The following article by Alexander Campbell is reproduced from the Millenial Harbinger 3 (1832), pp. 268-274.

Historical Sketch of the Origin and Progress of the New Translation

THE Presbyterians have been most conspicuous in the enterprize of making new and improved translations. Other societies have made similar efforts, but none have been more distinguished nor more successful in their attempts than they. It is true that all the reformers were favorable to a more general reading of the Holy Scriptures, and expressed ardent desires for improved versions of them. The most eminent reformers were the authors of translations themselves. — Wickliffe, Luther, Beza, Wesley, with others of minor fame, gave to their contemporaries new versions of the Scriptures. Besides those called Reformers, other distinguished leaders in their respective communities have contributed by partial translations of the New Testament, and by some parts of the Old, to the improvement of the commonly received version. Erasmus, Newcome, Wakefield, Lowth, Simon, Piscator, Le Clerc, with many others, are distinguished for their labors in this department. But the Presbyterian Doctors have gained the highest reputation in the work of translating. Doctors Campbell, Macknight, Doddridge, and Stuart of Andover, are of the highest reputation in this denomination. Doddridge, it is true, in matters of church discipline and government was a Congregationalist; but this has not made a breach impassable between him and the Presbyterians. He, therefore, is fraternized by them.

Unworthy objects have been ascribed to us for making an effort to introduce into the houses of private Christians and into the public congregations, a new translation, in one volume, composed of the labors of Campbell, Macknight, and Doddridge, with such emendations as more recent critics and translators have suggested. But this scheme did not first originate with us. It was projected and accomplished in Europe before we thought of it. The four Gospels, from G. Campbell; the Apostolic Epistles, from J. Macknight; and the Acts and Revelation by John, from Doddridge, in one volume, were published in London, without note or comment, before any attempt was made to print them in this country. A copy of that work was received at Bethany as soon as we could obtain it. It was very badly executed, had many typographical errors in it, and was printed in a very awkward form. The title page is lost, but I think it was published in the year 1818. Shortly after this time, a bookseller in New York, at the suggestion of Henry Errit of that city, issued proposals for publishing an octavo edition of it, full bound, at $3.00 per copy, and at $2.50 slightly bound. Mr. Errit forwarded to me a prospectus, having at that time become acquainted with me through my sermon on the law in 1816, and debate with Mr. Walker in 1820. I subscribed for 100 copies of the proposed impression, for the benefit of the congregations amongst whom I then labored. They failed in obtaining subscribers, and the project was abandoned. This was the only prospectus, as far as known to me, ever published in America before that which I issued. Being extremely disappointed in the failure of the New York project, and deeply convinced of the immense importance of such a work, I began to think of undertaking it, but in form different from the London edition and from that proposed in New York. I thought the price ought to be reduced, and that prefaces and some critical notes and amendments from other translations, ought to accompany it, and that it should appear in another form on the paper. Proposals were issued at $1.75 per copy, plain binding, with the additions contemplated. And although it appeared a hazardous undertaking in a pecuniary point of view, and still more as respected the prejudices of the community, it was accomplished, and the impression was soon disposed of, without any loss, but some profit to the publisher.

Conscious, however, that the work could be still farther improved, and desirous to keep it in my own hands until it was made as perfect as possible, I obtained for it a copy-right. A second edition, with some emendations, has been published and chiefly disposed of long since. Through the failure of both printers and bookbinders, this edition did not justify our proposals nor realize our expectations. We expected that it would have been more generally carried to the places of meeting, and more used in families than it is. The dimness of the impression, and the importable form and size of the volume, have been generally assigned as an objection against carrying it to meeting: and the aged say the print is too small for them.

To perfect two editions of this version (a pocket and a family Testament) has long been a desideratum with us; the latter, in large type, suited to those of dim sight — the former, for the young and middle-aged, suited to the pocket, as a constant companion. But we have hitherto been prevented, and the principal obstacles in our way are these : — In the first place, the printing of Testaments in the old-fashioned way, by setting up one letter at a time, is too expensive for this age of labor-saving machinery. The stereotype, or standing plate form, is now the order of the day; and hence the immense reduction in the price of books so printed The Scriptures now are reduced to one-third their cost in the last generation.

But again, when a book is stereotyped there is no opportunity of correcting, altering, or amending a word ; and we could not have the approbation of our own conscience in putting into a standing and immutable form the version, unless in some respects corrected and improved.

Let none be startled at this. It was not until several editions of the present authorized version were stricken off, that the work was made as perfect as it is now : and even in defiance of the governmental arrangements in favor of the king's version, it is not now what it once was in all respects This we have before shown. We never intended to part with the copy-right until the version has our fullest approbation: and for this reason we have delayed a third edition, that we may have it as unexceptionable as possible, and because we wish to have the pocket edition reduced to at least half the price of the second edition. This delay has been much longer than was anticipated; and although another edition might have been circulated before this time, we could not find that leisure, from pressing obligations, necessary to revise and prepare the work for this permanent form.

