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by Joseph Benson
IN an age and nation in which the British and Foreign Bible Society has had its origin, an institution which has for its object the giving of the Holy Scriptures to all nations under heaven in their vernacular tongues, and, as far as possible, to every individual in every nation; and an age and nation in which this most pious and benevolent institution has met with the countenance and support of all descriptions of persons, from the princes of the blood to the meanest subjects in the realm; and in which auxiliary societies have been formed in all parts of the empire in support of the parent society, and associations in aid of these in such an age and nation, to say any thing in commendation of the Scriptures seems perfectly unnecessary; their truth, excellence, and utility being acknowledged by high and low, rich and poor, from one end of the land to the other. Who, indeed, that believes and considers the testimony which the Holy Ghost, speaking by the inspired writers, has given to the excellence of the Scriptures, can call their excellence in question? St. Paul, whom the “Spirit of truth had guided,” as he had the other apostles, “into all truth,” speaking of the privileges and advantages which God had granted his ancient people, says, Romans 3:2, that the “chief of them was, that he had committed unto them his divine oracles.” And another inspired writer, after having enumerated sundry instances of God’s wisdom, power, and goodness, concludes with mentioning it as the greatest act of his goodness that “he had showed his words unto Jacob, and his statutes and judgments unto Israel;” adding, “He has not dealt so with any nation; and as for his judgments, they have not known them. Praise ye the Lord.” Nay, and even that Divine Person, who came “a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on him should not abide in darkness,” bore a still more explicit testimony to the importance of the sacred records, when he said, “Search the Scriptures, for in them ye think [or rather, are assured, as the words should be translated] that ye have eternal life.” And, to show still further the important light in which these holy writings ought to be viewed, when he had risen from the dead, and received all power in heaven and on earth, the first gift he bestowed on his beloved disciples was, “He opened their understanding that they might understand the Scriptures.”
Now it must be remembered, that these and such like commendations of the divine oracles were primarily intended of those of the Old Testament, those of the New not being then written. This is the more necessary to be observed, because many, otherwise well-disposed persons, appear greatly to neglect reading this ancient part of divine revelation; seeming to suppose, but very erroneously, that it was designed only for the Jews, and is of little or no use to Christians. But we are taught quite otherwise in the New Testament. For, besides the testimonies now adduced, in several other places thereof we find the reading and study of these ancient oracles recommended. It is of the Old Testament St. Paul speaks when he says, “Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope;” and, speaking of what happened to the Israelites, he says, “All these things happened to them for examples, and were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.” It is of the Old Testament he speaks when he says to Timothy, “From a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” And it is of them he adds, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine,” namely, to teach what ought to be known and believed, “for reproof,” or conviction, (as ελεγχον seems rather to mean,) of them that are in error, or sin,” for correction,” or amendment of what is amiss, “for instruction in righteousness,” or, for training up the children of God in all piety and virtue; “that the man of God,” the person that is truly reconciled and united to and approved of God, “may be perfect” in an acquaintance with Christian doctrines, in the possession of Christian graces, in the enjoyment of Christian privileges, and in the performance of Christian duties, “and thoroughly furnished” by his knowledge of, and faith in, the Scriptures, “unto all good works” even so as to be able to “teach, reprove, correct,” and “train up” others. Of them St. Peter also is to be understood, when he says, “We have a sure word of prophecy, whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place knowing that prophecy came not in old time by the will of man, but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”
That the New Testament is built on the Old, we have certain proof, by the frequent quotations made by Christ and his apostles, out of the histories, prophecies, and other passages of the Old Testament; and more particularly when Christ, after his resurrection, met the two disciples going to Emmaus, we are told that, (having first reproached them for not having sufficiently attended to the writings of the Old Testament,) “beginning at Moses, and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself:” and when he afterward appeared to all his disciples together, he said unto them, “These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the law of Moses, and in the Prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning me.” On the knowledge of what is contained in the Old Testament, depends the perfect understanding of our divine religion. “In these writings we may contemplate all the steps of Providence, relating to the salvation and redemption of mankind, in the several ages of the world; and, by a comparison of all the parts, may discern that ‘Christ was indeed the end of the law,’ and of all the promises made to the fathers: that all the deliverances given by God to his people were but shadows, and, as it were, an earnest of the great deliverance he intended to give by his Son: that all the ceremonials of the law were representations of the substance of the gospel: that the Aaronical sacrifices and priesthood were figures of better things to come.” There are even whole books in the New Testament which no one can rightly understand who has not read the Old with some care and attention; as the epistle to the Hebrews, and some other parts. Moreover, whoever will read and meditate on the prophetical writings of the Old Testament will find an astonishing light arise from them; will discover beauties which he was a stranger to before, and will have a more lively sense of the majesty of God, and a stronger confirmation of the truth and importance of Christianity than he could otherwise have. Nothing can be conceived to be a more convincing proof that He, who made, governs all things, and that the Scriptures are his word, than to see the exact completion of those ancient prophecies which were in the hands of the Jews, such as we now have them, many ages before the coming of our Lord. To sum up all: the writings of the Old Testament teach us that the Omnipotent Being who made this world still preserves and governs all things in it; that his care extends to the minutest particular, and directs all; that he dispenses good and evil; that he is perfectly good and righteous, and will reward every man according to his works. This is shown in the Old Testament by God’s establishing kingdoms and destroying them; making nations to flourish or decay; by his exercising a sovereign power not only over what is outward and visible, but over men’s hearts and minds, turning them as he pleases from one resolution to another, according to his designs; giving all necessary qualities to those he means to favour, and taking away counsel and prudence, strength and courage, from those he intends to destroy; by his calling for famine, the sword, and the pestilence, to punish the ungrateful and destroy the proud.
