Newcome’s revision of the KJV New Testament (1796)

William Newcome, An Attempt toward Revising our English Translation of the Greek Scriptures, or the New Covenant of Jesus Christ: and toward Illustrating the Sense by Philological and Explanatory Notes, by W. Newcome. Two volumes (Dublin: John Exshaw, 1796). Published on the internet by Google Books in 2008: vol. 1 (Gospels and Acts); vol. 2 (Epistles and Revelation).

William Newcome (17291800) was an prominent Anglican clergyman. He served as bishop of several dioceses in Ireland from 1766 to to 1795, and as Archbishop of Armagh from 1795 to 1800. In 1792 he published An Historical View of the English Bible Translations: the Expediency of Revising by Authority our Present Translation: and the Means of Executing such a Revision, in which he presented “arguments showing that an improved version of the Bible is expedient” and “rules for conducting an improved version of the Bible.” This was followed by his annotated translations of some Old Testament books, in An Attempt towards an Improved Version, a Metrical Arrangement, and an Explanation of the Twelve Minor Prophets (London, 1785. 2nd ed., 1809) and An Attempt towards an Improved Version, a Metrical Arrangement, and an Explanation of the Propeht Ezekiel (Dublin, 1788). His Attempt toward Revising our English Translation of the Greek Scriptures was printed in 1796, but it was not published until after his death in 1800. 1

Newcome’s version of the New Testament is noteworthy as a first attempt to revise the English Bible in accordance with the critical text of Griesbach (1774-5). The Johannine Comma is omitted without comment. The Pericope Adulterae is printed in brackets, with a note stating that its “omission” from early manuscripts “seems to have been occasioned by falsely supposing that the adulteress was not sufficiently reproved by our Lord.” The approach to text-critical issues expressed in the notes does not reflect the thinking of Griesbach, and is rather undisciplined. A note on 1 Timothy 2:15 employs mere conjecture: “I am apt to consider διὰ τῆς τεκνογονίας [through child-bearing] as an ancient marginal note; though I do not find any external authority for such a supposition. Then the sense will be: ‘But let not pious women be dejected at this: their salvation is certain, if &c.’”

The translation and notes usually reflect Arminian interpretations which were in vogue among Anglican clergymen during the eighteenth century, some of which are neither traditional nor generally accepted by scholars today. Newcome often relies upon polemical works of Arminian controversialists, such as Daniel Whitby 2 and John Taylor, 3 as authorities for interpretations which are questionable at best. For example, in Acts 13:48 he translates “and when the gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: as as many as were disposed to everlasting life believed.” Here τεταγμένοι, a perfect passive participle of τασσω, “appoint,” is rendered “disposed” instead of “appointed” or “ordained,” and a note is added: “Another import of the words is, As many of the gentiles believed as were inwardly disposed to receive the doctrine of everlasting life; as had an orderly and well-prepared mind for that purpose; as had disposed themselves to it,” etc. This interpretation comes from Whitby’s Discourse against the five points of Calvinism, 4 where it is proposed as a way of avoiding the offensive “Calvinist” conclusion that God is the one who does the “disposing.” Newcome also eliminates the word “grace” by translating χαρις as “favour” instead; not because the meaning of “grace” was thought to be obscure, but because at that time the word “grace” was understood as a Calvinistic term for the irresistable working of God’s Spirit on the heart of believers. In a note on Luke 1:30 he explains that his use of “favour” is designed to preclude that understanding of χαρις.

   Favour.] So χαρις is rendered c. ii. 52. Acts ii. 47. vii. 10, 46. xxv. 3. Whitby, on Hebr. xii. 28, affirms that, throughout the New Testament, the word signifies the favour and the grace of God so freely tendered to us in the gospel. On James iv. 6, he observes that the Greek and the corresponding Hebrew words signify favour and goodwill, throughout the Scriptures. See also his copious note on 2 Cor. vi. 1.

