Wednesday, October 05, 2005

John Bois and the translation of the AV

The translators of the Authorised Version were certainly the most learned of their age (perhaps of any age) in the Biblical languages . John Bois (not to be confused with John Boys, Dean of Canterbury from 1619-1625) was one of the most distinguished scholars of all the eminent translators and revisers of the Authorised Version. He was a brilliant classics scholar, proficient in both Hebrew and Greek, Fellow at St. John's College, Cambridge and chaired the translation committee of six scholars who delivered the final copy of the Authorised Version in 1611.

A Godly Home
He was born in Nettlestead, Suffolk on 3 January, 1560. His father William Bois, had been taught by Martin Bucer when he was professor of divinity at Cambridge and had converted from Romanism. He went to live in Hadley, Suffolk which was at that time renowned for its godliness and as Foxe notes in his Book of Martyrs it was 'one of the first which received the purity of the gospel', 'the whole town seemed rather a university of the learned, than a town of cloth-making or labouring people'. William Bois married Mirable Poolye a godly woman who, according to one of her children, had read the Bible through over twelve times, the Book of Martyrs twice, besides many other books. She appears to have counselled her husband wisely while he wrestled over a call to the ministry, saying 'he was in the wrong way whilst he forbore'. He became curate and then rector at Elmesett near Hadley and later West Stow about four miles from Bury St Edmunds.

John was their only child that survived childhood, and he was carefully and thoroughly taught by his father in the truth as well as to a very high academic standard. At the age of only five years old, he had read the Bible in Hebrew. By the age of six, it seems that he could also write in Hebrew in such a legible and attractive script that would have been remarkable if he had 'been as old in the university as he was in nature'. (It should be noted that Hebrew is an exceptionally difficult language to write). He attended school at Hadley, where he was a fellow-student with John Overall later dean of St Paul's, Bishop of Norwich and translator of the Authorised Version who was well known for his skill in Latin and the biblical languages and his comprehensive knowledge of the Church Fathers. From this period in his life, John Bois was grounded in the practice of meditating in the Scripures in the morning and evening.

A Diligent Scholar
Bois went up to Cambridge University and was admitted to St. John’s College in 1575 at the age of fourteen, an amazing accomplishment in those days when students were considered precocious if they went to university before 21 or 22 years old. Dr. Andrew Downes, who was the king's professor of Greek and the chief university lecturer in that subject, paid particular attention to Bois, even in his first year, by giving him personal tuition. They read together twelve of the most difficult Classical Greek authors, in poetry verse and prose, 'the hardest that could be found, both for dialect and phrase'. Downes was later to be one of the most significant translators and revisers on the translation team that prepared the Authorised Version. He was professor of Greek in Cambridge from 1585 to 1625 and published lectures on classical authors throughout this time. He was spoken of as 'one composed of Greek and industry.'

Bois had been at the College for only half a year when he was writing letters in Greek to the Master and Senior Fellows. This is significant because scholars usually find it challenging enough to translate from Greek into English without actually composing freely in that language. Bois was so diligent in the language that during the summer he usually went to the University Library at four a.m. to read and study remaining without interruption until eight o'clock in the evening, a total of sixteen hours a day!

In 1580, Bois was elected Fellow of St John's College, and for ten years, he was Greek lecturer in his college and gave additional lectures in his own chamber at four o’clock in the morning, when most of the Fellows and lecturers also attended. One of the most famous pupils taught in this way was Thomas Gataker - an eminent Hebrew, Latin and Greek scholar and later to be a member of the Westminster Assembly. Gataker carefully preserved the notes that he had taken at these lectures, and years after when visited by Bois he showed them to him. Bois was overjoyed at the profit that had been derived from the lectures, saying that it made him feel many years younger.

It is clear that the period in which Bois was at his prime was marked by great scholarship and expertise in the biblical languages. Many scholarly editions of classical works, translations, lexicons, grammars and dictionaries were published by laymen and ministers during this period. Men such as Archbishop Ussher displayed expert knowledge of Greek geography, astronomy and Greek chronological material. Ussher wrote a treatise on the origin of the Greek Septuagint and edited two ancient Greek translations of the Book of Esther. Jeremiah Whitaker, of Oakham free school, read all the epistles in the Greek Testament twice every fortnight. John Conant, regius professor of divinity in Oxford, often debated publicly in Greek. The zenith of this scholarship was witnessed in the gathering of the translators of the Authorised Version. According to The Cambridge History of English and American Literature (1907-21) Volume VII, the most eminent Greek scholars of the day were engaged in this project.

