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Tuesday, 11 January 2011

John Bois – Boy genius!

John Bois was the son of a Suffolk clergyman, William, who was exceptional for being equally learn-ed in Hebrew and Greek. William had lost several children, and was determined to pour his knowledge into his son from the beginning. “He taught John so well that he had read the whole Bible through, surely at his mother’s knee, by the time he was five. .”(1) Says, Alex McClure,“By the time he was six years old, he not only wrote Hebrew legibly, but in a fair and elegant character. Some of these remarkable manuscripts are still carefully preserved.” Such a high-pressured, intellectual upbringing made him ready for University (Cambridge) by the time he was 14! He at once made himself at home by writing letters in accomplished Greek to the Master of his College (St. John’s), and to the “fellows” who taught there. Most of us, who have studied some Greek have trouble even reading it, let alone writing letters in it. His Greek professor was another highly accomplished translator of the KJV. “Andrew Downes’ eyes sparkled at the arrival of such a boy. Bois already knew more Greek than any other scholar in the college. And Downes clearly loved and nurtured him.” (1)

McClure tells us more: “In addition to his lectures, which Dr. Downes read five times in the week, he took the youth to his chambers, where he plied him exceedingly. He there read with him twelve Greek authors, in verse and prose, the hardest that could be found, both for dialect and phrase. It was a common practice with the young enthusiast to go to the University Library at four o’clock in the morning, and stay without intermission till eight in the evening.” Which of our contemporary translators were studying in Greek the works of Hesiod, Homer, Plato, Aristotle and St. Paul by the time they were 16? When a boy starts reading ‘in the dark’ at four in the morning, and skips his meals for the sake of sixteen hours of intense language study, this shows a voracious appetite for exact scholarship.

In the interests of exact grammar, he had read through sixty grammars (2). John Bois became chief lecturer in his college for ten years and expected his fellow teachers to attend his own Greek lecture every week in his rooms, usually at four in the morning, with the men sitting round the candlelight!

John Bois was chosen to translate the Greek Apocrypha in one of the two Cambridge groups of translators. [See “Translating and Revising” for the value of the Apocrypha.] Bois also came to the rescue of the first Cambridge group who were working on the Hebrew Old Testament, when its chairman (Edward Lively) prematurely died. After several years work, the time came for all the newly translated books to be revised. Bois was chosen as the chairman of this group of six to twelve men from the six companies. He left us some valuable notes in Latin. They give us valuable insight into how they did their work, what detailed discussions they had when deciding between different renderings of a word, phrase or sentence. MAV gives several specific examples from these notes as to how they made their textual choices. Nicolson asks, “Was the conversation in the general meeting also in Latin, the lingua franca of international scholarship, in which these men had been steeped for decades? The atmosphere of Bois’ notes at least seems to hint at that. There are long disquisitions in Latin peppered with Greek words and phrases.”(3)

Bois notes show the translators knew Greek so well that they realised interpretation of the Text should be kept to an absolute minimum, if they were to do justice to the New Testament writers. This meant deliberate ambiguity in many places. It is safe to say they considered more options on the meanings of words and sentences than our contemporary translators do today, because their knowledge of the language was so much greater. Whereas the opposite is often assumed. An example of this is the way they translated 2 Cor. 2:17. James White, who is no apologist for the KJV, says for example: “If the KJV translators were alive today they would gladly admit that peddle is a better translation than corrupt, and would adopt it themselves.” (4) Bois notes’ show James White made a serious misjudgement of their linguistic skill in saying this. See the proof in “Knowledge of Greek

But there was more to Bois than what some like to refer to as “mere scholarship.” He was evidently a godly and obedient man, though not without flaws and faults, like us all. To the poor he was charitable, to the unlettered in church he was a model of simplicity when teaching God’s Word. He made time in his marriage for good conversation. He prayed with [his seven children] every day, kneeling with them on the bare bricks of the . . . parsonage floor.”(3) One example of his genuineness is shown in the conflict he got into with another translator, Sir Henry Savile. Savile looked to Andrew Downes and Bois for help with his mammoth eight-volumed edition, which translated all the works of the Greek writer St. Chrysostom. But in the process of referral, Savile seemed to give greater credit to Bois, because the author asked him to check the notes of his master Downes. It seems the latter’s jealousy causes a permanent estrangement with Bois. Whereas, Bois - who was all for the peaceful middle way - went on praising his former teacher. In so doing he illustrated the import of his own notes, which recorded the group discussion of Romans 12:10: “In honour preferring one another,” Bois explains this as, “let each one of you strive to prevail in giving honour to another.” See also the final paragraph under Knowledge of Greek for illumination on 1 Peter 5:5 in a similar vein

“Bois, with his finicky precision, the awe-inspiring hours he devoted to his work, his monk-like removal from the world, was as great a scholar as England could provide.” (3) MacClure tells us he had memorised the Greek New Testament by heart!! “He was so familiar with the Greek Testament, that he could, at any time, turn to any word that it contained. . . . . He expired, on the Lord’s Day, January 14th, 1643, in the eighty-fourth year of his age. “He went unto his rest on the day of rest; a man of peace, to the God of peace.”

(1) Nicolson, Adam. (2003) Power and glory: Jacobean England and the making of the King James Bible, Lon: Harper. p. 203 - 204.
(2) Paine, Gustavus S. (1959/1977) The men behind the King James Version, MI: Baker, p. 67.
(3) Nicolson, pp. 207, 208, 210.
(4) White, James R. (1995/2009) The King James Only Controversy, MI: Bethany House, p. 158.

PS. This is 2/52 in centennial celebration. Previous Next Index

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