History of the English Dort Bible
The six volumes of The Dordrecht Bible Commentary are published upon the occasion of the 400th Anniversary of the Great Synod of Dordrecht 1618-1619. While the value of the early church councils such as Chalcedon may not be undervalued, when it comes to a system of doctrine in full-gear, Dort and the subsequent Westminster Assembly were arguably the most significant official meetings of the church since the days of Apostles to the present. Both were involved with the material contained in these special volumes that trace their origin to the historic Dutch city.
The international character of the Synod of Dort was evident by the presence of delegates from The Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Britain. In the remodeling of the Kloveniersdoelen building for the occasion empty pews were included in honor of the French delegates who were unable to secure their government’s approval to attend.
In that the general editor is also the compilation author of this work, the reader may appreciate even more the availability of The Dordrecht Bible Commentary knowing something as to its origin, development and a description of its distinctives, including enhancements for optimum appreciation and comprehension.
The Dort Bible Ordered 1618
Following an inaugural worship service at the Grote Kerk in Dordrecht, on November 13, 1618, the august Synod convened to answer the grave threat to the faith by the Remonstrants regarding the heart and soul of salvation in Jesus Christ. Following careful deliberations, the delegates crafted the Canons of Dort, which came to be known as the Five Points of Calvinism, or TULIP, as treasured in the hearts of English-speaking believers for more than a century.
These five points were not intended to explain every point of Calvinism, but carefully and clearly to articulate its central doctrine of the absolute sovereignty of God in the redemption of his people. That said, like a mighty oak flourishing for centuries that sprouts from a single acorn, from Dort shoots the trunk and branches of sound theology and true religion for the Calvinist world-and-life view. Lesser known are many other important decisions by the Synod for the life and worship of the church. In fact, most significant and highly appropriate to the occasion, the first order of business consisted of more than a week of deliberations (Nov. 19-26, Sessions 6-13) regarding Bible translation.
The Dort Fathers agreed to produce a translation in the Dutch language, inspired in part by the English Authorized Version (King James Version) of 1611. Up to this point, with the Reformation still in recent history, the Dutch churches had not yet had a “pure” translation of their own—the longing for which was documented already at a previous Synod of Dordrecht in 1578—that was complete, and based entirely and strictly upon the original languages of Scripture.
They not only wanted a reliable Bible for a believer’s daily study, they also desired the Scriptures—the Whole Counsel of God—to be preached and not in any way bound to some specified sections of Holy Writ dictated by availability or a liturgical calendar. Included for ministers and parishioners alike would be a scholarly, understandable and yet compact commentary to elucidate the inspired text.
The historic and primary basis for the translation would be the Masoretic Text (with a close eye on the Septuagint) for the Old Testament and for the New Testament, the Textus Receptus and Majority Text. Recent scholarship has shown these sources to serve with considerable, abiding value for the church.
However, in the larger picture, even significant variants in textual traditions pale in importance compared to the presuppositions and commitment of the translators and commentators themselves. These men, according to the Synod, were not only to be noted scholars in their particular field, but also devout believers in God’s truth.
Like the English Authorized Version, the Dort Bible was approved and financed by the civil magistrates. The labor would immediately shower manifold blessings upon believers, beginning in the churches of the province of Groningen, throughout Holland, and soon into the English-speaking world for centuries that followed.
The Dort Bible Created 1637
Synod had adopted precise criteria for the production of a translation that would be true to the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek languages of the autographa. In the thirteenth session of the Synod, the delegates appointed esteemed theologians to the project who had the requisite “intellect and heart,” beginning with Johannes Bogerman, Willem Baudartius and Gerson Bucerus for the Old Testament and Hermannus Faukelius, Jacobus Rolandus, and Petrus Cornelisz for the New Testament. The scholars would first labor in their studies and then gather together for their work at the famed University of Leiden.
