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COLLECTION Identifier: bMS 672

Thayer, Joseph Henry, 1828-1901. Papers,

Joseph Henry Thayer was Bussey Professor of New Testament Criticism and Interpretation at Harvard Divinity School. The collection consists primarily of documents related to Thayer's work on the New Testament Company of the American Bible Revision Committee.


  • 1872-1901.


7 boxes

The papers contained in this collection relate to Thayer's work on the New Testament Company of the American Revision Committee as detailed above. The collection begins with Thayer's detailed textual analysis of Matthew's gospel (9 folders). After these folders, the collection continues with study sheets which the American New Testament Company used in the process of revision. As the English New Testament Company progressed in their revision of the text, they sent copies of suggested changes and revised texts to the American scholars for review. Many of these papers are included here, along with handwritten notes (usually marginal notes) written by Thayer. Also included in the collection are copies of the revision suggestions made by the American New Testament Company, again with notes and comments. These lists, study sheets, and drafts of revised texts are grouped according to biblical book, beginning with Matthew and ending with Revelation. Following these folders are a similar group of study sheets, reflecting various steps in the revision process (from the Second Revision to drafts of the final Appendix). Since these study sheets usually encompass more than one or two biblical books, we have grouped them according to the stage of the revision process to which they appear to belong. The folders directly following the biblical book subject headings, then, contain these more general study sheets from the Committee on Revision.

Since Thayer served as Secretary to the company, there are also a number of study sheets which include his handwritten record of the committee's votes on revision, as well as notes from the meeting. Unlike many of the preceding materials, these sheets are dated, and are arranged chronologically. Following these marked study sheets, the collection includes five bound volumes which contain Thayer's record of committee discussions and textual analyses. Interspersed throughout the notebooks is correspondence between Thayer and other members of the committee. Following these five hardcover notebooks, the collection includes one softcover notebook which records an 1882 "Revision Reunion" meeting (or meetings) of the American New Testament company, in which the group reviews its work as reflected in the published 1881 Revised Version. Also included in this part of the collection is a copy of an offprint of the final 1881 Revised Version, with handwritten notes by Thayer indicating the preferences of the American Company.

The collection also includes various materials which are more peripherally related to the revision process. First, one retrospective volume on the revision process is included: "Historical Account of the Work of the American Committee of Revision", published in 1885. Second, the materials include an 1878 issue of "The Sunday School World" to which various members of the revision committee (including Prof. Thayer) contributed articles on the revision process. Also included in the collection, relating to the publication of the Revised Version, are: newsletters which were circulated to all members of the revision committees (English and American), attendance records of the American Committee (presumably kept by Thayer as Secretary), correspondence between Thayer and other committee members, and printer estimates from the American publication of the final Revised Version.

The next group of materials relates to the British publication of the American Revised Version of the Bible, published in 1898, and the American publication of the American Standard Version, which would follow in 1901. These materials include: a memorandum from the British presses outlining the legal agreement between the British and American committees, clippings from "The Sunday School Times" in which Thayer and others correspond with representatives of the British presses regarding the American Revised Version, various other clippings relating to the American Revised Version, and materials (including correspondence) relating to the planned publication of the new American Standard Version by the American Revision Committee.

There are also two folders containing materials from the Bible Society Record, the newsletter of the American Bible Society. The first folder contains three complete issues, and the second folder contains clippings of publication listings for books published by the American Bible Society. The last folder in the collection contains pamphlets, clippings, and biography.

Biographical / Historical

Joseph Henry Thayer (1828-1901) was born in Boston, studied at the Boston Latin School, and graduated from Harvard College in 1850. He studied theology at Harvard Divinity School, and graduated from Andover Theological Seminary in 1857. He first preached in Quincy, Massachusetts, and then served as pastor in Salem beginning in 1859. From 1862-1863 he also served as the chaplain for the 40th Massachusetts Volunteers. He was on the faculty of the Andover Theological Seminary from 1864-1882. From 1882-1884 he was an instructor at Harvard Divinity School, and in 1884 he succeeded Ezra Abbot as Bussey Professor of New Testament Criticism and Interpretation. His chief works were his translation of Grimm's Clams Novi Tesia-menti (1887, revised 1889); a Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament, and a New Testament bibliography, published in 1890.

A significant part of Thayer's scholarly life was his participation in the work of the American Bible Revision Committee. In 1870 the Anglican Church appointed a group of British scholars to begin work on a revision of the Authorized Version of the Bible, which had been in use since 1611. Hoping to produce a new translation that would be accepted in both England and America, two groups of American scholars (one for the Old Testament, one for the New Testament) were invited to contribute to the revision project. Thayer was one of those invited to participate, and beginning in 1870 he was the Secretary for the New Testament Company of the American Revision Committee.

The Revised Version of the New Testament was published in 1881 in England and America, with the unique 'American' revisions published in an appendix. While some of the suggestions made by the American New Testament Company did appear in the Revised Version, the Anglican scholars had the upper hand in the editorial process, determining which suggestions would be accepted in the final revision. The British publishers of the Revised Version finally published the American Revised Version in 1898, altering the text of the Revised Version to reflect the changes suggested in the appendix to the 1881 edition. But Thayer's New Testament Company had continued their revision work even after the publication of the Revised Version, and, dissatisfied with the new 'American' edition, they published their own revision, the American Standard Version, in 1901. Like the American Revised Version, the new revision was based on the Revised Version of 1881, but it reflected many more changes to the text. The American New Testament Company, for example, was much more concerned than their British counterparts with the replacement of archaic language and the consistent use of one English word to translate the same Greek word in different parts of the New Testament.

Related Material

For material related to this collection, see "The Used 'Copy' of the American Standard Edition of the Revised New Testament", (in the Andover-Harvard Library, Harvard Divinity School), which is a copy of the Revised Version of the New Testament (1881) with handwritten notes indicating all of the notational and textual changes reflected in the 1901 American Standard Version. For additional material, see also bMS 624, the papers of Ezra Abbot. Abbot was Thayer's predecessor as the Bussey chair at Harvard, and until his death he worked alongside Thayer on the American New Testament Company. Numerous materials relating to the same revision process will therefore be found in the Ezra Abbot collection.

General note

NOTE: The number after the slash in each entry in the following list indicates the box number, and the number in parentheses is the folder number.

Processing Information

Processed by: Fran O'Donnell and Jonathan Hauze, November 2001.
Link to catalog
Thayer, Joseph Henry, 1828-1901. Papers, 1872-1901 : A Finding Aid.
Andover-Harvard Theological Library

Repository Details

Part of the Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Harvard Divinity School Repository

Special Collections at Andover-Harvard Theological Library preserves and makes accessible primary source materials documenting the history of religion and theology, with particular historical emphasis on American liberal religious traditions. Though the historical strengths of the collections have been in the field of Christianity, other religious traditions are increasingly reflected, in step with Harvard Divinity School's evolving focus on global religious studies.

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