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Vol. 7, No. 8
Aug., 1998

Plain English

by Glenn Conjurske

I love plain English. Though I love refinement in every form, and am instinctively repelled by everything low and coarse and crude, yet I love plain English. I love that refinement which is free and natural, not that which is artificial and fastidious. I love the old farm house, which is warm and homey, where chairs were made to sit on and floors to walk on, not the cold and immaculate house in the city, where we are afraid to touch the walls, or set our foot on the carpet.

Plain English is not low or crude, though it may be regarded as such by some who affect a refinement which is artificial and fastidious. Intellectualism is greatly at fault here, and alas, the education which is designed to teach men to preach most often does just the reverse. For some years I went out knocking on doors to preach the gospel with a young man lately graduated from a good Baptist Bible college. It is my way when I knock on doors to ask people directly if they are saved. Almost everybody answers “Yes.” I then ask them how they know they are saved. This young man naturally adopted my ways, and when it was his turn to speak he followed in my tracks. He did fairly well with something like, “Can I ask you if you are saved?” but when they told him they were, he would say, “Upon what criteria do you base your certainty?” And as we walked from one house to the next I would say to him as forcefully as I could, “Not 'Upon what criteria,' but 'How----do----you----know? How----do----you----know?”' This may serve to illustrate what I mean by plain English.

But understand, I am all for refinement, and I abhor that modern jargon which would be better called Slanglish than English, which pervades not only the pulpits of Fundamentalism, but even its books and magazines. This is “a real shocker,” that “a no brainer,” something else “a real doozy,” and a fourth thing “a howler.” Some are “gung-ho” for this, some “suckers” are “suckered” into that, and others “nuts” for something else. This conference was “a ball,” and that one “a blast.” One person “blew it,” another is “ticked off,” a third is “screwed up,” and a fourth “in the slammer.” An hour's random reading of modern Christian publications will almost always yield a long string of such gems.

But how do I prove that there is anything wrong with such language? I answer frankly, I hardly suppose it needs any proof. It seems to me to be self-evident. Yet it is evidently not self-evident to all, and I may therefore offer a couple of considerations. First, it is altogether contrary to the kind of language used in the Bible. It is likewise contrary to the language used by spiritual men in all ages of the history of the church. And let it be understood, I do not merely refer to the fact that these particular expressions are new. It is not the date of the language to which I object, but its nature. The same utterly careless and daringly flippant generation which uses the word “awesome” in sport, and prints with wild and bizarre styles of type, coupled with pictures and illustrations which are purposely the very reverse of everything serious, has created a flippant and smart-aleck English which is absolutely incompatible with seriousness, to say nothing of reverence. It is the sort of language which altogether dispels sobriety and reverence. That such language is used at all by Christians is a sad commentary on the lamentable want of seriousness which characterizes the Christianity of the present day. The fact that such language will be understood by “modern man” is nothing to the purpose. Though its substance may be understood, yet it creates such an atmosphere as vitiates the substance and destroys the spirit of Christianity. Most of the modern literature of the church is absolutely incapable of inspiring reverence or solemnity or devotion, unless it be of the shallowest sort. It handles the most solemn things of God and eternity as though they were a sports event. A publication received today from a Bible institute, and obviously intended to inspire something, though I am not sure what, contains such expressions as “Hang in there” and “Let's get with it.” The very spirit of such language is directly against solemnity and devotion. It is not only the language of the world, but of one of the most careless and irreverent generations which has ever cumbered the earth. To all such language I object with my whole soul.

It is bad enough to adopt the flippant expressions of a careless and irreverent generation, but some Christian editors seem determined to outdo the world itself in lightness and levity. Another magazine, received a while ago, presents us with the large headline (as nearly as I can recall it),


What kind of spiritual emotions or purposes is this likely to inspire? Whatever the editor's intent, such language is incapable of doing any good. It does immense harm. Instead of strengthening the things which remain, which are ready to die, it rather lends its hand to the enemy, to destroy what little of seriousness remains in the modern church.

But there is an evil on the other side, of which it was my primary intention to speak. Far away from the coarse and flippant slang of the present generation, there is an equally offensive intellectualism, proud and fastidious, which is incapable of speaking in plain English. If it rightly recoils from hearing of someone “tossed in the slammer,” or “thrown in the pokey,” it equally despises such plain English as “put in jail,” or “sent to prison.” It will brook nothing but “committed to a correctional facility,” or “detained in corrective custody.”

To deal first with a milder form of this fastidious jargon, the following comes from a cultured and educated woman who conducted mission work among the drunkards and harlots of England a century ago. Her aim, of course, was to be useful. She says,

“My familiarity with Shakespeare, Wordsworth, and Tennyson had fortunately trained me in the use of good Saxon English; I could speak of 'going to bed,' without saying, 'ere you resign yourself to repose.' But how to put things forcibly and clearly to uneducated men I set to work to learn from those who had proved themselves masters in the art; I carefully studied Spurgeon's sermons, and any other preacher to the people I could hear of; and I read many of the old Puritan writers, such as old Gurnall's 'Christian's Complete Armour,' Brooks, and writers even as late as Berridge, all of them remarkable for Shakespearian force and quaintness of expression.”

She further pleads for plain English thus: “Pulpit English is the most vicious English in existence. I have myself heard a clergyman instinctively do into Latin the Saxon account of the Demoniac in St. Mark, 'There met Him a man coming out of the tombs,' which in the course of his remarks he rendered, 'They were immediately encountered by an individual proceeding from the tombs;' and I have heard another clergyman inform his congregation of village clodhoppers that 'our Lord did not indulge in nugatory predictions,' by way of bringing home to them that He is faithful and true. During the Irish famine, the shifts the clergy were reduced to to avoid any indecorous mention of the potato in the pulpit were curious, though why a potato should be more profane than the 'hyssop on the wall' I cannot conceive, since the same God made them both. Some called it 'the succulent esculent;' others alluded distantly to it as 'that useful edible which forms so important a staple of food;' while only one Irish clergyman was found who, in a kind of Celtic reaction, courageously informed his congregation that their contributions had provided thirty starving families with 'good Irish stoo.”

