From the book "The REVISION REVISED"
by John William Burgon
[FROM GREEK TO ENGLISH IN 1881]
XI. For the respected Authors of it practically deny the truth of the principle enunciated by their predecessors of 1611, viz. that 'there be some words that be not of the same sense everywhere.' On such a fundamental truism we are ashamed to enlarge: but it becomes necessary that we should do so. We proceed to illustrate, by two familiar instances,— the first which come to hand,—the mischievous result which is inevitable to an enforced uniformity of rendering.
(a) The verb [Greek] confessedly means 'to ask' And perhaps no better general English equivalent could be suggested for it. But then, in a certain context, 'ask' would be an inadequate rendering: in another, it would be improper: in a third, it would be simply intolerable. Of all this, the great Scholars of 1611 showed themselves profoundly conscious. Accordingly, when this same verb (in the middle voice) is employed to describe how the clamorous rabble, besieging Pilate, claimed their accustomed privilege, (viz. to have the prisoner of their choice released unto them,) those ancient men, with a fine instinct, retain Tyndale's rendering 'desired' l in S. Mark (xv. 8),—and his 'required' in S. Luke (xxiii. 23).—When, however, the humble entreaty, which Joseph of Arimathea addressed to the same Pilate (viz. that he might be allowed to take away the body of Jesus), is in question, then the same Scholars (following Tyndale and Cranmer), with the same propriety exhibit 'begged.'—King David, inasmuch as he only 'desired to find a habitation for the God of Jacob' of course may not be said to have 'asked' to do so; and yet S. Stephen (Acts vii. 46) does not hesitate to employ the verb [Greek]—So again, when they of Tyre and Sidon approached Herod whom they had offended: they
1 So, in S. Luke xxiii. 25, and Acts iii. 14: xiii. 28,—still following Tyndale.
did but 'desire' peace.1—S. Paul, in like manner, addressing the Ephesians: 'I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you' 2
But our Revisionists,—possessed with the single idea that [Greek] means 'to ask' and [another Greek word] 'to ask for'-—have proceeded mechanically to inflict that rendering on every one of the foregoing passages. In defiance of propriety,—of reason,—even (in David's case) of historical truth,3—they have thrust in
At last, however, they are encountered by two places which absolutely refuse to submit to such iron bondage. The terror-stricken jailer of Philippi, when he 'asked' for lights, must needs have done so after a truly imperious fashion. Accordingly, the 'called for' 4 of Tyndale and all subsequent translators, is pro hoc vice allowed by our Revisionists to stand. And to conclude, —When S. Paul, speaking of his supplications on behalf of the Christians at Colosse, uses this same verb (Greek) in a context where 'to ask' would be intolerable, our Revisionists render the word 'to make request;' 5—though they might just as well have let alone the rendering of all their predecessors,—viz. 'to desire.'
These are many words, but we know not how to make them fewer. Let this one example, (only because it is the first which presented itself,) stand for a thousand others. Apart from the grievous lack of Taste (not to say of Scholarship) which such a method betrays,—who sees not that the only excuse which could have been invented for it has
1 Acts xii. 20.
2 Eph. iii. 13.
3 For, as the story plainly shows (2 Sam. vii. 2, 3; 1 Chron. xvii. 1, 2), it was only ' in his heart' to build God an house (1 Kings viii. 17, 18). Hence Crammer's 'he would fain' have done so.
4 Acts xvi.29.
5 Col i. 9.
disappeared by the time we reach the end of our investigation?
If [Greek] had been invariably translated ‘ask,’ ‘ask for’ it might at least have been pretended that 'the English Reader is in this way put entirely on a level with the Greek Scholar;'—though it would have been a vain pretence, as all must admit who understand the power of language. Once make it apparent that just in a single place, perhaps in two, the Translator found himself forced to break through his rigid uniformity of rendering,—and what remains but an uneasy suspicion that then there must have been a strain put on the Evangelists' meaning in a vast proportion of the other seventy places where [Greek] occurs; and unlearned reader's confidence in his guide vanishes; and he finds that he has had not a few deflections from the Authorized Version thrust upon him, of which he reasonably questions alike the taste and the necessity,—e.g. at S. Matth. xx. 20.
(b) But take a more interesting example. In S. Mark i. 18, the A. V. has, ‘and straightway they forsook’ (which the Revisionists alter into 'left') 'their nets.' Why? Because in verse 20, the same word [Greek] will recur; and because the Revisionists propose to let the statement ('they left their father Zebedee') stand. They 'level up' accordingly ; and plume themselves on their consistency.