In the Old Testament we meet with rules and models for all ranks and conditions. Rich and poor, parents and children, young and old, all find there most excellent instruction on every branch of their duty; and whatever tends to promote justice, charity, purity, temperance, patience, and other virtues; with the most exalted sentiments of piety, and patterns of devotion. Here we are taught how we ought to revere the power and adore the majesty of the Great Supreme, the “high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity,” and fills immensity: with what pleasure and delight we ought to meditate upon his wonderful works of creation and providence; with what gratitude and fervency of devotion we ought to extol his perfections, and praise him for all his mercies; paying the highest regard to all his righteous precepts, precious promises, and awful threatenings, accounting those advantages inestimable which are consequent upon true piety and virtue. Here we learn to trust in God, to call upon him in time of need, to submit with resignation to his divine will, and to have recourse to his mercy, in the way of repentance and faith, if at any time we have offended him.
To say thus much of the Old Testament seemed necessary, (because the reading of it at present is too much disused, to the great loss of many pious persons,) without, however, intending to depreciate the New, which has, indeed, perfected the Old, and affords much greater light and more satisfactory information concerning several subjects of the greatest importance than was communicated under the law. Here the true character of God, as the God of mercy and love, the gracious Redeemer and Saviour of fallen man, is fully manifested. Here the person and offices, the love and sufferings, the humiliation and exaltation, the cross and crown of the Mediator between God and man, are fully exhibited; and here man’s sinfulness and guilt, his depravity, weakness, and wretchedness, are set in a true and luminous point of view, and the way of salvation from this state of sin and misery is clearly marked out. Here we are informed of the number, power, subtlety, malice, and diligence of our spiritual enemies, and how we may withstand their attacks: and, what is still of more importance to us, here life and immortality are brought to light, and ensured to all the truly penitent that believe in Jesus “with their hearts unto righteousness.” O heavenly balm for all our woes! O bright hopes to comfort us in all our troubles! O divine light to dispel all our darkness! O welcome deliverance from the bondage of sin and all the horrors of the grave! Nowhere are you to be found but in those sacred writings, which are our noble charter, informing us of all our glorious privileges; namely, that the sting of death is taken away; that the bonds of the grave are broken; that everlasting glory is reserved in store for all who will accept of it upon the terms which infinite wisdom and goodness have prescribed; that consolation, assistance, and support in our way to this glorious end will be granted us by the great Lord of all; that our transient afflictions are only the chastisements of a kind Father, trials of our grace, and purifying fires wherein we are to be refined as gold and silver, that we may be fitted for eternal and unspeakable felicity; and that our life here is no more than a passage to the heavenly Canaan, the blessed region of immortality and glory. After having duly considered what great things these are, and how greatly they tend to increase our hopes and happiness here, let us, with the warmest gratitude, acknowledge the distinguishing grace it has pleased the Father of mercies to bestow on us, on whom the light of the Scriptures hath shone; for nothing is more certain than that people of all ages and countries where this light hath not shined, have “sat in darkness and the shadow of death,” in a state of dreadful doubt and uncertainty, not only having no assurance of any of these glorious things, but absolutely having no hope beyond the grave. For any thing they know to the contrary, the gloomy grave closes upon them for ever; no immortal glories are set in their view; the eye of faith in them pierces not into the heavens, for “how can they believe when they have not heard,” or, how can they know what has not been declared unto them? And can we then, who have the unsearchable riches of God’s grace to man declared to us, who have all these great things revealed to us, who have the assurance of these glorious hopes, look with indifference on those divine writings wherein the declaration of them is made? Rather, ought they not to be our constant meditation and study, our joy and delight all our life long?