   Dr. John Taylor has branched out the senses of χαρις at the end of his Tracts on important subjects: vol. ii. London 1768. He adds, “It does not appear that the word ever specially, particularly, and only signifies the influence of the Spirit of God upon the heart, disposing us to believe in Christ, and to practice virtue. But it may possibly be included with other blessings in the general notion of the favour or grace of God.”

  Parkhurst expresses himself thus: “Though I firmly believe the blessed operations, or influences, of the Holy Spirit on the hearts of ordinary believers in general, yet that χαρις is ever in the N.T. used particularly for these, is more than I dare, after attentive examination, assert.” Lexicon to N.T. 4to. London, 1769. 5

Newcome explains that Paul’s teaching concerning election in Romans chap. 9 does not pertain to salvation but only to “external and temporal advantages.” The election to salvation mentioned in Ephesians 1:4 is explained, “he chose the whole body of the gentiles to become the disciples of Christ ... St. Paul, the Apostle of the gentiles, often affectionately speaks of the gentiles under the terms we and us.” The predestination spoken of in 1:5 is explained, “This predestination is God’s eternal purpose to call all mankind into the kingdom of his Son.” In a note on 2 Peter 3:16, which speaks of “things hard to be understood” in the epistles of Paul, “which the unlearned and unstedfast wrest ... to their own destruction,” Newcome explains that this refers to “the adoption of such errors in doctrine as have a fatal effect on their practice; for instance ... God’s absolute election of particular men to eternal life.” He seems quite blind to the meaning of scriptural statements on the ordinary role of the Holy Spirit in regeneration and salvation, and interprets all references to the personal indwelling of the Spirit as if they were metaphorical, or pertained only to extraordinary gifts like prophecy. For example, in Romans 8:9 he translates the phrase εἴπερ πνεῦμα θεοῦ οἰκεῖ ἐν ὑμῖν “since the Spirit of God dwelleth in you” and interprets it thus: “The Christians at Rome are spoken of as a collective body, and are supposed to be spiritually minded, because they were strongly obliged so to be, having received the extraordinary gifts of God’s Spirit.”

Although this version cannot be described as Unitarian or Universalist, it is far from orthodox; and in various ways it was congenial to Deistic, Unitarian, and Univeralist views. In 1808 a committee of Unitarians led by Thomas Belsham used it as the basis of their own version with notes, published as An Improved Version, upon the Basis of Archbishop Newcome’s New Translation.

1. Dictionary of National Biography, vol xiv, edited by Sidney Lee (London, 1909), p. 323; Historical Catalogue of the Printed Editions of Holy Scripture in the Library of the British and Foreign Bible Society, vol. 1, ed. Darlow and Moule (London, 1903), p. 324. Concerning the publication of the version Thomas Belsham writes: “It is very well known that the Translation was printed while the Primate was living, but that it was withheld from the public at the request, and by the influence, of some in high station, who thought it not expedient for an Archbishop to let the public into the secret, that the common Version is capable of improvement, and that the received text, formed by the meritorious but not infallible labours of Erasmus, Stephens, Beza, and Elzevir, is not inspired. Unfortunately, the impression of the Primate’s Works was much damaged in crossing the water, in consequence of being carelessly packed. So that the copies which were left for sale were comparatively very few.” (Memoirs of the Late Reverend Theophilus Lindsey [London: Rowland Hunter, 1820], p. 351.)

