Steven Tracy Byington (birthname Stephen) (December 10, 1869 – October 12, 1957) was a noted intellectual, translator, and American individualist anarchist. He was born in Westford, Vermont, and later moved to Ballardvale section of Andover, Massachusetts. A one-time proponent of Georgism, he converted to individualist anarchism after associating with Benjamin Tucker. He was a firm believer in the promotion of individualist anarchism through education. He said “Anarchism has undertaken to change men’s minds in one point by removing their faith in force” (Quasi-Invasion and the Boycott in Liberty, X, 2). He began a “Letter Writing Corps” in 1894 which targeted specific individuals, including newspapers, to familiarize others with the philosophical doctrine. He is known for translating two important anarchist works into English from German: Max Stirner’s The Ego and Its Own and Paul Eltzbacher’s Anarchism; exponents of the anarchist philosophy (also published by Dover with the title The Great Anarchists: Ideas and Teachings of Seven Major Thinkers).
Byington was a cum laude graduate of the University of Vermont in 1891 and a member of the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa. He was considered a master of at least twelve languages, including classical languages. Paul specifically mentions his “some ability” in Arabic and Zulu, plus European languages. His writings included observations on new forms and changed usage of English words, publishing 25 articles in the journal American Speech from 1926-1946. However, he had a “handicap of speech” which made preaching difficult so despite his seminary training, he spent many years working as a proofreader.
Over the course of sixty years he translated the Bible from original texts and entitled it The Bible in Living English. It was published posthumously in 1972 in New York by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. He published a review of the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures, the English translation usually associated with Jehovah’s Witnesses, in The Christian Century magazine, November 1, 1950, in which he indicated the translation was “well supplied with faults and merits.”
Steven T. Byington
From the Andover Historical Society Newsletter, Spring 1988
Steven T. Byington, a tall man with a flowing beard, was a scholar who was also a translator and proofreader for Ginn and Company, a Boston publisher, for thirty-eight years. He was born in Westford, Vermont on December 10, 1869 the son of the Rev. and Mrs. George Phelps Byington.
In 1891 he graduated from the University of Vermont where he studied many languages. At the age of thirteen he had decided to translate the Bible into modern English so he attended Union Theological School for further study of Biblical languages. Speaking or reading twelve languages fluently, he studied Zulu and Arabic “for pleasure.” About 1898 he began translating in earnest. This took almost sixty years to complete with most of the work being done on the train commuting to Boston.
He held various church offices, serving as clerk of the Ballard Vale Congregational Church for thirty-two years. He would bring his Bible translations to the Bible Class so the members could read and comment on them.
He was well-known as the “Sage of Ballard Vale” to the many readers of the Boston Globe column “What People Talk About,” for he had contributed many letters. He covered various subjects from Social Security, Russia, legal rights to why an ostrich hides its head in the sand.
Mr. Byington climbed mountains for a hobby. In August 1954 he made his annual trip to Mt. Mansfield in Vermont with the Rev. Phillip Kelsey, a former pastor of the Ballard Vale Congregational Church, who said he “set a steady pace.” They took the Cliff Trail – quite a feat at the age of eighty-five.
Steven never married. He lived for many years with his mother and his sister, Martha, Ballard Vale librarian, in the stone house on High Street. The rooms were lined with shelves of books of many languages and games to entertain the children whom they loved to have visit them.
Mr. Byington died on October 12, 1957, his life’s work “The Bible in Living English” completed but not yet published. After his death the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania turned over the publication rights to the same society of New York for a first printing of 100,000 copies made in 1972.
Steven Byington wrote The Story of the Union Congregational Church. While reading it you will see that nothing ever changes where people and their feelings are involved.
From the Watchtowers bio of Steven Tracey Byington, in the 1972 Byingtons Bible page 1597:
The translator of this version of the Holy Scriptures, Steven T. Byington, was born in 1868. When less than thirteen years of age, he made it his goal to translate the Bible into Modern English. To this end, Steven Byington directed his education to fit him for the work of Bible translating.
This is what was published in the January 15, 1958, issue of The Christian Century. p. 81 by Philip M. Kelsey
The Sage of Ballard Vale
Steven Byington was born in a Vermont parsonage 88 years ago. Early in life he revealed a very unusual mind and, as frequently happened with such children, his parents steered him toward the ministry. He graduated from Union Theological Seminary and academically would seem to have been destined for greatness. However, he had a speech impediment which he was not able to overcome and shortly had to resign the only pastorate he ever held.
Watchtower says: in 1906 he came into a position that enabled him to spend about 45 minutes a day, six days a week, in actual translating.
Philip M. Kelsey says: During the years he was working on the Bible, he would daily board the commuter train to Boston with satchel and typewriter and work as he rode. Conspicuous as he was with these impedimenta plus the flourishing beard he always wore, he aroused the curiosity of many of his fellow riders.
Watchtower says: He also appreciated the importance of incorporating the divine name Jehovah in his work, especially since its omission from other translations definitely obscured certain texts. Regarding his use of the name Jehovah, he said: I see that the Hebrew is using a personal name, and the ruling principle of my translation is to make the English say just what the Hebrew said, in just the way in which the Hebrew said it, as exactly as English can be made to do it.
Steven Byington says in his Translators Preface in Watchtowers edition (The exact same book, page 7): As to the Old Testament name of God, certainly the spelling and pronounciation Jehovah were originally a blunder.What is highly important is to keep it clear that this is a personal name. There are several texts that cannot be properly understood if we translate this name by a common noun like Lord, or much worse, by a substantivized adjective.