'Now, cannot we speak to the people in the English in which Tennyson and Wordsworth write? Does it show any real culture to say, 'Ere you resign yourself to repose,' instead of 'Before you go to bed'? Cannot we call a spade a spade, and not 'an agricultural instrument'? Not so very long ago I heard an address in a Mission-service of the very poorest, from a speaker appointed by a clergyman, which began thus: 'The note, my fellow-townsmen, I mean to strike to-night is one of expostulation,' and the discourse went on to allude to the transit of Venus, which the people probably set down as some new kind of cheese, or the last superfine tea,----the worthy speaker was a grocer by worldly calling,----and ended with a good thick layer of doctrine, which might have been living at some remote geological period, probably before man had made his appearance on the earth, but which so far as having any vital connexion with heart, life, or conscience might have been dug out of the old red sandstone. As the long words rolled out, I was irresistibly reminded of a medical man in the north who was noted for his Johnsonian English. Having on one occasion to prescribe for a dying labourer, he sent him a draught, labelled, 'to be taken in a recumbent posture.' As to what this might be the relatives of the dying man were utterly at fault. They sent over to the linen-draper, to know if he had a recumbent posture. No, he had never heard of such a thing. Perhaps it might be something in the bladder line. Did the butcher chance to have one? No, he had never heard of such a thing either. At last, they worked their way round to an old woman, who never would allow herself at fault in anything. So she said, 'Yes, she had one; but, most unfortunately, she had just lent it!”'

Alas, the intellectualism which operated so largely in the production of the new Bible versions has imported a small amount of such language even into the Bible, so that we must now read of such things as “Bethlehem and all its environs,” (Matt. 2:16, NASV)----and this while we are told we must have these new versions for the sake of the children. But why not “borders”? For that matter, why not “coasts”? Who ever misunderstood “in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof”? And what harm would it do them if they did?

But there is a greater evil than the language which is merely fastidious and impractical. To see a bathroom called a “rest room facility” may excite a smile, while “pre-owned vehicle” for “used car” may elicit something more akin to contempt, but to see the language of the church and the Bible replaced with that of the professional scholar or the worldly intellectual ought to make us weep. Yet such intellectual jargon so permeates much of modern evangelical literature that it is positively distasteful to me to read it at all. Looking over some of the modern literature of what calls itself the evangelical church, we continually meet with such jargon as “autographa” and “apographa,” the “locus” of this, the “terminus” of that, the “paradigm” of a third thing, and the “hermeneutic” of something else. This is “post-critical,” and that “post-modern.” Theologians must be “dogmaticians,” while words are “vocables.” The language of what is called “theology” in the present day is replete with such jargon as “dogmatic presuppositionalism,” “the phenomenological method,” “fragmented parallels,” “eclecticism,” and “objectification.” We read of “localizing the specific dynamic” of this, of an “autonomous quest” for that, of the “epistemological value” of something else, and of a “salvific relationship” with Christ. I can no better characterize such language than to repeat what William R. Newell said of it years ago, namely, that it makes God vomit. The only good thing we can hope for from such intellectual jargon is that it will deter the most of spiritual and sensible saints from ever reading the books which contain it.

And here I must speak plainly. Show me a man who delights in such language, and I will show you a man who is bristling with pride. If we must climb up to such unearthly----or extraterrestrial----jargon in order to be reputed theologians in this evil day, let us by all means be content to be reputed cobblers and tinkers. If it is usefulness we seek, and not reputation, what business do we have with anything but plain English? We have no more to do with the high-flying Latinized and Greekified language of the proud philosopher than we have with the low and flippant speech of the popular radio station or the high school cafeteria.

Alas, in the literature of the modern church we often find both on the same page. The same book which speaks of the “epistemological value” of one thing tells us that something else is “up for grabs.” Evidently modern Evangelicalism lacks both the humility (or the common sense) which would bring it down from the one, and the sobriety and reverence which would lift it above the other. This is one more reason why Christians ought to leave the most of modern Christian literature alone. Those who become too familiar with such language are likely to become too comfortable with it. “Evil communications corrupt good manners.”

The Necessity, Purpose, & Nature of Scriptural Interpretation

by Glenn Conjurske

The time was, when I was young and ignorant, and knew a good deal less than I thought I did, that I denied the propriety of interpreting the Scriptures at all. Said I, it is not our business to interpret the Bible, but to believe it. I was doubtless driven to this position as a reaction against seeing the Scriptures so often interpreted in such a way as to deprive them of their obvious meaning. But reactions against error are usually over-reactions, and almost invariably lead us to a false position on the other side. Augustine's reaction against Pelagius produced Calvinism. Martin Luther's reaction against the legalism of the Romanists produced an antinomian gospel. The modern reaction against the liberalism and unspiritual intellectualism which produced the modern Bible versions has produced all the errors of the King James Only movement. My reaction against the abuse of interpretation led me to deny the use of it.

I believe there was some truth in my position, for the plain fact is, the sense of many things in the Bible is so plain and obvious that they give us little to do of interpreting. Yet the fact remains that even where the meaning is perfectly plain, the words employed are grammatically capable of being taken in another sense. We say that the plain, obvious, and natural sense is the true one, but in so saying we grant that other senses are possible, and it so happens that our prejudices may make a very unnatural sense quite natural to us. Even the plainest scriptures, then, require to be interpreted, though it may well be that the main ingredient in the interpretation is simple faith.

Neither was my position a harmless one. It obliged me to profess one thing, and practice another----for (as I shall demonstrate as we proceed) the Scriptures must be interpreted to be used at all. While I professed that I did not interpret the Bible, but merely believed it, the fact was, I interpreted it as much as my neighbors did. It may be that I interpreted it on sounder principles; it may be that I interpreted it more faithfully and truly; it may be that I interpreted it with a higher and nobler purpose, to ascertain its true meaning rather than to set that meaning aside; but still I interpreted it, while I supposed I did not.

But what harm was there in this? Not a little harm, surely, for it led me to regard my opponents' position as their own interpretation, while I held my own position to be the very word of God. Such a position naturally fosters pride.

