J A Shurman ~ Bible Translator ("Benares Version")

Remarks on the omission of certain passages in an Urdu translation of the New Testament ....

April/May 1840 | Journal to Editor of the Calcutta Christian Observer, Calcutta, India.

The two following Letters to the Editor of the Calcutta Christian Observer in April and May 1840 shed some light on the principles of the work of bible translation by the missionaries of (inter-denominational) London Missionary Society and the (Anglican) Church Mission Society. The critical letter by "T.S" on the omissions is too long and detailed in its Theological arguments to be published here verbatim. Owing to content and style, the response(s) by the LMS missionaries in Benares was very likely written by J.A. Shurman and is here reproduced at length as an interesting insight into the relationship of the various missionary societies in Benares.

Letter by "T.S.":
"Remarks on the omission of certain passages in an Urdu translation of the New Testament recently published by the Missionaries of the London Society at Benares."

(April 1840)

... [182-183]
With the authors of the translation before us we are personally all but unacquainted, but we honour them highly for their works sake.
The passages which we have observed to be omitted are the following -- John v. 4, vii. 53 to viii. 11, and 1 John v. 7.
We have cause to complain that these omissions are made in a popular version, without any reason being assigned for the absence of the passages; this renders it impossible for us to know to what arguments we ought especially to address ourselves in order to answer the objections, which may have prevailed with the translators in favour of their omission. If the omissions had been made in a critical edition, and the reasons for the rejection of the passages clearly given, we should have had a much easier task; we should only have had a negative argument to maintain, and if we could have answered the objections stated, our work would have been done. As it is a more difficult task devolves upon us, but we do not waive the onus probandi. We proceed therefore to consider the passages in order, with a view of coming to a decision as to their claims to be retained in the book of holy writ.
[190-191] To our Christian readers we need offer no apology for having occupied so many of our pages with this discussion. True it is all about three short passages, and these not of much moment for the purposes of systematic theology. But if they were inspired by God then it is our duty to defend them, let the defence cost what it will; and no one who duly appreciates the word of God, will think any labour misspent, whose object is to preserve it entire to the church till the end of time. Especially no one who knows how the rationalism of Germany began, and how far it has proceeded, and where it is likely to end, will look with indifference upon the beginning of such evils.
Although we believe we are pledged not to say any thing editorially for or against the Romanizing system, we may surely be allowed to say that we should have rejoiced to see a fair experiment of it made under more favourable circumstances, and that we are sorry, that the first version of the scriptures printed in that character should have been one which shuts itself out from the possibility of a favourable reception by the universal church. -- T.S.


Response by the London missionaries at Benares:
On the duty of omitting Apocryphal passages in a popular version of the Holy Scriptures.

(May 1840)