But the expences of stereotyping are so great, that we cannot think of stereotyping the family Testament; and therefore cannot reduce the price of that edition. Indeed, the plan now proposed for the large Testament must necessarily enhance the value of it very much; and the price of it, if not proportionally greater, at least somewhat higher than the first edition.

The improvements in contemplation for the family Testament, are these : —

1. A marginal enumeration of chapters and verses, for the sake of reference, without indenting the page or breaking the connexion.

2. Some enlargement of the notes critical and explanatory of important emendations in the version.

3. In addition to the prefaces in the first edition, such geographical, chronological, and historical documents, as are conducive to a more correct knowledge of the books of the New Testament.

4. Sundry tables, explanatory of Scripture names, and miscellaneous matters, necessary to an easy intelligence of the New Testament style.

5. Other improvements, tending to make the volume what it originally was — a self-interpreting volume.

The type designed for this impression are the type on which the first edition was printed, not having been since used. The volume will of course be something larger than the first edition, which contained about 526 octavo pages.

The pocket edition will not be executed until after the family Testament is completed; and just as soon as the sale or orders for the large Testament will justify us to proceed with the pocket edition, it shall be executed.

As the pocket Testament will be stereotyped from the third edition, brought to the greatest accuracy which our times and opportunities will permit, it can be issued in a much shorter time than we have formerly employed to perfect an edition. But the time of its appearance will necessarily depend on the orders received for it and the family Testament.

Such are our plans and objects relative to this all-important undertaking. We are every hour which we can appropriate from our current expenditures of time, preparing for this great work.

But some will ask, 'What are you preparing?' To them I will answer in general terms: We are collecting from all quarters every thing which can elucidate the text. We have within a few days, for example, received from London the last edition of all the works of Lardner, in 10 volumes, 8vo. who spent 43 years in collecting all the documents from Christian, Pagan, and Jewish antiquity, on the credibility of the gospel history; in which all matters pertaining to the chronology and history of the sacred writings, are set forth in order. We are examining the works of the most distinguished German critics on the original text; comparing various English translations, ancient and modern; reading most patiently the original; and re-considering the works of the authors of this translation, for the purpose of improving, if possible, their style; and also for the settlement of some ambiguous renderings — so that the reader may have every possible help to forming clear, just, and comprehensive views of the Christian Revelation. This is in general terms our answer. We are also solciting, and do hereby solicit, all the aids which the biblical critics of every school may please to furnish, with the promise that we will pay all attention to every suggestion, and do the utmost justice, in our judgment, as we shall give an account to the Divine Author of the Christian Religion, in that great day when every man shall be judged according to his works.

We are assured that more depends upon a perspicuous and correct translation of the New Testament, for the illumination of the Christian community, and for the conversion of the world, than upon any other means in human power: for no man can present the testimony of God to mankind more clearly or forcibly than he himself apprehends it, and no man can apprehend it more clearly than he reads it.

We are not now to argue the imperfections of the common version, nor the superiority of the new. This has, to a certain extent, been already done. The preface to King James' version, which we published in the Christian Baptist, justifies and recommends the new version, and obviates all objections against it. The fact that the Presbyterians have every few years since been submitting to the public new versions of sundry parts of the volume, shews they feel the need of a new version. Professor Stuart, yet living, and certainly one of the most competent Americans to judge of such matters, has given us a new version of the letter to the Hebrews, and offered many valuable criticisms, not only upon it, but upon various other portions of the New Testament. So have some other American writers.

The most learned periodical which is published in the union, is that from the Andover press, titled "the Biblical Repository" conducted by Edward Robinson, and liberally contributed to by Professor Stuart. This fully authorizes all that we have said on the subject of the necessity and utility of a new version. In examining that work and the writings of Horne, Ernesti, and others, we feel ourselves fortified on all sides in the efforts we are making to introduce an improved version of the New Testament. We adopt all their rules of interpretation, and therefore every improvement in the version is according to the laws of the literary world, and to be tried by the supreme law of the commonwealth of letters. To that court we are amenable; we acknowledge its jurisdiction in the case, and will submit to its decisions.

