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Entered according to the Act of Congress, in the year one thousand eight hundred and thirty-three, by Charles Bowen, in the Clerk's office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts.
No subject of theology is more overshadowed with darkness than that of the prophecies of the Old Testament. To what English writer can the theological student be referred, as a competent guide in his investigations into the general character, design, meaning, and application of the writings of the Hebrew prophets? Without undertaking to account for the present state of the subject, I may just hint that it is not wholly to be attributed to its intrinsic difficulty, but in part to false views of the nature of language, and of the principles of interpretation, which have prevailed in the theological world, until within a recent period. The notion that the language of the prophets was designed to be understood in more senses than one, so that it might be applied with equal correctness to two or more entirely distinct events or subjects, has led many an inquirer into a wilderness of false interpretations. Some, who have abandoned the theory of a double sense, have adopted the most extravagant views of the nature of prophecy, maintaining that the Prophets were mere instruments for the expression of language, which they did not themselves understand, and producing arbitrary expositions, without regard to the circumstances under which the Prophets wrote, and to the fact, that their writings, as well as their unrecorded labors, were designed for the special benefit of their contemporaries. It has been forgotten, that the principal office of a prophet was to be the religious teacher, and political monitor, of his own age and nation, rather than a mere predicter of future events for the benefit of all ages and all nations. The lover of truth, in looking over the various treatises and controversies upon the subject of prophecy, observes with pain how often language has been tortured to make out the prediction, and history falsified to make out the fulfila*
ment. It is certainly time that something should be done to clear away the false ideas, which have gathered round the prophetic writings of the Old Testament. It is time to inquire how far the unbeliever has been justly scandalized by prevalent expositions of them, and how far the Christian revelation has sustained injury from weapons, which have been used in its defence. As the case now stands, perhaps an intelligent inquirer, asking for light upon this subject, may most prudently be directed to study the prophetic writings themselves, making use of those principles and helps of interpretation, which may be supposed to guide him to the meaning of other writings of similar antiquity; to abandon artificial systems, and inquire what meaning a well-informed contemporary of the prophet would have drawn from his writings.
The design of the present work is, not to supply the want to which I have alluded, but to afford in part the means of supplying it. A faithful representation of the literal sense of the original may lead some to a sound exposition and application of it, who have neither inclination nor opportunity for acquiring a knowledge of the Hebrew language. I may at least hope, that my work will be acceptable to the lover of genuine poetry, if not to the theological inquirer.
It is my purpose to continue translations of the prophetical and poetical writings of the Old Testament, as long as health, and leisure, and the patronage of purchasers enable me to do it.
By limiting my labors chiefly to the business of translation I suppose that I can do more good, consistently with the paramount duties of my present situation, than by attempting a commentary upon one or more books. There are many valuable commentaries on the Old Testament, but no satisfactory translation of it in the English language. There are, moreover, many unsettled questions respecting the genuineness, and the nature, design, and application of the writings of the Prophets, and the use made of them by writers of the New Testament, embracing an immense and imperfectly explored field of inquiry, which need not engage, at least in a great degree, the attention of the translator, but which ought to be newly and thoroughly investigated and discussed, by one who would make an
exposition of the prophetic writings, at all satisfactory to the present race of inquirers.
I believe that more may be done to make the sacred writings understood and respected, by a revised translation of them, than in any other single mode. I would by no means undervalue commentaries. Considerable portions of the Scriptures cannot be fully understood without their aid at the present day, however intelligible they may have been to the contemporaries of the writers. But for one reader of commentaries there are probably more than ten thousand, who read only the simple text of the Scriptures. And those, who occasionally consult an exposition, ordinarily read their Bible without note or comment. When one goes to the sacred writings in order to find nourishment for his piety, and strength for his virtuous resolutions, it is an irksome interruption to be obliged to wade through pages of exposition in order to find the light and help, which he needs. Hence all possible light ought to be afforded by the translation itself. Now it is not too much to assert, that hundreds of passages in the common version, which are now misunderstood, or imperfectly understood, may be made intelligible by a new translation of only the particles, which connect sentences together; to say nothing of the errors, which those sentences contain.
A good translation is the legitimate expression and result of a great portion of philological investigation. Such a translation would make a considerable part of existing commentaries unnecessary, or transfer it to grammars and lexicons. No small portion of the labors of English commentators, from the time of the profoundly learned aud judicious Pococke to the present day, has had for its object to show what the received translation ought to be. Now why not make it what it ought to be, and end the matter?
There has been a palpable inconsistency in the Christian community in England and this country in relation to the subject of biblical translations; an inconsistency resembling that of a man, who should take unwearied pains to collect timber bricks, and mortar, and then let them lie a useless heap, for want of inclination, or resolution, to form them into an edifice.