History of the Restoration Movement

H.T. Anderson's Translation Of The Scriptures

Below is a chapter from a book by John Augustus Williams entitled, "Reminiscences." Williams reflects on the little known story about the time when H.T. Anderson produced his translation of the New Testament scriptures. This is a powerful reminder of the struggle he, and especially his family, faced in times when the labor in the Lord's vineyard was most difficult.


For a long time the sentiment of the churches in Kentucky was strongly opposed to any new translation or revision of the Scriptures. The "Living Oracles." a translation made by George Campbell, James Macknight and Philip Doddrldge reprinted from London editions in a cheap form by Alexander Campbell, in 1826, was distributed by agents among the early churches of the Reformation, but was not generally read or accepted. I had In my library, till very recently, a dozen or more copies of the first edition of the work, left In the hands of my teacher, who had been an agent for Its sale. I gave them away to curious readers, who prized them, chiefly for their age. They had been printed about seventy years. For the more reading of that book John Smith was arraigned before the North District Association in 1827. He was formally charged. not only with reading it in his family, but actually quoting it from the pulpit. During the discussion of that serious charge some of the good old preachers present declared King James' Bible to be the only true word of God. John Smith in reply expressed his deep sympathy for the poor Dutch, who consequently had no word of God among them, and could not read it if they had. A prominent clergyman had, just before this, obtained a copy of the book, and, having read it, atoned for his offense by piously burning it to ashes.

In 1862 Benjamin Franklin, while on a visit to Flemingsburg, Ky., called on Henry T. Anderson. who was then preaching there, and at the same time teaching a school. Anderson had been a close student of the Greek and Hebrew for thirty years. Noting many Inaccuracies in the common version, he conceived the idea of making a thoroughly new translation, rather than a mere revision of the New Testament. He had already written a few chapters from Matthew's Gospel, which he now read to Franklin. The latter was so much pleased with them that he Insisted that the work so well begun, should go on to completion; and he asked for and obtained the manuscript which he had read, for publication in the American Christian Review.

Thus encouraged, Anderson went earnestly to work with a zeal that seemed to absorb his every thought and feeling. He was thoroughly possessed with the spirit of authorship. He forwarded his first chapters to the Review, and at the same time wrote to me, asking me to read and to criticise them unsparingly. Anderson was one of the finest of Greek scholars; his mind, from long, close study of the original, was saturated with Greek Idiom. and the original texts were as transparent as crystal to his understanding. But for that very reason, perhaps, he was not crltlcal In the niceties of the English. I compiled with his request, and suggested a few verbal changes in the chapters already published. The result of our correspondence was a determination on his part to remove at once to Harrodsburg. that I might join him "in making," as he said, "a translatIon that should lie faithful to the Greek and faultless in its English."

He had at that time a large family—I think of ten children. By his removal he deprived himself of his income, resources and home. My own house was filled to overflowing with boarding students, and I could make no arrangements to receive him. The Orphan School at Midway kindly cared for some of his children; and the generous Christian brethren. Dr. Chew, Andrew Steele, and Thomas Parrlsh of Woodford County, gave homes to others; and he came on to Harrodsburg with his wife and three younger children, and found a temporary resting-place with a friend near town. Any other man would have found close literary work impossible under such circumstances. But Henry T. Anderson, with all his breadth of intellect, had the unquestioning faith of a simple-hearted child. He never for one moment doubted his divine call to the work he had undertaken, and the courage born of such a faith kept him composed and resolute under all discouragements. Besides, he was blessed with one of the best of wives, who was competent and ever willing to relieve him of all domestic care, and to cheer him in his literary and ministerial labors.

We began our studies and worked systematically together, but I could give to him only my evenings, which were sometime prolonged to midnight, when he would walk home to his family, occasionally through the most inclement weather. Under these difficulties we labored for some weeks, when, one inclement evening at the usual hour, he entered my library without ceremony. He was accompanied by his wife with the two older children. He carried his little babe on one arm, a roll of manuscript under the other, and an uncorked inkstand in his hand, safely stoppered with his thumb. Supposing that they had come on a social visit, my wife received them cordially, happy to pass the evening with Mrs. Anderson, who was a most Intelligent and agreeable lady. "We have come, Sister Williams to stay," said Bro. Anderson in quite a determined but pleasant way. "You will be kind enough I know, to make some arrangements for us. This library, with pallets laid down on the floor, will accommodate us very well at night, and I am sure that you can also otherwise provide for us. So we shall make our home with you."