No only so. Such a position also naturally confirms us in our errors. Any position which claims infallibility confirms men in their errors. The Romanist will never be delivered from his errors, so long as he regards the interpretation of the church as infallible. The King James Only man can never be delivered from his errors, so long as he arrogates to himself, as a “covenant-keeping Christian” (a Baptist, that is), “the infallible teaching of the Holy Ghost” (as William Van Kleek does). We rightly impute infallibility to the Bible itself, and we may do this safely, for the Bible is an objective standard, which contains within itself all that is needed to correct our errors, but when we impute infallibility to any subjective process outside the Bible, we have actually removed the Bible out of court. No doubt the teaching of the Holy Ghost is infallible, but my apprehension of it is not infallible, whether I am a “Bible believer” or a “covenant-keeping Christian” or not.

But granting that we may safely attribute infallibility to the Bible, it remains a fact that the Bible must be interpreted to be used at all. The very nature of language necessitates this. Words do not have one narrow and invariable meaning. A single word possesses many meanings, or many shades of one general meaning. Its exact meaning must be determined by the context. A sentence consists of a number of words, every one of which is subject to more or less variation in meaning. A single sentence, then, may have more meanings than one. The same Hebrew word stands for both “God” and “gods,” and it is purely a matter of interpretation whether we render Genesis 3:5 “Ye shall be as gods” or “Ye shall be as God.” And here we must interpret before we translate, though that is not usually the case.

It is no doubt true that the meaning of many sentences is obvious, but this is certainly not true of all. And even where the meaning may be said to be obvious, it is obvious only to those who understand the matter which is spoken of. The fact remains that most if not all sentences contain within themselves a broad range of possible meanings. In every sentence there is a maximum which the words may mean, and a minimum which the words must mean, with a range of possible meaning between those extremes. It is the business of interpretation to ascertain the true meaning, the meaning intended by the author. To do this we must consider something more than the mere words which make up the sentence. Those, confessedly, may be legitimately construed in more ways than one. We must consult the immediate context, the ways of God and the doctrines of the Bible in general, and of course common sense.

The latter alone should be sufficient in most cases, but it seems that common sense is most often thrown to the winds in the interpretation of Scripture. The primary place of common sense is just this: it possesses an instinctive recognition of the fact that common language is not meant to be pressed in any absolute or technical sense. The meaning of most sentences is neither the maximum which the words can mean, nor the minimum which they must mean, but lies somewhere between them.

As an example of all of the above I may use a very simple text, which has been often misinterpreted. The Bible says “Thou shalt not kill.” Common sense instinctively understands this to mean not to commit murder. But I have known it to be pressed to a much more absolute meaning, and understood to teach “Thou shalt not kill at all, under any circumstances or for any reason.” I once knew a man who was a “conscientious objector,” refusing to go to war because the Bible says, “Thou shalt not kill.” Common sense, I say, ought to have kept him from such an interpretation, but in the failure of common sense we must turn to the rest of the Bible. There we find that the same God who wrote “Thou shalt not kill” prescribed also both war and capital punishment. The same God who said “Thou shalt not kill” said also, “Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” The same God who said “Thou shalt not kill” said also, “The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp.” (Num. 15:35). Clearly then, “Thou shalt not kill” has nothing to do with forbidding capital punishment. The text has nothing to do with war, either, for God in numerous places commanded his people Israel to go to war. He commanded Saul, for example, to utterly exterminate the Amalekites, and rejected him from being king for his failure to do so. Not that I think the saints ought to go to war today. I was a “conscientious objector” myself, but on a sounder basis than “Thou shalt not kill,” which really has nothing to do with the matter.

But to use this text against war or capital punishment does not exhaust its possible meaning, for such interpretation limits it to the killing of men. I have known it pressed much beyond this, and understood to mean not to kill at all----not even a mosquito. I worked once, in a hospital kitchen, with a man who interpreted it so. He was of course a vegetarian. I once heard him ask one of the hospital cooks if there was anything from an animal in bread. She, knowing nothing of the reason for his question, responded innocently, “Maybe milk,” to which he replied sarcastically, “Did you have to kill the cow to get it?” To his mind “Thou shalt not kill” must mean never to kill anything at all, and this we must grant is a possible meaning of the sentence----the same words might actually mean that in a Buddhist work----but that is certainly not its meaning in the Bible.

It is a plain fact, then, that the mere combination of words “thou shalt not kill,” divorced from common sense or from the doctrines of the Bible, may mean much more than it actually does mean in its place in the book of Exodus. The words must be interpreted to ascertain their true and intended meaning.

But the learned men of the present day will doubtless tell us that if the verse were but “more accurately” translated, we should have no such difficulties of interpretation. The Berkeley Version, the New American Standard Version, the New International Version, and the New King James Version all remove the ancient landmark “Thou shalt not kill,” and give us in its place, “You shall not murder.” This we suppose, according to the “consensus of modern scholarship,” must undoubtedly be the “more accurate” translation. But in fact it is nothing of the kind. The Hebrew çöÇøÜ does not mean to murder, but to kill----to cause the death of, whether by accident or design. The same word is used in Deut. 4:42, where we read, “That the slayer might flee thither, which should kill his neighbour unawares, and hated him not in times past; and that fleeing unto one of these cities he might live.” This has nothing to do with murder, and of course none of these four modern versions use “murder” in Deut. 4:42. They all have some form of “kill,” except the NASV, which substitutes the more archaic “slew”----though it reverses the process, and substitutes “killed” for “slew” no less than eight times in the Pentateuch alone, altering it also to “slaughtered,” “took his life,” “struck down,” “put to death,” etc. We might suppose this mere caprice, except that we think we understand too well the animus which led to it. A version which alters “killed” to “slew” and “slew” to “killed” shows a little too plainly that it is moved by the determination to depart from the old version.

But be that as it may, “You shall not murder,” is not a “more accurate” translation, but precisely an interpretation. This is according to the usual propensity of the modern translators to do our interpreting for us, instead of keeping to their proper business of translating, and leaving the interpreting to the reader. In this case “murder” is undoubtedly a perfectly legitimate interpretation, and in fact the only true one, but it is an interpretation of the Hebrew, and not a strict translation of it. The fact is, the word must be interpreted, whether we interpret the Hebrew, and place that interpretation in the English Bible, or translate the Hebrew and interpret the English.

