ROTHERHAM'S REMINISCENCES - CHAPTER 6
CHAPTER 6. - LITERARY WORK OF THE EARLIER YEARS. 1854-1880.
"Harbinger Articles" - The American Bible Union and Anderson's Translation - Publication of J.B.R.'s specimen "Matthew" - Letters and Press Notices - Issue by Bagsters of the First and Second Editions of The Emphasised New Testament.
In 1854 the British Millennial Harbinger was edited by Mr. James Wallis, of Nottingham. The first article from my father's pen which appeared in the Harbinger in that year is entitled "The Old is Better." The writer was then a young man of twenty-six, and a few sentences from the beginning and end of the article mentioned may be of interest. The writer says:-
"Not always, it is true. Aged men are not always wise; neither are old things always the best. The reverse is generally the case in Science, Art, Commerce, Legislature, and Manners and Customs. Who would prefer the astronomy of Copernicus to that of Newton? or the stage coach to the railway car? Nor is this sentiment of universal application in religion. No enlightened mind can say of the Law of Bondage which thundered forth from Sinai, and the Law of Liberty which went out from Zion, captivating the hearts of Jesus' murderers - the old is better. Yet there is a wide religious sphere in which our motto may be forcibly applied. When the new is human, and the old divine, then is the old infinitely superior to the new. I have said 'the old is better!' But this implies comparison strictly speaking, it supposes that the new is good. Whereas in reality there is no comparison between that which is divine and that which is human, when the latter supplants the former. This is a peculiarity in the contrast we have drawn, to which our motto hardly does justice. Were man at liberty to construct creeds, to devise gospels, to institute baptisms, or to frame Church constitutions and governments, then we might draw a comparison which should suppose man's work good, though infinitely inferior to
God's. But when to invent the human, is to discard the divine; when to follow men, is to depart from Christ; when to 'observe the traditions of the elders' is to 'make void the commandments of God' -which must ever be the case in all such instances as we have specified - then is the new positively and exclusively bad - evil, 'only evil, and that continually!'"
In the years immediately following J.B.R. contributed many articles to the Harbinger. The titles of some of these articles will give some indication of the subjects dealt with:- "The Work of the Holy Spirit in Believers," "What is there in a Name?" "The Personality of the Holy Spirit," "Judas Iscariot," "The Deity of Christ," "The Reality of the Incarnation," "That I may know Him." A series of six articles appeared on "The Manifestations of God," and a further series of ten articles (in 1866) on "The Epistle to the Ephesians." In this series every verse in the Epistle is subjected to microscopic analysis, and "Critical Notes" embody the renderings of Ellicott, Alford, and other scholars of repute, together with the writer's own emendations of text. Then follows "Expository suggestions" for the general reader.
In the sixties my father was keenly interested first in a new New Testament issued by the American Bible Union and later by the publication of "Anderson's Translation," and regarding these he contributed to the Harbinger long and appreciative articles. He described the work of the A.B.U. as "exceedingly valuable," and added that "Everywhere minute painstaking is evident. General fidelity is not less apparent."
It is clear from a letter sent to the Editor of the Harbinger in March, 1867, that the examination of the work of others stimulated my father to attempt some translation work on his own account, and in this letter he outlines his project regarding what he proposed to call "The Suggestive New Testament." The letter concluded by saying:-
"Meantime Anderson will be welcomed to the place he deserves. Having latterly had occasion to read him for the express purpose of noting his excellences, I have pleasure in bearing witness that I have ever and anon found in him renderings happier than I could find elsewhere. He is a
noble brother, of independent mind, not without a dash of sanctified genius; and hence is richly deserving of the most thoughtful encouragement that brethren can give him."
It was in the following year (1868) that my father's project took definite shape, and with the help of Mr. Samuel Oldfield Prior (a successful business man connected with the Church of Christ meeting in Grosvenor Street, Manchester), who acted as publisher, the first part was issued, containing the Gospel of Matthew of a Work entitled:-
THE NEW TESTAMENT OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST.
A NEW TRANSLATION,
In which Special regard has been paid, among other important points of detail, to the Power of the Greek Article, to the Forces of the Various Tenses, and to the Logical Idiom of the Greek Original: With critical and Explanatory Notes. (The Text conformed to Ancient Authorities).
BY J.B. ROTHERHAM.
The "Translator's Notice," which followed that of the publisher, may here be reproduced, as it states clearly what continued to be some of the special features of my father's work from this time forward. The Translator says:-
"It should be distinctly understood that this translation is not offered as a substitute for any other.