Calling to the ministry
Bois began to study medicine but was called to the holy ministry and was first of all ordained a deacon, on 21 June, 1583, and the very next day, by a dispensation, he was ordained minister. At the death of his father, Bois followed as rector of West Stowe, but shortly after resigned, and went back to St John's College, after which he was briefly chaplain to the Earl of Shrewsbury. His marriage was rather curiously contrived when Mr. Holt, Rector of Boxworth, died, 'leaving the advowson of that living in part of a portion to one of his daughters; requesting of some of his friends, that “if it might be by them procured, Mr. Bois, of St.John’s College, might become his successor by the marriage of his daughter.”' When Bois was told, he went to meet the lady in question, and it seems that they became genuinely attached to one another and he became rector of the Boxworth on October 13, 1596.

As a consequence of marrying, Bois had to resign the fellowship at St. John’s. Still, however, he rode from Boxworth over to Cambridge every week in order to hear some of the lectures of Andrew Downes together with those of the king's professor of Hebrew Edward Lively (later translator on the AV project, regarded as 'one of the best linguists in the world' and the author of a Latin exposition of five of the Minor Prophets), as well as the other divinity lectures. He lost none of the time that he spent in riding in that he meditated on certain theological questions that he could discuss with his friends at the college. Every Friday he met for dinner with a group of twelve neighboring ministers in order to relate the studies that they had been engaged in over the week and to discuss and resolve difficult questions for their mutual benefit. Bois also paid a young scholar to teach his own children and other children of the town, both poor and wealthy. The domestic affairs of the rectory were left to his wife who found great difficulty in her task and managed to incur such serious debts that he was forced to sell his library, 'which contained one of the most complete and costly collections of Greek literature that had ever been made'.

Translating and revising
When the translators for the Authorised Version were gathered together, Bois was enlisted along with Andrew Downes amongst the many scholars assembled. Both men were engaged in Company Six, the Cambridge group, which translated all the books of the Apocrypha. It should be noted that the Church of England and the translators were in no way giving any veneration to the Apocryphal books. The Thirty-Nine Articles reject the Roman Catholic position of adding them to the Old Testament as canonical. 'And the other books (as Jerome saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine'. They are in no way the inspired Word of God: the only value of these books is in providing historical background to biblical times and history. None of the Apocryphal books are in Hebrew in contrast to all of the canonical Old Testament. None of the writers claim inspiration and it is clear that the spirit of prophecy was withdrawn in the period between the Old and New Testaments in any case. They were never acknowledged as sacred Scriptures by the Jewish Church, to whom were committed the oracles of God (Rom 3:2) and are not cited in the New Testament. Consequently, the Early Church gave them no place in the canon.

Some of their content is plainly legendary. There are also statements in these books which contradict not only the canonical Scripture but themselves: for instance in the two books of Maccabees Antiochus Epiphanes is made to die three different deaths in various places. Various unbiblical doctrines are taught such as prayers for the dead, salvation by works and sinless perfection, they also encourage lying, suicide and magic. The translators showed that they did not regard it as inspired Scripture in the time (a mere few months rather than years) that they took to complete the task. The translators also made a clear distinction between the Old Testament and 'the books called Apocrypha' (as they distinguished them on the contents page) by stating at the end of Malachi 'The end of the prophets'. The books that follow are clearly marked as the Apocrypha, indeed each page notes at the top that it is the Apocrypha rather than Scripture. These books conclude with the rubric 'The End Of The Apocrypha'.

The other Cambridge company, who were translating Chronicles to the Song of Solomon, earnestly desired the assistance of Bois in their translation from the Hebrew. Professor Lively, who had been overseeing the project, died not long after it had begun. During these four years Bois spent Monday to Saturday on translation work and returned to conduct the Sabbath services and to spend the day with his family. His dedication to the work of translation was evidenced in the fact that he received no financial remuneration for this work, except meals and accommodation in College.

After the first stage, he was one of the twelve delegates who were sent (two from each company), to make the final revision at the Stationers’ Hall, in London, which took nine months in all. Bois took notes of all the proceedings of this committee, they were discovered recently and have been reprinted. The notes run to thirty-nine pages and are the only record of some of the deliberations and preferences of the translators. It is a record of the sheer diligence of the translators, comparing, discussing and consulting authorities. The Preface to the Translation explains this work of revision. 'Neither did we disdain to revise that which we had done, and to bring back to the anvil that which we had hammered: but having and using as great helps as were needful, and fearing no reproach for slowness, nor coveting praise for expedition, we have at the length, through the good hand of the Lord upon us, brought the work to that pass that you see'.