It will not be useless to give here some account of the sacred books, and of the translations of them, which are occasionally mentioned in the course of this work. The collecting and publishing of the books of the Old Testament are ascribed, by both Jews and Christians, to Ezra. It is certain that in the reign of Josiah there was no other book of the law extant besides that found in the temple by Hilkiah; from which original, by order of that pious king, copies were immediately written out, and search made for all the other parts of the Scriptures, (2 Kings 22:0.,) by which means copies of the whole became multiplied among the people, who carried them with them into their captivity. After the return of the Jews from the Babylonish captivity, Ezra got together as many copies as he could of the sacred writings, and out of them all prepared a correct edition; disposing the several books in their proper order, and settling the canon of Scripture for his time. These books he divided into three parts: 1, The Law; 2, The Prophets; 3, The Chetubim, or Hagiographa, that is, The Holy Writings. Josephus mentions this division, when he says, “We have only twenty-two books which we believe to be of divine authority, of which five are the books of Moses. From the death of Moses to the reign of Artaxerxes, the son of Xerxes king of Persia, the prophets who succeeded Moses have written in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain hymns to God, and moral precepts for the conduct of life.” In this division, I. The Law contains, 1, Genesis 2:0, Exodus 3:0, Leviticus 4:0, Numbers 5:0, Deuteronomy 2:0. The writings of the prophets are, 1, Joshua 2:0, Judges, with Ruth 3:0, Samuel; 4, Kings; 5, Isaiah 6:0, Jeremiah, with his Lamentations; 7, Ezekiel 8:0, Daniel 9:0, The twelve minor prophets; 10, Job 11:0, Ezra; 12, Nehemiah 13:0, Esther. III. And the Hagiographa consist of, 1, The Psalms 2:0, The Proverbs 3:0, Ecclesiastes: 4, The Song of Solomon.
This division was made for the sake of reducing the number of the sacred books to the number of the letters in their alphabet, which amount to twenty-two. At present the Jews reckon twenty-four books in their canon of Scripture; in disposing of which, the Law stands as it did in the former division, and the Prophets are distributed into the former and latter prophets. The former prophets are Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings. The latter prophets are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve minor prophets. And the Hagiographa consist of the Psalms, the Proverbs, Job, the Song of Solomon, Ruth, the Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther Daniel, Ezra, the Chronicles. Under the name of Ezra, they comprehend Nehemiah. The five books of the Law, in the original, are divided in fifty-four sections. This division many of the Jews hold to have been appointed by Moses himself: but others, with more probability, ascribe it to Ezra. The design of this division was, that one of these sections might be read in their synagogues every sabbath day. The number was fifty-four, because, in their intercalated years, a month being then added, there were fifty-four sabbaths. In other years they reduced them to fifty-two, by twice joining together two short sections. Till the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes, they read only the Law, but the reading of it being then prohibited, they substituted in the room of it fifty-four sections out of the prophets; and when the reading of the Law was restored, under the Maccabees, the section which was read every sabbath out of the Law served for their first lesson, and the section read out of the prophets for their second. These sections were divided into verses, of which division, if Ezra was not the author, it was introduced not long after him; and seems to have been designed for the use of the Targumists, or Chaldean interpreters; for after the return of the Jews from the Babylonish captivity, when the Hebrew language had ceased to be in common use, and the Chaldee was used instead of it, the custom was, that the Law should be first read in the original Hebrew, and then interpreted to the people in the Chaldee language, for which purpose these shorter sections or periods were very convenient. The division of the Scriptures into chapters, as we at present have them, except only the Psalms, which were always divided as at present, is of much later date. Some attribute it to Stephen Langton, archbishop of Canterbury, in the reigns of John and Henry III. But others, with more show of probability, believe the true author of the invention was Hugo de Sancto Caro, commonly called Hugo Cardinalis, because he was the first Dominican that was ever raised to the degree of cardinal. This Hugo flourished about the year 1240. He wrote a Comment on the Scriptures, and projected the first Concordance, which is that of the Vulgar Latin Bible. The aim of this work being for the more easily finding out any word or passage in the Scriptures, he found it necessary to divide the book into sections, and the sections into subdivisions; for, till that time, the Vulgar Latin Bibles were without any division at all. These sections are the chapters into which the Bible hath ever since been divided. But the subdivision of the chapters was not then into verses, as it is now. Hugo’s method of subdividing them was by the letters A, B, C, D, E, F, G, placed in the margin at an equal distance from each other, according to the length of the chapters. The subdivision of the chapters into verses, as they now stand in our Bibles, had its original from a famous Jewish rabbi named Mordecai Nathan, about the year 1445. This rabbi, in imitation of Hugo Cardinalis, drew up a Concordance to the Hebrew Bible, for the use of the Jews. But though he followed Hugo in his division of the book into chapters, he refined upon his invention as to the subdivision, and contrived that by verses. This being found to be a much more convenient method, it has been ever since followed. And thus, as the Jews borrowed the division of the books of the Holy Scriptures into chapters from the Christians, in like manner the Christians borrowed that of the chapters into verses from the Jews.