"The aim of the Translator has been to supply a Companion Version and Book of Reference suited to the needs of thoughtful English readers of moderate education. It is well known that there are shades of meaning in the Greek New Testament (not always unimportant) which it is difficult to preserve in a translation designed for public use. There are thousands of earnest students of the New Testament, unable to consult the original for themselves, who are glad of every aid for ascertaining the full force of the Greek text. For such readers this translation is designed.
"In the prosecution of his purpose the Translator has paid special heed to the Greek Article, to the Tenses, and to the Logical Idiom of the Original. Of these the Introduction treats at some length,
"To the last, both as explained in the Introduction and as illustrated in the translation itself, especial attention is invited.
"Uniformity in the rendering of leading words has been studied.
"Simplicity in representing terms usually rendered traditionally, as ecclesiastical terms, has been regarded.
"In a word, the Translator's guiding principle has been: To do all in his power towards placing the reader of the present time in as good a position as that occupied by the reader of the first century for understanding the Apostolic Writings.
"The best obtainable Text of the Original has been followed. 'An Outline of the History and Criticism of the Greek Text' has been prepared, and may be expected in Part 2.
"It is intended to furnish an Appendix, in portions to be given occasionally at convenience, containing such dissertations as would be less suited for notes: the portions to admit of being bound together at the end of the work.
"The reader may do well to examine the page of Explanations facing the commencement of 'Matthew' before reading the Introduction: he certainly should do so before consulting the translation.
"Communications are respectfully invited, relating either to Principles of Translation or Details of Execution. Address: Care of the Publisher."
The work was beautifully printed by Messrs. Shirley, of Edinburgh. The Translator had not at this time much practical acquaintance with printing, or he would have realised that to produce the whole of the New Testament in this sumptuous style would have proved a very costly undertaking. As it was the enterprise, in this form, never got beyond the first part; but the present writer has before him some foolscap sheets, on which the Translator has copied in his own hand-writing some of the letters he received regarding his work. A few extracts from these letters will serve to show that the plan of the work, as indicated in the portion issued, was highly appreciated by men well able to judge of its value.
Dr. Leask, the Editor of the Rainbow, wrote:-
"My dear Sir, - I was greatly pleased with your work. The translation appeared to me well adapted to give the meaning. But as I wished entire justice done to a work of such importance, I sent it to Mr. Maude, whose scholastic privileges have been greater than God saw fit to favour me with; and I am very glad to find that Mr. Maude's notice pleased you."
The highly-appreciative notice written by Mr. Maude, and which appeared in the Rainbow, contained this criticism:-
"No doubt there are a few renderings regarding which I stand in doubt, but on the whole I am perfectly satisfied. One of the points I allude to, as to my mind doubtful, is your rendering 'John the Baptist' 'John the Immerser.' I say nothing about the ungracefulness of the translation but I much fear it will by many be taken as an indication of doctrinal bias."
On this point it was to be expected that the Baptist press would take a contrary view, and in the course of a notice in The Freeman it is said:-
"He translates, we notice, 'John the Immerser,' and defends his translation by scholarly arguments. If we doubt their conclusiveness, it is only because we are unwilling to admit that 'baptize' means anything else. We trust the author will be encouraged to proceed, and promise ourselves the pleasure of reverting to his work again."
The Sword and Trowel, then edited by C.H. Spurgeon, is still more pronounced:-
"To our staunch Baptist friends, one extract from a footnote under the name of John the Immerser will suffice we think to induce them to subscribe at once, and so make the venture of the translator a pecuniary success.
"Of the two words, Baptist and Immerser, it is the plain duty of the translator to choose the latter. And this, not because any principle is necessarily sacrificed by the use of transferred words, but because in this instance the transferred word, as an English word, has ceased clearly and exclusively to signify what originally as a Greek word it meant. In every such case the corrupted word should be
abandoned, and in its stead one unequivocally conveying the proved primitive meaning of the original should be used. To question the propriety of this course is to question whether it be proper for a translator to do all in his power towards placing his readers as nearly as possible in as good a position as that of primitive readers for understanding the sacred writings."
Amongst many interesting letters, one only can be singled out, as lack of space precludes the printing of others. Mr. John Rotherham, of Ipswich, the father of the Translator, wrote:-
"I am certainly very pleased with what I have read of the text and the notes, and especially with the Introduction prefixed. The work must have cost you a great amount of labour and study, and shows an intimate acquaintance with the original in its peculiar structure, force, and beauty. I hope the critics and reviewers will deal with the work on its own merits, and not condemn it, on the old pretence of the beauty of our old translation, which has done so much for us. I certainly have a persuasion that had our Bible been more faithful to the original, half the errors which now perplex and divide the Christian Church would never have existed; and the other half would have been less injurious."
