Sunday, November 13, 2011

Charles Thomson - Secretary of Congress

Charles Thomson was the Secretary of the Continental Congress. He chose to retire from his post as Secretary of Congress in 1789. He then endeavored to translate the Bible from the Greek language into English. He was the first to publish a superb translation of the Septuagint - the version of the Old Testament which was in use during Jesus' lifetime - into English.

He worked tirelessly for 19 years to complete his translation of the Septuagint into English and then ventured to publish a translation of the New Testament.

"For clearness, force and felicitous language, it would be difficult to surpass Thomson's translation, especially of the New Testament," declared a biblical historian in 1936.

Charles Thomson Secretary to the United States Congress resigned his post to pursue his hearts desire and  fulfill his scholarly interest. He held the office of Secretary to the United State Congress from 1774 to 1789. Early Greek manuscripts of the New Testament fascinated him. He was particularly fascinated with the Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the "Septuagint". Charles Thomson was the first to translate the Greek Septuagint into the English language.

Furthermore, he created the first new modern-English translation of the New Testament printed in the Western Hemisphere. After twenty years perfecting his translation; the daughter of Robert Aitken became the first woman to print a Bible. Jane Aitken was the daughter of Robert Aitken who published the first English Bible in America in the year 1782.

Jane Aitken published Charles's Thomson's transation of the Bible in four volumes on September 12, 1808, in the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was the first woman to ever print a Bible. Furthermore, Jane Aitken became the first publisher of a modern-English Bible since the Authorized King James Bible published two centuries earlier.

In 1890, Dr. Francis Bowen of Harvard declared:

"This solitary and unaided scholar... has yet produced a work which may well challenge comparison with the best results of the united labors, during the last ten years, of two companies containing thirty or forty of the best scholars in England and America."

For nearly twenty years, Thomson endeavored to achieve his goal for "truth with the utmost ingenuity." Charles Thompson utilized his superb scholarship and a penchant for accuracy to create a precise translation of the Old Testament.

In 1993, biblical scholar Dr. Bruce M. Metzger of Princeton Theological Seminary declared:

"When one considers the limited research tools that were available to Thomson, as well as the extent of the entire Bible, his diligence in producing a translation of the entire Bible is remarkable. Furthermore, his sensitivity to English style and such matters means that, on the whole, his rendering of the New Testament is, in some passages, superior to that of the King James version."

There were a thousand editons of Thompson's four-volume translation which were published in 1808. Very few of those original editions exist today. S.F. Pells reprinted the Old Testament in 1904 and again in 1907. In 1954, C. A. Muses made Thompson's Old Testament available by publishing a new edition. S.F. Pells reprinted the New Testament in 1927.

Here are two excerpts from the Thomson Bible

Genesis 1:1-2: 
In the beginning God made the heavens and the earth. And the earth was invisible and unfurnished and there was darkness over this abyss, and a breath of God was brought on above the water.

The 23rd Psalm: 
The Lord is my shepherd. I shall want nothing. In a verdant pasture he hath fixed my abode. He hath fed me by gently flowing water and restored my soul. He hath led me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. For though I walk amidst the shades of death: I will fear no ills, because thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff have been my comfort. Thou hast spread a table before me; in the presence of them who afflict me. With oil thou hast anointed my head; and thine exhilarating cup is the very best. Thy mercy will surely follow me all the days of my life; and my dwelling shall be in the house of the Lord to the length of days. 

Abridged from an essay by Dr. Catherine Millard.

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