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THE English Version of the New Testament here presented to the reader is a Revision of the Translation published in the year of Our Lord 1611, and commonly known by the name of the Authorised Version.
That Translation was the work of many hands and of several generations. The foundation was laid by William Tyndale. His translation of the New Testament was the true primary Version. The Versions that followed were either substantially reproductions of Tyndale's translation in its final shape, or revisions of Versions that had been themselves almost entirely based on it. Three successive stages may be recognised in this continuous work of authoritative revision: first, the publication of the Great Bible of 1539-41 in the reign of Henry VIII.; next, the publication of the Bishops' Bible of 1568 and 1572 in the reign of Elizabeth; and lastly, the publication of the King's Bible of 1611 in the reign of James I. Besides these, the Genevan Version of 1560, itself founded on Tyndale's translation, must here be named; which, though not put forth by authority, was widely circulated in this country, and largely used by King James' Translators. Thus the form in which the English New Testament has now been read for 270 years was the result of various revisions made between 1525 and 1611; and the present Revision is an attempt, after a long interval, to follow the example set by a succession of honoured predecessors.
I. Of the many points of interest connected with the Translation of 1611, two require special notice: first, the Greek Text which it appears to have represented; and secondly, the character of the Translation itself.
1. With regard to the Greek Text, it would appear that, if to some extent the Translators exercised an independent judgement, it was mainly in choosing amongst readings contained in the principal editions of the Greek Text that had appeared in the sixteenth century. Wherever they seem to have followed a reading which is not found in any of those editions, their rendering may probably be traced to the Latin Vulgate. Their chief guides appear to have been the later editions of Stephanus and of Beza, and also, to a certain extent, the Complutensian Polyglott. All these were founded for the most part on manuscripts of late date, few in number, and used with little critical skill. But in those days it could hardly have been otherwise. Nearly all the more ancient of documentary authorities have become known only within the last two centuries; some of the most important of them, indeed, within the last few years. Their publication has called forth not only improved editions of the Greek Text, but a succession of instructive discussions on the variations which have been brought to light, and on the best modes of distinguishing original readings from changes introduced in the course of transcription. While therefore it has long been the opinion of all scholars that the commonly received text needed thorough revision, it is but recently that materials have been acquired for executing such a work with even approximate completeness.
2. The character of the Translation itself will be best estimated by considering the leading rules under which it was made, and the extent to which these rules appear to have been observed.
The primary and fundamental rule was expressed in the following terms:-'The ordinary Bible read in the Church, commonly called the Bishops' Bible, to be followed, and as little altered as the truth of the Original