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Ferrar Fenton Bible

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Ferrar Fenton Bible

The Holy Bible in Modern English, commonly known as the Ferrar Fenton Bible, was one of the earliest translations of the Bible into "modern English" (i.e., English as spoken and written in the 19th and 20th centuries).


Work on the translation was begun in 1853 by a London businessman named Ferrar Fenton (1832–1920). The complete Bible was first published in 1903, though parts were published as separate volumes during the preceding 11 years. Fenton spent approximately fifty years working on his translation, with his sole goal 'to study the Bible absolutely in its original languages, to ascertain what its writers actually said and thought'.[1]

Fenton had acquired a great learning and understanding of ancient Sanskrit, Greek, Hebrew and Latin through being a distinguished member of the Royal Asiatic Society.[2] As a tradesman he also had access to numerous ancient Septuagint and Masoretic manuscripts to aid in his translation, and he also used Brian Walton's Polygot Bible (1657) for minimal referencing.[3]


The translation is noted for a rearranging of the New Testament is based on the Greek text of Westcott and Hort and was approved by many professors and theologians (Fenton's translation, 9th edition, 1905, includes an added page listing these exact authorities).[4]

The ordering novelty in the New Testament is that it places the Gospel of John and the First Epistle of John at the beginning before the Gospel of Matthew, thus placing the Acts of the Apostles immediately after the Gospel of Luke. Fenton included an introductory note to explain this ordering which reads:

'(1) This Gospel is specially the Doctrinal Record of our Lord's life. The Great Teacher has here elaborated the thought and purpose of God concerning His plan of salvation by a Gift, and upon this basis have been formulated and propagated the doctrines of the Christian faith. The record should therefore precede the Historical Narratives.

(2) There is ample reason for believing that the Gospel of John was written at an earlier date than those of the other three Evangelists.'[5]

Notable as well, is Ferrar Fenton's restoration of the Psalms into the musical verse form as close to the original as he could get. The Psalms were, quite literally, songs, complete with instructions for the "choirmaster" as well as descriptions of the appropriate musical instruments to be used. Today Psalm 48, Psalm 137, and Psalm 23 are still sung in churches, albeit to tunes not the original.

Ferrar Fenton's Bible however is most well known for its translation of Jonah 2: 1 which translates the fish (or whale) as a nickname for a ship or man made sea vessel and not as a literal whale or sea-creature. Fenton also included a footnote explaining how he restored this passage to its correct meaning.[6]

Fenton also included footnotes at the bottom of many pages of his translation which aids the reader on linguistic or historical matters, as well as offering his personal opinion on certain topics. A lengthy note was added for example to the end of Genesis 11 which explains Fenton's own solution to the problem of the patriarchs great ages. Fenton wrote 'we may safely conclude that the patriarchs of such apparently incredible length of life were actually priest-chiefs of tribes, whose souls were believed to have passed from the first organizer of the tribe'.[7] Fenton therefore believed that the great longevity of the patriarchs can be explained if those names were tribal house or clan appellations.


At least 10 editions of Fenton's translation were published in his own lifetime. He also continued to add extra notes to these editions up to 1910. An abridged version was published in 1935 under the title The Command of the Ever-Living .. – London : Covenant Publishing Co, and reprinted in 1951.

Although Ferrar Fenton's translation never achieved great popularity and fell into obscurity, it remains in print today, now published by the small Destiny Publishers of Merrimac, Massachusetts, from whence it is also available to download as a separate PDF file for each book of the Bible.

British Israelism

Ferrar Fenton was himself a British Israelite and he dedicated his translation to 'all those nations who have sprung from the race of the British Isles'.[8] An explanatory note in the abridged version The Command of the Ever-Living quotes a letter Fenton wrote in 1910 saying how he believed that the Cymru (Welsh) language sprung from ancient Hebrew and that the British were descended from Shem.[9]

Some modern branches of British Israelism lean heavily on the Ferrar Fenton translation to support their theories.[10]

See also


  1. ^ Fenton, Ferrar, The Holy Bible in Modern English, London: Adam & Charles Black, 1952 (1903 reprint with introduction and critical notes from 1906; 1910), Introductory Note, p. vii.
  2. ^ Fenton, p. ix.
  3. ^ Fenton, Introductory Note, p. ix)
  4. ^ Fenton (added note from the Preface to the 9th edition, 1905), p. 1014.
  5. ^ Fenton, p. 1017
  6. ^ Fenton, p. 624.
  7. ^ Fenton, p. 11
  8. ^ Fenton, Preface, 1905, p. v.
  9. ^ The command of the Ever-Living .. – London : Covenant Publishing Co, 1951, p. ix.
  10. ^

External links

  • Ferrar Fenton Bible a.k.a. Destiny Publishers
  • PDF's of Ferrar Fenton Bible
  • Works by or about Ferrar Fenton Bible at Internet Archive
  • Ferrar Fenton Bible public domain audiobook at LibriVox
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