Faukelius and Cornelisz passed away before the translation work got underway and so were replaced with the noteworthy New Testament scholars, Antonius Walaeus and Festus Hommius. The Synod had appointed sixteen other theologians as advisors to the project, including Franciscus Gomarus and Johannes Polyander. Numerous scholars in addition were consulted as well to ensure a Bible that would deliver God’s truth with utmost reliability and contain constructive explanation. Brief but intriguing biographies on each of the contributors entitled, “The Dort Scholars,” are interspersed in the Editor’s Forward in subsequent volumes of this work.
Not only did the Dort Scholars have impeccable academic credentials for creating the new translation, they also served many years among God’s people as faithful ministers of the church. These were men of a period of church history that has come to be known as the Further Reformation [Dutch: Nadere Reformatie] which emphasized not only certain knowledge recovered at the Reformation, but also the personal experience of that truth [Dutch: belijden and beleven]. In fact, the dawning of this stage was evident in the Dort Scholars themselves including the youngest delegate to the Synod who was none other than Gisbertius Voetius.
In distinction from the King James Version, Synod determined that the new translation would include exegetical notations [verklarende kanttekeningen] throughout, to provide elucidation of the text by the Reformed theologians who would be charged with the translating. However, while comments on the text were to be conducive for increased understanding, they were also to be concise enough so as to advance and not impede the message of the inspired text itself.
Exposition includes matters such as analysis, clarification and alternative translations of Hebrew and Greek words, descriptions of literary, historical or geographical contexts, insights into approaching particularly difficult passages, as well references to the early church fathers and observations of other scholars, but all without lecturing the readers.
They also inserted voluminous cross references that not only shed further light on passages but also clearly indicate these scholars’ commitment to the doctrines of the sufficiency and perspicuity of God’s Word, allowing the Scriptures to interpret the Scriptures. Their detailed handling of, and high respect for, the text is unmatched.
In 1637, then, the Statenvertaling met kanttekenaren was first published. The more than 58,000 comments that the contributors produced for the 66 books of the Bible have proven not only to be practical enough for blessing saints in the pew but also academic enough for benefiting ministers in the pulpit and scholars in the ivory tower.
That means theologians, pastors and parishioners are able to profit from this historic resource with continued relevance, something rather unique in the history of Bible translations and commentaries.
The Westminster Translation 1657
The publication was widely recognized as profoundly reliable, true to the Scriptures, and as an immense benefit for the universal church. As the English Authorized Version played an important role in Dordrecht, so too the Dort Bible, in turn, impressed the Westminster Divines.
In fact, the explanations of the text in Dort’s Bible were considered by them, “a rich treasure of knowledge and spiritual understanding; the work of so many eminent theologians.” And there was a “sincere and devout longing” among the British and Scottish people for their direct access to this excellent and thoroughly Reformed work.
As “the most influential pastors of the Dutch churches and leading Puritan divines” are reported to have been very close (Grell, 77), this desire for its broader availability was affirmed by divines of such stature as John Dury, William Greenhill, Samuel Rutherford, Thomas Goodwin and many others. And they knew just the man who would be perfect for the job: Theodore Haak (1605-1690).
“In 1645, Haak was requested by the Westminster Assembly” to translate the Statenvertaling 1637, including its exposition, into English (van de Kamp, 51f.). Parliament itself had encouraged the Assembly to make the Dort Bible available, and so in 1646 Haak was certified for approval by the House of Lords and House of Commons, praising him as in “every way fitted for such a task” (Barnett, 72). Twenty divines were appointed to oversee the translation work.
The landmark undertaking was massively entitled, in the original Henry Hills publication of London 1657, The Dutch Annotations upon the Whole Bible, or, All the holy canonical scriptures of the Old and New Testament: together with, and according to their own translation of all the text, as both the one and the other were ordered and appointed by the Synod of Dort, 1618 and published by authority, 1637, now faithfully communicated to the use of Great Britain, in English.
In its dedication to the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, Haak recommended the work, with no small measure of understatement, “as a means to spread God’s truth.” Subsequently, the Bible would become known for short by some as the Dutch Annotations or the Haak Bible.