To the Editors of the Calcutta Christian Observer.
Dear Sirs,
Your Observer for the month of April has just come to hand, in which I see some “ Remarks on the omission of certain passages of the New Testament recently published by the Missionaries of the London Missionary Society at Benares,” by T. S.  The article is written in a style which is not usually adopted by able and respectable critics, and which I will not imitate, because it proves nothing in a literary controversy. The author speaks of us as "erring brethren," accuses us of having laid "violent hands" on the Bible itself, of having "perpetrated an atrocity on our own responsibility in defiance of the highest critical authority."  There could have been no objection to T. S.'s reviewing our version, pointing out and animadverting on its faults, for it is not perfect; but I ask a candid Christian public, whether he is warranted to set out on a religious crusade against a body of Missionaries whose orthodoxy has never been impeached ?
There has lately sprung up in Calcutta a certain class of writers who, with the shout of  "Sword of the Lord and of Gideon!" break through all the rules of Christian propriety, charging and attacking men, and often the best of men, right and left, which they call fighting for their Zion.
For this spirit I have the utmost contempt--it is "of the earth, earthly,” though it wishes to pass for heavenly-born.
The Calcutta Christian Observer, once a periodical of which the Missionary body in India might be proud, once enlisting the piety and talent of the best men in all parts of India, once being filled every month with correspondence and interesting matter, by which it has taken such a deep hold upon the affections of those who supported it in its better days, has not gained by infusing too much of this spirit into its pages. I was at first doubtful whether I should reply to a writer of this class, but as the subject is important, and as silence might be misconstrued, I will honor him with arguing him down in a friendly manner. "To speak the truth in love' is our rule in regard to controversy, which we hope to observe also in the present instance, though I see beforehand that I shall sometimes be obliged to animadvert freely on my opponent’s mistakes.
It is an acknowledged fact, that at an early period the canon of the Scriptures was marred, by admitting into it whole apocryphal books, which are still considered canonical by the Roman Catholic Church, and as such sincerely and adroitly defended. Whenever an abuse or an error has been once established, it will assuredly be upheld by a certain class of persons. Origen may he considered their representative, and he has nearly said every thing that can be said on their side Of the question. When Julius Africanus told him that the story of Susanna was apocryphal, he said, “Should God, who gave the Scriptures to all the Churches of Christ for their edification, not have cared for those for whom Christ died?” &¢ &c.
This was as rational as to say, “ Should God, who gave us eyes to see with, not have made provision that no one shall be able to injure it, or alter a humour in it, either by negligence or by instruments sharp or blunt?” We may be sure that God has made such provision for the eyes of men, as well as for the Scriptures; but no one can a priori say what this provision is. "Moreover consider," said Origen, “whether it will not be well to remember the words, ‘Remove not the ancient landmark which thy fathers have set.’ Proverbs xxii. 28.” 
These two arguments have at all times, with various modifications, been opposed to those who have stood out for the purity of the canon. But thanks be to God, the Church has never wanted men, who opposed the admission or retention of apocryphal books or passages, and who would copy, and read in Churches, and translate, and publish nothing. but the inspired word of God; who, to adopt the style of T. S., is reasoned in this way :—So long as the purity of the Scriptures is preserved, the Church possesses within herself the means of detecting and rectifying all the errors into which her members may fall.
But when the Bible is interpolated with the fancies of men, then is the very citadel and fortress of Christianity assailed, and the watchman on Zion may not without treason be silent. So long as the Bible is preserved pure, the Church, however corrupt she may be, possesses within herself the seeds of reformation; but with the purity of the Scriptures perishes the hope of the Church. If the very fountain be polluted, how can the stream be pure? Are not most of the errors of the Roman Catholic Church supported by apocryphal writings 'admitted into their canon, such as Tobit, Bel and the Dragon, Judith, Maccabees? &c. &c. The light that is in her, has become darkness; and how great is that darkness ! Is not the Scripture the light of the Church? and is not the Church charged by all the most solemn sanctions to keep this heavenly light purely and brightly burning? Has not God threatened to punish him that adds, as well as him that takes away ? Are the watchmen on Zion not bound to expunge from the Sacred Canon things apocryphal and spurious, though the illiterate oppose and‘ the bigot cry out against it? Is not every truth better than error, even the most devout? Can we give more unambiguous proofs of our reverence for the Bible than by unwearied efforts to purify it from human additions, mutilations and corruptions ?