The words “Labour not for the meat which perisheth” (John 6:27), so far as the bare words are concerned, may mean “Labour not at all for the meat which perisheth,” but it is certain from other scriptures that this is not the Lord's meaning, for Paul roundly condemns “some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.” (II Thes. 3:11). “Work” and “labour” are the same word in the original. II Thessalonians 3:11 forbids us to take John 6:27 in its absolute sense. It must mean something lower than “labour not at all.” But if we cannot press the words in too high a sense, neither dare we reduce them too low. While the hyperspiritual may wish to exalt the words to their highest possible meaning, the carnal would be glad to reduce them to their lowest. The hyperspiritual may press them to mean “labour not at all for the meat which perisheth,” while the carnal are quite content that they should mean “labour not only for the meat which perisheth, but also for that which endureth unto everlasting life.” The former is against other plain scriptures. The latter is against the text itself, for it really necessitates the introduction of an “also” in the second clause. It is also against the general tenor of the whole New Testament, which everywhere exalts the spiritual above the material. The true meaning must lie between the two possible extremes. It must mean “labour not primarily,” or “labour not unduly for the meat which perisheth.”

I have written elsewhere against the doctrinal interpretation of Scripture, but the doctrinal interpretation of Scripture is both legitimate and necessary within proper limits. Those limits are, in every case, the maximum which the words may mean, and the minimum which they must mean. To consult the doctrine of Scripture in general in order to fix the meaning of a particular text within those limits is perfectly right. The thing to which I objected in my article on the doctrinal interpretation of Scripture is the pressing of a text beyond its legitimate maximum, or reducing it below its legitimate minimum, in order to conform it to our doctrine. This is a great evil, and effectually removes the Bible out of court. The hacking and hewing ought to be done on our doctrine, not on the Bible. It is our doctrine which must be either diminished or augmented, in order to bring it within the limits prescribed by every particular text of Scripture. This requires not only deep thought and study, but an honest heart and unfeigned faith in the Scriptures.

It is common for certain systems of theology to press certain favorite texts to the limit of their maximum possible meaning. By this means they may make a very plausible defense of their errors, and even accuse others of paring down the meaning of those texts. But in order to maintain the system they must either reduce many other texts below their necessary minimum of meaning, or set reason and common sense at defiance. The latter was certainly the effect of Luther's belligerent clinging to Hoc est corpus meum, and pressing it in its maximum possible sense, to prove that the “sacrament” was the very body of Christ. Such a text in the hands of such a powerful advocate as Luther may have told with great effect, but still it set common sense aside, for when Christ spoke those words he was present in his own actual body, and holding in his own physical hands that bread, concerning which he said “This is my body.”

Some interpretations retain reason intact, but set aside other scriptures.

Solifidiansism, or “easy-believism,” presses every text on salvation by faith to its maximum possible meaning, insisting that all such texts teach salvation by faith only, with no other condition. But all those texts which require repentance and holiness are reduced to nothing, or near nothing.

Calvinism takes two or three texts which affirm that Christ died for his people, and presses them to their maximum possible meaning, namely, that he died for his people and none else. But all the texts which teach that he died for all, or for the world, are by miserable shifts reduced much beneath their necessary minimum of meaning. Such interpretation is not legitimate, but dishonest.

To press any particular statement to the maximum possible meaning of its words will often lead us astray. Most general statements----even absolute statements----will allow of some exceptions. Commandments which are apparently absolute may also allow of exceptions. Yet those exceptions are to be proved, not assumed. They are to be proved from other scriptures, or from the necessities of the case, and of course such interpretation ought to be left to the reader of Scripture. It is none of the business of the translator. Where the Scriptures speak of justification by faith, Martin Luther inserted the word “only” in his translation. We grant that this is a legitimate possibility, so far as the interpretation of the words is concerned, but it is not the only possibility, and when the translator thus engages in interpretation, the reader is shut up to one interpretation, when the truth may be another.

Again, we read in the New American Standard Version, in I Peter 3:3, “And let not your adornment be external only.” This may be a possible interpretation of these words themselves, standing alone, though in the present case it is certainly an unnatural interpretation, for there is no “also” in the following clause. We are not told “but let it be also the hidden man of the heart.” Yet the introduction of the thought “only” in the first clause requires the introduction of the thought “also” in the second. This may perhaps be a legitimate interpretation, but it is surely not the only one, and if this is not an absolute prohibition of outward adornment, any exceptions to it must be proved from other scriptures, or from the necessities of the case, and not merely assumed. Nor is it any of the business of the translators to make that assumption. Until such exceptions are proved to our own satisfaction, it is the safe ground, and certainly the godly ground, to assume that the prohibition is an absolute one.

These texts well illustrate the necessity of interpretation. There is very much in the Bible which is of the same character. The words employed are capable of a range of meaning. This necessitates interpretation. The purpose of interpretation is to ascertain the intended meaning, always within that range. That “interpretation” which consists of shrinking the text beneath its minimum necessary meaning, or pressing it beyond its maximum possible meaning, is of course illegitimate, but so may be the interpretation which presses it up to its maximum possible, or reduces it down to its minimum necessary meaning. The latter is a very sorry business, but the former may be equally mistaken, though on sounder ground morally. To reduce the Scriptures to their lowest possible meaning is generally the fruit of carnality and unbelief, while to exalt them to their highest possible meaning is rather the fruit of zeal without knowledge. The latter is a much more innocent error----even a noble error in some ways----yet it is an error, and not a harmless one.

Nevertheless, as a general rule we may safely say that the true and intended sense of any text lies nearer its maximum possible meaning than its minimum necessary meaning. We have no right to reduce the meaning of any text any further than we are compelled to do by legitimate considerations derived from other scriptures, or the necessities of sound reason. It is only unbelief and carnality which desire to do so. We have no right to reduce any text beneath its maximum possible meaning, unless legitimate considerations compel us to do so. Some texts must certainly stand in their highest possible sense. To reduce them at all is to empty them completely. “They shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever” must either mean all that it can mean, or nothing at all.

