T.W. Coit Bible

T.W. Coit, D.D., rector of Christ Church, Cambridge, published a Bible “in parallelisms with philological explanatory Annotations.” The Bible was printed in Boston in 1834. One of his concerns was that many people did not understand that the formatting of Bibles, with chapters, verses, paragraphs, etc. were not part of the inspired Scripture. His goal was to reform the Bible to make it more readable.


The Bible is a book of Divine authority; but has the shape in which it is now presented to us an equal sanction? An anecdote will illustrate the answer to this question better than any formal argument.

Somewhere in New England, in a parish to which the regular use of the Bible in public worship was a thing unknown (a circumstance too frequent, if not still so, in our Protestant land), it became a query, whether the minister should commence the reading of it in his Lord’s-Day services. A respectable and thoughtful committee were assembled to discuss the moot point, and edify their fellow-parishioners with the result of their careful investigations. After experiencing their due share of difference and perplexity, and when they were brought quite to a stand with wearying doubt, one of their number, prompted by a sudden thought, rose, and taking up a Bible which lay on their table, began to pore over the title-page. “Why,” said he, with a most self-satisfactory exclamation, “here is enough to settle our debate at once. Do you not see it written in the Bible itself, appointed to be read in the churches?”[i]

The anecdote may raise a smile upon some countenances; but it is introduced with a design to produce any other effect than one so transient and trifling. It is brought forward, since both experience and Scripture prove that a story is one of the best of all vehicles for truth, with the very sober purpose of calling the attention of reflecting people to the fact, that multitudes, who ought to know better, are either unable or unwilling to make any distinction between the authority on which rest the contents of the Bible, and the shape which those contents are made to assume.

The good man in the anecdote, though endowed with his appropriate measure of New England shrewdness, considered the title-page an essential portion of the Book. Many who would at once detect his error, would not as soon detect an error in the custom, which makes the division of the Bible into chapters and verses of higher authority than a title-page. That they are of no higher authority is however the fact, and (the learned must pardon repetition and intensity of assertion)literally the fact. The historical sketches, the poems and hymns, the prophecies, memoirs, and letters, composing the Holy Volume, came from the hands of the Sacred Penmen, not “found in fashion,” in respect to chapter and verse, as they appear at present. The division into chapters was not made till the middle of the 13th century, or about A.D. 1250. An individual, bearing a title not very attractive to protestant and republican ears, a Cardinal,[ii] was the author of this arrangement. The division into verses (at least as respects the Old Testament) has not so good paternity as even this; judging from the estimation prevalent among numerous Christians. It was introduced by one Athias, a Jew of Amsterdam, in his edition of the Hebrew Bible published so late as 1661; many years after the oldest college in this new world had been established. The division of the New Testament into verses is indeed somewhat older, being made by Robert Stephens, a printed, who published a New Testament in 1551. But in what circumstances did he make it? When on a journey from Lyons to Paris, and as his son Henry says, in the Preface to his Concordance of the New Testament, inter equitandum, which is not without reason interpreted to mean, while reading on horseback; though Michaelis courteously supposes him a little more careful, and that he amused himself with his work, while stopping at the inns![iii]

Certainly if this statement be correct (and ample vouchers for it may be found in a work now well known on both continents, Horne’s Introduction), even a fastidious mind ought not to recoil from any seeming liberty, taken with the shape or costume of his Bible, when he sees that he is beholden for it, not to the sure counsels of inspiration, but the dubious choice of a Catholic Cardinal, a Jew, and a traveling printer. Some indeed there are, who feel this, and perhaps so sensitively, as to say that a man might as well be scrupulous about the sheep, calf, or morocco, with which his Bible is covered. But there are many who do not feel it, and the Editor must therefore be pardoned, by any whose prejudices have been untaught, if the case be put in this plain and strenuous way.

It is hoped that the foregoing remarks will be deemed a sufficient apology for the most remarkable feature in the Bible now offered to the public, viz. a disregard of the old chapters and verses, and an attempt to have its divisions conformable to its tenor of sentiment. The diffident expression, an attempt, is used, for it is manifest, that such divisions must vary according to the taste and acquirement of individuals. In many cases, it is probable, some would not have made the paragraphs so frequent as they are here made. Let it be remembered however, that short paragraphs are better suited to the majority of readers, and that this volume was designed for indiscriminate circulation. One of the objections to a reprint of Reeve’s Paragraph Bible was the length of its paragraphs. The 12mo. Oxford Bible of 1828, which was the copy used in preparing this volume, is a reprint of Reeve’s text; but the length of its paragraphs (to say nothing of other objections) was thought too serious an obstacle, to permit its being followed as an authority.

