John Nelson Darby’s Version

John Nelson Darby, The Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Book of Revelation: Commonly called the New Testament. A New Translation from a Revised Text of the Greek Original. London: G. Morrish, 1867. Second edition 1872. Third edition 1884.

John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, where he graduated in 1819 as Classical Medallist. He was ordained as a priest in the established church in Ireland in 1825, and ministered among country people in remote places. In 1827 he came to believe that the church to which he belonged was hopelessly corrupt; and, on the basis of his independent study of Scripture, he also came to believe that a Christian was obliged to separate himself from all corrupt organizations. So he resigned his position as a clergyman, and began to associate with certain ‘brethren’ in Dublin who shared his views. Because he was unmarried and had inherited a large estate, he had no need of a salary. In Dublin he met Benjamin Wills Newton, who recognized Darby’s gifts and invited him to minister among like-minded people in Plymouth, England. By the year 1832 a congregation was definitely formed there under Darby’s leadership. This was the beginning of the so-called ‘Plymouth Brethren’ movement, to which Darby would devote the rest of his life. In the year 1837 he went to the continent to promote his teachings among Methodists and Baptists there. By 1840 he had established several congregations in Switzerland and France. In 1853 he went on to Germany, where he established congregations in Dusseldorf, Elberfeld, and in other towns. He was dissatisfied with the existing Bible versions in French and German, and so he collaborated with German and French followers in the creation of new versions in those languages. With some German associates he produced the ‘Elberfelder Bible,’ 1 and with French-speaking followers he produced the ‘Pau Bible.’

Darby did not feel such a need for a new translation in English, because he considered the King James Version to be adequate for most purposes, and he encouraged his followers to continue to use it. But, he decided to produce a highly literal English version of the New Testament for study purposes. This New Testament was first issued in parts, beginning with the Gospel according to Matthew in 1865. The New Testament was completed in 1867. The version is exceedingly literal, based upon modern critical editions of the Greek text, and abundantly supplied with text-critical and philological annotations. The annotations are by far the most comprehensive and detailed to be found in an English version. It was consulted by the translators of the English Revised Version of 1881 (see F.F. Bruce, History of the Bible in English, 3rd ed., 1978, p. 132).

After Darby’s death in 1882, certain of his followers in England produced an English version of the Old Testament based upon Darby’s French and German translations. In 1890 this was published as the Old Testament portion of The Holy Scriptures. A New Translation from the Original Languages by J. N. Darby (G. Morrish, 1890). A later edition with abridged annotations (omitting the references to Hebrew and Greek manuscripts) was published by Stow Hill Bible and Tract Depot in 1939, and reprinted by Bible Truth Publishers in 1961. The Morrish edition of 1890 (with unabridged annotations) was reprinted by Bible Truth Publishers (Addison, Illinois) in 1983.

Michael Marlowe


1 The Elberfelder Bibel has long been the most literal translation available in German. Whereas Luther used a mixed style of word-for-word and interpretive translation, the Elberfelder is strictly word-for-word, also trying to reflect tense, voice and moods of the underlying Greek verbs, etc. The NT was mainly based on critical texts available at that time, though the Textus Receptus was used in undecided cases. The impetus for the translation probably proceeded from J. A. von Poseck. In 1851 he had already translated some of the Epistles and sent these translations to Darby in England for review. In 1854 when Darby was in Germany for an extended visit he worked with J.A. von Poseck and Carl Brockhaus on the translation. At first they intended only to translate the Epistles, but finally decided to translate the entire NT. It cannot be determined which of the men translated any given portion of the work. The completed NT was first published (by Brockhaus) in 1855. This was followed by several editions (11 of them appeared between 1855 and 1901), in which the annotations were greatly expanded (showing many of the various readings of the mansuscripts) and the text slightly revised in more natural German (e.g. replacing participles with more idiomatic relative clauses). Darby probably contributed to the first four revisions, which appeared before his death. Others also contributed to the revisions, principally Rudolf Brockhaus and Emil Doenges. The Old Testament was translated by Darby, Carl Brockhaus, and Hermanus Cornelis Voorhoeve (a Dutchman from Rotterdam). Work began in 1869, and was completed in 1871, when the entire Bible was published. The Old Testament was slightly revised in subsequent editions. More extensive updates and revisions of the Elberfelder Bible were published in 1960, 1975, and 1985, in which the NT is conformed to the current Nestle-Aland editions of the Greek text. The Revidierte Elberfelder Bibel of 1985 (published by the R. Brockhaus Verlag) is an evangelical Protestant translation, and remains the most literal German Bible translation.


The original edition, in which each of the several books was published by itself (or two epistles together if there were two to the same assembly), and the reprints of several, which seem to have attracted more attention than others, being exhausted, I publish a new edition of this translation of the New Testament, as a whole, in a more convenient form.