In some scriptures the meaning may be so obvious that to quote the text is practically to interpret it. Some texts are so plain that they could scarcely be misunderstood, at least not by an honest man. But this is certainly not true of all. It is necessary to interpret the most of Scripture in order to use it at all. The purpose of that interpretation is to learn the intended meaning of the words, always within their range of possible meaning. To raise them above this, or reduce them below it, is absolutely illegitimate. The nature of faithful interpretation must consist of allowing the maximum possible meaning, as mandated by the words themselves, any limitations imposed by the rest of the Bible, and the dictates of sound reason. Yet it is a plain fact that much of the interpretation of the teachers of the modern church proceeds in just the opposite direction, reducing the meaning of the Scriptures as low as they can, or as low as they dare.

One final word: I am well aware that the proper interpretation of Scripture is beyond the reach of the mere human understanding. The Bible deals with themes which are above us, and which are foolishness to the natural mind. To interpret the Scriptures properly we must be taught of God. To be taught of God we must be humble, faithful, and spiritual. The above thoughts are not intended to imply any human capabilities in independence of the Spirit of God. Nevertheless, there are right and wrong methods of interpretation, as there are right and wrong motives in the use of Scripture. In this article I aim only to describe the mechanical process of true interpretation. I do not suppose a man must understand these things in order to be taught of God. I am sure that I was taught of God myself long before I understood any of this. Nevertheless, I believe that these principles are sound, and that there is value in them, to confirm the faithful in a true course, and to expose the error of the false.

Saved by a Mistake

by Glenn Conjurske

Great doors often turn on small hinges. The most insignificant events often alter the courses of lives and of nations. Even the salvation of a soul, in the wise and benign providence of God, has sometimes issued from a mere mistake. In an article entitled “English Memories of Moody and Sankey, by William Luff, I find the following:

“Converted through a Mistake

“My second example, whom I well remember, was of a very different class. He used to say, 'I was converted through a mistake.'

"John Giles was one of the most desperate characters to be met in a life time. About a year after his marriage he turned adrift his wife, whom he had solemnly sworn to love, honor, and cherish until death; and smashed the home just as his first little one was born. She returned to him after a few weeks, but was in constant danger of her life, and while up to the age of thirty her hair was raven black, it all at once, in a very few weeks, became nearly white. This was caused by the temper of her desperate husband when under the influence of drink. More than once he had a razor under his pillow, watching for his wife to sleep, that he might cut her throat.

“This went on for sixteen years, until the unhappy family had increased to eight. In a frenzy of drunkenness, John contemplated ending his troubles by attempting to poison himself; but the doctor was fetched in time, and prevented this by the rich mercy of God. So ignorant was John, that he knew nothing of a judgment to come, and thought therefore that this would end all the strife. Three times he took poison, and three times God mercifully spared his life.

“Captivated by the Songs

“At length he determined to slay his wife with a razor, but she guessed his intentions and sat up all night. This occurred on six successive nights, the woman not daring to sleep. He then determined to accomplish his purpose on the seventh, whether she slept or not. God was ahead of purpose, however, and somebody invited him to hear a lot of singing which was going on at some meetings under the leadership of Moody and Sankey. In his half-drunken condition he was captivated by the songs, and when the speaker who spoke with a 'Yankee' twang in his voice announced an 'inquiry meeting,' John mistook the words for a 'choir meeting,' and so went into the room behind. He soon realized something strange, and contemplated getting out. Moody, however, came in at that moment and, spotting his man, ordered all doors to be closed. John said,

“'Now I saw I was in a mouse-trap.”'Moody came and put his hand on his shoulder, asking him if he wanted to be saved.

“John, who had never had the slightest desire to be good, had never prayed, or read the Bible, answered,

“'I want to be a better man.”'Moody quoted these words to him: “What saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart . . . That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved' (Rom. 10:8, 9).

“He said, 'Now, pray.” ”I don't know how.””Ask God for what you want.””All right, I will.'

Giles kneeled and said these words: 'O God, if You can make me a better man, do it now,' then got up and went home.

“A Kiss Mistaken for a Razor

“The first impulse on reaching home was to put his arms round his wife and give her a kiss----the first for years----and to tell her that God had saved him. She, poor soul, thought it was another attempt on her life, and fled from him in terror. To clinch matters, John got down on his knees by the kitchen table, shut his eyes and said again,

“'O God, if you can save a wretch like me, do it now.”'Before the evening was out Mrs. Giles was convinced, and the happy home begun which lasted for thirty years.

“John Giles could not be sure about how he was to confess the Lord Jesus, but, to make sure of it, he got up at four o'clock, and with a pot of white paint put on the green flower boxes on the window sills the words,

“'The Lord is my Shepherd,' with the result that everybody going into the railway works at seven o'clock had to rub their eyes to make sure it was not a dream.”

The conversion of Paul Rader was also brought about by a mistake, or rather by two mistakes----first by a telegraph operator's mistake in a letter of Rader to his wife, and by his consequent mistaken understanding of her reply.

Paul Rader had imbibed modernistic views at college, and become a modernistic preacher, but says, “Before long, doubt and modernism brought sin in its wake and I found myself absolutely careless and practically wicked. I felt the sting of hypocrisy and knew that the only honest thing for me to do, living the lie I was living and believing what I was believing, was to quit the ministry.” He did so, and engaged in business, in which he was very successful. He says further, “After quite a stretch of this success, I attended a very important directors' meeting, where their enthusiasm had overflowed----business looked big: it seemed as if nothing could stop a small fortune from being mine!

“As was my custom, I telegraphed my wife a long night letter of the latest developments, this good news of big business. She was visiting together with our two little girls in Tacoma, Washington, with her mother. She, with her feminine intuition, knew and felt deeply my inner unhappiness, the spiritual darkness in which I walked, the doubts that beset me, the sins that bound me. . . . She had heard all my arguments, and, though she had no answer to life to help me, yet my love for her, my desire to make her supremely happy, gave to any words from her about my way of life a very deep place in my heart. Her opinions about my being a preacher and quitting, about my Jonah experience as I went 'elsewhere,' she kept to herself. I feared lest her respect for me and love of me, because of my many experiences and experiments, might be changed, and I would lose what I most prized.