The arrangement of the poetry in parallelisms is the next prominent feature in this volume, and in respect to this, there is perhaps greater scope for taste and judgment, than in regard to paragraphs. The accents of the Masorites have generally been esteemed the best guide concerning them, at least in Isaiah and some other portions of the Old Testament.[iv] Yet what are these accents but the fruits of taste and judgment? For no Hebrew scholar need be told that the vowel and accent systems of our present Hebrew Bibles are things of comparatively late invention:-at least in their actual existence, how far back soever some may suppose their virtual existence goes. Keeping this in view, finding in fact, that scholars of the highest reputation[v] differ in their exhibition of the parallelisms, and finding himself restricted by the phrases of a translation he had given a pledge not to alter, the Editor can only profess to have done the best in his power.[vi] Perhaps he has occasionally formed a parallelism, with more regard to the impression the text might produce on the common English reader, than to the system of accentuation. He will be satisfied if such discover, that there is veritable poetry in the Bible, and poetry which for its bare literary character may compete with, if not outvie, any poetry whatever.

The alterations by paragraph and parallelism being determined on, (not, as will be seen, to the rejection of the numerals for chapters and verses,) it then became a question, what Bible should be printed with these changes. The received version, commonly known as King James’s was forthwith selected as a standard from which no departures should be permitted. But small progress was made in the comparison of English Bibles of this version, before it was ascertained, that a perfect standard of such a description was no where to be found. This version was first printed in 1611, but underwent numerous minute alterations, till, in 1769, it was throughout revised, corrected, and amended, by Dr. Blayney, whose Bible (i.e. the folio edition) has since been considered the standard. In this, not withstanding, many errors were supposed to be detected, and a text printed by Eyre and Strahan thought to be nearer immaculate than any other.[vii]That our modern Bibles differ in very many instances, from the edition of 1611, is notorious to any who have tried but partial collations. The Rev. Mr. Curtis, an English Baptist clergyman who has probably made more researches in this department of criticism than any other individual of our times, enumerates them by thousands. That some, that many of these alterations are improvements, will by some, or many, be freely admitted; but such an admission is far from determining it proper to retain them, and still appropriate the style and title of the translation authorized by King James. Embarrassed as he has been by this litigated and delicate topic, the Editor can but say that the text of Bagster’s 4to. Comprehensive Bible,[viii] which professes to be a careful reprint of Blayney’s has been generally followed, with constant reference to ancient and modern English Bibles,[ix] and to the Hebrew and Greek originals. The labor expended in this way does not often show, but in minutiae” observable by a critical eye; or, which is oftener the case, when it justified no alterations, does not show at all; but that it has been great, nay, very great, those, whose experience has acquainted them with similar tasks, will sympathetically believe. No witting or willful departure from the received text, where it could be ascertained with precision, has in any instance been suffered. Where such a departure was thought advisable, it has (though not always) been noticed in the brief annotations distinguished by the abbreviation Ed.

Among the minor peculiarities (as some will esteem them) of this Bible is its punctuation. In this respect, English Bibles of good repute were found to disagree frequently, and at times with systematic perseverance. Here, therefore, the Editor felt himself more at liberty, and he has accordingly followed his own judgment in many instances: of course with the assistance of the best critical editions of the original Scriptures. He has frequently introduced the exclamation point, deeming it conformable to modern usage, and has occasionally substituted it for the interrogation point, as the more appropriate character.[x] The interrogation point has been substituted by him in some cases, where before there was only the colon or semicolon.[xi] In the poetry, he has introduced what he has seen in no other Bible, viz. the dash: thinking it adapted to display an antithesis or epexegesis, better than any invention whatever. It might perhaps have been introduced oftener than it has been. In the New Testament frequent reference has been made to the texts of Griesbach, Vater, Knapp, and Scholz, and here the variations from the more common punctuation are more numerous; not however, it is trusted, without substantial reason.[xii]

Another of these minor peculiarities, and which has occasioned no small difficulty, is a system respecting words to be printed in capitals, or to begin with a capital letter. The manner of designating a section, by printing the first word or words in large capitals, has been adopted, but not so fully as could be wished. A plan respecting the sections was not fixed on, till considerable advances had been made, and it was then found so difficult and retarding, to make the requisite alterations in stereotype plates, that the appearance of the Bible is not so finished in this respect, as was desired and intended.

The mode of printing the names of the Deity, such as Most High, Maker, Redeemer, &c. and compound names, such as Son of Man, Mount Zion, &c. is various in different editions, and irregular in the same edition. The title Most High, e.g. is printed in three ways, viz. most high, most High, Most High. A system concerning such particulars, and concerning personifications, quotations, [xiii] &c. must require, as is evident, perpetual vigilance, multiplied alterations, and not a few corrections to produce uniformity: all which are prolific sources of delay and mistake.

