The Living Oracles as offered by Alexander Campbell

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this is from a note on my facebook page, originally published 2010.07.06

My last note was interpretation or translation and discussed some ideas about Bible translations. Readers of my notes are well aware of my interests of Bibles of all translations/interpretations, but my latest acquisition is of peculiar interest because it comes from my Restoration Heritage. What I am finding is quite profound and I am beginning to realize that Campbell caused quite the stir with it. Interesting thing is that I am finding all kinds of goodies with this translation effort.

Reliance on Efforts of Other Christians

Consider for instance that Campbell had absolutely no reservation about using the intellectual skills of denominationalists, as evidenced by this statement from February 1826:

“The Sacred Writings of the Apostles and Evangelists of Jesus Christ, commonly styled The New Testament. Translated from the original Greek, by George Campbell, James Macknight, and Philip Doddridge, Doctors of the Church of Scotland–With Prefaces to the Historical and Epistolary Books; and an Appendix, containing critical notes and various translations of difficult passages.” (emphasis, rah)
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What does it mean? Interfaith efforts. Seems probable.

The Power of Idioms and the LXX

The following is from the Preface to the First Edition and is also very powerful (remember this was published in 1826):

But another argument in favor of a new translation may be drawn from the fact, that we are now in possession of much better means of making an exact translation [as of 1826], than they were at the time when the common version [the KJV] appeared [which was 1611]. The original is now much better understood than it was then. The conflicts of so many critics have elicited a great deal of sound critical knowledge, which was not in the possession of any translators before the last century [1700s]. But as this topic has been so well handled, and so frequently argued by eminent writers, we shall not dwell upon it.
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The previous seems to advocate strongly that critical lingual investigations by “scholars” provide insight into the original meaning of the text, and as such in the 1820s, Campbell felt convicted to usher in a critical NT text. Fascinating.

That information begs, at least, two questions:

  1. What linguistic advances have been made since 1826?
  2. To Campbell, the last century was the 1700s because he wrote this Preface in 1826, as such Campbell did not have access to the archaeological or linguistic studies that we do in 2010, so I ask: if Campbell were alive today, how would he utilize these things in his understanding of the NT?

I will throw in a additional thought. Campbell seems to have freely associated his “Living Oracles” NT translation with the “scholarly” work of denominationalists, again, what does this indicate?

Consider the following, also from the Preface to the First Edition (remember this is 1826):

There is no doubt but many smatterers in the original Greek, and some who may be pretty well acquainted with the classical use and meaning of words and phraes, will think and say, that in some passages the common version [the KJV] is more literally correct than this translation [The Living Oracles]. Indeed, we remember since we once thought so ourselves. But after forming a better acquaintance with the idiomatic style of the apostolic writings, and of the Septuagint Greek, we hve been fully convinced that what a classical scholar, or a critical etymologist, might approve, as a literal version of some passages, is by no means the meaning of the writer. And the king’s translators have frequently erred in attempting to be, what some would call, literally correct. They have not given the meaning in some passages where they have given a literal translation. An example or two will suffice to confirm these remarks.

We would also remind the same class of readers that an intimate acquaintance with the Septuagint Greek of the Old Testament is of essential importance in translating the New. The seventy Hebrews who translated their own scriptures into the Greek language, gave to that translation the idiom of their vernacular tongue. Their translation, if I may so speak, is a sort of Hebrew-Greek. The body is Greek, but the soul is Hebrew. And, in effect, it comes to this, that as we have no other Hebrew, by which to understand the Hebrew scriptures, but the Hebrew of the Old Testament; so we have no Greek, by which to understand the apostolic writings, but the Greek of the Jewish and Christian prophets. The parallelism is so nearly exact, that it subracts but little from it to allow, that there is some importance in having a correct knowledge of the Greek classics. The Septuagint being read for nearly three centuries prior to the Christian era, in all the synagogues of the Helenistic Jews, being generally quoted by our Lord and his Apostles, must have essentially naffected the idiom of all the inspired writings of the Christian Apostles. Consequently, incomparably more regard should be paid to the Septuagint, than to the classic use of Greek terms.
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Verbose? Yes; Indeed. But powerful. Campbell seems to be claiming the very thing I have spent the last four years trying to understand. There are two things that he specifically mentions. The first thing that Campbell mentioned was “idiomatic style” and Campbell seems fully aware that language can often times use words that do not convey their literal meaning (for example: “it’s raining cats and dogs”). The second item is that the LXX is one of the keys to understanding the NT. While the LXX is Greek, the mindset of the Greek OT is fully Hebrew and so it follows that the mindset behind the Greek NT is also Hebrew; knowing this the reader of the Greek NT can begin to understand the Hebrew mind through the Greek OT (Septuagint/LXX).

At this point, I praise God for the Restoration Movement. On these things I can agree. Other people from other places can prove extremely beneficial in my understanding of the Bible, and linguistics and the Greek OT (Septuagint/LXX) are a powerhouse for understanding the Greek NT.

Perhaps, as I find things I will add them.


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