Prideaux is of opinion that Ezra made additions in several parts of the Bible, where any thing appeared necessary for illustrating, connecting, or completing the work; in which he appears to have been assisted by the same Spirit in which they were first written. Among such additions are to be reckoned the last chapter of Deuteronomy, wherein Moses seems to give an account of his own death and burial, and the succession of Joshua after him. To the same cause, this learned author thinks, are to be attributed many other insertions in the Bible, which created difficulties and objections to the authenticity of the sacred text. For instance, Genesis 12:6, it is remarked on Abraham’s coming into the land of Canaan, that “the Canaanites were then in the land;” which is not likely to have been said till after the time of Moses, when the Canaanites, being extirpated by Joshua, were then no more in the land. And, Genesis 22:14, we read, “As it is said to this day, In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen.” But mount Moriah (which is the mount here spoken of) was not called the mount of the Lord till the temple was built on it, many hundreds of years after; and this being here quoted as a proverbial saying respecting it, which obtained among the Israelites in after ages, the whole style of the text manifestly points at a time after Moses, when they were in possession of the land in which that mountain stood; and therefore both these particulars prove the words cited to have been an addition by some other hand.
Genesis 36:3, we read, “ And these are the kings that reigned in the land of Edom, before there reigned any king over the land of Israel:” which could not have been said till after there had been a king in Israel, and therefore these cannot be Moses’s words, but must have been inserted afterward. Exodus 16:35, the words of the text are, “And the children of Israel did eat manna forty years, till they came to a land inhabited; they did eat manna till they came unto the borders of the land of Canaan;” but Moses was dead before the manna ceased, and therefore these, again, cannot be his words, but must have been inserted after his decease. Many more instances of such inserted passages might be given, for throughout the whole Scripture they have been put in by way of parenthesis, where they appeared necessary for explaining, connecting, or illustrating the text, or the supplying what was wanting in it; but those already mentioned are sufficient to prove the point intended; and of these insertions undoubtedly Ezra was the author, in all the books which passed his examination. Ezra changed the names of several places which were grown obsolete, and instead of them put in their new names, by which they are called in the text. Thus it is that Abraham is said to have pursued the kings, who carried Lot away captive, as far as Dan; whereas that place in Moses’s time was called Laish; the name Dan being unknown till the Danites (long after the death of Moses) possessed themselves of it. The Jewish canon was, as appears, settled by Ezra, yet not so but that several variations have been made in it. Malachi, for instance, could not have been put in the Bible by him, since that prophet is by all allowed to have lived after Ezra; nor could Nehemiah have been put in by him, since mention is made, in that book, of Jaddus as high-priest, and of Darius Codomanus as king of Persia, who were at least a hundred years later than Ezra. It may be added, that, in the first book of Chronicles, the genealogy is carried down for so many generations as must necessarily bring it to the time of Alexander, and consequently this book could not be in the canon of Ezra’s days. It is probable the two books of Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, and Malachi, were put into the Bible in the time of Simon the Just, the last of the men of the great synagogue.
The celebrated Septuagint, or Greek version of the Old Testament, was made in the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus king of Egypt, who reigned about 285 years before Christ. Ptolemy, who was a monarch of great liberality, and a munificent patron of learning, having erected a grand library at Alexandria, which he intended to enrich with all the curious and important works of antiquity, procured a translation into Greek of the Pentateuch, or five books of Moses. This translation was made from the most ancient copies that could be procured, and therefore some learned men have supposed this version to have been made from copies written in the Samaritan or old Hebrew character. It has generally obtained the name of the Septuagint, or version of the Seventy, from a tradition that seventy or seventy-two interpreters were employed in this work, by order of the Jewish high-priest and sanhedrim, or great council of the Jews; and who completed the translation in a singular and miraculous manner. But this traditionary and fabulous account is now exploded; and a more probable account is, that five learned and judicious men only were engaged in the translation, which was afterward examined, approved, and allowed as a faithful version, by the seventy or seventy-two elders, who constituted the Alexandrian sanhedrim. The other books of the Old Testament were translated at different times, by different hands, as the necessity of the case demanded, or the providence of God appointed; and, being added to the books already translated, were comprehended in the general term Septuagint, or Septuagint version. This version was used by the Hellenist Jews, (that is, those who sojourned in the Grecian provinces and spoke the Greek language,) from the time of its formation till about one hundred years after the incarnation of our Lord, when they began to disuse it, and formed another for themselves. For, as this version grew into use among the Christians, it grew out of credit with the Jews, and they being pressed in many particulars, urged against them out of this version by the Christians, resolved to make a new one, that might better serve their purpose. The person who undertook this work was Aquila, a native of Sinope, a city of Pontus. He had been brought up a heathen, but, becoming a Christian, was excommunicated for addicting himself to magic and judicial astrology; he then turned Jew, got himself admitted into the school of Rabbi Akiba, the most celebrated Jewish teacher of his day, and having made considerable proficiency in Hebrew, was thought sufficient for the translation, which he undertook, and published in the year of our Lord 128. This version by Aquila was made so strictly literal, that St. Jerome said it was a good dictionary to give the genuine meaning of the Hebrew words.
