Monday, April 03, 2006

Translating the AV: John Bois' Notes

In the previous article on the life and labours of John Bois we followed him until his death in 1643. Before he died, however, he prepared his last will and testament in which he first bequeathed his soul 'unto the hands of almighty God, from whom I first received it, nothing doubting but that he will restore it unto me again at the general resurrection'. Bois also made clear instructions for the preservation of his papers, which recorded a lifetime of study in the languages of the Scriptures and amongst these were the notes of all the proceedings of the revision committee of the Authorised Version. Anthony Walker, who wrote the biography of John Bois, tells us that while the work of the revision was being done 'he [Bois], and he only took notes of their proceedings, which he diligently kept to his dying day'. These notes were lost from 1688 until 1964, when Professor Ward Allen located a handwritten copy among the papers of William Fulham, a seventeenth century antiquarian and collector, whose papers were in the Corpus Christi College Library at Oxford University.

In 1969 the notes were published and remain in print (Translating For King James: Notes Made by a Translator of King James's Bible, trans. and ed. by Ward Allen, Vanderbilt University Press, 156pp, pbk, $19.95 ISBN 0-8265-1246-1). They run to thirty-nine pages and are the only record of some of the deliberations and preferences of the translators, most especially the twelve members of the revision committees, covering the text from Romans to Revelation. (Ward Allen has also, together with Edward C. Jacobs, collated the scribal notes in a copy of the Bishops’ Bible used by the translators to record revisions for the Gospels, The Coming of the King James Gospels: A Collation of the Translators’ Work-in-Progress, University of Arkansas Press, 1995). Since Ward Allen published the notes another earlier copy has been discovered and has been compared with Allen’s copy by David Norton in 'John Bois’s Notes on the Revision of the King James Bible New Testament: A New Manuscript' (The Library, 1996, 18/4, pp.328-346). Norton comments that Bois’s notes, 'give a unique insight into the way the translators worked, and they show above all the translators’ sensitivity to the nuances of the Greek and the level of scholarship they brought to their work' (p. 328). The notes are crucial as a testimony to the piety, learning and scrupulous diligence of the translators in searching into the language and meaning of the Scriptures. In what follows there are a sample of passages in which the notes testify to this.

One way in which we see the endeavours of the translators to follow strict faithfulness to the letter of Scripture is in passages where there are various possible interpretations which are not resolved by the grammar of the Greek. In such instances the translators refused to impose a translation which would favour one single interpretation above other possibilities. In 1 Peter 1:7 we find the phrase 'that the trial of your faith...might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ'. The question of interpretation relates to the words 'unto praise' and who the praise would be directed to? Since it is 'your faith', should it also be 'your praise'? Or is the praise to God alone? As Ward Allen notes the Geneva and the Bishop's Bible had added extra words such as 'your' or 'to be unto you' in order to interpret the praise as accruing to the believer. The AV, however, followed Tyndale in translating the words simply as they are in the Greek without additions. John Bois records in his note the alternatives 'that is to say, praise of God, or your praise'. He believed that the grammar of the Greek gave no authority for making explicit either interpretation. This was not a desire for obscurity, however, but a refusal to impose interpretation in translation. In recognition of this, Bois adds 'We have not thought that the indefinite sense ought to be defined'. It should be noted in passing that at least the Geneva and Bishop's Bible translations indicated the extra words by brackets or italics whereas many modern translations (particularly those wedded to a paraphrasing 'thought for thought' mode of translation) simply decide upon what they think the writer means and then impose that interpretation in their own words.

Another question of interpretation arose in considering Hebrews 2:9 'we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour'. As Bois puts it 'it is uncertain whether the suffering of death should be considered as an argument of the humility of Christ , or as a cause of glory'. In other words should it read that Christ was crowned with glory and honour as a reward because of the suffering of death or should it read that Christ humbled himself by taking a human nature (made a little lower than the angels) in order that he should enter into the ultimate humiliation of the suffering of death? Both are truth, but which is the truth taught by the text? Simply rearranging the commas would render either possible. In part the interpretation centred on how the Greek word 'dia' (translated 'for' above) should be translated. As Bois shows, it can be rendered 'through', 'for' or 'for the sake of' or even 'by'. Those who favoured either could both appeal to Phil. 2:8-9 where both doctrines are set forth. The simple word 'for' was chosen ultimately and the translation favours the view that the suffering of death in this verse is more closely related to Christ's humiliation than his exaltation, nevertheless the margin gives the alternative possibility of translating 'dia' with the word 'by' which would tend to the other interpretation. This reveals the evenhandedness and carefulness of the translators. As the Preface says they 'sought the truth rather than their own praise'.