We venture to point out, however, that the verb [Greek] is one of a large family of verbs which,-—always retaining their own essential signification,—yet depend for their English rendering entirely on the context in which they occur. Thus, [Greek] is rightly rendered 'to suffer' in S. Matth. iii. 15 ;—'to leave' in iv. 11;—'to let have' in v. 40; —'to forgive' in vi. 12, 14, 15;—'to let,' in vii. 4;—'to yield up,' in xxvii. 50;—'to let go' in S. Mark xi. 6;—‘to let alone,’ in xiv. 6. Here then, by the admission of the Revisionists, are eight diversities of meaning in the same word. But they make the admission grudgingly; and, in order to render [Greek] as often as possible 'leave' they do violence to many a place of Scripture where some other word would have been more appropriate. Thus 'laying aside' might have stood in S. Mark vii. 8. 'Suffered' (or 'let') was preferable in S. Luke xii. 39. And, (to return to the place from which we started,) in S. Mark i. 18, 'forsook' was better than 'left.' And why? Because men 'leave their father,' (as the Collect for S. James's Day bears witness); but 'forsake all covetous desires' (as the Collect for S. Matthew's Day aptly attests). For which reason,—'And they all forsook Him' was infinitely preferable to 'and they all left Him, and fled,' in S. Mark xiv. 50. We insist that a vast deal more is lost by this perpetual disregard of the idiomatic proprieties of the English language, than is gained by a pedantic striving after uniformity of rendering, only because the Greek word happens to be the same.
For it is sure sometimes to happen that what seems mere licentiousness proves on closer inspection to be unobtrusive Scholarship of the best kind. An illustration presents itself in connection with the word just now before us. It is found to have been our Saviour's practice to ‘send away’ the multitude whom He had been feeding or teaching, in some formal manner,—whether with an act of solemn benediction, or words of commendatory prayer, or both. Accordingly, on the memorable occasion when, at the close of a long day of superhuman exertion, His bodily powers succumbed, and the disciples were fain to take Him 'as He was' in the ship, and at once He 'fell asleep;'—on that solitary occasion, the disciples are related to have (‘sent away the multitudes,’—i.e. to have formally dismissed them on His behalf, as they had often seen their Master do. The word employed to designate this practice on two memorable occasions is [Greek]:l on the other two, [Greek].2 This proves to have been perfectly well understood as well by the learned authors of the Latin Version of the N T., as by the scholars who translated the Gospels into the vernacular of Palestine. It has been reserved for the boasted learning of the XlXth century to misunderstand this little circumstance entirely. The R. V. renders S. Matth. xiii. 36,—not 'Then Jesus sent the multitude away,’ ('dimissis turbis' in every Latin copy,) but—'Then He left the multitudes.' Also S. Mark iv. 36,—not 'And when they had sent away the multitude,' (which the Latin always renders ‘et dimittentes turbam,’) but—'And leaving the multitude.' Would it be altogether creditable, we respectfully ask, if at the end of 1800 years the Church of England were to put forth with authority such specimens of ‘Revision’ as these?
(c) We will trouble our Ereaders with yet another illustration of the principle for which we are contending.—We are soon made conscious that there has been a fidgetty anxiety on the part of the Revisionists, everywhere to substitute 'maid' for 'damsel' as the rendering of [Greek]. It offends us. 'A damsel named Rhoda,'3—and the 'damsel possessed with a spirit of divination,'4—might (we think) have been let alone. But out of curiosity we look further, to see what these gentlemen will do when they come to S. Luke xii. 45. Here, because [Greek] has been (properly) rendered 'menservants,' [Greek] they (not unreasonably) render 'maid-servants,'—whereby they break their rule. The crucial
1 S. Matth. xiv. 15, 22, 23 (=S. Mark vi. 36, 45, [and note the substitution of [Greek] in ver. 46]: S. Luke ix. 12): and xv. 32, 39 (=S. Mark viii. 9).
2 S. Matt. xiii. 36: and S. Mark iv. 36.
3 Acts xii. 13.
4 Acts xvi. 16.
place is behind. What will they do with the Divine 'Allegory' in Galatians, (iv. 21 to 31,)—where all turns on the contrast 1 between the[Greek] and the [Greek],—the fact that Hagar was a ‘bondmaid,’ whereas Sarah was a ‘free woman’? 'Maid' clearly could not. stand here. 'Maidservant' would be intolerable. What is to be done? The Revisionists adopt a third variety of reading,—thus surrendering their principle entirely. And what reader with a spark of taste, (we confidently ask the question,) does not resent their substitution of ‘handmaid’ for 'bondmaid' throughout these verses? Who will deny that the mention of ‘bondage’ ‘in verses 24 and 25 claims, at the hands of an intelligent English translator, that he shall avail himself of the admirable and helpful equivalent for [Greek] which, as it happens, the English language possesses? More than that. Who—(except one who is himself ‘in bondage—with his children’)—who does not respond gratefully to the exquisite taste and tact with which ‘bondmaid’itself has been exchanged for ‘bondwoman’ by our translators of 1611, in verses 23, 30 and 31? . . . Verily, those men understood their craft! 'There were giants in those days.' As little would they submit to be bound by the new cords of the Philistines as by their green withes. Upon occasion, they could shake themselves free from either. And why? For the selfsame reason: viz. because the Spirit of their God was mightily upon them.