It was revised by the author, and a second edition of it published some time after the appearance of the first: but only a few fragments of it now remain. This seems to have been owing, partly at least, to the Jews themselves, for, as they ceased to read the Greek version in their synagogues, it was neglected and lost. The reader will observe, that it is the Septuagint version above mentioned, and not the Hebrew original, which our Lord and his apostles in general quote from, and which, in the first ages of Christianity, was held in great esteem. And to this celebrated translation many of the heathen philosophers were indebted for their most correct notions of the being and perfections of God, as well as for their best and purest sentiments of moral duties. The principal editions of it are, 1. The Complutensian, published by Cardinal Ximenes, A.D. 1515. It was altered in a variety of places, to make it correspond with the Hebrew, and so is the best version in Greek, but not the true Septuagint. 2. The Venetian, printed from a MS. It has been often reprinted at Strasburg, Basil, &c., and altered in some places, to bring it nearer the Hebrews 3:0. The Vatican, printed at Rome, 1587, from a fine MS. of the pope’s library. This and the various readings of the excellent Alexandrian MS. are inserted in Walton’s Polyglot. 4. Grabe’s Alexandrian copy, at Oxford, 1707, but sometimes altered as he thought fit.
The word Targum is a name given to the Chaldee paraphrases of the books of the Old Testament. They are called paraphrases, or expositions, because they are rather comments and explications than literal translations of the text. They are written in the Chaldee tongue, which became familiar to the Jews after the time of their captivity in Babylon, and was more known to them than the Hebrew itself. So that when the Hebrew text was read in the synagogue, or in the temple, they generally added to it an explication in the Chaldee tongue, for the information of the people, who had but a very imperfect knowledge of the Hebrew tongue. It is probable, that even from the time of Ezra this custom began, since this learned scribe, reading the law to the people in the temple, explained it, with the other priests that were with him, to make it understood by the people, Nehemiah 8:7-9. But though the custom of making these sorts of expositions in the Chaldee language was very ancient among the Hebrews, yet had they no written paraphrases or targums before the era of Onkelos and Jonathan, who lived about the time of our Saviour. Jonathan is placed thirty years before Christ, under the reign of Herod the Great. Onkelos is something more modern. The Targum of Onkelos is the most of all esteemed, and copies are to be found in which it is inserted verse for verse with the Hebrew. It is so short and so simple that it cannot be suspected of being corrupted. This paraphrast wrote only upon the books of Moses, and his style approaches nearly to the purity of the Chaldee, as it is found in Daniel and Ezra. The Targum of Jonathan, the son of Uzziel, is upon the greater and lesser prophets. He is much more diffuse than Onkelos, and especially upon the lesser prophets, where he takes great liberties, and runs on in allegories. His style is pure enough, and approaches pretty nearly to the Chaldee of Onkelos. It is thought that the Jewish doctors, who lived seven hundred years after him, made some additions to him. The Targum of Joseph the Blind is upon the Hagiographa. This author is much more modern, and less esteemed, than those we have now mentioned. He has written upon the Psalms, Job, the Proverbs, the Canticles, Ecclesiastes, Ruth, and Esther. His style is a very corrupt Chaldee, with a great mixture of words from foreign languages. The Targum of Jerusalem is only upon the Pentateuch: nor is that entire or perfect. There are whole verses wanting, others transposed, others mutilated; which has made many of opinion, that this is only a fragment of some ancient paraphrase that is now lost. There is no Targum upon Daniel, or upon the books of Ezra or Nehemiah. These Targums are of great use for the better understanding, not only of the Old Testament, on which they were written, but also the New. As to the Old Testament, they serve to vindicate the genuineness of the present Hebrew text, by proving it to be the same that was in use when these Targums were made, contrary to the opinion of those who think the Jews corrupted it after our Saviour’s time. They help to explain many words and phrases in the Hebrew original, and they hand down to us many of the ancient customs of the Jews. And some of them, with the phraseologies, idioms, and peculiar forms of speech which we find in them, do, in many instances, help as much for the better illustration and better understanding of the New Testament as of the Old; the Jerusalem dialect, in which they are written, being the vulgar language of the Jews in our Saviour’s time. They also very much serve the Christian cause against the Jews, by interpreting many of the prophecies of the Messiah in the Old Testament in the same manner as the Christians do. Many instances are produced to this purpose by Dr. Prideaux, in his Connection of the History of the Old and New Testaments, vol. 4. p. 777.
