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Society, in April 1806, when a Committee was appointed, consisting of all the ministers who were members of the Society, together with some gentlemen of the laity, to carry the intentions of the Society into effect with all convenient despatch. To this Committee it appeared, on many accounts, more eligible to adopt as the basis of their Work a known and approved translation already existing, than to make a new and original Version. And Mr. Wakefield's being unattainable, they fixed their choice upon the excellent Translation of the late most reverend Dr. William Newcome, Archbishop of Armagh, and Primate of all Ireland, a worthy successor of the venerable and learned Archbishop Usher. And to this choice they were induced, not only by the general accuracy, simplicity, and fidelity of the Primate's Translation, but principally because he professes to have followed the text of Griesbach's edition, which, having been formed from a careful collation of many manuscripts and yersions, exhibits a text by far the most correct of any, which have been published since the revival of learning in the fifteenth century.
Having selected Archbishop Newcome's Translation as their basis, it became an object with the Committee to guard, as much as possible, against giving their improved Version a motley appearance, by departing unnecessarily from the Primate's text. To this end they assumed it as a principle, that no alteration should be made in the Primate's Translation, but where it appeared to be necessary to the correction of error or inaccuracy in the text, the language, the construction, or the sense. And so closely have they adhered to this rule, that, in some instances, they have rather chosen to place, what appeared to them the more eligible translation, at the foot of the page, than to alter the Primate's text where some judicious readers might think it unnecessary. In justice to the Archbishop, they have placed the words of his Translation at the bottom of the page, wherever they have deviated from it in the Improved Version; and where it was thought necessary, a short note has been subjoined, assigning the reasons for the alteration, which, to the candid and discerning, they flatter themselves will generally appear satisfactory. Also, in every instance, in which either the Primate's Version or their own differs from the Received Text, they have placed the words of the Received Text at the foot of the page: and in all important cases they have cited the authorities by which the variation is supported.
The Committee have also added Notes for the illustration of difficult and doubtful passages, which are chiefly collected from critics and commentators of the highest reputation. They cannot flatter them
selves with the expectation that these Notes will be equally acceptable to all readers: but they hope that they will be of use to the inquisitive, the liberal, and the judicious. These notes, having swelled to a greater number and magnitude than was originally expected, have considerably increased both the labour of the Committee, and the expense of the Work ;-but, it is hoped, not without a due equivalent.
The encouragement which this Work has received from the subscriptions, which have been raised to defray the expense of carrying it through the press, has far exceeded the most sanguine expectations. The exemplary liberality and the active zeal of some generous individuals would well deserve to be entered upon record. But they seek not honour from their fellowcreatures. The consciousness of their own pious and benevolent views and feelings, and the hope, that whatever they have contributed to this important object, may be a sacrifice of grateful odour to that Being, who is witness to all that passes within the temple of the heart, is to them of far greater value than human applause.
The design of the Committee, and indeed of the Society, in the pub. lication of this Improved Version, is to supply the English reader with a more correct text of the New Testament, than has yet appeared in the English language, and to give him an opportunity of comparing it with the text in common use. Also, by divesting the sacred volume of the technical phrases of a systematic theology, which has no foundation in the Scriptures themselves, to render the New Testament more generally intelligible, or at least to preclude many sources of error; and, by the assistance of the Notes, to enable the judicious and attentive reader to understand scripture phraseology, and to form a just idea of true and uncorrupted christianity, which is a doctrine worthy of all acceptation, and is able to make us wise to everlasting life.
In this Version verbal criticism has not been attended to in the degree that some might wish and expect. It has not, however, been wholly neglected: but, in general, the judgement of the learned Primate has been adopted in difficulties of this nature; the design of the Committee not being to exhibit a version critically correct in every minute particular, but generally perspicuous and intelligible. Their professed object was an improved, not a perfect Version. But, though they cannot expect to satisfy the fastidious critic, they are not without hope, that their labours may be acceptable to serious and inquisitive christians, and particularly to those by whom their trust was delegated, and to the numerous and liberal Subscribers by whom the work has been encouraged. And this, next to the approbation of conscience and of Heaven, is the only reward to which they aspire.
CANON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT.-DISTINCTION BETWEEN THE DISPUTED AND THE UNDISPUTED BOOKS.
THE Canon of the New Testament is a collection of books written by the apostles; or by men who were companions of the apostles, and who wrote under their inspection.
These books are called the Canon, from a Greek word which signifies a rule, because to a christian they constitute the only proper and sufficient rule of faith and practice.
These books are also called The Scriptures, or The Writings, because these Writings are held by christians in the highest estimation. They are the Scriptures of the New Testament, or, more properly speaking, of the New Covenant, because they contain a complete account of the christian dispensation, which is described as covenant, by which Almighty God engages to bestow eternal life upon the penitent and virtuous believer in Christ. For this reason the christian scriptures, and particularly the books which contain the history of Jesus Christ, are called the Gospel, or Good news, a literal translation of the word vayyλio; as these sacred writings contain the best tidings which could be communicated to mankind.
The Canon of Scripture is either the Received Canon or the True.