Born in 1605, Theodore Haak was raised as a Calvinist, the son of a father who was a Professor of Theology at the University of Heidelberg where he would have certainly matriculated had it not been for the war which devastated the city. He did, however, study at Oxford, Cambridge, and the University of Leiden. A German scholar, he lived in England for over twenty years.
Haak had the distinction of being ordained by the renowned Bishop of Exeter, Joseph Hall (one of the British delegates to the Great Synod). However, he was not restricted to his parish but free to carry out his multi-faceted calling in Britain and on the Continent as a linguist, theologian, philosopher, scientist, political correspondent and philanthropist.
Well-documented is Haak’s extensive correspondence and relationships with noted personages all across Europe, including the preservation of close ties to the Dutch refugee congregation in London. Having been engaged in translation work already in his twenties, that of his voluminous works for which he is most remembered, with the exception of the present volumes, is his making of John Milton’s Paradise Lost available on the Continent.
All said, Haak contributed significantly to the extensive cross-fertilization between Calvinists in Britain, Scotland and the Netherlands that served as an incalculable blessing for the church world-wide.
In 1656, at almost fifty-one years of age, nearing completion of the Dort Bible, he married Elizabeth (Pell) Genue, a widow who had an Utrecht-born daughter, Kateryne. Haak maintained good health throughout his adventurous life, in his last years requiring only an ear trumpet to mitigate growing deafness. This highly-gifted man of God died in 1690 having made bequests in his will to “the poor of his parish and the French and Dutch London Reformed Churches.”
Distinctives of the 2019 Edition
The Dordrecht Bible Commentary delivers the historic 1657 English translation of the 1637 Dort Bible, ordered by the Synod of Dort 1618 and commissioned by the Westminster Assembly 1645, to Bible students, pastors and scholars of the church in the 21st Century. The following distinctives will familiarize the reader with the newly released publication:
1. This 400th Anniversary Edition provides an entirely unique translation of Scripture containing the complete Dort text and its expositions. Since the Dort Bible and the KJV were based on similar textual traditions, one might wonder why Haak did not simply add the Dort commentary to the already translated Authorized Version. That is not only because there were attempts in progress to produce their own “English Annotations” for the KJV, but also they were fully aware that the Dort Bible was a different translation and that attaching the notes to their KJV Bible could not be accomplished without considerable misconstruction. Besides, the English readers were interested in exactly what the Dort Bible had to say.
Although in other works Haak exercised some translator prerogatives, his translation of the Dort Bible stuck closely to his source, virtually word-for-word, reflecting also the high degree of accuracy by the authors. And the learned scholars of Dort at important points did venture into a different direction than that of the sister translation.
Thus, lacking a one-for-one correspondence between the Dort Bible and KJV, correlating the explanatory comments of the one with the other, while of some value, would be unviable. In fact, the Dort Scholars’ precision work demonstrates such careful analysis of the Hebrew and Greek, that this presentation is certainly the next best thing to knowing the original languages for oneself.
2. Specifically ordered by the Synod of Dort was that their exposition be embedded within the text itself [indicated by brackets] and that these comments be printed in a different font so that they may be differentiated from the words of the Bible text. Curious is that the beloved Statenvertalen failed to follow through on this mandate of Synod and relegated the commentary to the margins and in massive footnotes. In fact, Haak had begun his translation replicating the deviation, but he was instructed by the divines to start over despite that he had already gotten to the books of Kings.
3. Remaining historically faithful (though considerable adjustments have been made to the manuscript to enhance accessibility), the essential, received text has itself not been tampered with by the compilation author. Thus, readers do well to bear in mind that they are dealing with a raw, 17th century document. This will be readily noted also by many “irregulates” in the spelling, grammar, punctuation and abbreviations of the times.
Also observed will be that the text does not bear a relative consistency compared to modern standards. For example, it was not uncommon to have multiple spellings for the same word. The English language itself was, from today’s perspective, still underdeveloped, in the throes of the substantial shift from Middle to Early-Modern to Modern English.