The translators of the version in question belong to a Society whose fundamental principle is "not to send Presbyterianism, Independency, Episcopacy, or any other form of Church order and government, but the glorious Gospel of the blessed God, to the heathen." We have no Creed, no Common Prayer Book, no authorized Catechism or anything of that kind. The Bible, and the Bible alone, is our creed and our guide in doctrine and in practice. Over its purity we ought to watch with a zealous and constant care.
Our Directors have, in a printed letter of instructions, laid down for our guidance the following rules in reference to translating the Sacred Scriptures:
  • “Let your translation be made from the best editions of the Hebrew and Greek originals, with such helps from versions ancient and modern, as can be obtained.
  • “Let your version, as far as possible, be in conformity to the style and manner of our authorized English translation; we refer particularly to its simplicity, its dignity, and its general faithfulness.
  • “Translate the inspired and canonical books only, and that (in thefirst instance at least) without note or comment.”
... [follows an explanation of the text selection principles and their theological justifications] ...
But the worst of all is that he says, "The passages which we have observed to be omitted are the following -- John v. 4, &c."  I hope he will frankly acknowledge that he has not "observed' John v. 4, to be omitted, and stated what was not true. But the less we say on this point the better: it is too bad!
We have omitted the story of the adulteress ; and in defending the course we have taken, I must in the first place entreat my readers to turn up the passage in Dr. Griesbach’s large critical edition, as I do not wish to make here a display of my erudition to astonish the ignorant, though l have here the best opportunity of doing so.
The story is wanting in the oldest MSS. It is told in diferent ways in those that have it. I think every unprejudiced mind must come to the conclusion that the passage is spurious, after considering it in Griesbach. Dr. Tholuck, one of the most able and pious men of the present age, has in his commentary on John a long dissertation on this passage, of which the following is an epitome.
The story is not found in A, B, C; (it is defective from ch. vi. 50, till viii. 12; but the space shows that this story was not in it.)  D has it, but as it has other apocryphal additions to Matthew xxviii. 28, and Luke vi. 5, it is of little authority in this particular. Some of the MSS. put the story at the end of the Gospel of John, others‘ at the end of the Gospel of Luke. It is not found in Cyrill, Origen, Chrysostom, Nonnus, Theophylact, Apollinaris, Basil, Theodore of Mopsuestia.
These fathers never even make any allusion to it, which they would no doubt have done in the controversy on penitential discipline, if they had known it or considered it as genuine. lt is wanting in the oldest MSS. of the Syriac, Coptic and Armenian versions.
Dr. Olshausen, Professor at the University of Erlangen, whom Professor Robinson of America considers the most pious scholar of Germany, is at present publishing a very elaborate commentary on the New Testament, which is also being translated in the United States. The substance of a long article on the passage is this : The story of the adulteress evidently destroys the whole connexion;
The decision, says Dr. Olshausen, of most of the ablest critics of the present Ige against the genuineness of the story is so uniform, that we may consider the controversy as ended. — Thus far these two eminent critics, Tholuck and Olshausen.
if the text of the most ancient MSS. and the text of the most ancient MSS. of the most ancient versions be adopted, in which the story of the adulteress is omitted, the whole is consistent and beautiful. We have rejected the passage on account of the overwhelming external evidences against it, but it must be allowed that this story has also internal marks of spuriousness. ltis difficult to interpret it in consistency with the tenor of Christ’s teaching.
T. S. in stating the internal objections against the passage, fights with shadows which he himself has conjured up, and he has deapatched them with extraordinary ease. When engaged in this laudable work, he makes the bold assertion that the question was tempting, because the Roman law did not admit of death by stoning. We learn from John xviii. 31 and Josephu’s Ant. xx. 9, § l, and Whiston’s note on the last passage, that the Sanhedrin could pass sentence of death upon a criminal, but could not put it into execution without the consent of the Roman Procurator, but not that the Roman law was applied to Judea, but just the contrary.
After carefully and attentively considering and weighing all the external and internal evidences against the story, we came to the conclusion that it is no part of the inspired word of God; and, as honest and conscientious men, could not admit it into our translation of the N. T. How could we adopt into our creed what we do not believe?