The Vulgate which is likewise frequently mentioned in this Commentary, is the name given to the most ancient translation of the Scriptures into Latin. The meaning of this seems to be no more than the vulgar, or common translation; namely, that most generally received and used, and made in the vulgar or common language of those belonging to the Latin Church. The Vulgate of the Old Testament was translated almost word for word from the Greek of the Seventy. The translator is not known, nor so much as guessed at. It was commonly in use before St. Jerome made another translation from the Hebrew. St. Austin preferred the Vulgate before all the other Latin versions, as rendering the words and sense of the sacred text more closely and justly than any of the rest. That now called the Vulgate is corrected from the emendations of St. Jerome.
The Scriptures have likewise been translated into the Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopic, Coptic or Egyptian, Persian, Turkish, Armenian, Georgian, Erse or Gaelic, Wallachian, Laponese, Romanese, Lithuanian, Portuguese, Livonian or Lettish, Esthonian, Modern Russian, Malayan, Formosan, the Grisons, the Upper Lusatian, the Manks, Georgian, Tamool, Cingalese, Hindostanee, Bengalee, Chinese, Massachuset, Creole, Mohawk, and Greenlandish languages; and, among the Europeans, into French, Italian, Spanish, German, Flemish, Danish, Sclavonian, Polish, Bohemian, Russian or Muscovite, Anglo-Saxon, English and Irish, and several others. Adelm, bishop of Sherburn, who lived in 709, made an English-Saxon version of the Psalms. Eadrfrid, or Ecbert, bishop of Lindisferne, who lived about the year 730, translated several of the books of Scripture into the same language. Venerable Bede, who died in 735, made a translation of the gospels into Saxon. And there is an old version of several books of the Scriptures made by one Elfric, abbot of Malmesbury. As to the English versions of the Scriptures, the most ancient is that of John de Trevisa, a secular priest, who translated the Old and New Testaments into English, at the request of Thomas Lord Berkeley. He lived in the reign of Richard II., and finished his translation in the year 1357. The second author who undertook this work was the famous Wickliff, who lived in the reigns of Edward III. and Richard II. The MS. of his version is in several libraries in England. In the year 1534, an English version of the Bible, done partly by William Tindal, and partly by Miles Coverdale, was brought into England from Antwerp. The bishops found great fault with this translation: upon which a motion was made in convocation for an English translation of the Bible to be set up in all churches. This motion, though opposed by Bishop Gardiner and his party, succeeded at last. The king gave orders for setting about it with all possible haste, and within three years the impression of it was finished. Cromwell procured a general warrant from the king, allowing all his subjects to read it; for which Cranmer wrote his thanks to Cromwell, “rejoicing to see the work of reformation now risen in England, since the word of God did now shine over it all without a cloud.” Cromwell likewise gave out injunctions, requiring the clergy to set up Bibles in all their churches, and to encourage the people to read them. In the reign of Edward VI. Fuller mentions another translation of the Bible, printed in two editions; the first in 1549, the other 1551, but neither of them divided into verses.
In the reign of Queen Elizabeth came out the Bishops’ Bible, so called because several of that order were concerned in that version. The work was divided into several parcels, and assigned to men of learning and character; most of the divisions are marked with great initial letters, signifying either the name or the titles of the persons employed. Archbishop Parker had the principal direction of this affair; he revised the performance, and perhaps put the finishing hand to it. He likewise employed several critics in the Hebrew and Greek languages, to review the old translation, and compare it with the original.
The last English Bible is that called King James’s Bible, now in use by authority, which proceeded from the Hampton Court Conference in 1603, where, many exceptions being made to the Bishops’ Bible, King James gave orders for a new one; not, as the preface expresses it, for a translation altogether new, nor yet to make of a bad one a good, but to make a good one better; or, of many good ones, one best. Fifty-four learned persons were appointed for this office by the king, as appears by his letter to the archbishop, dated in 1604, which being three years before the translation was entered upon, it is probable seven of them were either dead or had declined the task, since Fuller’s list of the translators makes but forty- seven, who, being ranged under six divisions, entered on their province in 1607. It was published in 1610, with a dedication to King James, and a learned preface, and is commonly called King James’s Bible. After this all the other versions dropped, and fell into disuse, except the epistles and gospels in the Common Prayer Book, which were still continued, according to the Bishops’ translation, till the alteration of the Liturgy in 1661, and the Psalms, which are to this day continued as in the old version.
