Why should anyone make a new English translation of the Old Testament? With the Authorized Version of King James and the British and American revisions, to say nothing of unofficial renderings, have we not enough? This question may quite fairly be asked. The only possible basis for a satisfactory answer must be either in a better knowledge of Hebrew than was possible at the time when the earlier translations were made, or in a fuller appreciation of fundamental textual problems, or in a clearer recognition of poetic structures, or in such a change in our own language as would render the language of the older translations more or less unintelligible to the average man of our day. As a matter of fact, our answer is to be found in all of these areas.
The most urgent demand for a new translation comes from the field of Hebrew scholarship. The control of the Hebrew vocabulary and syntax available to the scholar of today is vastly greater than that at the command of the translators of the Authorized Version or of its revisers. This is due partly to the greater degree of scientific methodology now practiced in the study of language in general and of Hebrew in particular, and partly to the contributions made to our knowledge of Hebrew by the decipherment of the hieroglyphic and cuneiform writings. The first requirement of a translation is that it should reproduce as fully and accurately as possible the meaning of the original documents. To this end the translators should know the language of the original as well as it can be known.
Modern studies of textual problems reinforce the need for a new rendering. These have brought out more and more clearly the uncertain state of the Hebrew text and have perfected the technique of critical method. The science of textual criticism has made great progress in recent years, and no translation of the Old Testament can afford to ignore its results. Our guiding principle has been that the official Massoretic text must be adhered to as long as it made satisfactory sense. We have not tried to create a new text; but rather to translate the received text wherever translation was possible. Where departure from this text was imperative we have sought a substitute for it along generally approved lines, depending primarily upon the collateral versions, having recourse to scientific conjecture only when the versions failed to afford adequate help. If the number of such passages seems to him unduly large, he should bear in mind certain facts. The oldest known Hebrew manuscript of the Old Testament dates from the ninth century A.D. This means that at least eighteen centuries elapsed between the earliest Hebrew written documents and our oldest manuscript; and that between the latest Hebrew document now found in the Old Testament and our oldest manuscript there was a lapse of approximately eleven centuries. Moreover, the original Hebrew text included only the consonants. The vowels were not added until about the seventh century AM.