Andrew Downes was born in 1549 in Shropshire of unknown parentage. He was educated at Shrewsbury School under its first headmaster, Thomas Ashton. He won a scholarship in his late teens to St John's College, Cambridge in 1567. He graduated after three years and became a fellow there. With the passing of almost a decade (during which time he was made a deacon) he became a senior fellow of St John's in 1580, and after another two years studying Divinity he too a BD. Another three years passed and in 1585, he was appointed to Regius Professor of Greek of Cambridge University, a post which he held for nearly forty years. Downes married Anna Delves, at Great St Mary's, Cambridge in 1608.
Personality and character
The most vivid account of Downes is to be found in the diary of Simonds D'Ewes. He says Downes was accounted "the ablest Grecian of Christendom." D’Ewes attended several of his lectures on the orator Demosthenes in 1619. He wrote:
When I came to his house near the public Schools, he sent for me up into a chamber, where I found him sitting in a chair with his legs upon a table that stood by him. He neither stirred his hat nor body, but only took me by the hand, and instantly fell into discourse (after a word or two of course had passed between us) touching matters of learning and criticism. He was of personage big and tall, long-faced and ruddy-coloured, and his eyes very lively, although I took him to be at that time at least seventy years old. (Autobiography, 139) (1)
He was a man ‘of an extraordinary tallness, with a long face and a ruddy complexion and a very quick eye,’ who treated his students kindly, but could also turn irascible, stalking out of church one day in Cambridge when the students jeered at him for the inadequacy of his sermon. ;He left saying no one should see his face in the place again.’(2)Downes was one of the few translators to receive cash payment for his work (others were rewarded with clerical posts afterwards). The King sent him 50 pounds in 1609 after half his work was done. Downes complained from Cambridge that further work with the final revision team, meeting in London, incurred an expense which deserved special treatment. Was this being greedy (as Nicolson seems to suggest), or did Bois rest on the Pauline injunction, “A labourer is worthy of his hire”?
Andrew Downes was one of the few translators to fall out with a colleague in the translation process. He became jealous of his star pupil John Bois. This occurred because the latter’s advice was preferred to his, when both were employed to review, evaluate and comment on Sir Henry Savile’s Complete works of Chrysostom. The angst this caused left Bois and Downes unreconciled to their dying day, even though Bois was content to keep praising his erstwhile teacher.
Translating the Bible
Downes was appointed one of the translators of the ‘Authorized Version’ in 1605 and assigned to the company, along with Bois, who were given the Apocrypha to translate. Both also served as members of the company for the review of the whole work.
Says McClure about this appointment:
He is especially named by the renowned John Selden as eminently qualified to share in the translation of the Bible. Thus it is the happiness of Dr. Downes to be “praised by a praised man;” for no man was ever more exalted for learning and critical scholarship than Selden, who was styled by Dr. Johnson, “monarch in letters;” and by Milton, “chief of learned men in England;” and by foreigners, “the great dictator of learning of the English nation.”John Selden wrote in his Table Talk:
The translation in King James’ time took an excellent way. That part of the Bible was given to him who was most excellent in such a tongue (as the Apocrypha to Andrew Downes) and then they met together, and one read that translation, the rest holding in their hands some Bible, either of the learned tongues, or French, Italian, Spanish &c. If they found any fault, they spoke; if not, he read on.(3)
Textual resources depended on Theodore Beza’s 1598 edition of the Greek New Testament. Beza was chiefly indebted to the Greek edition of Robert Estienne (1550), itself being based largely on one of the later editions of Erasmus. Beza’s edition was compared with other Polyglot Bibles (the Complutensian and Andwerp) which were placed alongside the Hebrew and the Greek and the various ancient Versions. The Latin Vulgate was an important resource, though no longer seen as standard.
Then there were the countless comments by the early church fathers and ancient scholars, which showed how they read the Text, sometimes as early as the second century (Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Justin). These readings of the fathers (like Chrysostom) strongly supported the traditional text, as reflected in Beza’s Greek Text. Most scholars today accept Hort’s basic analysis of the Greek Text (which ‘analysis’ is a theoretical statement, not based on clear empirical evidence) and so they assume copies of the Fathers were corrupted over the centuries. Scholars like Downes and Bois would not have dared to assume manuscript copies of the ‘fathers’ had been corrupted, unless there was clear evidence for it. A rejection of Hort’s theories reopens the door to believing the Traditional Text (Beza), which the reformers worked with, was providentially preserved by God in detail - just as the divine Originals are trusted by a conservative evangelical when he reads the English text. At the critical moment of transition when the Greek New Testament was transferred from multiple copies to a single printed Text, God would not have abandoned his providential preservation of every word which He breathed out. This was the truth which Dean Burgon held with passionate conviction, and drove him to oppose the Greek Text introduced by Bishop Westcott and Prof. Hort. The latter ignored the brief impliedly given to them, to make only minor improvements to the wording and style of the KJV. Instead, they undermined the credibility of the printed Greek Text, and persuaded their colleagues (ERV Revision, 1881) to treat the words of the Bible as they did every other ancient Text, that is, subject to the same ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.’
The final revision
Bois and Downes were colleagues working on the final revision of King James‘ Bible. They met in Stationer’s Hall, London for nine months, and John Bois kept detailed daily notes of all discussion between the revisers. Andrew Downes’ textual opinions appear strongly in the Notes of Bois. These notes evaluated the readings recommended by the scholars at Oxford, Cambridge and Westminster, comparing them with the Bible already translated into English and Latin as well as with the original Hebrew and Greek.
Thus as the six men worked . . . around a table piled with papers and books, we can . . hear Downes --“our most subtle thinker in words” Bois called him--compare one Greek reading with another. . . . Bois notes . . for the debatable passages present a number of alternate readings . . searching for the right word or combination of words to express an idea, and even deciding which idea to adopt, among the possibilities suggested by the different translations or inherent in the grammatical structure of the ancient texts . . . The Bois notes show how careful the translators were, first of all, to determine the exact meanings or establish a permissible range of meanings (3)
His literary output
Downes published little, but what there is suggests he was passionate about the Greek orators. The first Greek volume of Plato printed at Cambridge was Plato's Menexenus, 1587. It was "set as a teaching text... [and] was almost certainly printed as part of the curriculum established by Andrew Downes." He edited Lysias' Pro caede Eratosthenis (1593); Praelectiones in Philippicam de pace Demosthenis (1621), dedicated to James I of England. He also wrote some letters (in Greek) to Isaac Casaubon, and added notes to John Chrysostom, in Sir Henry Savile's edition. His letters to Isaac Casaubon, and others witnessed to his fluency in Greek.
Downes died at Coton, near Cambridge. Having reluctantly resigned his chair in 1625 after almost forty years' tenure, he died three years later on 2 February 1628, and was buried there on 5 February.
(1) Elisabeth Leedham-Green and N. G. Wilson .(2004) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
(2) Nicolson, Adam. (2003) Power and glory: Jacobean England and the making of the King James Bible, Lon: Harper. pp. 199.
(3) Payne, Gustavus, 1959/1977)The men behind the King James version, MI: Bakerp. 76-77, 115