The judicious Selden, in his Table Talk, speaking of the Bible, says, “The English translation of the Bible is the best translation in the world, and renders the sense of the original best, taking in for the English translation the Bishops’ Bible as well as King James’s. The translators in King James’s time took an excellent way. That part of the Bible was given to him who was most excellent in such a tongue, (as the Apocrypha to Andrew Downs,) and then they met together, and one read the translation, the rest holding in their hands some Bible, either of the learned tongues, or French, Spanish, Italian, &c. If they found any fault, they spoke; if not, he read on.”
Much has been said of late in favour of giving the Holy Scriptures to nations, families, and individuals, without note or comment, and the British and Foreign Bible Society has been highly commended for adopting this plan. The reader will not misapprehend the reason of their adopting it. He will easily understand that it is not because the friends of that institution think it sufficient for men’s salvation that they have Bibles in their possession, and occasionally read them, whether they understand them or not; but entirely in order that every one who has a Bible may be left to his own unbiased and unprejudiced judgment with regard to the true meaning of every part of it, and may be at full liberty to use what helps he judges will be most conducive to that end. Common sense will tell any one, that no book is of any further use than it is understood, and that this is especially true respecting the Scriptures. Hence, as has been observed above, Christ, after his return from the dead, wrought a signal miracle in behalf of his disciples, and by an extraordinary influence of his blessed Spirit on their minds, opened their understandings that they might understand the Scriptures. Nor is it sufficient to understand them, but they must be firmly believed as far as they are understood; and must be marked, learned, and inwardly digested; yea, and reduced to practice, so that we may become doers of the word, and not hearers, or readers only; otherwise our possessing, and even esteeming and admiring this invaluable treasure, will be so far from enriching us with wisdom and grace, with holiness and happiness here, or hereafter, that it will only tend to our poverty and misery, bringing upon us a judicial blindness and hardness of heart from God, such as befell the Jews who would not so hear as to obey Moses and the prophets, and therefore were abandoned of God to a reprobate mind; and, though children of the kingdom, were cast out into outer darkness, even greater darkness in some respects than that in which the heathen world had been involved. Now, with a view to guard against every consequence of this kind, to prevent the abuse and ensure the use, the proper use of the Divine Oracles, the present work was entered upon, and has been so far accomplished. Nor was the author induced to undertake it through an overweening opinion of his own ability for such an arduous service; but he was pressed into it by his brethren in the ministry, at a time when he had not the most distant view or intention of any thing of the kind. Nor, after the desire of his brethren was signified to him, could he, for some time, bring his mind to consent to their wishes; nor would he have consented, had he not supposed that he should have had considerable help from the notes which the Rev. Mr. Wesley had selected and published many years ago; and that short notes would suffice to render the Scriptures in general sufficiently plain and easy to be understood by the generality of readers. Of his mistake in this particular he was soon convinced, finding it absolutely necessary to enlarge his plan, and make his notes much longer than he had at first intended, unless he would lay his readers under the necessity of purchasing one or two more Commentaries in order to their understanding the Scriptures, instead of having all that was necessary for that purpose in one.
Though this work has extended to a much greater length than was at first intended, the author of it is not conscious of having inserted therein one superfluous note or sentence. He has, from time to time, reviewed and re- reviewed what he had written, and continually, after the labour of composing, or selecting and abridging notes and observations, struck out many passages. And if he had the whole to go over again and reprint, although he knows he might shorten the Commentary, he knows it would, by that means, be far less valuable. He has had the most approved commentators and other helps before him for understanding every part, and has always made it his care to give what he judged the true and genuine sense of every passage. He must here repeat, however, that interpreting the Scriptures, and elucidating obscure passages, is not the only, nor even the chief end of this Commentary. Another very principal and still more important end of it is, to illustrate and defend the great doctrines of the everlasting gospel, as revealed under the Patriarchal, Jewish, and Christian dispensations, and to apply them to practical purposes. If it be here inquired what the author means by those great doctrines, his answer is, That he comprehends therein all those leading articles of the Christian faith which respect the nature and attributes of God; the primeval perfection and subsequent fall of man; the natural depravity, sinfulness, and guilt of the human race; their redemption through the life, death, and resurrection of the Son of God; his Deity and atonement, and the necessity of the influences of the Holy Spirit, in order to repentance, faith, and holiness; the justification of our persons, the renovation of our nature, and such good works as the gospel of Christ lays us under an indispensable obligation of performing. All these doctrines, together with those that respect the immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the body, a final judgment, and the eternal and unchangeable consequences thereof, he considers as being included in what St. Paul calls the analogy, or proportion of faith, and St. Jude, the faith once delivered to the saints; and all these he has already found repeated occasions to illustrate and defend in these notes on the Old Testament, and certainly will find much more occasion of doing it in his Commentary on the New; a work on which he will now immediately enter. The reader, therefore, that attends to this statement of particulars, can be at no loss to judge what he will meet with in these sheets. It is certainly not essays, sermons, or dissertations, on any parts of Scripture; not long and laboured discussions of unessential and unimportant points of doctrine; nor very critical and tedious expositions of less important and less interesting passages of the Sacred Writings themselves; but it is an explanation to the reader’s understanding, and application to his conscience, of such parts of Holy Writ as seemed to the author to require to be so elucidated and applied; and an illustration and vindication of such doctrines as he judged to be essential to, or closely connected with, the edification and salvation of mankind.