Our contention, so far, has been but this,—that it does not by any means follow that identical Greek words and expressions, wherever occurring, are to be rendered by identical words and expressions in English. We desire to pass on to something of more importance.
1 Verses 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 30, 31.
Let it not be supposed that we make light of the difficulties which our Revisionists have had to encounter; or are wanting in generous appreciation of the conscientious toil of many men for many years; or that we overlook the perils of the enterprise in which they have seen fit to adventure their reputation. If ever a severe expression escapes us, it is because our Revisionists themselves seem to have so very imperfectly realized the responsibility of their undertaking, and the peculiar difficulties by which it is unavoidably beset. The truth is,—as all who have given real thought to the subject must be aware,—the phenomena of Language are, among the most subtle and delicate imaginable: the problem of Translation, one of the most manysided and difficult that can be named. And if this holds universally, in how much greater a degree when the book to be translated is the Bible! Here, anything like a mechanical levelling up of terms, every attempt to impose a pre-arranged system of uniform rendering on words—every one of which has a history and (so to speak) a will of its own,—is inevitably destined to result in discomfiture and disappointment. But what makes this so very serious a matter is that, because Holy Scripture is the Book experimented upon, the loftiest interests that can be named become imperilled; and it will constantly happen that what is not perhaps in itself a very serious mistake may yet inflict irreparable injury. We subjoin an humble illustration of our meaning—the rather, because it will afford us an opportunity for penetrating a little deeper into the proprieties of Scriptural Translation:—
(d) The place of our Lord's Burial, which is mentioned upwards of 30 times in the Gospels, is styled in the original, [Greek]. This appellation is applied to it three times by S. Matthew;—six times by S. Mark;—eight times by S. Luke;l—eleven times by S. John. Only on four occasions, in close succession, does the first Evangelist call it by another name, viz. [Greek]2 King James's translators (following Tyndale and Cranmer) decline to notice this diversity, and uniformly style it the 'sepulchre.' So long as it belonged to Joseph of Arimathea, they call it a 'tomb' (Matth. xxvii. 60): when once it has been appropriated by ‘the Lord of Glory’ in the same verse they give it a different English appellation. But our Revisionists of 1881, as if bent on ‘making a fresh departure’ everywhere substitute ‘tomb’ for 'sepulchre' as the rendering of [Greek].
Does any one ask,—And why should they not? We answer, Because, in connection with ‘the Sepulchre’ of our Lord, there has grown up such an ample literature and such a famous history, that we are no longer able to sever ourselves from those environments of the problem, even if we desired to do so. In all such cases as the present, we have to balance the Loss against the Gain. Quite idle is it for the pedant of 1881 to insist that [Greek] and [Greek] are two different words. We do not dispute the fact. (Then, if he must, let him represent [Greek] in some other way.) It remains true, notwithstanding, that the receptacle of our Saviour's Body after His dissolution will have to be spoken of as 'the Holy Sepulchre' till the end of time; and it is altogether to be desired that its familiar designation should be suffered to survive unmolested on the eternal page, in consequence. There are, after all, mightier laws in the Universe than those of grammar. In the quaint language of our Translators of 1611: 'For is the Kingdom of God become words or syllables? Why should we be in bondage to them
1 Twice he calls it [Greek]
2 Ch. xxvii. 61, 64, 66; xxviii. 1.
if we may be free? ... As for considerations of etymological propriety, the nearest English equivalent for [Greek] (be it remembered) is not ‘tomb,’ but ‘monument.’
HOW SILLY AND WEAK MINDED TO TRY AND TRANSLATE A GREEK WORD THE SAME WAY, IN ALL PLACES. IT IS LIKE NOT UNDERSTAND OUR ENGLISH WORD "PRESENT" CAN BE GIVE ANOTHER WORD FOR THE CONTEXT IT IS IN.
"I AM PRESENT FOR THE STUDY WE UNDERTAKE TODAY" AND "YOU ARE SO KIND TO ME, I WANT YOU TO HAVE THIS PRESENT AS MY TOKEN OF APPRECIATION."
TWO DIFFERENT CONTEXT COMPLETELY.
THE SECOND COULD ALSO BE STATED AS: YOU ARE SO KIND TO ME, I WANT YOU TO ACCEPT THIS LITTLE GIFT FROM ME, AS MY TOKEN OF APPRECIATION."
WHAT THE SILLY MINDS FROM PLANET PLUTO [MAINLY UNDER DR. WESCOTT AND DR. HORT] DID IN TRANSLATING THE GREEK INTO ENGLISH, WAS UTTER NONSENSE IN MANY MANY VERSES.
I'M GIVING JUST A PORTION OF WHAT JOHN BURGON IS BRINGS OUT IN HIS BOOK.
ALL TEACHERS OF THE BIBLE SHOULD TRY AND OBTAIN THIS BOOK BY BURGON. IT IS VERY TECHNICAL BUT CAN BE UNDERSTOOD BY NONE SPEAKING GREEK PEOPLE.