It has been in no way my object to produce a learned work; but, as I had access to books, and various sources of information, to which of course the great mass of readers, to whom the word of God was equally precious, had not, I desired to furnish them as far as I was able with the fruit of my own study, and of all I could gather from those sources, that they might have the word of God in English, in as perfect a representation of it in that language as possible.

In the first edition I had made use of a German work professing to give the Textus Receptus, with a collection of the various readings adopted by all or any of the editors of most repute, Griesbach, Lachmann, Scholz, Tischendorf, and some others. But the Textus Receptus was itself often changed in the text of the work, and I found that several of these changes had escaped my notice. My plan was, where the chief editors agreed, to adopt their reading, not to attempt to make a text of my own. My object was a more correct translation: only there was no use in translating what all intelligent critics held to be a mistake in the copy. For, as is known, the Textus Receptus had no real authority, nor was indeed the English Version taken from it, -- it was an earlier work by some years. With some variations, which critics have more or less carefully counted, the Textus Receptus was a reprint of earlier editions. Of these Stephanus 1550 is the one of most note: there were besides this Erasmus and Beza. Erasmus was the first published; the Complutensian Polyglott the first printed: then Stephanus; and then Beza. The Elzevirs were not till the next century; and the expression in their preface of textus ab omnibus receptus led to the expression of ‘textus receptus’, or received text. The Authorised Version was mainly taken from Stephanus, or Beza. The reader who is curious as to these things may see a full account in Scrivener’s Introduction or other similar Introductions. After this came, beginning with Fell at Oxford, various critical editions: Mill, Bengel, Wetstein (who greatly enlarged the field of criticism), then Griesbach, Matthei (the last giving the Russian Codices, which are Constantinopolitan so called), Lachmann, Scholz, Tischendorf, and quite recently Tregelles. I name only those of critical celebrity. We possess besides, in connection with commentaries, Meyer, De Wette, and Alford.

In my first edition my translation was formed on the concurrent voice of Griesbach, Lachmann, Scholz, and Tischendorf: the first of soberer judgment and critical acumen and discernment; the next with a narrower system of taking only the very earliest MSS., so that sometimes he might have only one or two; the third excessively carelessly printed, but taking the mass of Constantinopolitan MSS. as a rule; the last of first-rate competency and diligence of research, at first somewhat rash in changing, but in subsequent editions returning more soberly to what he had despised. Still, if they agreed, one might be pretty sure that what they all rejected was a mere mistake in copying. Scholz, in a lecture in England, gave up his system, and stated that in another edition he should adopt the Alexandrian readings he had rejected. That is the general tendency since: Tregelles laying it down strictly as a fixed rule.

Meanwhile, since my first edition, founded on the concurrent judgment of the four great modern editors, following the received text unchanged where the true reading was a disputed point among them, the Sinaitic MS. has been discovered; the Vatican published; Porphyry’s of Acts and Paul’s Epistles and most of the Catholic Epistles and the Apocalypse, and others, in the Monumenta Sacra Inedita of Tischendorf, as well as his seventh edition. These, with Alford and Meyer’s (not yet consulted for the text), and De Wette, furnished a mass of new materials. Tregelles’ too was published as a whole since my present edition was finished, though not printed.

All this called for further labour. I had to leave Scholz pretty much aside; (his work cannot be called a careful one, and he had left himself aside;) and take in Tischendorf’s 7th ed., Alford, Meyer, De Wette. I have further, in every questioned reading, compared the Sinaitic, Vatican, Dublin, Alexandrian, Codex Beza, Codex Ephraemi, St. Gall, Claromontanus, Hearne’s Laud in the Acts, Porphyry in great part, the Vulgate, the old Latin in Sabatier and Bianchini. The Syriac I had from others; it was only as to words and passages left out or inserted I used the book itself; not being a Syriac scholar, I could not use it for myself. The Zacynthius of Luke I have consulted; with occasional reference to the fathers; Stephanus, Beza, Erasmus. The labour involved in such a work those only know who have gone through it by personal reference to the copies themselves.

In the translation itself there is little changed. A few passages made clearer; small inaccuracies corrected, which had crept in by human infirmity; occasional uniformity in words and phrases produced where the Greek was just the same. In the translation I could feel delight -- it gave me the word and mind of God more accurately: in the critical details there is much labour and little food. I can only trust that the Christian may find the fruit of it in increased accuracy.

As the editors I have named had not the Sinaitic nor Porphyrian MSS., I have occasionally had to judge for myself where these authorities affected the question much, or have occasionally put the matter as questionable in a note, where I could not decide for myself.

