The Baptist Pillar ©      Brandon Bible Baptist Church     1992-Present

"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15

The Correct Principle

of Biblical Translation

John Quincy Adams

From, Baptists: The Only Thorough Religious Reformers, 1854

"And the Lord answered me and said, Write the vision and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it." (Hab. 2:2)

God's solicitude for man's well-being and eternal salvation is truly wonderful. Having made a revelation of His will, He is anxious that no ambiguity or indefiniteness should obscure His commands from His erring creatures. He wishes to afford to ruined man all the advantages possible, in order that he may be saved from the fearful consequences of his sin and guilt.

Hence, He has not involved his duty in mist and uncertainty, but, on the contrary, He has revealed plainly all His moral requirements and positive institutions. In addition to this, He has expressly commanded those to whom is committed the great work of transcribing His will for others, to do it so plainly, that every duty may be recognized with such ease, " that he may run that readeth it." But, alas, alas! The express command of Jehovah has been violated, and His benevolent designs toward our race in a measure frustrated by the efforts of those with whom the advancement of sect, and the propagation of human dogmas is of more importance than the glory of God and the salvation of souls.

Translators have not scrupled to bow to the mandate of kings, the dictation of councils, the restrictions of Bible Society boards, and the promptings of sectarian prejudices, until the bare enunciation of the principle contained in the text, has come to be denounced as sectarianism; and faithful obedience to the plain requirement of Jehovah in this respect, is assailed as a close and narrow bigotry.

In presenting this theme, let us inquire:

I. What is the correct principle on which Translations of the Holy Scriptures should be made? To this I reply, that they should be conformed, as nearly as possible, to the inspired originals. Let it be remembered, that the Scriptures which we possess are a translation. The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew, and the New Testament in Greek. In translating, therefore, into English, or Burmese, or French, or German, or Bengali, or any other language, it is evident to anyone, that the Hebrew and the Greek should be the standard to which these translations should be conformed.

It is further evident, that every word, that is capable of being translated, should be rendered into any other language so as to express just what the original did to those to whom it was given. There must be no transfer of a Hebrew or Greek word into English or Burmese, for such a word would be perfectly unintelligible to the mere English or Burmese reader, and he must wait till someone, who understands these languages, shall come and explain to him the meaning of such words. Let me illustrate:

Suppose an aged father, a Frenchman, writes a letter of instructions to his children and grandchildren, just as the former are about to immigrate to the United States. The letter is written in the French language, and is readily understood by the children. But the grandchildren grow up in ignorance of the French language, though they understand the English very well. Their parents die, and leave the letter in their possession.

In order to understand the letter, they must have it translated. Now suppose the person employed to translate, leaves here and there a word in French—untranslated. Those words would be unintelligible to them. They would be transferred, not translated. In order to be a good translation, the letter must express in English, just what the original expressed in French. So with the Scriptures; the correct principle of translating them is to make them speak to all the nations just what they spake to those who had them from the hand of God—just what the originals express.

That this principle is correct is evident also from the fact that all Protestants, in discussions, appeal not to the translations that have been made, but to the original. They regard the original only as the standard. In the Westminster Assembly's Confession of Faith we find the following:

“The Old Testament in Hebrew, (which was the native language of the people of God of old,) and the New Testament in Greek, (which, at the time of the writing of it, was most generally known to the nations,) being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical; so as, in all controversies of religion, the church is finally to appeal unto them." (Westminster Confession, chap. i. sec. 8)

And this is the practice of all Protestants. It is evident, then, that all translations should be made in conform to the original, which is the standard of appeal.

II. This Principle has been Generally Abandoned by all Pedobaptist denominations. There is no Bible society, supported by Pedobaptists, that is pledged to the faithful translation of the Word of God from the inspired originals. In England and America, the English version is made the standard instead of the original. Nor is this all. Even this is not translated fully into the heathen tongues—some words are transferred, not translated. They are perfectly incomprehensible to those who read them, until someone comes and explains them, and he may explain them just to snit his own views.

The British and Foreign Bible Society of England, composed of all evangelical denominations, passed a resolution, on the 1st July, 1833, virtually declining aid to translators of the Bible in foreign languages, unless "the Greek terms relating to baptism be rendered, either according to the principles adopted by the translators of the authorized English version, by a word derived from the original, or by such terms as may be considered unobjectionable by the other denominations of Christians composing the Bible Society."