The passage in 1st John v. 7, is now so universally considered an interpolation, T. S. himself being witness, that we must look upon the controversy as closed. What he says on this passage is vex ct preterea nihil. Luther did not translate the spurious words. If T. S. will bring forward arguments in support of their genuineness, I will answer him, but I do not wish to imitate him in beating the air.
When translating, we attentively considered the passages in question with the best editions of the Greek original, with commentaries in Latin, English and German. We had not only those helps which T. S. nientions in his article, but a great many more. We have come to a conclusion different from that of our respected critic. I cannot possibly divest myself of the pleasing idea that our opinion is just as good as his.
As our version has sold and is selling well, there was no need for us to begin the discussion, nor do we wish to continue it just now, as little good would result from it. But as the subject has once been brought forward, I respectfully call upon the Committee of the Calcutta Auxiliary Bible Society to publish their sentiments on the subject in the Calcutta Christian Observer and Intelligencer, to say whether popular versions shall be made “from the best editions of the Hebrew and Greek originals,” as our Society has instructed us to make them, or from the textus receptus only; whether they agree with Origen, that the ancient land-mark which our fathers have set, should not be removed, or with those who think that the results of the laborious and extensive researches of the most able and indefatigable scholars of the Christian world should be made use of in popular translations. I do not call upon them to decide between us and T. S. as to the passages discussed in this paper, but to declare their views on the general principle. lf translations shall be made from the textus receptus only, if such apocryphal passages as 1st John v. 7, shall be stuck in, with marks of spuriousness on their foreheads to perplex the people, translators will then know what course to pursue.
In the few months, since an edition of 1000 copies has been published of our version by Mr. P. S. D’Rozario, 600 copies have already been sold and paid for. We want the remaining 400 immediately for our own mission. The first edition may therefore be considered as out of the market. Nothing will be easier than to stick the spurious passages into a second edition, if we should be convinced of the propriety of doing so.
T. S. says in his concluding remarks, "Although we believe we are pledged not to say any thing editorially for or against the Romanizing system, we may surely be allowed to say that we should have rejoiced to see a fair experiment of it made under more favorable circumstances, and that we are sorry that the first version of the scriptures printed in that character should have been one which shuts itself out from the possibility of a favorable reception by the universal Church." 
I have to make several remarks on this passage. Our version is not the first in the Roman character, both the Calcutta Auxiliary Bible Society and private individuals having previously published portions of; the S. S. in that character. Christians belonging to the Roman Catholic and Greek ‘Churches will not use Protestant versions: so none can be made at present for the Universal Church. It seems that the Baptist Churches in India will also have their own versions, and I for one think that they are perfectly correct in the course which they are pursuing. And the course that seems to be pursued by the Bible Society in endeavouring to force the premature production of a version for the Universal Church in India, will either lead to no version at all being made, or to the establishment of separate Bible Societies for each denomination. We have already Roman Catholic and Baptist Bible Societies, and we may soon have Episcopal, Presbyterian and Congregational ones. Our Society is founded on the same Catholic principle as that of the Bible Society, and therefore we hope to go on harmoniously with it, unless the principle of both or of either be upset.
I leave it to your own judg[e]ment whether a version, sold in so short a time after its publication, has advanced or prejudiced the Romanizing scheme. As to pledging yourselves editorially for or against Romanizing, it is all the same. You might as well pledge yourselves against the Persian or Deva-Nágari letters. Roman Character books are used in all Missions and Missionary schools of Hindustan with perhaps a solitary exception here and there; books are written, published and sold in it; the Allahabad Press has at present four or five on hand. So you may pledge yourselves just as you please. A little opposition might perhaps do good just now, and I hope you will take the hint.
I am sorry that I do not know who the writer of the Remarks on our version is, as it prevents me from repaying the compliments to his character, which he has paid to ours. To judge from his article he seems to be a sincere and good man, though quite mistaken in the remarks which he has advanced. I take leave of him with feelings of great respect.
One of the Translators
Benares, 12th April, 1840