I will now say a few words as to these authorities. As to the general certainty of the text, all these researches have only proved it. The meddling of ecclesiastics has been one chief source of questionable readings; partly wilful, partly innocently: the attempt to assimilate the Gospels, which was wilful; and then, more innocently, arising from the passages read in ecclesiastical services, such changes as ‘Jesus’ put for ‘He’ where it was needed, as in these services ‘He’ at the beginning referred to nothing; and ‘Jesus’ was then introduced by copyists into the text. The attempt to make the Lord’s prayer in Luke like that in Matthew is another instance; so, if we are to believe Alford and most other editors, the leaving out ‘first-born’ in the Sinaitic and Vatican and some others, (which I note because it affects the oldest MSS.,) because it looked as if the mother of our Lord had other children; and such like instances. But these do not make any very great difficulty. Other MSS. and versions (which are earlier than all MSS.), with a little care, make the real state of the case plain; but no MSS. are early enough to escape these handlings. So that the system which takes merely the oldest MSS. as authorities in themselves, without adequate comparison and weighing internal evidence, necessarily fails in result. Conjectures are not to be trusted, but weighing the evidence as to facts is not conjecture.

The three greatest questions are 1 Timothy iii. 16, the beginning of John viii, and the last verses of Mark xvi. In the first I pronounce no judgment, as full dissertations have been written on it by many critics. As to John viii, I do not doubt its genuineness. Augustine tells us it was left out in some untrustworthy MSS. because it was thought injurious to morality: and not only so, but in my examination of the text I found that in one of the best MSS. of the old Latin, two pages had been torn out because it was there, carrying away part of the text preceding and following. As to the end of Mark and its apparently independent form, I would remark that we have two distinct closes to the Lord’s life in the Gospels: his appearance to his disciples in Galilee, related in Matthew without any account of his ascension, which indeed answers to the whole character of that Gospel; and at Bethany, where his ascension took place, which is the part related in Luke, answering to the character of his Gospel: one, with the remnant of the Jews owned, and sending the message out on earth to Gentiles, the other from heaven to all the world, beginning with Jerusalem itself; one Messianic, so to speak, the other heavenly. Now Mark, up to the end of verse eight, gives the Matthew close; from verse nine a summary of the Bethany and ascension scene, and facts related in Luke and John. It is a distinct part, a kind of appendix, so to speak.

I have always stated the Textus Receptus in the margin where it is departed from, except in the Revelation, Erasmus having translated that from one poor and imperfect MS., which being accompanied by a commentary had to be separated by a transcriber; and even so Erasmus corrected what he had from the Vulgate, or guessed what he had not. There was not much use in quoting this.

But it does not seem to me that any critics have really accounted for the phenomena of MSS. We have now a vast mass of them, some few very old, and a great many more comparatively modern. But it seems to me the oldest, as Sinaitic and Vatican, bear the marks of having been in ecclesiastical hands. I do not mean that the result is seriously affected by it, for their work is pretty easily detected and corrected, and thus is not of any great consequence; but, as it is easily detected, proved to be there. After all research, it cannot be denied, I think, that there are two great schools of readings. The same MS. may vary as to the school it follows in different parts. Thus Griesbach says A was Constantinopolitan in the Gospels and Alexandrian in the Epistles, to use conventional names. So Porphyrius (marked P), which I found in six or eight chapters of Acts so uniformly to go with the Textus Receptus, that I consulted it scarcely at all afterwards, does not do so in Paul’s Epistles. Still there are the two schools. Of the one, Sinaitic, Vatican, and Dublin (א B Z) are the most perfect examples. For that in the main they are of this school, though with individual peculiarities, cannot, it seems to me, be questioned a moment. Of these, Dublin, marked Z, is by far the most correct copy: I remarked but one blunder in copying. The Vatican, as a copy, is far superior to Sinaiticus, which is by no means a correct one, in the Revelation quite the contrary, however valuable as giving us the whole New Testament and being the oldest copy perhaps we have. But we must remember that we have none until after the empire was Christian, and that Diocletian had destroyed all the copies he could get at. This Alexandrian text, so called, is the oldest we have in existing Greek MSS. The Alexandrian MS. (marked A) is not uniformly Alexandrian in text. But, if Scrivener is to be trusted, the Peschito Syriac agrees much more with A than with B; yet it is the oldest version that exists, nearly two hundred years older than any MS. we have, made at the end of the first or the beginning of the second century. This is not the case with the old Latin. It cannot be said to be Alexandrian, but approaches nearer to it. But then even here is a singular phenomenon: one ancient MS. of it, Brixianus, is uniformly the Textus Receptus. I think I only found one exception. Where did this come from? The Vulgate is a good deal corrected from the Alexandrian text, though not always following it. Thus we may class them: א, B, Z, L, which last follows B very constantly; then we have A and a long list of uncials going with it, not so ancient or much thought of; so that in Alford you will find ‘A, &c.’ There is another class of about the sixth century, to which date Z also is attributed, C which is independent, and P which in the epistles chiefly follows the Alexandrian but not unfrequently tends to T. R. and A. In the Acts it is, as far as I have examined it, T. R. {delta}, or St. Gall, is often T. R., though in many respects an independent witness. If in the Gospels A and B go together, we may be tolerably confident of the reading, of course weighing other testimony. D, it is known, is peculiar, though characteristically Alexandrian. The result to me is that, while about the text as a whole there is nothing uncertain at all, though in very few instances questions may be raised, the history of it is not really ascertained. I avow my arriving at no conclusion, and I think I can say no one can give that history: the phenomena are unsolved.

