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THE writings which are regarded by Christians as the sole standard of faith and practice have been designated at various periods by different names. They are frequently called The Scriptures, to denote that they are the most important of all writings;-The Holy Scriptures, because composed by persons divinely inspired, and containing sacred truth;-and The Canonical Scriptures. The word canon means a rule, and it was applied by the christian fathers to the books of the Bible because they were regarded as an authoritative rule of faith and practice; and also to distinguish them from certain spurious or apocryphal books, which, although some of them might be true as matter of history, or correct in doctrine, were not regarded as a rule of faith, and were therefore considered as not canonical.
But the most common appellation given now to these writings is THE BIBLE. This is a Greek word signifying book. It is given to the scriptures by way of eminence, to denote that this is the Book of books, as being infinitely superior to every unassisted production of the human mind. In the same way, the name Koran or reading is given to the writings of Mohammed, denoting that they are the chief writings to be read, or eminently The reading.
The most common and general division of the Bible is into the Old and New Testaments. The word testament with us means a will; an instrument in writing, by which a person declares his will in relation to his property after his death. This is not, however, its meaning when applied to the scriptures. It is taken from the Greek translation of the Hebrew word meaning covenant, compact, or agreement. The word is applied to the covenant or compact which God made with the Jews to be their God, and thus primarily denotes the agreement, the compact, the promises, the institutions, of the old dispensation, and then the record of that compact in the writings of Moses and the Prophets. The name "Old Testament," or "Old Covenant," therefore, denotes the books containing the records of God's compact with his people, or his dispensations under the Mosaic or Jewish state. The phrase New Covenant, or New Testament,
denotes the books which contain the record of his new covenant or compact with his people under the Messiah, or since Christ came. We find mention made of The Book of the Covenant in Exod. xxiv. 7, and in the New Testament the word is once used (2 Cor. iii. 14) with an undoubted reference to the sacred books of the Jews. By whom, or at what time, these terms were first used to designate the two divisions of the Sacred Scriptures, is not certainly known. There can be no doubt, however, of the great antiquity of the appellation.
The Jews divided the old Testament into three parts, called THE LAW, THE PROPHETS, and THE HAGIOGRAPHA, or THE HOLY WRITINGS. This division is noticed by our Saviour in Luke xxiv. 44,* "All things must be fulfilled which were written in the law of Moses, and in the Prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning me." Josephus, the Jewish historian, also makes mention of the same division.+ "We have," says he, "only twenty-two books which are to be believed to be of divine authority; of which five are the books of Moses. From the death of Moses to the reign of Artaxerxes, son of Xerxes, king of Persia, the prophets who were the successors of Moses have written in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain hymns to God and documents of life for the use of men." It is probable that precisely the same books were not always included in the same division; but there can be no doubt that the division itself was always retained. The division into twenty-two books was made partly, no doubt, for the convenience of the memory. This was the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. The English Bible contains thirty-nine books instead of twenty-two in the Old Testament. The number which Josephus reckons may be accurately. made out as follows: The first division, comprehending the five books of Moses, or the Law. The second, including, 1 Joshua; 2 Judges, with Ruth; 3 Samuel; 4 Kings; 5 Isaiah; 6 Jeremiah, with Lamentations; 7 Ezekiel; 8 Daniel; 9 the twelve minor prophets; 10 Job; 11 Ezra, including Nehemiah; 12 Esther; 13 Chronicles; these thirteen books were called the Prophets. The four remaining will be Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon. In regard to the second division, it is a fact well known, that the twelve smaller prophets, from Hosea to Malachi, were for convenience uniformly united in one volume; and that the small books of Ruth and Lamentations were attached to the larger works mentioned, and Ezra and Nehemiah were long reckoned as one book.
The arrangement of the books of the Bible has not always been the The order followed in the English Bible is taken from the Greek translation called the Septuagint. Probably the best way to read the Bible is to read the books as nearly as possible in the order in which they were written. Thus Isaiah informs us Isa. i. 1, that his prophecies were delivered in the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz,
See note on that passage.
+Against Apion. book i.
and Hezekiah; and to be correctly understood, they should be read in connexion with the record of those reigns in Kings and Chronicles.
The names of most of the books in the Bible are taken from the Greek translation above mentioned.
The books of the Bible were anciently written without any breaks, or divisions into chapters and verses. For convenience, the Jews early divided the Old Testament into greater and smaller sections. These sections in the law and prophets were read in the worship of the synagogues. The New Testament was also early divided in a similar manner.
The division into chapters is of recent origin. It was first adopted in the 13th century by Cardinal Hugo, who wrote a celebrated commentary on the scriptures. He divided the Latin Vulgate, the version used in the church of Rome, into chapters nearly the same as those which now exist in our English translation. These chapters he divided into smaller sections by placing the letters A, B, C, &c., at equal distances from each other in the margin.
The division of chapters into verses was not made until a still later period. Cardinal Hugo's division into chapters became known to Rabbi Nathan, a distinguished Jew, who adopted it for the Hebrew Bible, and placed the Hebrew letters, used also as numerals, in the margin. This was used by Rabbi Nathan in publishing a concordance, and adopted by Athias in a printed edition of the Hebrew Bible in
The verses of the New Testament are a still more modern division, and are an imitation of those used by Rabbi Nathan in the fifteenth century. This division was invented and first used by Stephens, in an edition of the New Testament printed in 1551. The division was made as an amusement while he was on a journey from Lyons to Paris, during the intervals in which he rested in travelling. It has been adopted in all the subsequent editions of the Bible.