Other anomalies in the text are generally attributed to what is referenced historiographically as the “Wild-West” days of printing. Books were not produced with the precision they are today and, for example, in addition to occasional typos, letters were even purposely omitted to fit a craftsman’s margins. Subsequent print and electronic transmissions also seem to have played a role in some variations in this particular, extant text.
The Early-Modern irregularities were also true of Dutch literature at the time, including the 1637 Statenvertaling.
4. The only updating of the text itself in the 2019 edition by the general editor regards Haak’s translation of the Dutch word, kanttekeningen as “Annotations,” the singular, “Annotate” and its abbreviation, “Annot.”—adequate for the 17th century—for which here are employed instead the labels “Commentary” or “Comment.” These terms more accurately reflect today the substantial character of the over 58,000 expository notations in the Dort Bible’s 3,100 pages that, in stark contrast to lesser works, were and are considered “revered running commentary” (Muller, 28), a style in between “notes” as in the usual study Bible on the one hand, and protracted hermeneutical discourse on the other.
Such is readily evident in what an six-volume work such as this contains and entails. In a lively sense, then, the reader is treated to a play-by-play commentary on the grand redemptive unfolding from Genesis to Revelation.
5. As a literal rendering of text is involved rather than resorting to dynamic equivalence, let alone paraphrasing, Haak’s precise translation may serve better for the Bible scholar’s study than for liturgical usage. The student should also be aware that the Dort Bible occasionally contains a different chapter and verse numbering in the Old Testament (such as including the psalm heading as the first verse of a chapter) as well as a few alternative versifications in the New Testament, and so, differs slightly here and there from most extant English translations. Chapter and verse divisions were not part of the original manuscripts and so their subsequent inclusion in history took on a measure of variability in various translations.
6. Fresh and original outlines have been created by the general editor to illumine the overall content, purpose and structure of each of the 66 books of the Bible. They are intentionally lucid and compact as it is not unknown how some Bible-book outlines tend to miss the forest for the trees. While more complex outlines certainly have their place, they can hinder rather than assist in comprehending the book as a unit, how it flows, and its main ideas. So these have been constructed intentionally for portraying how each section contributes to the book as a whole.
The goal is for the student of the to get a clear view of the main regions of the forest in a manner to be especially blessed and informed by the Dort Scholars’ meticulous and painstaking examination of the trees (and bushes). To be sure, the outlines have been inserted to enrich, not intrude upon, the 17th century text.
7. In addition to the outlines, the editor has included in the forward to each volume his own introductions to the Bible books contained therein. Each succinctly describes the historical-redemptive place, texture and content overview of the Scripture contained in that volume. While the sixty-six books of the Bible are divided among six volumes, the introductions clearly demonstrate how the written Word of God is perfectly ordered into one book, from Genesis to Revelation.
8. The set also presents three galleries of art exhibits tastefully inserted by the general editor. First, distributed throughout the volumes are fifty sacred paintings attributed to the renowned painter, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669), a contemporary of Theodore Haak. These sacred works of Rembrandt are not original to Dordrecht’s or Haak’s volumes. They have been added as a bonus, not merely for the Bible student’s appreciation, but especially for reinforcement of Scripture’s message itself in coordination with the richness of the entire work. Including figures within the text was and is not an uncommon practice.
The last distinctive warrants further elucidation. Widely regarded as the most significant artist in history, Rembrandt’s illustrations were produced during the same historical period as the formation and distribution of both the Dutch and English editions of the Dordrecht Scriptures. While the artist was by no means a student of reformed theology, it would be an understatement to say that so much of what he produced by divine providence is of inestimable value.
That said, in deference to the convictions of the Dordrecht and Westminster divines, as well as those of the compilation author and general editor, Rembrandt’s depictions of Christ have generally not been included in this robust collection.