It had been the practice of the missionaries to translate these words, as well as all others. Now you perceive the resolution does not charge them with unfaithful translation, neither does it charge them to faithfully render the words into the languages of the heathen, but it requires them to adopt the principle of the English translators, which was to transfer and not translate certain words, which, if translated, would not have yielded that support to Episcopacy which the transfer of them does.

The American Bible Society, composed of all evangelical denominations, in February, 1836, passed the following preamble and resolution:

“As the managers are now called to aid extensively in circulating the sacred Scriptures in languages other than the English, they deem it their duty, in conforming with the obvious spirit of their compact, to adopt the following resolution as the rule of their conduct in making appropriations for the circulation of the Scriptures in all foreign tongues.

"Resolved, That in appropriating money for the translating, printing, or distributing the Sacred Scriptures in foreign languages, the managers feel at liberty to encourage only such versions as conform, in the principles of their translations, to the common English version; at least, so far, as that all the religious denominations represented in this Society can consistently use and circulate said versions in their several schools and communities."

Here, again, you perceive there is an abandonment of the correct principle. That principle requires a faithful translation from the original. But the resolution just quoted requires that the English version be made the standard. And even this is to be conformed to, only so far as that "all the denominations represented in the Society" can consistently use the versions made from it. These two societies represent pretty nearly the entire Protestant world in England and America.

Now any one will perceive that, while such resolutions were in force, no missionary, who was governed by them, could attempt to faithfully translate from the original into the languages of the heathen. Consequently, if a word occurred in the Greek which, if translated, would not suit all denominations, it must be transferred, and then the heathen could not understand it till it was explained by a missionary, and he might explain it just to suit his own creed. Instead, then, of having God's Word, which they would have, if the original was translated, they have, in every such instance, only the word of man.

Let me, before I leave this division of my subject, exhibit the evils of this course. No principle that is correct can be violated without evil results. We have seen that the correct principle of Biblical translation is violated by all Pedobaptist organizations. We may therefore look for evil as its legitimate fruit. The principle on which they act is, that it is right to make such versions, and such only, as shall teach Pedobaptist sentiments. Because Baptists refused to transfer Greek words into the heathen tongues, and insisted on translating them, they were thrust out.

But in order to make the Bible teach Pedobaptism, it must be mutilated. Let us now look at the fruits of this in heathen lands. The first missionaries, and the first Bible translators, were Baptists. Hence, the first versions made in heathen tongues were faithful translations. After these translations had been circulated, the Pedobaptist missionaries began to circulate their versions, in which words relating to baptism, and other words, were transferred. The heathen convert, when be read the translated word, could understand it, and knew what to do.

But when he read the transferred word, he could not understand it; he must wait till he could find a teacher to tell, him what it meant. If be met a Baptist missionary, he would tell him that the word meant to immerse. Then he would ask, it Why does it not read so?" What would the missionary say? He would have to say, "The translator who produced that version was bound by his Bible society to put that word in." And if pressed for a reason for this, he must tell him of all the differences and disputes among Christians at home.

But suppose he meets a Pedobaptist. He tells him it means to pour, or it means to sprinkle. But the convert would ask him, "Why not put it so? We have words in our language which mean to pour or sprinkle." What would he say? He must give a reason; and be could assign no reason which would not awake the suspicion of the converted pagan.

Take another case. A Baptist mission has been established; all has been harmonious. A transfer version falls into the hands of the people, and at once all is confusion and distrust, and the cause of Christ is arrested. I present these cases because it has generally been represented, by Pedobaptists, that the Baptists have introduced controversy among the heathen nations on this subject; whereas, the reverse of this is the case.

It could not be otherwise; for the Baptists were the first to occupy heathen ground, and they had translated the Scriptures into many languages before a Pedobaptist transfer version was made. On these Pedobaptists rests the guilt, not only of mutilating God's Word, but, through this means, of reviving, on heathen shores, those dissensions which have distracted and retarded the cause of the Redeemer at home.

Again, another evil of this course is that it leads to the circulation of versions that teach known and soul-destroying errors. You perceive that the rule governing Pedobaptists is one of expediency. They do not require that the Word of God be faithfully translated, but that it be made to suit the majority. All the translator has to do is, to ascertain what is expedient. It may be expedient to transfer other words, and the rule adopted does not prevent him from doing it. This word may refer to faith, or something else that is fundamental, and the withholding of which may peril the soul. But I need not dwell on what might be, I will show you what is done.