“So the momentous telegram, which shook me up, was from her. It was a three short-word answer to the long night wire I had sent her regarding our good fortune. The last sentence of mine was: 'We are fixed for life,' and back came her cutting challenge, three stabbing words, 'fixed for what?' There I stood trembling, desperate with this challenge! Was she disgusted with me? Was I losing her love? What could money do if I had lost my way to real living? What was real living?

“Again the awful soul-conflict was on me, as it had been when I entered college, and faced the flooding doubts in our modern river of mental revolution. God was at work using this telegram to give me a life challenge. 'Fixed for what?' What was life all about? How could I answer?

“Well, I could not stand there on the sidewalk for long, trembling in the gaze of the passing throng. A voice within me was calling now, calling, crying out for God, if God were real. I ran to the Subway and out at Times Square. I was soon in my room on 44th Street, where I kept some supplies, my trunk and books. I lived at the Astor Hotel across the street. My little room was in the spot where since has been built 'the Little Theatre, off Times Square.' Into it I let myself with haste, and stood there wondering why I had come to this spot to solve these problems. Little did I know then that when the telegraph company handed my telegram to my wife, they had changed the last word to 'LIKE,' instead of 'LIFE'; so that the wire read, 'We are fixed for like.' My wife had simply wired back 'Fixed for what?' because my wire was not understandable! Oh, how very thankful I am that I did not know at that time about the mix-up of these two words. Had I known it then, this Life Challenge might never have come to me, just as it did, arising out of a telegraphist's error!”

Thus far Paul Rader. I quote no further from him, as there is an atmosphere of lightness in his writing which is distasteful to me, and not very compatible with the nature of Olde Paths & Ancient Landmarks. The weakness of the instrument, however, detracts nothing from the wonderful providence of God which awakened and converted him by the mistake of a telegraph operator. Suffice it to say, he spent three days alone in his room, alone with his Bible and the God of his youth, and walked out a redeemed man. He immediately gave up his business prospects to his associates, and set out on foot for the west coast, preaching the gospel as he went.

Brooke Foss Westcott & the Greek Text

of the Revised Version

It is often affirmed that every modern version of the Bible, from the Revised Version onwards, is based upon the Greek text of Westcott & Hort. This is generally true of most of the modern versions, but I do not know that it is technically true of any of them. It is not even true of the Revised Version, though its text follows that of Westcott & Hort somewhat closely. Westcott belonged to the committee which produced the revision, and he himself speaks thus of his own contribution to the Greek text of the Revised Version:

“I must say that again and again I endeavoured to carry out the instructions which I had received, and to adopt the reading for which there was a clear preponderance of evidence, though in my own mind I was perfectly satisfied that that was not the true reading; but in doing so I felt I was only loyal to my commission. ... The fact was that the text which was adopted in the revision represented the view which gave the average of opinion; in other words, each, in accordance with our instruction, commended preponderance of opinion to those who were giving attention to the subject. I absolutely decline to hold myself responsible for the text of the Revised Version except so far as I have endeavoured to indicate.”*

Observe first that he explicitly disclaims any responsibility for the text of the Revised Version, for two reasons. 1.It represented only an average between his own views and those of the more conservative element on the revision committee, and 2.he himself frequently voted against his own belief. His “instructions” and his “commission” are of course those which he received from the Convocation of Canterbury, to correct the “plain and clear errors” in the text, on the basis of a “clear preponderance of evidence.” Anyone who can make any sense of “commended preponderance of opinion” is welcome to do so. The rest is clear enough.

Observe in the second place, this statement contains a most amazing confession, namely, that Westcott “again and again” regarded the true text of the New Testament as that which stood against the “clear preponderance of evidence”----and evidently against what he himself regarded as the “clear preponderance of evidence,” for on any other assumption there could be no occasion to make such a statement at all. Can any of my readers dispute this, or put any other legitimate construction upon his words? I invite their attempts. In the construction of his own Greek text Westcott was under no restraint of any such “instructions” or “commission” from Convocation, obliging him “again and again” to vote against his own convictions, and was therefore free to construct a text against the “clear preponderance of evidence.” What need we any further witnesses? We have no more need of Scrivener to tell us that Westcott & Hort's text stands “hopelessly self-condemned.” “Out of the horse's mouth!”


n Book Review n

by Glenn Conjurske


A Revival Is Coming, by Roger W. Babson

New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1936, 47 pp.

The author of this book was “President of the Babson Statistical Organization,” and his study of statistics is the basis of the prophecy which forms the title of this book. The book contains a fold-out chart nearly three feet long, a detailed graph of statistics covering the years from 1854 to 1936. This chart is entirely financial, detailing stock prices, bond yields, and commodity prices, and a “Resultant Normal Growth Line.” There are solid black areas above this line, representing times of prosperity, and shaded areas below it, representing times of depression. A time of prosperity inevitably, according to this chart, follows a time of depression. All such matters, he contends, move in cycles. As the book was published during the Great Depression of the 1930's, the author concludes that a time of prosperity was necessarily coming.

So far as purely economic things are concerned, the author doubtless has some wisdom. He says (pp. 9-10), “When studying the long economic tidal movements of about fifty years' duration, we discover more basic and fundamental causes. These tidal movements appear to be caused by changes in the purposes, motives, and desires of people. Before an upward movement in the standard of living, the people are actuated by a desire to pioneer. Sacrifice is then looked upon as the basic cause of progress. Such sacrifice is always rewarded with prosperity, which in turn makes people soft. There then develops a desire for ease and pleasure. ... The outstanding economic fact is that these great tidal movements are spiritual in their concept. Tell me the desires of any individual, family, community or nation, and I will tell you in what part of the standard of living cycle they are. An old saying reads, 'It is only three generations from shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves.”'

This is doubtless wisdom, but what does it have to do with revival? “Here,” the author says (pp. 21-22), “is my remarkable discovery! When I came to plot the church figures for additions by confession, I found that this line correlates almost identically with the standard of living line, to which I have already referred. A study of these very old church records shows conclusively that the ups and downs in church activity synchronized remarkably with the ups and downs of the standard of living.”