While the Dort Commentary is replete with Rembrandt’s unforgettable work, included also is a second gallery entitled, “In Word and Worship, ” reflecting the 16th and 17th centuries of the Reformed churches. Among the Minor Prophets is a third gallery entitled, “Minor Prophets in the Reformed Tradition.” Strategic maps have been added to the volumes as well. The entire commentary is searchable by the indices of books, particular chapters, outline headings, as well as the numerous figures.
The astute reader will quickly appropriate and master these distinctive features of this scholarly resource. Solemn effort expended will be immensely rewarded. The careful and prayerful student of the Word will feel as if the great theologians of church history were at his side, in his study, gently and meticulously guiding him, verse-by-verse, through Holy Scripture.
All being said, of the publishing of study Bibles and commentaries, there appears no end. Undoubtedly, capable theologians have followed Dort and Westminster who have added ideas to the theological science of exegesis on matters such as the historical-redemptive unity of Scripture within the contours of the two-age construction, the structure of ancient treaty documents, the literary devices of diverse genres, the distinctiveness of “overlapping” historical literature in the Old and New Testaments, as well as theoretical insights from ongoing archeological excavations.
And certainly, as with any discovery, when the wheat is separated from the chaff, there may be gain.
Still, the church has been seriously compromised if along the way she has lost touch with the insights into Holy Writ as provided right here in plentitude by our spiritual forefathers in this extraordinary work approved by both Dort and Westminster. Here in full bloom is the Reformation’s return to the Scriptures with rock-solid explanations that significantly shaped the minds and hearts of Reformed believers for centuries. The thousands upon thousands of gems in the Dordrecht Bible Commentary are as timeless as they are priceless. Truth is, one might think of these volumes as our spiritual forefathers unfolding the Old Paths in stately language for all those with ears to hear.
Looking back, the 17th Century was a Golden Age, even a Further Reformation, for the universal church. Joined at the hip with the 16th Century Reformation, this entire epoch marked a mountain-top in the history of the church and the world. And at the pinnacle of this mountain one discovers the Great Synod of Dort, as well as The Westminster Assembly, united not only by their confessional standards but also by this tried and true Bible translation and its revered running commentary engraved by the finger of divine providence.
Dort Scholars - Resources
Acta ofte handelinghen des Nationalen Synodi Gehouden door autoriteit der Hoogh: Mogh: Heeren Staten Generael des Vereenichden Nedeandts tot Dordrecht Anno 1618-1619. Dordrecht: Donner en Van Den Hoorn, 1621.
Barnett, Pamela. Theodore Haak, F.R.S. (1605-1690): The First German Translator of “Paradise Lost.” The Hague, 1962.
Biesterveld, P. and Hoekstra,T. Het Gereformeerde Kerkbook. Zutphen: J. B. Van den Brink, 1931.
De Jong, O. J. et al. Het Eigene van de Nederlandse Nadere Reformatie. Den Hertog B.V., 1992.
The Dutch Annotations upon the Whole Bible, or, All the holy canonical scriptures of the Old and New Testament… . Trans. Th. Haak. London: Henry Hills, John Rothwell, Joshua Kirton, Richard Tomlins, 1657.
Grell, Ole Peter. Calvinist Exiles in Tudor and Stuart England. Hampshire: Scholar Press, 1996.
Kuiper, H. H. De Post-acta of Handelingen van de Nationale Synode van Dordrecht in 1618 en 1619 gehouden. Amsterdam: Höveker & Worasf, 1899.
Grosheide, F. W., et al. Christelijke Encyclopedie voor Het Nederlandsche Volk. Kampen: J. H. Kok, n.d.
Grosheide, F. W., Van Itterzon, G. P. et al. Christelijke Encyclopedie. Vols. I-VI. Kampen: J. H. Kok,
McKenzie, D. F. And Bell, Maureen. A Chronology and Caelndar of Documents Relating to the London Book Trade 1641-1300. I-III. Oxford, 2005.
Muller, Richard A. and Ward, Rowland S. Scripture and Worship: Biblical Interpretation & The Directory for
Worship. Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 2007.