Now, as I have said, there was not a spare bed-room in our house, and he knew It. There was nothing rude or obtrusive in his manner, for nothing could have been more foreign to his nature. An impulse had moved him to come, and in the same hour he had come, and with a faith that doubted nothing. Had Aladdin's lamp been rubbed, and a suite of commodious rooms suddenly opened to receive him. I do not believe that he would have been much surprised or disconcerted. My wife, instead of losing her presence of mind, seemed rather to enjoy her perplexity, and she set about Immediately to devise ways and means for meeting the exigency. Four young lady students, who knew and loved Bro. Anderson—for he had occasionally addressed the girls in their chapel—cheerfully vacated their large bedroom and crowded in with others for the night, and in a short half hour, Mrs. Anderson and her three children were comfortably domiciled. Wholly indifferent to any further domestic concerns, and seemingly lost to his surroundings, he unrolled his manuscript that evening, and our work went on as usual until a late hour. The next day my wife, regardless of any inconvenience to herself or to the college, dismantled her tea-room and fitted it up comfortably as a chamber for Mrs. Anderson and her family, and when her studious husband was invited to enter and make himself at home, he took notice of nothing. I am sure, except that his inkstand was not in place on his table! The oversight was corrected, and he sat down to his writing, heedless of the sleepy fretfulness of the babe and the noisy romp of the other children around him—indifferent to him, it seemed, whether he studied In a palace or a cave.

In all points involving correct English structure and idiom he would defer to my judgment, but in the choice of a word to express accurately the sense of the original his judgment, of course, prevailed. Yet we had many animated discussions on the propriety of certain English terms proposed. For instance. the question arose as to how we should best express the relation between Mary and Joseph, as stated in Matt. 1. 18. Was she espoused, affianced or betrothed? As "espoused" is often used in the sense of marriage, and "affianced" implied engagement simply, with no reference to any ceremony observed, we chose the word "betrothed," which only could express the relationship between them according to Jewish custom.

I remember, also, a rather protracted controversy as to the proper translation of the word "baptizo." He insisted on rendering it "immerse" in every instance, according to Its primary meaning. I suggested that the word should be adopted or transferred without translating it, as is done In the common version. Anderson wrote "immerse," however, saying: "What I have written, I have written." I would state that some time afterward, when Tischendorf's Greek text appeared, he revised his translation according to that text, completing the work a little before his death in Washington. He sent the manuscript to me to have published, which I kept for some years without finding a publisher to offer me suitable terms. I finally passed the manuscript into the hands of his youngest daughter, now living in Chicago. It is superior to his first work, owing chiefly to the excellency of the Sinaitic version from which he translated. In his final instructions to me he directed me to restore the word "baptize" whenever the reference was to the ordinance.

Anderson's translation had no sooner made Its appearance from the press than it was very generally received with favor by the people. A pocket (or Sunday-school) edition was soon called for and published. But the work did not escape criticism. which was not always made in a scholarly or generous spirit. "The American Bible Union" issued their new version about the same time, and we were drawn into a protracted but quite fraternal controversy with its corresponding secretary, W.H. Wycoff, which was published in the columns of the Review. But the most singular criticisms were made by Moses E. Lard, who was himself posing as an original translator at the time. It may interest the young students of this day to reproduce a specimen of Lard's criticism on the English of Anderson's translation. During my discussion with him in his Quarterly, he attacked the word "betrothed" in the passage already referred to in the following characteristic style:

"We call the reader's attention to the horrid word 'betrothed.' We have no language in which to express our sensations in attempting to pronounce the miserable thing. We wish It were forever expurged from the English language, and that It could never again revolt either eye or ear, except as a verbal fossil of the infamous by-gone; and then only when the necessity should arise to frighten mortals out of their wits! Out on you, and away with you, gibbering imp of the past! We have no use for you, and would never again look on your grotesque form, fit only to be seen in the defunct almanac found in the untidy wallet of some long-since buried felon."

Lard translated this passage thus: "Mary was engaged to be married to Joseph." I need not add that Anderson's translation survived this criticism.

In the course of the year, Bro. Anderson, although perfectly satisfied with our tearoom, passively consented to occupy a cottage in town, which John B. Bowman and myself rented for him. He moved into it, and his good wife called all her children to come home and gather under her wings once more. The church at Harrodsburg wisely called him to be their preacher and teacher, which position he ably filled for some years.

— REMINISCENCES, By JOHN AUG. WILLIAMS, A. M., LL.D., Founder And Ex-President Of Daughters' College:, AND AUTHOR OF "Life Of John Smith," "Rosa Emers," "Thornton," Etc., F.L. Rowe, Cincinnati, O., 1898, pgs.19-33

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