I have said thus much on the criticism of the text, and the MSS., that persons not versed in the matter may not hazard themselves in forming conclusions without any real knowledge of the questions. Such a book as Tischendorf’s English Testament I think mischievous. You have the English Version questioned continually, and א, B, A, given at the bottom of the page, for persons who know nothing about them to doubt about the text, and that is all. Thus, to say no more, the readings of A in the Epistles have a totally different degree of importance from that of its readings in the Gospels. And all becomes uncertain. In most of these cases the true reading is not doubted a moment by Tischendorf himself, yet it only makes people doubt about all. I have followed a collation of the best authorities, but where, though for trifling differences, you have א, B, L, or B, L, on one side, and A, &c., on the other, I confess I have no entire certainty that B, L, are right.

In the next place the reader has not a revision of the Authorised Version, but a translation from the best Greek text I could attain to any certain knowledge of. I do not doubt a moment that numbers of phrases of the Authorised Version will be found in the translation. Filled as the mind is with it from constant use, it suggested itself naturally to the mind. I had no wish to reject it. But a revision of the Authorised Version, if desirable for ecclesiastical use, is not (I think) in itself a wise attempt. I rather doubt the justness of the taste which attempts to revise the Authorised Version. The new bit does not suit the old, and is the more distasteful from its juxtaposition. Imitation is seldom good taste, seldom undetected; it wants nature, and in these things nature is good taste, and attracts.

I have freely used every help I could. I do not mention Grammars and Dictionaries, as they are applicable to all books, and known; but I have used Meyer, whose continuators are very inferior, and from whom a large part of Alford is taken; but I have consulted Alford too, and De Wette. Ellicott is excellent in what he has done; Kypke most useful in what he affords. I have used them for the exegesis of the text as Greek, not for any doctrine in any case. Fritzsche, who is grammatically very full; Bleek, who very much exhausts learning in his book on the Hebrews. Delitzsch and others I have occasionally referred to; there is Kuinoel on the historical books; but I did not find many of them of very great value, Calvin of less than I should have supposed. There are Bengel, Hammond, Elsley; Wolff and other German writers; and Stanley, Jowett, Eadie, &c. But I confess reference to the latter did not lead me to repeat it much. What I sought was the thorough study of the text; opinions were of little moment. Poole’s Synopsis and Bloomfield have been at hand for older commentators.

Of translations, Diodati’s Italian is the best of the old ones, then the Dutch, then the English. Bengel’s German is a very good one, and there is, though tainted by their doctrine occasionally, a very literal one called Berleburger. Other translations are Kistemaker, Gossner, Van Ess, which are Roman Catholic; a corrected one of Luther by Meyer; the Swiss one by Piscator, far better than Luther’s. These, though I referred to them in a translation made into German, I used comparatively little now or not at all. Of the French, Diodati’s is literal, but hardly French; Martin and Ostervald, little to be trusted; and Arnaud’s, I may say, not at all. Luther’s is the most inaccurate I know. Besides this, there are in Latin the Vulgate and Beza. De Wette’s German is elegant, but from excessive leaving out the auxiliary verbs, which is allowed in German, affected; and in the Old Testament, though a good Hebraist, not to be trusted, from rationalistic principles. His Isaiah is Gesenius’s.

I have used all helps I could, but the translation is borrowed in no way from any; it is my own translation, but I have used every check I could to secure exactness. I believe the scriptures to be the inspired word of God, received by the Holy Ghost and communicated by His power, though, thank God, through mortal men: what is divine made withal thoroughly human, as the blessed Lord Himself whom it reveals, though never ceasing to be divine. And this is its unspeakable value: thoroughly and entirely divine, ‘words which the Holy Ghost teacheth’, yet perfectly and divinely adapted to man as being by man. My endeavour has been to present to the merely English reader the original as closely as possible. Those who make a version for public use must of course adapt their course to the public. Such has not been my object or thought, but to give the student of scripture, who cannot read the original, as close a translation as possible.

[The preface continues with detailed remarks on the translation. — M.D.M]