J N Darby – French Letter No. 147 – Translating Revelation

J N Darby
John Nelson Darby


Plymouth – 1st November 1845

To Mr B R

Beloved Brother

Just a few words. I do not reply to what you have said about the fourth class of the first resurrection. The thing interests me a lot, because it is found in so many passages and even, almost, in so many truths, that one ought to examine it in a rather close way to be able to form any judgment. As soon as I shall have been able to do so, I shall say something to you about it. It also links to some thoughts which I have on Revelation 14, but I so feel my ignorance on these points that it would be madness to say too much about it; it is true that this makes it all the more interesting to look into. I only believe that it is evil to rush to establish a system thereupon, because of the smallness of our minds, by virtue of the One for whom the system, or rather the revelation has gone out. We know in part; we accept (by faith) isolated truths. The linking of these truths comes from the activity of our mind. I do not say that the Holy Spirit does not help us – why would we doubt it? – but it is no longer a revelation properly speaking, and the sum is always incomplete, so that if we limit ourselves however it may be to this, other truths are excluded, lose their power, and the soul and fellowship with the brethren (who have perhaps understood other truths) suffer from it. As to the translation[1], I work remotely from most of my resources – books in fact, so that I present my notes as being able to serve for common usefulness, and, in this work, it is evidently a matter of recognising that. I acknowledge in this translation (the one which exists), a conscientious task, but careful examination which I have made has convinced me that it is sometimes a little less literal than I had [previously] thought. This is what I have done lately in a task which I undertook on the English New Testament: in the beginning, I had not thought of critical improvements of the received text. As I am travelling (for I worked on it only at moments of leisure), I have my Tischendorf as travel book. Now I have stopped for a short time: I have an edition with the text by Scholz in the margin, the received text, that of Griesbach, Scholz and Tischendorf[2]. If there is agreement between them, and the witnesses show in the true text in an unequivocal manner, I accept it. If there is a variance of some importance, depending on a good number of witnesses, I put in the margin, ‘several’, or ‘some’ read this or that thing. I do not touch the question when this becomes a critical affair, because it is a question of a translation and not of a critical edition. If all those who have examined the text are agreed, it is a folly to give a bad reading. In the case where there is a large number of authorities for a thing, I can tell historically that this fact exists, but I do not enter critical domain as such. I use it, but I do not initiate it; it is not my work there.

Tomorrow, I shall send, I think, notes on Matthew; the others will follow shortly, with God’s help. The comments on epistles will be very important otherwise. I have followed the way of the translations in my notes.

As to the passage in Revelation 5: 9, 10, the text is indeed confused, such that one must not insist much doctrinally on that which is variant in this passage. Scholz reads: (ἡμῶν – hemon) we in v 9. Griesbach also; the only old manuscript of the Revelation rejects it. At verse 10, Scholz and Griesbach read τῷ θεἡμῶν βασιλείαν (tō theō ēmōn basileian)[3] (“thou hast made them kings, etc”) with the great majority of witnesses. Scholz and Griesbach retain βασιλείαν (“kings”). A Copt, Vulg are the authorities for βασιλεία – basileia (“kingdom”). There are almost as many witnesses, more even, for “they will reign”, than for “they reign”, but the only old manuscript cited favours the last reading …

There remains a question about the four living creatures, which you have not yet raised. Are they the symbols of a certain character of power, which we find manifested in the service of certain beings which are not necessarily always the same? Is it a seraph? It is only found in Isaiah 6, save the brazen serpent. I doubt a bit your teaching on the priesthood. It has to be shown first that there was one which was not of the character of that of Melchisedec. “They shall reign over the earth” does not signify the seat of sovereignty but its object.

I have been interrupted and I stop. Peace be with you, dear brother. May God deign to keep the brethren in simplicity and humility, and may their hearts be united. May He make them prosper under the breath of His Spirit. Greet our dear friends very affectionately on my behalf. May the presence of God in Spirit be in the midst of you all; there is our joy. The only thing which gives me sorrow in Herzog’s pamphlet[4] is that it is a brother; apart from that, it is only not to be taken account of.

Yours very affectionately


[1] The 2nd edition of the Bible translated at Lausanne. Motivated by the conviction that the Scriptures communicate the very mind of God, a group of Piétistes Protestants set to work in Lausanne on a tranaslation under the direction of Louis Gaussen, and then Louis Burnier. The New Testament appeared initially in 1839, then the Psalms in 1854 and the remainder of the Old Testment between 1861 and 1872. This Bible of Lausanne did not have a wide readership itself, but provided a foundation for a later Bible, the Louis Ségond Bible, which became a classic version. This Lausanne Bible was not a revision, but a scholarly concordant Bible, not really fit for wide use.

[2] In the revised Preface to second edition of the New Testament (1871), JND says – ‘In my first edition my translation was formed on the concurrent voice of Griesbach, Lachmann, Scholz, and Tischendorf: the first of soberer judgment and critical acumen and discernment; the next with a narrower system of taking only the very earliest MSS, so that sometimes he might have only one or two; the third excessively carelessly printed, but taking the mass of Constantinopolitan MSS as a rule’

[3] These Greek insertions have been inferred and need to be checked – see note to Letter No 143

[4] Editor’s note:- ‘a pamphlet hostile of the writer of the letter’. Professor J J Herzog of Lausanne wrote – ‘The Plymouth Brethren or Darby and his followers in the canton of Vaud, its relationship to the dissident’s municipalities and to the national church’, published in the Protestant Church Newspaper in 1844


Letter originally written in French, translated by Sosthenes, 2013

Click here for original – If you have any comments on the translation, feel free to let me know.


Author: Sosthenes

Once the ruler of the synagogue at Corinth Then a co-writer of a letter by Paul - just a brother - no longer an official Now a blogger seeking to serve the Lord by posting some words that the Lord has given His Church.

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