In regard to this division into chapters and verses, it is clear that it is of no authority whatever. It has been doubted whether the sacred writers used any points or divisions of any kind. It is certain that they were wholly unacquainted with those now in use. It is further evident that in all cases these divisions have not been judiciously made. The sense is often interrupted by the close of a chapter, and still oftener by the break in the verses. In reading the scriptures, little regard should be had to this division. It is of use now only for reference; and inaccurate as it is, it must evidently be substantially retained. All the books that have been printed for three hundred years, which refer to the Bible, have made their reference to these chapters and verses; and to attempt any change now, would be to render almost useless a great part of the religious books in our language, and to introduce inextricable confusion in all attempts to quote the Bible.
The first translation of the Old Testament was made about the year 270 before the christian era. It was made at Alexandria in Egypt into the Greek language, and probably for the use of the Jews who were scattered among pagan nations. Ancient writers inform us, indeed, that it was made at the command of Ptolemy Philadelphus, to be deposited in the Library at Alexandria. It bears internal marks of having been made by different individuals, and no doubt at different times. It came to be extensively used in Judea, and no small part of the quotations in the New Testament were taken from it. There is no doubt that the apostles were familiar with it; and as it had obtained general currency, they chose to quote it rather than translate the Hebrew for themselves. It is called the Septuagint, or the version by the seventy, from a tradition that seventy elders of Israel, deputed for that purpose, were employed in making the translation.
The language spoken by our Saviour and his apostles was a corruption of the Hebrew, a mixture of that and the language spoken in Chaldee, called Syro-Chaldaic, or more commonly the Syriac. The reason why the New Testament was not written in this language was, that the Greek had become the common language used throughout the eastern nations subject to the Romans. This general use of the Greek language was produced by the invasion and conquest of those nations by Alexander the Great, about 330 years before Christ. The New Testament was, however, early translated into the Syriac language. A translation is now extant in that language, held in great veneration by Syrian Christians, said to have been made in the first century or in the age of the apostles, and acknowledged by all to have been made before the close of the second century.
About the beginning of the fourth century, the Bible was translated into Latin by Jerome. This translation was made in consequence, as he says, of the incorrectness of a version then in use, called the Italic. The translation made by Jerome, now called the Latin Vulgate, is the authorized version of the church of Rome.
The Bible was translated by Luther into German in the beginning of the Reformation. This translation has done much to fix the German language, and is now the received version among the Lutheran churches.
There have been many other translations of the Bible, and there are many more still in progress. More than one hundred and fifty translations of the whole Bible, or parts of it, have been made during the last half century. Those which have been mentioned, together with the English, have been, however, the principal, and are most relied on as faithful exhibitions of the meaning of the Sacred Scriptures.
The English translation of the Bible now in use was made in the reign of James I. This translation was intended only as an improvement of those previously in existence. A short account of the translation of the Bible into our own language cannot fail to be interesting.
It is not easy to ascertain the precise time when the gospel was introduced into Britain, or when the inhabitants were first in possession of the Bible. The earliest version of which we have any account, is a translation of the Psalms into the Saxon language about the year 706. But the principal translation at that early period was made by the "venerable Bede," about the year 730. He translated the whole Bible into the Saxon language.
The first English translation of the Bible was executed about the year 1290, by some unknown individual. About the year 1380, John Wickliffe, the morning star of the reformation, translated the entire Bible into English from the Latin. The great labour and expense of transcribing books before the invention of printing, probably prevented a very extensive circulation of the scriptures among the people.* Yet the translation of Wickliffe is known to have produced a vast effect on the minds of the people. Knowledge was beginning to be sought for with avidity. The eyes of the people were beginning to open to the abominations of the church of Rome; and the national mind was preparing for the great change which followed in the days of Luther. So deep was the impression made by Wickliffe's translation, and so dangerous was it thought to be to the interest of the Romish religion, that a bill was brought into the House of Lords for the purpose of suppressing it. The bill was rejected through the influence of the Duke of Lancaster; and this gave encouragement to the friends of Wickliffe to publish a more correct translation of the Bible. At a convocation, however, held at Oxford, in 1408, it was decreed that no one should translate any text of the Holy Scriptures into English by way of a book, or little book, or tract, and that no book of this kind should be read that was composed in the time of John Wickliffe, or since his death. This decree led the way to a great persecution; and many persons were punished severely, and some even with death, for reading the Bible in English. The Bible translated by Wickliffe was never printed. Some years since the New Testament was printed in England.†
So great was the expense of transcribing the Bible at that time, that the price of one of Wickliffe's New Testaments was not less than forty pounds sterling. And it should be matter of devout gratitude to God, that, by the art of printing, the New Testament can now be obtained for four pence.
The following is a specimen of this translation:
Matthew, chap. v.-And Jhesus seynge the peple, went up into an hil; and whanne he was sett, his disciplis camen to him. And he openyde his mouthe, and taughte hem; and seide, Blessid be pore men in spirit; for the kyngdom of hevenes is herun. Blessid ben mylde men: for thei schulen weelde the erthe. Blessid ben thei that mournen: for thei schal be cumfortid. Blessid be thei that hungren and thirsten rigtwisnesse: for thei schal be fulfilled. Blessid ben merciful men: for thei schul gete mercy. Blessed ben thei that ben of clene herte: for thei schulen se god. Blessid ben pesible men for thei schulen be clepid goddis children. Blessid ben thei that suffren persecucioun Rightfulnesse, MS. plures.