The translators used the margin to include what they termed 'diversity of signification and sense' and a close study of the notes shows how the the margin was used in order to supply a secondary or fuller meaning to the words translated in the text (e.g. Phil 2:20; 1 Tim1:6). In Hebrews 5:7 there is a difficult verse to render which speaks of the prayers offered by Christ in the days of his flesh, he was heard 'in that he feared'. Bois' notes reveal that there are two difficulties in these words. The Greek word 'eulabeian' in context could mean fear, reverence or piety. The Greek word 'apo' could mean from, after, out of, because of. The translation 'in that he feared' allows the interpretation that Christ was heard in the expression of his fears, so as to be saved from his fear or that he was heard because of his reverential Godward fear, which is reinforced by the marginal note 'or for his piety'. The New King James Version asserts without question and without alternative, 'because of his godly fear'. It may well be that this is the correct interpretation, but it is clear that the AV translators shrank from imposing it upon the text as the only possibility.

We ought also to note the carefulness of the translators to the literal sense of Scripture. Instead of rendering the thought they sought to render the words as far as possible. In relation Hebrews 13:3 'Remember...them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body' they noted that the idea behind the last clause was 'as being even men yourselves' and 'as even yourselves enduring adversity with them', but Bois notes that the most literal is 'as being yourselves also in a body' and it is the most literal that they chose. Again the most literal rendering does not narrow down the options of interpretation and is therefore a more careful and faithful way of dealing with the words of Scripture.

Knowledge of Greek
The notes that John Bois has left are also crucial because they show the fallacy of many modern assumptions about the 'limited' knowledge of Greek that they suppose the translators of the AV to have possessed. An interesting story of how the same mistake was made in the seventeenth century is often told about Dr Richard Kilbye who was Oxford Professor of Hebrew, and reckoned among the foremost Hebraists of his day. One Lord’s Day Dr Kilbye heard a young preacher spend most of his sermon criticising several words as they were translated in the then recent translation. The preacher painstakingly gave three reasons why the Greek word should not be translated as found in the AV. Later that evening both the preacher and Dr Kilbye were invited to a meal. Dr Kilbye began to explain that the translators were very much aware of the preacher’s three reasons and had given them careful consideration, but they had thirteen other reasons that were far more compelling for making the translation that they did.

Men still leap to such assumptions. Take for instance 2 Corinthians 2:17 'For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.' The Greek word translated 'corrupt' is the word 'kapeleuontes'. James R. White in The King James Only Controversy claims that 'if the KJV translators were alive today they would gladly admit that 'peddle' is a better translation than 'corrupt,' and would adopt it themselves.' (p.114). Edwin H. Palmer, who was the Executive Secretary of the NIV Committee on Bible Translation, regards 2 Corinthians 2:17 as an obscurity in the AV. (The NIV: The Making of a Contemporary Translation, Kenneth Barker, editor. [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986], p.149). John Bois' note shows that the translators were in fact aware of the various shades of meaning present in the word kapelountes. 'v. 17. kapeleuontes] [being a retail dealer, playing tricks, corrupting] i.e. notheuonetes [adultering]. kapelos is derived apo tou kallunein ton pelon [from glossing over lees] by corrupting and adultering wine.' (p. 51).

It was commonplace for wine merchants to water down their wine, mixing it with new harsh wine in order to pass the product off as vintage quality which would be more expensive (see New Testament Metaphors, Anthony Byatt, Pentland Press, 1995, pp.259-60). Thus the word 'kapeleuontes', as Bois rightly notes, has a double meaning of deceitful adulterating and cheating. The most important notion is not the profit made from the adulteration but the corruption itself. One can peddle the word for profit without necessarily seeking to adulterate it. Thus the AV translation is to be preferred over against that of the NIV and NKJV. The translation 'corrupt' is also borne out by the word 'sincerity' (Greek 'eilikrines') used later in the verse which is a word that literally signifies freedom from impurities or complete purity, something that has been held up to the light to confirm its purity. The English word sincere had an original meaning of pure and unmixed.

