Daniel Mace's New Testament

by Anthony Byatt

(The Bible Collector – April/June 1984)

The year 1729 saw a notable step forward in English Bible translation, but it was one that went largely unrecognized at the time. The diglot translation of the New Testament that appeared then was the work of Daniel Mace, a Presbyterian minister and textual critic, although it was published anonymously. Each of the two volumes had a revised Greek text on the left of the page based upon the work of Mills, and on the right was placed the English translation, which represented a complete break with tradition. It was often fresh and vigorous, and to the critics of the day alarmingly vivid. Today it would rank as a precursor of the “dynamic equivalent” Bible translations.

For many years the exact identity of the author was a matter of confusion between a William and a Daniel Mace, and even at one time a Dr. Macey, and this was reflected in many bibliographies. The revised Darlow and Moule Catalogue of the British and Foreign Bible Society collection by A. S. Herbert (1968) has been altered to Daniel Mace, from William in the original 1903 edition. Daniel Mace was born in Gloucestershire, probably at Ciren­cester, and became a Presbyterian minister, serving in Somerset, and then from 1727 in Newbury, Berkshire, where he produced his New Testament. He was acquainted with William Whiston, who also translated the New Testament and the works of Josephus, and with James Peirce, author of a paraphrase of some of the Pauline epistles. Little more is known about him; he died in 1753. The most devastating attack upon Mace’s translation came from Leonard Twells, vicar of St. Mary’s, Marlborough, Wiltshire, whose three part criticism was published in 1731-2 as A Critical Ex­amination of the Late New Text and Version of the New Testament. A firm advocate of the Received Text, he naturally spoke against all those changes which involved departures from it. The doxology to the Lord’s prayer was omitted “very wrongfully.” The omission of 1 John 5:7 was “the most egregious and shameful instance of partiality, that perhaps the World ever saw.” The translation was called foppish and affected, inconsistent and ab­surd, full of bombast expression and uncouth improper English. By today’s standards some passages were poorly translated, and some strange words and expressions appeared from time to time: “Be on your guard against snarlers” (Phil. 3:2); “Let us therefore re decamp, and bear the reproach of following his example” (Heb. 13:13); “There fell a great star from heaven, burning like a flambeau” (Rev. 8:10). It also seemed to be a deliberate attack on orthodox beliefs and teachings like the Trinity, and so designed “to render the Authority of this Holy Book doubtful, and the Book itself as contemptible and ridiculous…to the English Reader.” (Complete History of the Several Translations…J. Lewis, 1739 ed., p. 365)

In seeking a true evaluation of this work many more of its renderings must be considered. Some ring with clarity in even a twentieth-century setting. “But to what shall I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the markets and calling out to their fellows, ‘If we play a merry tune, you are not for dancing; if we act a mournful part, you are not in the humor’” (Matt. 11:16,17). “Men shall give an account at the day of judgment of every scandalous expression they utter” (Matt. 12:36). This brings out the pernicious and false nature of the expression, much better than “thoughtless word” (NEB), “careless thing” (TCNT), “useless expression” (Rotherham). “For he that makes use of what he has, shall have more; but if he makes no improvement thereof, it shall be taken from him” (Matt. 25:29). “In a word, we are looked upon as the dregs and scum of mankind, even to this day” (1 Cor. 4:13). “If you express yourselves in words of obscure significance, you may as well talk to the wind, for how shall any comprehend you” (1 Cor. 14:9,10). “The architect is of much greater dignity than the house he has made” (Heb. 3:3). “Now faith is the foundation of our hopes of happiness, and the persuasion we have about things not evident to our senses” (Heb. 11:1). These examples make one point clear immediately—this translation was generally rejected because it was far ahead of its time; Adam Fox reckoned by more than 150 years (Meet the Greek Testament, p. 34). Its tendency towards what we would today call an idiomatic translation made it obnoxious and libertine, and its bold phraseology only enhanced that opinion.

In another more important way Mace was ahead of his time. The greater accuracy of his work could not be recognized, except by the unbiased scholarly few. In Germany, J. C. Wolff almost immediately began to incorporate readings from Mace into his work of New Testament textual criticism, but for many years most critics continued to hold him in the greatest contempt. Even Scrivener, more than a century later, spoke of the work as “unworthy of serious notice” (A Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the N.T., Vol. 2, p. 210). Tregelles said of Mace that he “boldly and arbitrarily changed passages, with evidence or without it, in accordance with his own subjective notions” (Printed Text, p.65-66). An example of how careful one needs to be in making criticisms of a general nature like this is shown even by a more specific criticism in the otherwise reliable The Bible in Its Ancient and English Versions, (1954). Page 228 speaks of an “interesting double rendering of the nautical chapter, Acts 27, in plain English and in sea terms.” Regrettably it would appear that the author never actually looked at Mace’s translation, for there is only one rendering in plain English. The comparison in sea terms was introduced by Lewis (op. cit. p. 368-370) to show that Mace “only affected to translate in proper sea-terms.” However, nineteenth-century Greek scholars in general did begin to recognize the distinctive and excellent readings often found in Mace’s text. Amongst those commending it were Edward Reuss and C. R. Gregory, and since then most twentieth century critics have endorsed their view.

We can examine a few examples of this greater accuracy, rather than just a good turn of phrase. Taking Paul’s letter to the Romans we note the following: Romans 1:18: “Who wickedly suppress the truth.” The word means to hold down, to have and to hold in such a way as to check its free operation, and Mace anticipated both Hayman and Weymouth, who both use “suppress.” Romans 5:14: “Who had not sinned by violating a positive law.” Note how closely this anticipated the thought of NEB: “By disobeying a direct command.” Romans 5:20: “That the greatness of the fall might fully appear.” Many modern translations still fail to make sense of this passage, such as Moffatt, “to aggravate the trespass,” yet Mace 250 years ago saw the distinction that needed to be made in the difficult Greek conjunction, and showed the result rather than a purpose in the Law. Phillips gives it a modern dress in his “to point the vast extent of sin.” Romans 8:3: “God having sent his own Son.. .as a sacrifice for sin,” exactly anti­cipating both Weymouth and NEB in the last phrase. This should be clear to most modern translators, because the same Greek phrase is often found in the Septuagint for “sin-offering.” Our last example is perhaps the best, for it actually improves on most modern translations, and succeeds in using less words, a trait not very evident in the eighteenth-century: Romans 14:7: “We neither live, nor die, as if we were our own masters.” Without any question, Mace accomplished a generally fine piece of work for his period, marred just occasionally by paraphrase or the choice of a flamboyant word.

The translation was printed for James Roberts, Master of the Stationers’ Company from 1729-1731, and the engraved ornaments were designed by Francis Hoffmann, whose name appears in the device at the end of Mark, and his initials in many of the others. Typographically the Greek text is very clear and beautiful. The work runs to viii + 1,060 pages octavo, and is rare today.