I wish to make a few more remarks on the general subject of the translation of the New Testament into the Hindustani langugge. About five years aglo we and the Church Missionaries attempted to make a united Version of the New Testament, but we could not go on with them, partly because we thought that there was an unnecessary delay, partly because we could not agree on translating the terms referring to Church Government in a uniform manner in all places, and partly because we could not agree on the text to be adopted. They have, I believe, given up translating the New Testament for the present, after having published Luke and the Acts, and made some alterations in Matthew, but they may intend to resume the work at some future time, and they therefore keep up the original title of "The Banaras Translation Committee" in terrorem over us.
If they go on with the same seal and speed as they have done hitherto, their version may be ready after twenty years, when we all shall likely rest in our graves. The Baptist translation will, of course, be adopted by that mission, and our version by our mission.
Now I ask, is it proper for the Church Missionaries at Banéras, after we have separated, after two versions have been published and put into circulation, to keep up the original title of "The Banáras Translation Committee?" Is it proper for the Calcutta Auxiliary Bible Society to recognize them as such? Do the Church Missionaries at Banáras intend to make at some future day a version for the Universal Church of India? Does the Calcutta Auxiliary Bible Society intend to wait for this projected version, sanction it and force it upon the Universal Church? Do the Church Missionaries and the Calcutta Auxiliary Bible Society suppose that the Baptist Missionaries and the London Society's Missionaries will throw their versions to the moles and to the bats as soon as an Episcopalian one appears, after their versions have been for years in circulation and taken firm root in their missions? Or do the Church Missionaries and the Calcutta Auxiliary Bible Society, in this emergency, intend to take again refuge to Mr. Martyn’s version, which has been condemned by all the Missionaries in India, the Church
Missionaries included? Or will the Church Missionaries imitate the steward in the parable, who fearing that his stewardship was about to be taken from him and who, having serious objections to digging and being ashamed of begging, sat down to make some alterations in the existing documents? Will the Church Missionaries, "The Banaras Translation Committee," take the Baptist version or our own, make some alterations in it, and then publish it for the money and under the sanction of the Calcutta Auxiliary Bible Societz as a translation for the Universal Church of India? By this method they will escape both the trouble of digging and the disgrace of begging, and men of all ranks and conditions will praise them for having "done wisely;" but the fairness of the ‘proceeding might be questioned by "such men as the authors of the tran ation before us."
I should be glad to see this point cleared up. Is their translation of Luke and the Acts superior to our version of the two books? A careful comparison of the two versions of these two books will decide the question, and we are not afraid of challenging this careful comparison. It will be found that some renderings are better in their version and some in ours.
We intend to revise our version with the translations which have appeared since ours was published, and with all the other helps at our command. We will discard the new division of chapters and verses, and throw the old one into the margin, as Bishop Lowth has done in his translation of Isaiah and Dr. Griesbach in his Greek Testament. We have no objection to translating all the terms referring to Church Government.
We cannot follow the textus receptus, as long as our Directors do not alter our Instructions, which they wil never do. Such an alteration would undo many things done by their Missionaries in the South Sea Islands and other parts of the world. We may be sure that our Directors have given us no instructions which are contrary to the rules and principles of the British and Foreign Bible Society. It must rest with the translators, not with the Bible Society, what readings shall be adopted or rejected. Translators dare not sell their consciences to any Bible Society, and those who will do so, are not fit for making a version for the Universal Church.
To interpolate the records of one's creed, to adopt them to the prgjudices, opinions and consciences of other persons, for the base purpose of getting them published and circulated by their money, would, to my own mind, be so enormous a crime, beside which every other crime would appear as a virtue, I am glad to see that T. S. agrees with me on this point. "It is for translators to determine how it (John v. 7) shall he treated." On reading T. S.’s article one might be misled to suppose that he has found fault with us for acting on his own principles.
This is only appearance. We agree very well. We as translators have determined how 1. John v. 7, shall be treated. We have thrown it out. We could not be accessary to the commission of a pious fraud, which has made more Socinians than the Athanasian creed itself, (which by the bye the American Episcopalians have omitted in their Common Prayer Book.)
We might as well stick the whole Athanasian creed into the Epistle of John, "with a mark to point out that its genuineness is not completely established," as 1 John v. 7.—
If this verse be really genuine, notwithstanding its absence from all the visible Greek MSS. except two, one of which awkwardly translates the verse from the Latin, and the other transcribes it from a printed book ; notwithstanding its absence from all the versions except the Vulgate, and even from many of the best and oldest MSS. of the Vulgate ; notwithstanding the deep and dead silence of all the Greek writers down to the thirteenth century, and most of the Latins down to the middle of the eighth century; if in spite of all these objections it be still genuine, no part of Scripture whatsoever can be proved either spurious or genuine; and Satan has been permitted for many centuries, miraculously to banish the finest passage in the New Testament from the eyes and memories of almost all the Christian authors, translators, and transcribers." —Porson1 ].
We have taken our stand on the broad Catholic principle of two noble institutions, the British and Foreign Bible Society and the London Missionary Society. All writings which do not convince us of having violated that principle, will not in the least affect us, nor will we take any notice of them, after this full and frank statement of our opinions on the subject of translation. The sooner the Calcutta Auxiliary Bible Society cordially act on this broad Catholic and truly Christian principle, the better ; otherwise they will exist for the sole purpose of being an incubus upon Hindustan, of preventing us from obtaining the Hindustani Scriptures, afier the Bengali Scriptures have already slipt out of their hands into the hands of our excellent brethren, the Baptist Missionaries, where I wish them to remain.

