Saturday, 5 April 2014

Misinformation about the work of John Nelson Darby

As well as publishing writings on every aspect of Christian doctrine and practice, J.N.Darby also translated the Holy Scriptures into German, French and English, taking advantage of the great New Testament manuscripts that had come to light since the days of the Authorised Version, and the various critical editions that had been published.

page 3 “Faith That Serves” - PBCC publication 2013

Attributing the Bible translations to J N Darby alone is misleading because he worked with others in the German and French translations and the unfinished English Old Testament was completed by others after J N D’s death. 

From Pau, in France, J N Darby wrote in 1879: “I am engaged in translating the Old Testament into French: we are towards the end, but it will have to be revised. It has been a laborious work, and it is not the way of reading scripture that nourishes; still it instructs, and makes one's knowledge of it accurate in detail.”


  1. The English translation attributed to J. N. Darby was valuable when it was first published, but it is now obsolete. Since his time, many more ancient manuscripts have been discovered, and the deciphering of ancient languages related to Hebrew has shed floods of light on the meaning of obscure Hebrew words that Darby could only guess at. Besides, a great many scholarly studies of textual and higher critics have contributed to a much better understanding of the Biblical books. As a result we now have several translations much more accurate than Darby’s.

    The archaic language of Darby’s bible is also a big disadvantage. It makes it less accessible to the modern reader, obscures some of the meaning, and is particularly inappropriate when you consider that the New Testament was written not in formal, literary, classical or archaic Greek, but in plain, ordinary, everyday Koine, the language of the street.

    One of the best modern translations is the New Revised Standard Version, which has received the widest acclaim and broadest support from academics and church leaders of any modern English translation. It is reckoned to be about the most accurate available. Also worthy of consideration is the New International Version, which is not quite so accurate in places, but has achieved a commendable beauty and dignity of linguistic style, which is important when being read aloud in public.

    If the Brethren want to perform a useful service by donating bibles to prisons, they would do much better to distribute copies of one of these translations instead of the Darby version.

  2. It's interesting that my 2000 edition of this Bible, published by the Bible and Gospel Trust, has a title page which says, "The Holy Scriptures - A New Translation from the Original Languages by J N Darby"; whereas the 1923 edition, published by G Morrish of Paternoster Square, omitted J N Darby's name and had a different title page - "The Holy Bible containing the Old and New Testaments Translated from the Original Texts".

    Whole Bible Translations are usually done by committees, and though the names of the scholars involved aren't printed on the title page they can easily be obtained. It would be good if the PBCC could find somewhere to credit William Lowe, Monsieur Schlumberger and the others who worked with John Darby on the French version, and Julius Anton von Poseck, Carl Brockhaus and Hermanus Cornelis Voorhoeve who worked on the German version.

    J N Darby was not a Hebraist - in 1867, he described Hebrew points and their changes as "not exactly my line of things", and right at the end of his life in 1881 he commented about other Greek scholars that they were "much better Hellenists than myself".

    He also needed a lot of help with C19 German and French. One commentator wrote about the French version, "Dans la préparation de sa version, M. Darby a eu pour collaborateur M. Schlumberger, de Mulhouse, ce qui explique la supériorité du style sur celui des écrits de M. Darby lui-même."

    1. Yes Joan, my 1961 edition also makes no mention of Darby on the title page, similar to the old Morrish edition. Darby would have been most upset to have his name published as is now done.

      The various introductions and extracts of my 1961 make numerous references to Darby's writings and comments without acknowledging any others such as Tregelles, Brockhaus, Von Poseck etc.

      In one of his letters he wrote to a person who had extolled Darby by name in one of this person's tracts or publications. Darby was upset, and strongly requested that the reference to him be removed on further issues.

  3. Some readers may be interested in the fine oil portrait of the 46 year old Pierre Schlumberger (1818-1889) by Gustave Ricard (1823-73) which is now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Pau, France. Google to find it.

    M and Mme Schlumberger were much appreciated by J N Darby for their hospitality in Pau over many years. In a final letter to Pierre as he was dying, John Darby expressed his appreciation to Madame Schlumberger. (Originally, Pierre Schlumberger was from Alsace, but he had moved south for reasons of health.)

    Please note: In my posting above I should have named E L Bevir as one of J N Darby's translating colleagues in France, alongside Messrs Lowe and Schlumberger.

    1. Dear Joan

      For further details about Pierre Schlumberger, see "Mes Souvenirs" (1844-1928), of Gustave Schlumberger,

      Yours faithfully,

      Dr. B. THIERRY, Strasbourg, France

  4. This is all very interesting - I had no idea. I seem to learn something new every week. Thank you Ian and Joan. I agree Joan that the other translators should be credited and not just JND. Am I right in thinking that the other translators were not brethren?

    1. Jill - former and current Brethren will know better than I do, but I think that the men who helped John Darby with the German and French Bible translations were happy to collaborate with him when they were young adults. In time, some moved away from active involvement with him and his group of Exclusive Brethren.

      I don't think it's unfair to say that J N Darby was most at home when he was teaching and leading small groups of young men in Switzerland, Germany and France. If you read the Wikipedia article on the Darby Bible, you will find the birth dates of some of his fellow translators, and they are all considerably younger than him. He would, if you like, have been the 'chairman' of the Bible translations' 'committees', and there is documentary evidence that he very much appreciated the help of these colleagues. He admitted several times that he found translating the Bible extremely arduous. He said he would far rather be engaged in other ministry.

      BTW - I always like the fact that William Kelly, John Darby's younger British colleague (also a Bible translator in his own right), was able to use the linguistic expertise of his second wife to help him translate the ancient languages. I believe it was William Kelly who prepared the final version of J N Darby's English Old Testament after Darby had died. He, of course, had also left the Darbyite group of Exclusive Brethren by then.