The Spanish Testament employs the words "Hacer penitencia" as the translation of the Greek word υετανοέω, to express the duty of repentance, as enjoined in the original. But these words signify "to do penance," and are so understood by the Spaniards themselves. When they wish to express our idea of repent, they use the word "arrepentirse". Yet, this version is circulated and sustained by the American Bible Society.

But how did they come to translate it so? Simply, by abandoning the correct principle of Biblical translation. Instead of taking the Hebrew and the Greek as the standard, they took the Latin Vulgate, which is a Roman Catholic version, and translated from that; and, as expediency was their rule, they found it expedient to translate it so as to suit the Catholics; and therefore the Pope permits it to be used, while he is mortally opposed to Protestant versions of the Holy Scriptures, and thus the money of Protestants is taken to promote Romanism.

Let me here state another fact that should make the ears of every Pedobaptist tingle with shame, While the American Bible Society was circulating this Catholic version, with money contributed by Protestants only, they refused to aid, as they had been doing, the Baptists, in faithfully translating the Word of God, though they were generous contributors to their funds.

In the same Spanish version, printed and circulated by the American Bible Society, Heb. 11:21, reads thus: "By faith Jacob, about to die, blessed each one of the sons of Joseph, and worshipped the top of his staff." The idea conveyed to the mind of a Roman Catholic by this verse is the worship of an image on the top of his staff, and thus absolute idolatry is sanctioned and propagated by the Society which, with holy horror, withdraws its aid from Baptist missionaries, because they would translate all the Word of God, the words relating to baptism not excepted.

But we push our reasoning a little further, suppose the Pedobaptists only claim the right to transfer the words relating to baptism. If they have a right to do this, then any denomination has a right to transfer those words, which, if translated, would be fatal to its peculiar views. The Roman Catholic may transfer the Greek word υετανοέω, and have Luke 13:3 read, "Except ye metanoeo, ye shall all likewise perish;" and the priest can explain it to mean “do penance”; and the Pope might contribute to the support of a Bible Society that would agree to transfer every word that does not suit him when translated.

The Universalist may transfer Θεός, and have John 1:1 read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was theos", and the minister can explain it to mean "a superior, intelligent creature." The Universalist may transfer αlαίviov τελεντάω, etc., and have Matthew 25:46 read, "These shall go away into aionion punishment", and the minister can explain it to mean "the grave”! Or, they can have Mark 9:44 read, "Where their worm teleuteth not, and the fire is not sbennutai." Then the preacher can explain it to mean, "…where their worm troubleth not, and the fire is not hurtful."

Now, this would be as justifiable, as for the Pedobaptist to transfer βαπτίϚω, and then explain it to suit his own views. And further, if Pedobaptists have a right to withhold a part of God's Word, because a part is opposed to their teachings, then Rome has a right to withhold all, because all is opposed to her teachings, and again Protestantism is found bolstering up Popery. I proceed to show,

III That Baptists aim to Restore and Establish the Principle of the Text. Baptists only desire to know and to teach God's commands—and they desire that all others may know them. They aim, therefore, in giving the Bible to the world, to follow the Divine requirement given in the text: "Write the vision, and make it plain…that he may run that readeth it."

In all their efforts to spread the Gospel, they have endeavored faithfully to translate the Word of God, from the original, into the language of the people; seeking to make it so plain, that, if a copy of their translation should fall into the hands of a person who has no living teacher near him, he could ascertain from it all the commands of God. The instructions given to their missionaries by the Baptist Board of Foreign Missions are as follows:

"Resolved, That the Board feel it to be their duty to adopt all prudent measures to give to the heathen the pure Word of God in their own languages, and to furnish their missionaries with all the means in their power, to make their translations as exact a representation of the mind of the Holy Spirit as possible.

"Resolved, That all the missionaries of the Board who are, or who shall be, engaged in translating the Scriptures, be instructed to endeavor, by earnest prayer and diligent study, to ascertain the precise meaning of the original text, to express that meaning as exactly as the nature of the languages into which they shall translate the Bible will permit, and to transfer no words which are capable of being literally translated."

What a contrast does this present to the resolutions adopted by the Pedobaptists! To this principle of faithful translation the Baptists have always strenuously adhered. Efforts have been made to induce their missionaries to abandon it, but these have been in vain. When their versions have been translated, and ready for the press, money has been offered to print, if they would conceal a part of God's Word, by transferring certain words.