But the cavils of the traditionized and interested, and the objections of the mere sectarian leaders, are what we must expect; for they always opposed every improvement. Their fathers opposed the Bishops' Bible — King James' Bible. Their grand-fathers opposed Luther's Bible; and their great-grand-fathers burned the bones of Wickliffe after he was dead, because he attempted a new version and recommended it to the English people. But after all, we have little to do in comparison of what has been done by Campbell of Aberdeen, and Macknight of Edinburg. We have not to amend them, nor to depart from them in any cardinal matter affecting the faith of any Christian in the world. It is not the faith, but the knowledge of Christians which we aim to assist in these improvements. We have no system to aid or promote by a single variation. We have, we think, given proof to silence the greatest sceptic who has any intellect remaining, that the popularity or unpopularity of any tenet has never turned our course a hair's breadth from the way which conscience approves. Truth alone has been our pursuit, regardless of her retinue, admirers or opposers. At all events, if they will tell us what is wanting to assure them of this fact, we shall make an effort, if in our power, to present it to them. But he speaks to the deaf who speaks to the prejudiced; and to the candid enough has been said.

The faith of Christians who read many versions must necessarily be stronger than the faith of those who read but one. Some, indeed, think otherwise; but they confound faith and opinion. Nothing but facts, or the testimony concerning facts, can be the object of faith. No man can believe that the Moon is inhabited, but many may be of opinion that it is. Where there is no testimony there can be no faith, and where there are no facts, real or alleged, there can be no testimony. But these matters have been fully canvassed in our pages. Now he that reads numerous versions has more testimony than he that reads but one: more testimony in favor of the certainty of the facts which he reads in one version; because all translations in our language exhibit all the same facts, and only differ in the degrees of strength, perspicuity, precision, and beauty in which they present them. No new fact in the gospel history is brought to light — no new character introduced — no new transactions exhibited in any version in the modern tongues of the earth. He that reads numerous versions has greater assurance that he has a trust-worthy translation of the original, than he that reads but one — because the more independent versions he reads, the more witnesses he has that the facts which he believes are the facts reported in the original tongue, seeing that all translators, however they may differ about the meaning of the facts, agree in the narration of the facts.

Various translations are like the four gospels — which, indeed, are four versions of the same history. Though not translations of the same original tongue, they are versions of the same original story, or such parts of it as each narrator thought most conducive to the object he had in view in reference to those addressed. Infidels object to four gospels and a plurality of translations from the same logic and from the same motives. But the intelligent Christian can appreciate the value of four testimonies, and for the same reasons he will appreciate various versions of the New Testament, until there is a perfect and universal agreement in favor of one; which is not to be expected before the Millennium.

The Vulgate for a thousand years was almost universally received without a scruple; but then it was because few but Priests read it, and none but Priests pretended to understand it. It answered their purpose; and their admirers felt little or no interest in the matter. The more intelligent the community, the more scrupulosity concerning the purity of the original scriptures, and the precision and perspicuity of the translations of them. The last two centuries abundantly justify this observation.

The improvement of the style on the basis of Campbell, Macknight, Doddridge, Stuart, and others, is still practicable; though no new doctrine, no new fact, no new article of belief is to be expected. We hold not a single religious practice, we inculcate no doctrine that cannot be fully sustained from any version, Catholic or Protestant, which we have ever seen. As a text or a proof book, James' version is for our use quite sufficient. But as giving a perspicuous, precise, forcible, and intelligible translation of the original, it is greatly excelled by some more modern versions. It would be surprising, indeed, considering the structure of the English language, the many improvements in it, and the great advances made in the knowledge of the original tongues during more than two centuries, if a work completed 220 years ago could not now be much improved.

But there is this evident advantage which all have experienced from the new version, that, like the visit of a new preacher, it awakens the attention of the people. The people would go to sleep under Cicero and Demosthenes if they heard them or read them constantly. Their voice becomes monotonous, their tone, cadence, emphasis, gestures become familiar; while an inferior, because a stranger, would, from the love of novelty and change, awaken all. Hence new versions create more reading and inquiry, and consequently increase the knowledge of the community, more than any other expedient which can be adopted. But many more reasons than we can now urge conspire to recommend the exertions we are now making to perfect the family and pocket Testament now proposed.

Orders from our agents, and from all who wish to encourage and patronize these efforts, will be thankfully received and carefully attended to. Great expenditures of time, of mental vigor, and of "money that answers all things," are requisite to perfect these plans. We have now given a full statement of our objects and pursuits relative to this great undertaking. The co-operation and assistance of all devoted to the promotion of the best interests of mankind, are respectfully solicited. To the liberality and public spirit of such is the community already, in a great measure, indebted for what has been done since the commencement of the present reformation.

Touching our own pretensions to such an undertaking, we have nothing very interesting to say. We have devoted many years to the study of the book, to the language in which it was first written, to numerous translations of it, and have availed ourselves of the best critical works in Europe and America on the original and on the best translations of it. Our humble talents and endeavors have, in concert with others, our fellow-laborers, been much devoted to this work, and to all questions concerning primitive faith and manners. What we have done is our pledge for what we shall do in this undertaking.