Supposing this correlation to be true, it would be no more than a confirmation of that which John Wesley pointed out long ago. Religion makes men industrious and thrifty. Industry and thrift make them prosperous, and prosperity destroys their religion. It is very easy to reverse the cart and the horse in interpreting statistics, especially when we have a particular point to prove. It is possible to prove almost anything by means of statistics, not necessarily by a dishonest use of them, but by failure to consider all the factors, or failure to interpret them rightly. It has been statistically proven that children who eat breakfast do better in school, and it is taken for granted that the reason they do better in school is that they have eaten breakfast. It would never once enter the heads of those who sell breakfast cereals to interpret the statistics any other way. Yet I am more inclined to think the reason such children eat breakfast is that they are the kind of children who do well. The children who eat no breakfast are likely the lazy, who stay in bed at breakfast time, or those whose parents take little interest in their discipline and upbringing. Such a kind of children are not likely to do well at anything. Statistics are generally a very precarious proof.

But I deny the truth of the exact correlation which the author finds between spiritual and material prosperity. The present time is certainly a disproof of it. The doctrine of the Bible is directly against it. Moreover, the author's chart shows a time of deep depression from the latter part of 1857 through the early part of 1859, and yet we know that at this very time a great awakening was sweeping the entire nation of America. Prayer meetings were held daily and nightly in every city in the land, and multiplied thousands were converted.

We cannot regard it as anything but presumptuous that Mr. Babson should suppose the study of secular economic statistics should make him a prophet of God, able to predict the coming of a great revival. In fact, the author's lack of spirituality is manifest throughout the book. A single paragraph will suffice to convince my readers of that. Mr. Babson says (pp. 33-34), “Suddenly the fifth great awakening was born. In this period [1900 and following], outstanding preachers developed in every denomination. It was the time when Theodore Roosevelt emerged upon the scene and awakened the conscience of the nation. The 'Men and Religion Movement' sprang up during these years. The Inter-Church World Movement swept the nation at this time. The Y.M.C.A. experienced tremendous growth, both nationally and internationally. New churches were built in every community. All kinds of welfare movements were inaugurated. Lodges and civic organizations sprang up almost everywhere. All this culminated in America's entering the World War. During the war, emotions were aroused to such height that a collapse was inevitable. Everything was boiling. Commodity prices reached tremendous heights, collapsing in 1921; Stock Exchange prices exceeded all previous records, culminating in 1929; while religious fervor reached its peak with 'Billy' Sunday, whose tabernacles still exist as monuments to mistaken good intentions.”

So this is the author's notion of a “great awakening.” There is a great deal more of the mystery of iniquity in it than there is of spiritual revival. The only thing in it which remotely resembles revival is the ministry of Billy Sunday, and that he depreciates.

Such a view of revival may make it fairly easy to predict one, and at any rate the author has no doubt about that. He writes (pp. 35-36)----and recall, he wrote when America had been for six years in the throes of the Great Depression----”Yet, I repeat, no statician is discouraged. History has always repeated itself and always will. Just as a great spiritual awakening followed similar conditions in previous times, so a great spiritual awakening is now ahead. All signs indicate that America will soon again be swept by a spiritual revival. Nothing can stop it. Just as certain as day follows night, so religious awakenings follow periods of religious depression. The Church is on the eve of its greatest period of prosperity. Everyone who will take the trouble to study history will arrive at this conclusion. There is nothing to discourage us and everything to encourage us.”

He closes the book by saying (pg. 47), “America will again be swept by a great spiritual awakening. Nothing can stop it.”

This surely was tickling the ears of a worldly and lukewarm church, and some evidently delighted to have their ears tickled. The book received a brief but favorable review in Moody Monthly, by its editor, and the president of Moody Bible Institute, Will H. Houghton. He says, “The hearts of Christians will be bound to his closing sentence:

“'America will again be swept by a great spiritual awakening. Nothing can stop it.”

'And our voices and pens say, 'Amen.”

'This book should be read and urged upon the attention of others.”*

This is bad enough, and indicates how little of spiritual discernment there was among the most prominent of Fundamentalists, even sixty years ago. But there is something much worse. The publishers of a popular hymnal took advantage of this “great revival coming” for commercial purposes. On the back cover of the November 1936 number of Moody Monthly appears a full-page advertisement, which begins as follows:

”Nothing can stop it!

The careful judgment of that famous business prophet, Roger W. Babson, who says----

“'A revival is coming. All signs indicate that America will soon again be swept by a great spiritual awakening. The church is on the eve of its greatest period of prosperity. Good times are ahead spiritually and materially. Let the Bridegroom find us ready when He comes.'

”Zealous singing introduces every great revival. The use of 'Tabernacle Hymns Number Three' will hasten this one. Church attendance will climb again. Membership will increase. Your budget will be raised easily.”

In the months that followed, such advertising appeared again and again. On page 205, “HASTEN the GREAT REVIVAL. All signs indicate a great spiritual awakening soon will sweep America. It will arise on the wings of song. Prepare to hasten the day. Choose new song books from the many available through our affiliations.” On page 318, “HASTEN The Day! Nothing can stop the spiritual awakening which soon will sweep America. It will arise on the wings of song. Hasten the day with the aid of 'Tabernacle Hymns Number Three'----a source of spiritual power able to transform your church.” On page 381, “Good Times Ahead, Spiritual----Material. A great revival is coming! Nothing can stop it. Hasten the day with zealous singing. 'Tabernacle Hymns Number Three' is a source of spiritual power able to transform your church.”

This is as shameful as it is presumptuous, and displays besides a great deal of spiritual ignorance. Those who expect good times material and spiritual have learned their doctrines from some other book than the Bible. Material prosperity is one of the great hindrances to revival. It is likewise foolish to expect revival to “arise on the wings of song.” If that were the case, we ought to have revival enough. I understand well enough the power of music, but if we want to see revival, what the church needs is not singing, but weeping.

