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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XVI. Later Theology

§ 6. The Revised Version

Popular interest in the authority of the Bible was prepared for by the appearance of the Revised Version of the Bible just a decade before the dramatic trial of Charles A. Briggs. Thirtyfour of the leading Hebrew and Greek Scholars of America united with sixty-seven Englishmen in this great undertaking, which Philip Schaff, the chairman of the American revisers, declared to be “the noblest monument of Christian union and co-operation in this nineteenth century.” After a laborious toil of eight years, during which “no sectarian question was ever raised,” The New Testament was given to the public. “The rapidity and extent of its sale surpassed all expectations and are without a parallel in the history of the book-trade.” The New Testament appeared in 1881 and the Old Testament in 1885. Although one of the Old Testament revisers took pains to say in his Companion to the Revised Old Testament that “they have no fellowship with that disposition which of late years has appeared among some who profess and call themselves Christians to speak lightly of the Scriptures as a partial and imperfect record of revelation,” and although the Old Testament Committee was presided over by Professor Wm. H. Green of Princeton Seminary and the New Testament Committee by ex-President Theodore D. Woolsey of Yale College, both eminently conservative scholars, the mere publication of a new translation of the Scriptures, founded upon a revised Hebrew and Greek text, prepared the public mind for some modification of the concept of infallibility which had possessed it hitherto. The printing of the Bible in paragraphs like other books—instead of in the oracular verses—and the appearance of portions of the Old Testament in poetic form helped greatly in convincing the plain people of the country that the Bible was to be subsumed under the genus literature rather than kept as a sacred oracle in mysterious isolation.

Nor did the fact that the most brilliant attacks upon the infallibility of the Bible and many of its ablest defences originated in Germany militate against the progress of the newer thought in America as much as might have been expected. Our scholars felt themselves dependent upon European thought. Providentially, too, German theological scholarship had been introduced to American minds by the presence and fecundity of Philip Schaff (1819–93), a man of most conservative temper, who, in an amazing number of volumes, chiefly in the domain of Church History, had commended the thoroughness and sanity of German research to the American public from his chair in Wittenberg, Pennsylvania, and later in Union Theological Seminary, New York.