of God-fearing men against the foulest depravity presented in poetic and dramatic forms." The Bible was laying hold on the imagination of the people, making them serious, thoughtful, preparing them for the struggle for liberty which was soon to come.

The plays of the time seemed too trifling or else too foul. The Puritans and the English people of the day were willing to be amused, if the stage would amuse them. They were willing to be taught, if the stage would teach them. But they were not willing to be amused by vice and foulness, and they were not willing to be taught by lecherous actors who parroted beautiful sentiments of virtue on the stage and lived filthy lives of incest and shame off the stage. Life had to be whole to the Puritan, as indeed it has to be to other thoughtful men. And the Bible taught him that. His concern was for the higher elements of life; his appeal was to the worthier values in men. The concern of the stage of his day was for the more volatile elements in men.

The test of a successful play was whether the crowds, any crowds, came to it. And as always happens when a man wants to catch the interest of a crowd, the stage catered to its lowest interests.

You can hardly read the story of the times without feeling that the Puritan made no mistake in his day. He could not have been the thoughtful man who would stand strong in the struggle for liberty on that side of the sea and the struggle for life on this side of the sea without opposing trifling and vice.

2. The antagonism of the early Puritan to popular frivolity needs to have the times around it to be understood. No great movement carries everybody with it, and while it is still struggling the majority will be on the opposing side. While the real leadership of England was passing into the stronger and more serious hands the artificial excesses of life grew strong on the people.

"Fortunes were being sunk and estates mortgaged in order that men should wear jewels and dress in colored silks."[1] In the pressure of grave national needs men persisted in frivolity.

The two reigning vices were drunkenness and swearing. In their cups men were guilty of the grossest indecencies. Even their otherwise harmless sports were endangered. The popular notion of the May-pole dances misses the real point of the Puritan opposition to it in Old and New England. It was not an innocent, jovial out-door event. Once it may have been that.

Very often it was only part of a day which brought immorality and vice in its train. It was part of a rural paganism. Some of the customs involved such grave perils, with their seclusion of young people from early dawn in the forests, as to make it impossible to approve it. Over against all these things the Puritans set themselves.

Sometimes they carried this solemnity to an absurd length, justifying it by Scripture verses misapplied. Against the affected elegancies of speech they set the plain yea, yea and nay, nay of Scripture. In their clothing, their homes, their churches, they, and in even more marked degree, the Quakers, registered their solemn protest against the frivolity of the times. If they went too far, it is certain their protest was needed. Macaulay's epigram is familiar, that the Puritan "hated bear-baiting, not because it gave pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to the spectators." In so far as that is true, it is to the credit of the Puritan; for the bear can stand the pain of being baited far better than human nature can stand the coarsening effects of baiting him, and it is nobler to oppose such sport on human grounds than on animal grounds. But, of course, the epigram is Macaulay's, and must be read with qualification.

The fact is, and he says it often enough without epigrams, that the times had become trifling except as this grave, thoughtful group influenced them.

[1] Trevelyan, England under the Stuarts, p. 66.

3. The attitude of the Puritans toward the Sabbath came from their serious thought of the Bible. Puritanism gave England the Sabbath again and planted it in America as an institution.

Of course, these men learned all that they knew of it from the Bible. From that day, in spite of much change in thought of it, English- speaking people have never been wilful abusers of the Sabbath. But the condition in that day was very different. Most of the games were on the day set apart as the Sabbath. There were bull-baiting, bear-baiting, and football on Sunday.

Calvin himself, though not in England, bowled on Sunday, and poor Knox attended festivities then, saying grimly that what little is right on week-days is not wrong on Sundays.

After the service on Sunday morning the people thronged to the village green, where ale flowed freely and games were played until the evening dance was called. It was a work-day. Elizabeth issued a special injunction that people work after service on Sundays and holidays if they wished to do so. Employers were sustained in their demand for Sunday work.

There are always people in every time who count that the ideal Sabbath. The Puritans found it when they appeared. The English Reformation found it when it came. And the Bible found it when at last it came out of obscurity and laid hold on national conditions.

Whatever is to be said of other races, every period of English-speaking history assures us that our moral power increases or weakens with the rise or fall of Sabbath reverence. The Puritans saw that. They saw, as many other thoughtful people saw, that the steady, repeated observance of the Sabbath gave certain national influences a chance to work; reminded the nation of certain great underlying and undying principles; in short, brought God into human thought. The Sunday of pleasure or work could never accomplish that. Both as religionists and as patriots, as lovers of God and lovers of men, they opposed the pleasure-Sunday and held for the Sabbath.

But that comes around again to the saying that the persistent moral appeal of the Bible gives it inevitable influence on history. It centers thought on moral issues. It challenges men to moral combats.

Such a force persistently working in men's minds is irresistible. It cannot be opposed; it can only fail by being neglected. And this is the force which has been steadily at work everywhere in English-speaking history since the King James version came to be.



THIS lecture must differ at two points from those which have preceded it. In the first place, the other lectures have dealt entirely with facts. This must deal also with judgments. In the earlier lectures we have avoided any consideration of what ought to have been and have centered our interest on what actually did occur.