The Received Canon comprehends the whole of that collection of books which is contained in the New Testament, and which are generally received by christians as of apostolical authority. The True Canon consists of those books only, the genuineness of which is established upon satisfactory evidence.
When, or by whom, the received Canon was formed is not certainly known. It has been commonly believed that it was fixed by the council of Laodicea A. D. 364, but this is certainly a mistake. The first catalogue of canonical books, which is now extant, was drawn up by Origen A. D. 210. It leaves out the Epistles of James and Jude.
The genuineness and authority of every book in the New Testament rests upon its own specific evidence. No person, nor any body of men, has any right authoritatively to determine concerning any book, that it is canonical and of apostolical authority. Every sincere and diligent inquirer has a right to judge for himself, after due examination, what .he is to receive as the rule of his faith and practice. The learned Jeremiah Jones on the Canon, and Dr. Lardner's laborious work upon the Credibility of the Gospel History, contain the most accurate and copious information upon this subject.
The most important distinction of the books of the New Testament, is that mentioned by Eusebius bishop of Cesarea, in the third book of his Ecclesiastical History. He distinguishes them into the books which were universally acknowledged, oporysμeva, and those, which though generally received, were by some disputed, avtiλɛyoμeva.
The books universally acknowledged are, the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, thirteen Epistles of Paul, the first Epistle of Peter, and the first Epistle of John. "These only," says Dr. Lardner, "should be of the highest authority, from which doctrines of religion may be proved."
The disputed books, artiλɛyouɛva, are the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Epistle of James, the second of Peter, the second and third of John, the Epistle of Jude, and the Revelation. "These," says Dr. Lardner, "should be allowed to be publicly read in christian assemblies, for the edification of the people, but not be alleged as affording alone sufficient proof of any doctrine †."
These distinctions prove the great pains which were taken by the primitive christians in forming the Canon, and their solicitude, not to admit any book into the code of the New Testament, of the genuineness of which they had not the clearest evidence. It is a distinction of great importance to all, who desire to appreciate rightly the value and authority of the several books, which compose the received Canon.
BRIEF ACCOUNT OF THE RECEIVED TEXT-EDITIONS OF THE BY CARDINAL XIMENES, BY ERASMUS,' ROBERT STEPHENS, BEZA, AND ELZEVIR.
IF this version of the Christian Scriptures possesses any merit, it is that of being translated from the most correct Text of the Original which has hitherto been published.
A text perfectly correct, that is, which shall in every particular exactly correspond with the autograph of the apostles and evangelists, is not to be expected. We must content ourselves with approximating as nearly as possible to the original. The utility of this is too obvious to need either proof or illustration.
The Received Text of the New Testament is that which is in general use.
The degree of credit which is due to the accuracy of the Received Text will appear from the following brief detail of facts.
* Lardner's Supplement, vol. i. p. 29 ; ch. ü, sec. 4.
+ Lardner, ibid. p. 30.
The New Testament was originally written in Greek: perhaps with the exception of the Gospel of Matthew, and the Epistle to the Hebrews; of which books, however, the earliest copies extant are in the Greek language.
Previously to the Reformation in the sixteenth century, the Greek copies were grown into disuse: the priests used an imperfect Latin translation in the public offices of religion, and all translations into the vulgar tongue for the use of the common people were prohibited or discouraged.
In the beginning of the sixteenth century, Cardinal Ximenes printed, at Alcala in Spain, a magnificent edition of the whole Bible in several languages. In this edition was contained a copy of the New Testament in Greek; which was made from a collation of various manuscripts, which were then thought to be of great authority, but which are now known to have been of little value. This edition, which is commonly called the Complutensian Polyglot, from Complutum, the Roman name for Alcala, was not licensed for publication till A. D. 1522, though it had been printed many years before. The manuscripts from which it was published are now irrecoverably lost, having been sold by the librarian to a rocket-maker about the year 1750 *.
A. D. 1516, Erasmus, residing at Basle in Switzerland, for the purpose of superintending the publication of the works of Jerome, was employed by Froben the printer, to publish an edition of the Greek Testament, from a few manuscripts which he found in the vicinity of that city, all of which were modern and comparatively of little value. Erasmus was not allowed time sufficient to revise the publication with that attention and care, which the importance of the work required: he complains that the persons whom he employed to correct the press, sometimes altered the copy without his permission, and he acknowledges that his first edition was very incorrect. He published a fourth edition A. D. 1527, in which, to obviate the clamour of bigots, he introduced many alterations to make it agree with the edition of Cardinal Ximenes.
A. D. 1550, Robert Stephens, a learned printer at Paris, published a splendid edition of the New Testament in Greek; in which he availed himself of the Complutensian Polyglot, and likewise of the permission granted by the king of France to collate fifteen manuscripts in the Royal Library. Most of these manuscripts are to this day in the National or Imperial Library at Paris, and are found to contain only parts of the New Testament and few of them are either of great antiquity or of much value. They were collated and the various readings noted by
* See Dr. Marsh's edition of Michaelis's Introduction to New Testament, vol. ii. p. 441.