The marginal references have been found to give extraordinary trouble both to the compiler and the printer; and it is earnestly requested that they may not stand there in vain, but that the reader would occasionally, at least, consult them, for which little labour the increased knowledge of the Scriptures, and the edification he will receive thereby, will amply recompense him. And it is recommended to him, also, carefully to consider the summary of each book, and the contents of each chapter, before he proceeds to the perusal of it; as by this plan he will certainly both read the Sacred Oracles with more understanding and profit, and will retain a more lasting remembrance of the important truths which they contain.
Upon the whole, it is hoped that the reader will find this to be at once a cheap and an instructive work, compressing into a small compass the substance of what the piety and learning of ages have advanced to render the Book of God a “lamp to our feet, and a light to our paths,” and “a savour of life unto life,” to such as are sincere and simple hearted, and who, instead of depending on their own wisdom or researches, however laborious, address themselves to the Father of lights, in prayer for “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation,” saying each from the heart, “Give me understanding, and I will keep thy law; yea, I will keep it with my whole heart.” That He “who commanded light to shine out of darkness, may shine into all our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of his glory,” in the person and through the mediation of Christ Jesus, is the sincere prayer of The reader’s servant in Christ,
LONDON, April 4, 1815.
THE FIRST BOOK OF MOSES, CALLED
IT may not be improper to observe, before we enter on the work of illustrating the Sacred Volume, that the Holy Scriptures, or Holy Writings, are termed the BIBLE, or Book, (from the Greek Βιβλος by way of eminence, as they constitute the best book that ever was written. The great things of God’s law and gospel are here recorded, that they might be reduced to a greater certainty, might spread farther, remain longer, and be transmitted to distant places and ages more pure and entire, than possibly they could be by tradition. That part of the Bible which we call the OLD TESTAMENT contains the acts and monuments of the church of God from the creation almost to the coming of Christ in the flesh, which was about four thousand years: the truths then revealed, the laws enacted, the prophecies given, and the chief events that concerned the church. This is called a Testament, or Covenant, because it was a declaration of the will of God concerning man in a federal way, and had its force from the designed death of the great Testator, “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world,”
Revelation 13:8. It is called the Old Testament with relation to the New, which doth not cancel, but crown and perfect it, by bringing in that better hope which was typified and foretold in it.
This part of the Old Testament we call the PENTATEUCH, or five-fold volume, because it contains the five books of Moses. These books were, probably, the first that ever were written; for we hear no mention of any writing in all the book of Genesis, nor till God bid Moses write, Exodus 17:14. However, we are sure these books are the most ancient writings extant.
The first of them, named in the Hebrew, from the first word, Bereshith, but which we call Genesis, Moses probably wrote either while he was a shepherd in Midian, or rather, after he had been on the mount with God. And as he framed the tabernacle, so he did the more excellent and durable frame of this book, according to the pattern shown him in the mount; into which it is better to resolve the certainty of the things contained therein, than into any tradition that might be handed down to the family of Jacob.
GENESIS is a name borrowed from the Greek: it signifies the original, or generation. Fitly is this book so called; for it is a narrative of originals and generations: the creation of all things; the original happiness and fall of mankind; the entrance of sin and death into the world; the fate of Adam and his posterity before the flood; the general corruption of the human race, and the deluge sent to punish it; the preservation of Noah and his family in the ark, and their repeopling the earth; the invention of arts, the rise of nations, and the confounding of languages; and especially the planting of the church, and the state of it in its early days, with God’s marvellous providences toward the families of Lot and Nahor, of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, and their improvement of the same. In short, it contains a divinely-inspired, and therefore perfectly authentic history of the great and surprising events of two thousand three hundred and sixty-nine years. The beginning of the New Testament is also called GENESIS, Matthew 1:1: “The Book of the GENESIS, or GENERATION, of Jesus Christ.” Lord, open thou our eyes, that we may see the wondrous things of thy LAW and GOSPEL!
the Fifth Week after Easter