Our correspondent has requested that we will insert his communication without note or comment. So far as the question at issue is concerned, we shall do so; because it is our rule, "except where the appending a brief note may save much and very injurious misapprehension :" but we cannot allow the opportunity to pass without offering one or two remarks.
As it regards his remarks on the temper in which the Observer has been lately conducted. We have now had the conduct of the periodical for some time devolved upon us, and from a careful review of what has been written, from the success which has accompanied our advocacy of the subjects to which reference alone can be made, the amount of circulation and correspondence with which we have been favored up to the latest date; these things considered, combined with a consciousness, that while endeavouring to maintain the neutral and Catholic principles of the Observer amidst often very warring opponents, together with the fact of our present correspondent's being the only complaining and condemning communication, which has reached us, as to the temper in which our labors have been conducted:--all these lead us to the conclusion, that without intending to ofiend even one brother, we must pursue the even tenor of our way in the same spirit, and we hope with the same success as heretofore.
Neither can we allow the opportunity to pass, without suggesting to our correspondent, and all others who may deem it their duty to engage in Biblical controversy, the propriety of employing the mildest and most courteouslanguage consistent with the interests of truth. Should a different course be pursued, we must suspend our rule, anent the use of the editorial pen in omissions and emendations; for we cannot allow the pages of the Christian Observer to be the medium of reckless reflections, whether personal or sectarian.
"Think twice before you write once, and you will not write that last which you penned first,” was the remark of a wise parent to a good but impetuous child. It may be applicable in most cases of controversy. We eschew the subject of Romanizing, for a burnt child dreads the fire: and it is our recollection of the controversy in connection with that subject which induces us at the opening of this, which promises to be a prolific one, to suggest adherence to the useful motto: Suaviter in mode et fortiter in re.


Published in:
The Calcutta Christian Observer, New Series April 1840, pages 181-191. Response in May 1840. Page(s): 268-280.

Online: Google Books. Viewed: 16.1.2015.

  1. Richard Porson,  (born Dec. 25, 1759, East Ruston, Norfolk, Eng.—died Sept. 25, 1808London), British master of classical scholarship during the 18th century, the most brilliant of the English school that devoted itself to the task of freeing Greek texts from corruption introduced through the centuries. His special critical talent lay in his insight into Greek metre and his unusual appreciation of the fine points of Greek diction. Encyclopedia Britannica [ ▲ ]

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