Steven Byington is quoted in “The Christian Century”, November 1, 1950 regarding Watchtowers New World Translation: (His translation was completed in approximately 1943) The specialty which the book itself most emphasizes is the use of the name Jehovah instead of “the lord” in 237 places, besides 72 more in the margin. Fifteen pages of the preface present the arguments to justify this. I think the justification insufficient.
And in 1953 he said: But I did object that the New World Translation, usually following dictionaries (which, as I remarked, are not inspired), sometimes gives a false “special sense” and sometimes gives a false emphasis, which to my mind is as much a mistranslation as any other falsity.’The Lord’ and ‘Jehovah’ This is the same principle that requires keeping the proper name in translating the Old Testament. I understand that among the Old Testament Revision Committee there is afloat a theory that their version will be more acceptable to the public by saying “the Lord.” The theory is erroneous. For there are on the American market two standard revised versions of the complete Bible, one published by Nelson with the name “Jehovah” and one published by the Oxford University Press with “the Lord”; and the one that everybody buys is the one from Nelson.
Watchtower says in the Byington: After his death in 1957 The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania recieved the publication rights for the entire work. The translation was turned over to the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York for publication.
In the 1993 Proclaimers of Gods Kingdom, Watchtower says: .”The Watch Tower Society came into possession of his unpublished manuscript in 1951 and acquired the sole right of publication in 1961. That complete translation was printed in 1972. Down till 1992, there had been 262,573 produced.”
For what it may be worth, Raymond Franz, former Jehovahs Witness, in his book Crises of Conscience, on page 73 of the 1999 third edition, in reference to the NWT, quotes, in turn, Marley Coles book Jehovahs Witnesses-the New World Society, and goes on to say: The Watchtower of September 15, 1959, pages 315 and 316, is then quoted. It reveals that the Directors of the Board were first informed by the president of the existence of the New World Translation (probably one of the biggest projects ever engaged in by the organization) only after the translation of the Greek Scripture portion had already been completed and was ready for printing.”
Raymond Franz also in CofC on page 54 of the same edition states regarding the NWT: The New World Translation bears no translators name and is presented as the anonymous work of the New World Translation Committee. Other members of that committee were Nathan Knorr, Albert Schroeder, and George Gangas. Fred Franz, however, was the only one with sufficient knowledge of the bible languages to attempt translation of this kind. He had studied Greek for two years at the University of Cincinnati but was only self-taught in Hebrew. And also: Since he had been the principal translator of the Societys new World Tranlation I felt he must surely have at least been apprised of the true sense of the word porneia (fornication)
But here is something interesting that caught Steven Byingtons eye and he comments: The other is that King James’ committee in their black-letter edition put words that are “not in the original” in smaller roman type, not very black, with a note in their preface explaining the purpose. Subsequent printers, often having available no distinctive type except italics, have put such words into italics, with the result that today the usual reader takes them to be emphasized words, commonly misemphasized. My father’s stock example of the consequence was 1 Kings 13:27. The New World Translation capitals, I charge, combine these two old-time failures.
Put another way, if someone were to assert that the NWT translation committee did not actually translate, but simply copied the words from another uncopyrighted Biblical text (including the mistakes not only of the previous original ancient authors, the previous translators and the previous PRINTERS), leaving what suited them and changing what didnt, Steven Byingtons insight can lend weight to that assertion. And as he pointed out in “The Christian Century”, October 7, 1953, pages 1133 1134): Obviously this sort of translation leaves a great deal to the personal judgment of the translator, while it puts no trust in the personal judgment of the reader. This work is not really translation, making the text say to the English reader just what it had said to the Hebrew reader, but a concise running commentary The committee is substituting itself for the author.
I found it interesting that Watchtower quoted Steven Byington just a few times in its literature from 1952 to 1962; and that once Watchtower acquired the Byington Bible it was rarely again mentioned in Watchtower literature except in its 1993 history book, and certainly rarely quoted from again, and in addition, Steven Byingtons criticism of the NWT hasn’t appeared in print after 1958, at least not the result of Byingtons heirs/estate.
Put another way, after acquiring (the word purchase hasnt been used) the rights to this Biblical work, a staunch critic of the NWT has effectively been silenced, and Watchtower, if it is so inclined, can make Byington appear to say whatever Watchtower wants to make him appear to say.
But, one may ask, the Watchtower acquired a translation of the Bible and was willing to print and market it while no one else was willing to. Isnt this a wonderful thing?
Well, what exactly did happen? After some scathing criticism, Watchtower did acquire and print and distribute the Byington Bible. A mere 300,000 or less copies over a period of twenty years. Compared to millions of members of the organization, that is a paltry number. What Watchtower REALLY could do, if it was so inclined, was make sure, at whatever the cost, that the Byington Bible NEVER saw the light of proverbial day—tens of thousands, if not more, people might never lay their hands on a Byington Bible, not in any language because they simply dont exist. How many modern-day biblical translations are there with so few copies in existance, let alone copies available? It does not appear to me there are enough editions available to stock public libraries adequately.
In his book, 30 years a Watchtower Slave, William Schnell, in his 1957 edition, states on page 99: Such books as Light I and 11 (192 describing Revelation with the new Watch Tower slant, and Vindication 1, 11 and III and Religion, assailed every concept ever taught in Christianity and attacked practically every practice civilized men of the past 2,000 years have painstakingly evolved.
Well, that was in the late 1930s; the best was yet to come. With the release of the Watchtowers NWT in the 1950s/1960s, came more conflicts with societal gains especially where the welfare and status of women were concerned. While Watchtower claims, and to the casual observer this appears believable, to be invested in the Byington translation because of its agreement (in part) regarding the name Jehovah in reality and upon closer inspection, it is the differences between the translations that are capable of garnering undivided attention.