In relation to one word, much care has been taken, viz. the word Lord. This the translators of King James employed fortwo Hebrew names of the Deity, i.e. Adonai, and Jehovah, and adopted the plan of always printing it, when a translation of the latter name, in small capitals.[xiv] The plan however was either negligently adhered to, or many changes were insinuated during the lapse of centuries. The Editor has endeavoured to maintain accuracy on this point. By means of Taylor’s invaluable Hebrew Concordance, all the places in which Adonai occurs have been examined, and where the translation of it was in small capitals, it was reduced to an inferior type. If there are any mistakes in relation to this particular, they are probably chargeable to the printers. Of course, allowance must be made for the variations in Hebrew Bibles; some of which have been noticed in the annotations.

And now, to pass from the text to its accompaniments, when it was determined to print King James’s version, or the best approach to it, (indulgence being claimed in view of modern variations,) it naturally became a question what should be printed in connection with it. But little time was taken to decide, that the various readings should be printed without an exception. If the Bible were originally printed with them, then they are an integrant part of the original work, and as a matter of propriety, and indeed of justice, they ought to be annexed to every reprint of the primary text. It is believed that the Translators regarded them as a component part of their work, and that to this day, they are used at pleasure in lieu of the text by any clergyman of the Church of England, when reading the appointed lesson of Scripture during divine service. It is remarkable that so many editions of the Bible have been printed with the entire mission of them, and an effort has now been made to give them all. A modern reprint (Bagster’s mostly) has been preferred, as they are too often printed in the old Bibles, without those almost necessary expletives, which would enable one to employ them if he chose, when reading or quoting, in place of the corresponding portion of text.

Another accompaniment of King James’s Bible was the Translators’ Preface, or their Address to the Reader. How this has fallen into such desuetude and neglect, as to be scarce even in England,[xv] while the Dedication, which wants in critical value as much as it abounds in panegyric, has been printed hundreds of times by king-disliking republicans, it is not easy to conjecture. For, as a document gratifying to the curious, it might be supposed worthy no infrequent repetition, and as a document for the ecclesiastical historian and the critic, it is of a species the foremost in value. What exigencies occasioned the translation in use? How and by whom was it attempted and superintended? What leading objects were kept in view in the completion of the work? By what spirit were its authors prompted? Under what rules did they act? And what objections were raised against their labors? These and questions akin to them, are full of moment, to all who wish to ascertain what gave our present Bible its origin, and the standard for testing its merits. “I have observed,” says Addison when ushering in the Spectator, “that a reader seldom peruses a book with pleasure, till he knows whether the writer of it be a black or a fair man, of a mild or choleric disposition, married or a bachelor, with other particulars of the like nature, that conduce very much to the right understanding of an author.” A quotation from Ernesti or LeClerc might have better comported with the grave character of a preface to a Bible; but for reasons which will be obvious, one from some unprofessional authority was judged preferable.

Assuming then for granted, that it is of signal importance to know all we can of the history of a production, of the spirit and principles of its originators, and the reception which has attended it, where can we now expect to find a document of more interest upon such topics, in relation to our present Bible, than the frank and elaborate Address of its Translators to all who might bid it welcome, or assail it with eaveils? And yet such a document has been covered with the dust of centuries, and, in an age eminent for its accumulations in criticism, has been unrescued from oblivion. The Editor must enjoy a few grains of satisfaction, even if with many his labors are thankless. In being the first to offer his countrymen a Bible, which in some respects is nearer the book issued by our Translators, than any ever published on this side of the Atlantic. Indeed, though he has seen many American Bibles, it has never yet been his fortune to meet with one (except the late imperfect reprint of the Comprehensive Bible) containing the Translator’s Address with all their various readings. Of a truth, an estimate of the work of these venerable men can hardly be just, not to say candid and intelligent, if made in ignorance of these parts of their labors. Let one examine both with the accuracy and generosity of a true scholar, and he will not be slow in admitting, that sacred criticism and interpretation are not pertly to be classed with the patentinventions of these novelty-creating times; nay, that the acquirements of our Translators might make some (when presuming, after a fashion altogether too current, to arraign and proscribe their work with summary and unceremonious freedom,) pause and desist with the rare and lovely blush of modesty. That their version does not admit of many minor improvements; that in their own language there is nothing in it “halting or superfluous”, or, that it is always “so agreeable to the original”, as not to allow “the same to be corrected and the truth set in place”, it would be incongruous for the Editor to pretend, in view of his own annotations. But to be fairly appreciated, it must be taken as a whole, and with all its accompaniments. When so regarded, in reference to its faithfulness to the letter an spirit of the Exalted Original, and especially when so regarded, in connection with its pure, noble, transparent, Saxon English, retained throughout with such fidelity, and exhibited with such almost or quite unrivalled dignity, beauty, and force, it is thought (on however humble authority) that it must commend itself to the high, the honoring, the reverential deference of every sincere and liberal scholar, and all hearty admirers of their own unalloyed and undiluted mother-tongue – of that tongue, whose artless and simple, yet nervous and racy words are understood by the boy, felt by the man, and greeted by the sage: – of that tongue whose golden purity can give a burnish to the poet’s fairest lines, whose iron strength, and silver sound can add fresh power and zest to the orator’s best wrought periods: – of that tongue, which is oftenest used and best used, when our thoughts are deepest, our impulses most stirring, our emotions most free, and the longings of hope are at their height.