We especially avoided any argument based on a theory of the literary characteristics or literary influence of the Bible, but sought first to find the facts and then to discover what explained them. It might be very difficult to determine what is the actual place of the Bible in the life of to-day. Perhaps it would be impossible to give a broad, fair judgment. It is quite certain that the people of James's day did not realize the place it was taking. It is equally certain that many of those whom it most influenced were entirely unconscious of the fact.

It is only when we look back upon the scene that we discover the influence that was moving them.

But, while it is difficult to say what the place of the Bible actually is in our own times, the place it ought to have is easier to point out. That will involve a study of the conditions of our times, which suggest the need for its influence. While we must consider the facts, therefore, we will be compelled to pass some judgments also, and therein this lecture must differ from the others.

The second fact of difference is that while the earlier lectures have dealt with the King James version, this must deal rather with the Bible.

For the King James version is not the Bible.

There are many versions; there is but one Bible. Whatever the translators put into the various tongues, the Bible itself remains the same. There are values in the new versions; but they are simply the old value of the Bible itself. It is a familiar maxim that the newest version is the oldest Bible. We are not making the Bible up to date when we make a new version; we are only getting back to its date. A revision in our day is the effort to take out of the original writings what men of King James's day may have put in, and give them so much the better chance. There is no revised Bible; there is only a revised version. Readers sometimes feel disturbed at what they consider the changes made in the Bible. The fact is, the revision which deserves the name is lessening the changes in the Bible; it is giving us the Bible as it actually was and taking from us elements which were not part of it. One can sympathize with the eloquent Dr. Storrs, who declared, in an address in 1879, that he was against any new version because of the history of the King James version, describing it as a great oak with roots running deep and branches spreading wide. He declared we were not ready to give it up for any modern tulip-tree. There is something in that, though such figures are not always good argument.

Yet the value to any book of a worthy translation is beyond calculation. The outstanding literary illustration of that fact is familiar. The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam lay in Persian literature and in different English translations long before Fitzgerald made it a household classic for literary people. The translator made the book for us in more marked way than the original writer did. In somewhat the same way the King James version gave to the English-speaking people the Bible; and no other version has taken its place.

Yet that was not a mistaken move nearly forty years ago, when the revision of the King James version was proposed and undertaken.

Thirty years ago (1881) it was completed in what we ordinarily call the Revised Version, and ten years ago (1901) the American form of that Revised Version appeared. Few things could more definitely prove the accepted place of the King James version than the fact that we seem to hear less to-day of the Revised Version than we used to hear, and that, while the American Revised Version is incomparably the best in existence in its reproduction of the original, even it makes way slowly. In less than forty years the King James version crowded all its competitors off the field. The presence of the Revised Version of 1881 has not appreciably affected the sales or the demand for the King James version.

In the minds of most people the English and the American revisions stand as admirable commentaries on the King James version. If one wishes to know wherein the King James version failed of representing the original, he will learn it better from those versions than from any number of commentaries; but the number of those to whom one or other of the versions has supplanted the King James version is not so large as might have been expected.

There were several reasons for a new English version of the Bible. It was, of course, no indignity to the King James version. Those translators frankly said that they had no hope to make a final version of the Scriptures. It would be very strange if in three hundred years language should not have grown by reason of the necessities of the race that used it, so that at some points a book might be outgrown. In another lecture it has been intimated that the English Bible, by reason of its constant use, has tended to fix and confirm the English language.

But no one book, nor any set of books, could confine a living tongue. Some of the reasons for a new version which give value to these two revisions may be mentioned.

1. Though the King James version was made just after the literary renaissance, the classical learning of to-day is far in advance of that day.

The King James version is occasionally defective in its use of tenses and verbs in the Greek and also in the Hebrew. We have Greek and Hebrew scholars who are able more exactly to reproduce in English the meaning of the original.

It would be strange if that were not so.

2. Then there have been new and important discoveries of Biblical literature which date earlier in Christian history than any our fathers knew three hundred years ago. In some instances those earlier discoveries have shown that a phrase here or there has been wrongly introduced into the text. There has been no marked instance where a phrase was added by the revisers; that is, a phrase dropped out of the original and now replaced. One illustration of the omission of a phrase will be enough. In the fifth chapter of I John the seventh verse reads: "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one." In the revised versions it is omitted, because it seems quite certain that it was not in the original writing. It does not at all alter the meaning of Scripture. While it appears in most of the best manuscripts which were available for the King James translators, earlier manuscripts found since that time have shown that it was formerly written at the side as a gloss, and was by some transcriber set over in the text itself.

The process of making the early manuscripts shows how easily that could have occurred.

Let us suppose that two or three manuscripts were being made at once by different copyists.

One was set to read the original; as he read, the others wrote. It would be easy to suppose that he might read this marginal reference as a suitable commentary on the text, and that one or more of the writers could have written it in the text. It could easily happen also that a copyist, even seeing where it stood, might suppose it had been omitted by the earlier copyist, and that he had completed his work by putting it on the margin. So the next copyist would put it into his own text. Once in a manuscript, it would readily become part of the accepted form. Discoveries that bring that sort of thing to light are of value in giving us an accurate version of the original Bible.