2. Daniel Whitby (16381726) was a prolific and learned writer. His best-known work, A Paraphrase and Commentary on the New Testament, containing the Gospels, the Acts, all the Epistles, with a discourse of the Millenium (London, 1703) cast a long shadow over eighteenth-century Anglican interpretation. His major anti-Calvinist work was A Discourse concerning, I. the true import of the words election and reprobation : and the things signified by them in the Holy Scripture. II. The Extent of Christ’s Redemption. III. The Grace of God; where it is enquired, Whether it be vouchsafed sufficiently to those who improve it not, and irresistibly to those who do improve it; and whether Men be wholly passive in the Work of their Regeneration? IV. The Liberty of the Will in a State of Tryal and Probation. V. the perseverance or defectibility of the saints; with some Reflections on the State of Heathens, the Providence and Prescience of God. By Daniel Whitby, D. D. and Chantor of the Cathedral Church of Sarum (London: John Wyat, 1710). After 1712 his treatment of Christology was explicitly Arian.

3. John Taylor (1694-1761) was a controversial writer who argued against the doctrine of original sin in his Scripture Doctrine of Original Sin (1740), and against the doctrine of vicarious atonement in The Scripture Doctrine of Atonement (1751). He also tried his hand at biblical translation in A Paraphrase with Notes on the Epistle to the Romans: to which is Prefix’d a Key to the Apostolic Writings, or an Essay to explain the Gospel Scheme, and the Principal Words and Phrases the Apostles have used in describing it (Dublin: John Smith, 1746). Some of the positions taken by Taylor went well beyond Arminianism and verged on Pelagianism and Arianism.

4. In chap. 3 of part 1 (“Concerning Election and Reprobation”) Whitby asserted that the participle is used “to signify a man, not outwardly ordained, but inwardly disposed, or one determined, not by God, but by his own inclinations.” But as Jonathan Edwards observed, Whitby and his followers seem to avoid the question of how men come by their inclinations.

5. We would add that Parkhurst in his lexicon continues, “On the passages where χαρις may seem to have this meaning the reader may do well to consult Whitby, and especially his Notes on 2 Cor. vi. 1, Gal. vi. 18, and Heb. xiii. 9, and his Five Points, Disc. III. at the beginning.” Few if any scholars today would agree with these writers when they assert that χαρις in the New Testament means simply “favor” and never denotes an effective divine power.

Here we reproduce the Preface from Newcome’s version of the New Testament.


My original intention extended no further than to improve our authorised translation of the Greek scriptures; following the text of Griesbach’s excellent edition, except in a few instances, the reasons for which deviations that work itself will suggest; placing between * brackets those words to which the learned Editor has prefixed a mark denoting that they should probably, though not certainly, be expunged; and omitting the passages which he inserts in his inner margin, and esteems undoubtedly spurious, though with a becoming deference to the more able decision of skilful critics.

I concluded this task with as much attention and labour as its importance demands; sensible throughout that it was too arduous an undertaking for one man; and that even uniformity itself, the sole advantage to be expected from a single translator, could not be supported with accuracy in so long a work, the different parts of which must be pursued at great intervals.

But after having advanced thus far, I was convinced that my plan was very defective, unless I subjoined a comment to the text of such an important and difficult book. I therefore engaged in a second labour of selection and abridgement from a body of notes which I had formed, or compiled, many years ago, with occasional additions suggested by able commentators, or by my own study of the sacred writings.

If I have not regularly quoted my authorities as a translator, or as an expositor, let the neglect be imputed to its proper cause; not to plagiarism, but to the recent formation of this design, and to a prior carelessness in making proper references, the later investigation of which would have imposed an insupportable burthen.

A few unborrowed elucidations of obscure passages, and a comprehension in no great compass of not a few capital criticisms made by others, are the abatements which I offer for various omissions, inaccuracies, and errors. Many have explained the scriptures with an acuteness and eloquence to the praise of which I am very far from aspiring: but none admires them more, and none more ardently wishes that they were more generally, more diligently, and more impartially studied; and that they became the rule of faith and practice to the whole world. The volumes of sacred criticism may be compared to an ancient and ample treasure-house, containing numerous offerings of different value. Men are frequently warped in their appreciation of these gifts: but God will graciously accept all those which are presented with a sincere desire to promote his glory.

* On examining my book since it was printed, I find that I have sometimes inattentively departed from this rule.