Nauta, D. Ed. Biographisch lexicon voor de geschiedenis van het Nederlands protestantism. Vols. I-VI. Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1978.
Ruys, Th., Jr. Petrus Dathenus. Houten: Den Hertog B.V., 1988.
Schuringa, Gregory D. Embracing Leer and Leven: The Theology of Simon Oomius in the Context of Nadere Reformatie Orthodoxy. Grand Rapids: Calvin Theological Seminary Ph.D. Dissertation, 2003.
Selderhuis, Herman J., Sinnema, Donald, and Moser, Christian. Acta et Documenta Synodi Nationalis Dordrechtanae (1618-1619). I. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2014.
Statenvertaling met kanttekeningen. Leiden: Druckers vande Hoogh-Mog: Heeren Staten Generael, 1637 (1657).
Van de Kamp, Jan. “Networks and Translation within the Republic of Letters: The Case of Theodore Haak (1605–1690).” Enenkel, Karl, Fransen, Sietske and Hodson, Nial (Eds.). Translation and the Circulation of Knowledge in Early Modern Science. Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2017.
Van’t Spijker, et al. De Synode van Dordrecht in 1618 en 1619. Houten: Den Hertog B.V., 1987.
 A klover was a type of musket and the Kloveniersdoelen building served as the headquarters for the local militia [kloveniers, or musketeers].
 Or Dutch, commentaar.
 Statenvertaling, lit., States Translation, indicating its authorization also by the government.
 As to these strict and clear requirements of embedding the explanatory comments within the text itself, Synod specifically declared: en deze in den tekst met een andere letter, en tusschen haakjes besluiten, opdat ze van de woorden van den tekst mogen onderscheiden worden (see Acta Nationale Synode van Dordrecht 1618-1619, Session 8, Criterium II). [Trans. “And that these (comments) be included in the text in another font, and enclosed by brackets, that they may be distinguished from the words of the text.”]
Johannes Bogerman, Willem Baudartius, Gerson Bucerus. The Dordrecht Bible Commentary: Volume I: The Pentateuch. Tr. Th. Haak (Otsego: Nsmpress, 2020), 1-11.
English Dort Bible Project Acknowledgments
Since this release is connected to both the Synod of Dordrecht and the Westminster Assembly, consulted were noted scholars today of both traditions and who represent a somewhat diverse spectrum in the confessional Reformed camp.
The work is indebted to these historians who each provided unique and valued input on penultimate drafts, particularly regarding materials in the initial volume that lay the foundation for the presentation as a whole: Dr. James A. De Jong, Professor of Church History and President Emeritus, Calvin Theological Seminary; Dr. Herman J. Selderhuis, Professor of Church History and Director of Refo500, Theologische Universiteit Apeldoorn; Dr. Martyn C. Cowan, Church Historian at Union Theological College, Belfast; Prof. Russell J. Dykstra, Professor of Church History and New Testament Studies, Protestant Reformed Seminary; and Dr. Alan D. Strange, Professor of Church History, Mid-America Reformed Seminary.
In addition, the Editor’s Foreword to each volume has been enriched and sharpened by contributions of the Rev. Dr. Gregory D. Schuringa, who studied under Historical Theologian Dr. Richard A. Muller and serves as Senior Minister at Faith Christian Reformed Church, Elmhurst, Ill. Historian William F. Oosterman, Oxford, PA, must also be mentioned whose knowledge of Th. Haak, and considerably more, ignited the undertaking.
Noted is the Dutch Reformed Translation Society and, in particular, Dr. Joel R. Beeke, President of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, for their role in advancing Post-Reformation studies in the Dordrecht-Westminster ways that are enjoying a renaissance which has paved the way for the release of the present volumes. And finally, but most affectionately, hereby acknowledged is one whose resume is chronicled in Proverbs 31:10-31.
Naturally, the compilation author and general editor assumes full responsibility for the contents.
The Dordrecht Bible Commentary, I:v.
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