3. Then there are in our King James version a few archaic and obsolete phrases. We have already spoken of them. Most of them have been avoided in the revised versions. The neuter possessive pronoun, for example, has been put in. Animal names have been clarified, obsolete expressions have been replaced by more familiar ones, and so on.

4. Then there were certain inaccuracies in the King James version. The fact is familiar that they transliterated certain words which they could not well translate. In the revised versions that has been carried farther still. The words which they translated "hell" have been put back into their Hebrew and Greek equivalents, and appear as Sheol and Hades. Another instance is that of an Old Testament word, Asherah, which was translated always "grove,"

and was used to describe the object of worship of the early enemies of Israel. The translation does not quite represent the fact, and the revisers have therefore replaced the old Hebrew word Asherah. The transliterations of the King James version have not been changed into translations.

Instead, the number of transliterations has been increased in the interest of accuracy.

At one point one might incline to be adversely critical of the American revisers. They have transliterated the Hebrew word Jehovah; so they have taken sides in a controversy where scholars have room to differ. The version would have gained in strength if it had retained the dignified and noble word "Lord," which comes as near representing the idea of the Hebrew word for God as any word we could find. It must be added that the English of neither of our new versions has the rhythm and movement of the old version. That is partly because we are so accustomed to the old expressions and new ones strike the ear unpleasantly. In any case, the versions differ plainly in their English. It seems most unlikely that either of these versions shall ever have the literary influence of the King James, though any man who will prophesy about, that affects a wisdom which he has not.

These, then, are the two differences between this lecture and the preceding ones, that in this lecture we shall deal with judgments as well as facts, and that we shall deal with the Bible of to-day rather than the King James version.

Passing to the heart of the subject, the question appears at once whether the Bible has or can have to-day the influence or the place which it seems to have had in the past. Two things, force that question: Has not the critical study of the Bible itself robbed it of its place of authority, and have not the changes of our times destroyed its possibilities of influence? That is, on the one hand, has not the Bible been changed?

On the other hand, has it not come into such new conditions that it cannot do its old work?

It is a natural but a most mistaken idea that the critical study of the Bible is a new thing.

From long before the childhood of any of us there has been sharp controversy about the Bible. It is a controversy-provoking Book. It cannot accept blind faith. It always has made men think, and it makes them think in the line of their own times. The days when no questions were raised about the Bible were the days when men had no access to it.

There are some who take all the Bible for granted. They know that there is indifference to it among friends and in their social circle; but how real the dispute about the Bible is no one realizes until he comes where new ideas, say ideas of socialism, are in the air. There, with the breaking of other chains, is a mighty effort to break this bond also. In such circles the Bible is little read. It is discussed, and time- worn objections are bandied about, always growing as they pass. In these circles also every supposedly adverse result of critical study is welcomed and remembered. If it is said that there are unexplained contradictions in the Bible, that fact is remembered. But if it is said further that those contradictions bid fair to yield to further critical study, or to a wiser understanding of the situations in which they are involved, that fact is overlooked. The tendency in these circles is to keep alive rather the adverse phases of critical study than its favorable phases. Some of those who speak most fiercely about the study of the Bible, by what is known as higher criticism, are least intelligent as to what higher criticism actually means. Believers regret it, and unbelievers rejoice in it. As a matter of fact, in developing any strong feeling about higher criticism one only falls a prey to words; he mistakes the meaning of both the words involved.

Criticism does not mean finding fault with the Bible.[1] It is almost an argument for total depravity that we have made the word gain an adverse meaning, so that if the average man were told that he had been "criticized" by another be would suppose that something had been said against him. Of course, intelligent people know that that is not necessarily involved.

When Kant wrote The Critique of Pure Reason he was not finding fault with pure reason. He was only making careful analytical study of it.

Now, critical study of the Bible is only careful study of it. It finds vastly more new beauties than unseen defects. In the same way the adjective "higher" comes in for misunderstanding. It does not mean superior; it means more difficult.

Lower criticism is the study of the text itself.

What word ought to be here, and exactly what does that word mean? What is the comparative value of this manuscript over against that one? If this manuscript has a certain word and that other has a slightly different one, which word ought to be used?

[1] Jefferson, Things Fundamental, p. 90.

Take one illustration from the Old Testament and one from the New to show what lower or textual criticism does. In the ninth chapter of Isaiah the third verse reads: "Thou hast multiplied the nation and not increased the joy."

That word "not" is troublesome. It disagrees with the rest of the passage. Now it happens that there are two Hebrew words pronounced "lo," just alike in sound, but spelled differently.

One means "not," the other means "to him"

or "his." Put the second word in, and the sentence reads: "Thou hast multiplied the nation and increased its joy." That fits the context exactly. Lower criticism declares that it is therefore the probable reading, and corrects the text in that way.

The other illustration is from the Epistle of James, where in the fourth chapter the second verse reads: "Ye lust, and have not; ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain; ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not."

Chapter end

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