Later life
Bois gave great help to his fellow-translator, Sir Henry Savile, in his publication of the complete works of the Early Church father,John Chrysostom (347-407 A.D.), which extended to eight large folios. Sir Henry refers to Bois, in the Preface, as the 'most ingenious and most learned Mr. Bois'. Bois regarded Chrysostom as 'one of the sweetest preachers since the apostles' times'. Savile, who was Provost of Eton College, had been employed in the New Testament Oxford company of translators and was a brilliant Greek scholar from an early age, well known for his Greek and mathematical learning. He was so well known for his education and skill in languages, that he became Greek and mathematical tutor to Queen Elizabeth during the reign of her father, Henry VIII. He translated and published many learned works in English and Latin, and was referred to as 'that magazine of learning, whose memory shall be honorable among the learned and the righteous forever' and 'one of the most profound, exact, and critical scholars of his age'
Lancelot Andrewes, Bishop of Ely and fellow translator made Bois a Prebendary of Ely Cathedral, in 1615. He spent the last twenty-eight years of his life in this capacity, where he attended church twice or three times a day. At his death, Bois left as many pages of manuscript as he had lived days, having lived eighty-three years and eleven days this was a total of 30,306 days. Even in his old age, he spent eight hours in daily study and produced a large commentary in Latin on the Gospels and Acts (with the intention of covering the whole New Testament) which was published some twelve years after his death. Yet despite being so studious, he would not study between supper and bed-time; but preferred to spend the interval in conversation with friends. He had the entire Greek New Testament committed to memory and was so familiar with it that he could, at any time, turn to any word that it contained. He was a very careful linguist who had read no less than sixty grammars in the Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Syriac languages. It was also said of him that he was 'in highest esteem with studious foreigners, and second to none in solid attainments in the Greek tongue'. The Dictionary of National Biography notes that Bois was an able textual scholar, pointing out that one of Bois's works 'consists of brief critical notes on words and passages of the Greek text, in which the renderings of the Vulgate are in the main defended'. It is likely that these 'renderings' are the Received Text readings which are testified to by the Latin translations.

Despite his learning, when he was in the pulpit, Bois sought to be easily understood by the most uneducated of his hearers. He compared those of weak ability to the young and tender of the flock who should not be overdriven (Gen 33:13). He preached without notes, having well prepared himself with much prayer and study. His desire was that he might live no longer than he was able to preach or be a minister. He was also diligent in hearing sermons himself, always keeping a note of the preacher and his text. Frequently, he fasted twice in the week and was so generous to the poor that he often left himself with very little; he seldom went to church without giving something to the poor by his return. He was regular in family worship, always kneeling on the bare bricks. He made frequent approach to the throne of grace, often praying while he walked. He was a frequent walker in fact, and in his journeys he sought to enter into profitable conversation with those that he travelled with, but if the company was not desirable he preferred to take out a book and read while he walked. The Holy Scriptures were in such reverence with him that he would always uncover his head in hearing them read or in reading them himself. His dependence upon divine assistance in his labours was always acknowledged and he would often finish a hard piece of study with the Latin words of praise to God 'Deo Sit Laus'.

The end of a diligent life
In later days Bois often meditated solemnly upon Samuel's words 'I am this day fourscore years old, and can I discern between good and evil?' (2 Sam 19:35) as well as the wisdom of Moses in Psalm 90:10. At the end of his days he was in health like Moses whose 'eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated' (Deut 34:7). 'His brow was unwrinkled, his sight clear, his hearing sharp, his countenance fresh, with a full head of hair and a full set of teeth'.

Having witnessed three of his seven children die young, together with the death of his wife, he said solemnly, near the end of his life that 'There has not been a day for these many years, in which I have not meditated at least once upon my death'. In his last illness he was so concerned that he might express himself unwisely under affliction that he asked his children that they should tell him if at any time, he expressed any thing which seemed to express impatience with his condition. He desired much time for devotion in solitude, often painfully conscious of his remaining sin. Bois departed this life on the Lord’s Day, 14 January, 1643, in the eighty-fourth year of his age. 'He went unto his rest on the day of rest; a man of peace, to the God of peace'.