Various lexicons show that while the word can mean a peddler or retailer it was also used to refer to one who sells with deceit, a corrupter. According to Bauer's Greek-English Lexicon Of The New Testament And Other Early Christian Literature, p.403 the word came to mean 'to adulterate'. Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon Of The New Testament, [Grand Rapids: Baker Book, 1977 edition], pp.324-325) states, 'But as peddlers were in the habit of adulterating their commodities for the sake of gain . . . (the word) was also used as synonymous with 'to corrupt, to adulterate.' Kittle's Theological Dictionary Of The New Testament notes that it has the meaning 'to falsify the word (as the 'kapelos' purchases pure wine and then adulterates it with water) by making additions...This refers to the false Gospel of the Judaizers.' (Vol. III., p. 605).The early Church Fathers understood the verse to refer to those who corrupt God's word. Athanasius wrote: 'Let them therefore be anathema to you, because they have, 'corrupted the word of truth.' (Defence Against the Arians, III:49.) Gregory-Nazianzus alludes to 2 Corinthians 2:17 using the word 'corrupt:' 'And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not as the many, able to corrupt the word of truth, and mix the wine, which maketh glad the heart of man, with water, mix, that is, our doctrine with what is common and cheap, and debased, and stale, and tasteless, in order to turn the adulteration...' (In Defence Of His Flight To Pontus, II:46)

In places the knowledge of Greek and its wider usage possessed by the translators is certainly illuminating. The note for 1 Peter 5:5 shows that the word that the apostle uses to exhort Christians to 'clothe' themselves with humility relates to a white outer garment worn by slaves which identified them as such. Ward Allen notes that previous translations had all understood the requirement to be an inward ornamentation with humility whereas in the light of this knowledge of the word and the context the AV shows that it relates very much to our outward conduct and testimony.

Bois' notes tell us much more about the translators, however, than their linguistic erudition. Bois often interprets and comments on certain passages in his notes showing a perceptive grasp of vital doctrine. For instance in relation to justification by faith alone Bois comments on Romans 3:25-26 'to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God. To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus'. Bois shows how God's justice and mercy are both perfectly fulfilled in justification, and that the meaning of the verse is that 'the justice of God stands whole, whether we contemplate sins having been pardoned, or indeed to be pardoned, and which are now pardoned'. 'Scarcely another place is to be found more apt to this point, so that there is exhibited how well the justice of God joins with His mercy: He is dikaios [righteous], i.e. at the same time just; and nevertheless dikaioei [He justifies], i.e. He justifies the sinner, i.e. He is merciful in the highest degree'.

There are also useful reflections upon passages that are difficult doctrinally. Commenting on Hebrews 12:15 'Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God' Bois says that these 'words seem to be said to those specifically, to whom the care has been assigned of ecamining the habits and life of others, that none through negligence be deprived of, etc. or that none absent them selves from the grace of God. by charitos tou Theou [the grace of God] I understand the public proclamation of the Gospel'. In other words Bois does not interpret these words in an Arminian way, that is is possible to fall from saving grace but that it is dangerous to forsake the means of grace and the word of God's grace negligently as in Hebrews 10:25.
In relation to Hebrews 12:17, Bois gives his understanding of the difficulty in relation to Esau not being able to find any place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears. It is not to be understood that someone such as Esau can forego repentance though they earnestly desire it rather 'he could not bend the mind of his father, or persuade him, so that having altered his determination he would recall and rescind the blessing with which he had blessed Jacob'. The margin of the AV confirms this with the explanation 'or way to change his mind'

At times, Bois cannot resist commenting in such a way on the text that he not only explains but applies its truth. There is the delightful aside on the words 'there is none occasion of stumbling in him' 1 John 2:10 - 'the placid course of him who remains in the light'. He notes solemnly upon James 1:15 which describes the progress of sin: 'Suggestion, Delight, Agreement, Act, the four steps of sin'. He is also practical in his comments, such as on Romans 12:10 'In honour preferring one another', which is elucidated as, 'let each one of you strive to prevail in giving honour to another'. On Ephesians 6:4, he notes as an experienced father notes 'it falls out from too great austerity that children are angry with their parents, and bear their authority reluctantly and impatiently. In relation to Romans 14:5 'Let every man be persuaded in his own mind', the note reads 'let each one acquire for himself true knowledge from the word of God, so that without doubt be may perceive what the will of God is'. Such comments show that this was not a scientific and detached enterprise for the translators but a humble and devout search after the truth with a real endeavour after the practical outworking of it.

These notes resolve some but not all questions of interest in relation to the reasons for the translation of certain words and passages in the AV. This brief book provides interest to those who wish to know more about the translators and the translation of the AV but also gives genuine insight into the Scriptures, and so may be of use in reference for ministers and students of the Bible. We should remember the translators not simply for their eminent scholarship but also for their piety, 'in what sort did these assemble? In the trust of their own knowledge, or of their sharpness of it, or deepness of judgment, as it were in an arm of flesh? At no hand. They trusted in him that hath the key of David, opening and no man shutting; they prayed to the Lord'. The translators were conscious of their indebtedness to the help of God in their studies, acknowledging that it was 'through the good hand of the Lord upon us' that they succeeded in their work. As one of the 'poor instruments to make God's Holy Truth to be yet more and more known', we are indebted to John Bois for having preserved a small portion of the labours that were required for so great a work.