In 1869 my father wrote a pamphlet entitled "The Expressive Reading of the Sacred Scriptures." In his short treatise, after an introductory section on "The Importance of Reading the Bible Well," the writer proceeds to explain how emphasis is discoverable in the original, and he gives examples in Greek with corresponding English to prove the use made by the sacred writers of an emphatic idiom. This naturally prepares the way to unfold his plan for a "Proposed Emphasised Translation," and an intimation is given that such a work is "in preparation." This pamphlet bears the imprint of Samuel Bagster and Sons, of 15 Paternoster Row, London, and three years later (1872) the first edition of "The New Testament Critically Emphasised" was published by this well-known firm of Bible publishers.
It may be interesting to note that the "House" of Bagster was founded in 1794, in the days when George III. was King,
and that far more than a century at 15 Paternoster Row business has been carried on in these premises under the shadow of St. Paul's Cathedral. The present writer recalls the appearance of the showroom at "No. 15" (as it was half a century ago), with its fine assortment of Polyglot and other Bibles in Hebrew, Greek, and English, with Lexicons, Concordances, and other works of reference to aid the Bible student. With such companions the "Emphasised New Testament" was obviously in good company.
The writer of these notes enjoyed recently a talk with Mr. Robert Bagster, the present managing director, and grandson of the founder of the firm. Mr. Bagster recalls with pleasure the fact that he suggested to my father the under-scoring device for indicating emphasis (this was adopted in the first and second editions), and he gave personal attention to the printing of the work. To-day the veteran publisher finds in music an enjoyable hobby, and as "Superintendent of the Bass Chorus" in the famous Handel Festival Choir, he keeps in touch with what he describes as "the grandest music ever written"
FIRST EDITION "EMPHASISED NEW TESTAMENT."
The special features of the first edition of the "Emphasised New Testament," and the reception it received may be gathered from the following press notices of the work:-
From the Watchman (Wesleyan paper):-
Among the many publications to which the "Revision" agitation may be supposed to have given rise, this is undoubtedly one of the most interesting. But it has a value far beyond what any local or temporary circumstances may impart. Dr. Tregelles, a very distinguished Biblical scholar, has been occupied for many years in preparing an edition of the Greek Testament on the basis of ancient authorities alone. This volume is a translation of Dr. Tregelles's text, and so brings within the reach of English students the precious fruit of many years' study and research in settling the text of the New Testament by a scholar whose competence and conscientiousness will generally be admitted. The style of the translation is too close for public use; but its literal character will make it the more welcome to private students, for whose use alone it is designed. And those
English readers who are desirous to approach as nearly as possible to the exact words of the sacred writers have probably such an opportunity in this volume as was never before afforded to them.
From the Nonconformist:-
Very great labour and no mean amount of critical skill have been expended on this version by Mr. Rotherham. Its peculiar claim to notice lies in the fact that it is an attempt to give to the English reader, by means of a very literal version, both as to words and their order, a better notion of the Greek Testament than any existing translation affords. The reader at first will be startled by the strange inversions which occur in every line, but, as the author truly says, many of these seeming inversions in the Greek are but the natural order of words when emphasis is desired. Under this treatment each page seems in movement, like the sinews of a limb from which the skin has been removed. You see, as it were, the muscles pulling and contracting, and gain a new sense of the wonderfulness of the living machinery. We can conscientiously recommend the work to English readers on its own merits. It will give them a clearer idea of the manner of speech in the Greek Testament than any other extant version known to us. It has, however, a deeper merit. The work is translated from the best edition of the Greek text, and indicates in every page a very creditable acquaintance with the history of interpretation.
From the Rainbow:-
This volume will prove a treasure to many. The great labour the translator has bestowed upon it should bring him the recognition of both reward and honour. We have looked through many portions of the book with intense satisfaction, and feel that Mr. Rotherham has bestowed a boon upon the English reader of the New Testament, the value of which cannot be exaggerated. A man who knows nothing of Greek will find its force and meaning here reproduced with wonderful fidelity. A life-time spent on this production would have been a well-spent life; and if Christian men do not immediately evince this sense of the benefaction by such a demand for the book as will in a measure recompense
their benefactor for his sacred toil, we shall be exceedingly surprised,
From the Christian Standard (Cincinnati):-
We desire to say that we are more and more delighted with it the more thoroughly we examine it. It ought to be in the hands of all our preachers and teachers.
From the World's Crisis (Boston):-
We have received from J.B. Rotherham, of London, England, a new translation of the New Testament, which we prize very highly. It is prepared with much care, presenting the meaning of the original Greek Testament in clear light.
In 1878 a SECOND EDITION of the "Emphasised New Testament" was called for, and the Translator took the opportunity to "bring back to the anvil" his work and to strive to improve it in various directions. A new Introduction was written, further notes added, and sectional headings inserted throughout the Gospels.
JOSEPH BRYANT ROTHERHAM INDEX