Begging many pardons of those who neither want nor like long prefaces, and for whose instruction or pleasure he durst not presume he has written, the Editor would remark in concluding, that it formed no part of his original design to print Annotations; but it was suggested to him, that if very brief, they night be of service, and that he might easily distinguish them by brackets, and an Editorial signature. Such annotations accordingly have been given, to no great extent however, unless in the Minor Prophets; and the greater rarity of critical comments on them may possibly render more excusable, if not acceptable, any attempts to render them easier of access. It would be a light task to array here a formidable list of learned, and perhaps hard or imposing titles, of authors consulted during the preparation of these annotations, but it will not be undertaken. There are few things on which one can more readily appear erudite, with inconsiderable exertion, than upon a cumbersome detail of critical authorities. If the readers of this Bible are satisfied with the results given in the annotations, the author or compiler (whatever he may be in any instance) will be amply rewarded; and if they are not, a long list of sonorous names would be a meager solace to soothe his disappointment. To the benign and generous he can honestly say, in the language of a writer in the second book of Maccabees, “For considering the infinite number, and the difficulty which they find, that desire to look into the narrations of the story, for the variety of the matter, we have been careful, that they will read may have delight, and that are desirous to commit to memory might have ease, and that all into whose hands it comes might have profit. Therefore to us, that have taken upon us this painful labor, it was not easy, but a matter of sweat and watching.”[xvi]

With the humble hope that his labors will not all be vain, the Editor, so far as he may, commends them to Him who alone can effectually prosper; ascribing all of error in them to himself, and all of truth or virtue in them, to light and free grace from above.


Cambridge, Mass.Nov. 3, 1834.

[i] A common if not invariable phrase on the title-page of all English Bibles.

[ii] Cardinal Hugo de Sancto Caro

[iii] Introduction to the New Testament, vol. ii, p. 527.

[iv] Bishop Jebb, with, to say the least, very plausible and imposing ingenuity, would persuade us, that the system of parallelisms pervades much of the New Testament.

[v] See Hahn’s Hebrew Bible, Preface, pp.xx,xxi.

[vi] Judges v.18. is an instance to illustrate the difficulty encountered in arranging parallelisms in a version already fixced. It reads thus in the original,

Zebulon! A people that jeoparded their lives unto death,

And Naphtali, in the high places of the field.

But even so slight a liberty as this was considered inadmissible.

[vii] This is the Bible adopted as a standard, by the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States. Errors have however been detected in it, in the course of our proof-readings. Mr. Curtis quotes instances of its incorrectness.

[viii] The first English edition: the second English edition is much less correct.

[ix] Bibles printed in Edinburgh by the King’s printer, were found more accurate than any modern Bibles (allowance being made for their nearer approach to ancient editions): Oxford Bibles were found more accurate than those of Cambridge.

[x] Matt. vii.11. Heb.ix.14 are instances of the kind referred to.

[xi] See Matt. xxv.26. John xii.27.

[xii] In some cases, an alteration of a modern punctuation is but restoring an ancient one. Thus, the second comma in Heb. x.12. Dr. Knapp puts after “for ever.” It is so in Barker’s Bible of 1630: one proof among many more of the critical skill of the translators.

[xiii] Quotations are marked in the prose, by, as is usual in most Bibles, a Capital letter at the commencement: in the poetry, by an indentation not so deep as for paragraphs.

[xiv] Gen. vi.5 is believed to be the only instance where the single title “Jehovah” is translated “GOD.” The compound title “Lord God” is common.

[xv] See Christian Observer for June, 1834, p. 363.

[xvi] 2 Maccabees ii.24-26.