On the 17th April, 1836, at a meeting of the managers of the American Bible Society, the sum of $5,000 was appropriated to the Baptist Board of Foreign Missions to promote the circulation of the Scriptures in foreign tongues, which money would be paid over, if our foreign versions were conformed, in the principles of their translation, to the common English version;" that is, transfer, and not translate, the words relating to baptism. The grant was conscientiously declined.

Similar attempts were made by the British and Foreign Bible Society, to procure the transfer of the words in the Bengali version. But all was in vain; the Baptists loved the correct principle too well to abandon it for the hope of a mere temporary advantage, which would, in the end, paralyze their efforts in the conflict with error.

If these versions of the Baptists had been proved unfaithful, it would have been different; there would then have been some show of reason, in the course pursued by the Pedobaptists. But this was not the case; their great defect was that they were not so mutilated as to make it possible for Pedobaptists to teach their views to the heathen.

Or, if Baptists had mutilated God's Word to make it teach Baptist sentiments, it would have been different. But they were never guilty of this, nor have they even been charged with it. How, then, did the Pedobaptists seek to justify themselves? Why, they raised the cry that they were sectarian versions, which, when examined, simply means, that the faithful translation of God's Word teaches just what Baptists practice, and condemns the practice of Pedobaptists.

But neither smiles nor frowns, threats nor bribes, flattery nor slander can move us from our attachment to God's Word, and our obedience to His requirement to give His will, faithfully translated, to all the nations of the earth. Our conflict with error may be long, but we have no doubts as to the final issue. God has honored, and will honor, those that honor Him; and in no way can we honor Him more highly, than in a firm and constant adherence to faithful translations of His Holy Word.

From what I have submitted, it will be perceived, that sprinkling and infant baptism have led to this desire for the mutilation of God's Word, and that those who adhere to this perversion of God's ordinance, are giving their sanction to the abandonment of the correct principle of Biblical translation. Their example, their influence, and their money, go to support these mutilated versions.

Further, I remark, that the Pedobaptist rule of non-translation of certain words, like their appeal to tradition, paralyzes their power to combat Romanism. How can they condemn the Popish practice of denying the Bible to the people, when they adopt the very principle of Popery? The Roman Catholic priest can say, "We only keep back what is opposed to our practice, and you Pedobaptists do the same." What could a Protestant Pedobaptist translator say to this?

Surely, this question about baptism is not so insignificant, seeing it involves such great consequences! If the magnitude of a thing is to be judged of by its results, it is certain that the question of baptism is one of vast importance. As such, I urge the investigation of it upon every honest Protestant. At all events, from the printed resolutions which I have quoted, all must perceive that the correct principle of Biblical translation is with the Baptists.

In concluding, I invite your attention to one or two inferences from the text: "Write the vision, and make it plain…that he may run that readeth it." I infer that all we are to believe and practice is made plain in the Word of God, unless obscured in the translation. Infant baptism, therefore, either was never commanded by Jehovah, or else it has been obscured in the translation of His Word, for none, with the teaching of the Bible alone, would ever discover it to be their duty to have children baptized. Those, therefore, who practice infant baptism, ought strenuously to contend for a faithful translation that the obscurity, which conceals this duty from the common reader, may be removed. But I find that Pedobaptists oppose faithful translations; I therefore conclude that God never commanded infant baptism.

I infer, again, that we are to follow that which is plainly taught in the Bible, rather than what is doubtful. The Romanist may tell me that I ought to pray to the Virgin Mary, and seek the intercession of the saints; but while I read the plain declaration of God's Word, "There is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus," (1 Tim. 2:5) I will follow the Bible, and let the Roman Catholic go. The Unitarian may tell me, that Christ was a mere man, but while I read the plain declaration of God's Word, "I and my Father are one," (John 10:30), and "He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father," (John 14:9), I will follow the Bible, and let the Unitarian go.

The Universalist may tell me that there will be no future punishment, but while I read the plain declaration of God's Word, "these shall go away into everlasting punishment," (Matt. 25:46) I will follow the Bible, and let the Universalist go. So, too, the Pedobaptist may tell me that infants ought to be baptized, but while I read the plain declaration "He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved," (Mark 16:16), and "Repent, and be baptized every one of you," (Acts 2:38) I will follow the Bible, and let the Pedobaptist go. Our duty is plain, for God has said, "Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it."