But to return to the book which excited such expectations, we may safely say that anyone who had read Babson's predictions with spiritual discernment in 1936 would have known very well that they were not to be relied upon. The author knows nothing of what revival is, or how it is to be procured. He was one of the last men who should have been writing such a book. But it happens often that men who by natural abilities have gained some place of leadership or prominence in the world----school teachers, lawyers, businessmen, even radio announcers----seem to suppose that they therefore have spiritual ability also, and assume places of ministry in the church for which they are no way fit.

And looking back over the sixty years which have intervened since this book was written, its confident prediction has been thoroughly proved to have been the merest pipe-dream. Since 1936 there has been nothing remotely resembling revival in America. There have been some spots a little brighter than others in the dark picture, but taken all together, those six decades have been one long period of constant decline in the church----a period of continually increasing worldliness, lukewarmness, and materialism, and of continuous decline in spirituality and depth, so that the Fundamentalism of the present day is in general a positive disgrace to Christianity, and Evangelicalism very much worse. There has been no revival.

Neither has there been at any time during this period any awakening among the ungodly, but only the banishing of God further and further from the life of the nation, only the accelerated operation of the mystery of iniquity, only increasing irreligion, materialism, and ungodliness, so that the ungodly world of 1936 would blush for shame to see the shameless ungodliness of the present day.

Moreover, Babson's book was likely one factor in assuring that there would be no revival. Its tendency was directly against revival. Its tendency was to inspire presumption and carelessness, rather than humility and travail. The fact that such a book was well received by leaders of the church was no good omen.


n Stray Notes on the English Bible n

by the Editor


The Penitent Thief

The King James Version does not carefully distinguish between a thief and a robber. The modern versions (of course) do so, and so of course the penitent thief has ceased to exist. He is not a thief, a êëÝðôçò, but a ëwóôÞò, a robber, and it is passing strange that the King James Version should not have told us so. It is, we must suppose, but one more proof of the pitiable ignorance or the inexcusable carelessness of the makers of the old version. The makers of the new versions, along with those for whom they are made, generally regard the makers of the old version as little better than ignorant blunderers. They were mere children in understanding, whereas the scholarship of the present day has come of age. I am of another mind. I hold just the reverse to be true.

In the case before us we must ask, Is this sound wisdom, which must carefully distinguish between a thief and a robber, and so endeavor to turn the penitent thief into a penitent robber? There are three questions to be answered here. The first, how does the Greek employ these two terms? The second, how does the English? The third, supposing that both the Greek and the English carefully distinguish them, is that distinction important enough to justify the abandoning of the familiar language of the old version?

As to the first two questions, R. C. Trench----no mean authority----in his Synonyms answers them both peremptorily against the old version.

With Trench, it is taken for granted by the makers of the new versions that a êëÝðôçò, or thief, is one who steals by stealth, whereas a ëwóôÞò, or robber, is one who steals by threats or violence, and it is evidently taken for granted also that this distinction is so important as to require us to abandon the familiar language of the old version. How does the case actually stand?

I venture to affirm that this distinction, while true in general, is not by any means so rigid as Trench supposes. The real standard of language is its usage, and not what grammarians affirm it to be, or wish it to be. We are well aware that some common usage is very improper----and we use what powers we have to discourage and oppose it----but when usage has become common and universal, it becomes the standard, whether we like it or not. And usage, we must recognize, is very often elastic, very seldom rigid. Is the usage of these two words what Trench affirms it to be?

First the Greek. The “den of thieves,” according to Trench and all the modern Bible versions, ought in fact to be a “den of robbers,” yet it is plain that there was no violence involved in their robbery.

In John 10:1 we read, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.” Again in the eighth verse, “All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them.” Not, observe, thieves or robbers, but thieves and robbers. “All that ever came before me are” both “thieves and robbers.” But these “robbers” do not commit their depredations by force of arms, but by stealth. This “thief and robber” enters not by the door, but “climbeth up some other way.”

Trench affirms that the usage of these two terms together is not mere tautology, but he gives no explanation of why they are used together, nor indeed of how they can be on his ground. We will not call it mere tautology, but we must recognize that common usage is common and not technical. There is a fullness or an emphasis gained by the joining together of synonyms. This belongs to the common usage of language, when the speaker has not the slightest thought of distinguishing these terms in any technical sense, nor the shadow of a dream that his hearers will do so. To apply the test of rigid technicality, for example, to Paul's “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” is utterly futile. It results in as many interpretations as there are interpreters. This is common language, and was never meant to be run through a technical sieve. The intellectual scholarship which insists upon handling the word of truth in so technical a manner is not wisdom, but pedantry, and is as great a bane to truth as it is to spirituality. We do not believe the Lord intended to designate two things by “thief and robber,” but one, and the fact that the words can be thus associated together indicates that the distinction between them is not so rigid as grammarians suppose.

So S. T. Bloomfield writes, wisely I believe, on John 10:1, “ÊëÝðôçò and ëwóôÞò properly differ, as our thief (or pilferer) and robber, (or, highwayman), the one referring to private stealing, the other to public and violent robbery. Here, however, they have little or no difference, but being united, have a force greater than either would bear separately.”

This is merely the fullness and the emphasis of common speech, with no distinction intended. This sort of speech is common in both Greek and English. English thought is replete with such a mode of expression. In older English we find such common phrases as “without let or hindrance,” where the two terms meant exactly the same thing, “faithful and true,” where again the two terms meant precisely the same thing, and “time and tide”----”tide” originally meaning nothing other than “time.” Expressions such as “pet and caress,” “foam and froth,” and “aid and abet” are common, so that it is a little strange to see Englishmen straining to distinguish the two halves of such expressions. But the “minute micrology” of intellectual scholarship is generally so occupied with nice distinctions that it fails to find the ground of common sense. This is the fruit of a little knowledge, coupled with very little thought or meditation. It is the fruit of classroom scholarship, which has lost its touch with common thought.

But it will be said that the examples which I have given do not apply, for in all my examples the two terms are precisely synonymous, while “thief” and “robber” are not. To this I reply that it was necessary for my purpose to give examples in which the two terms were exactly synonymous, in order to establish the fact that this is a common mode of expression, where no distinction in the terms can possibly be intended. Nevertheless, there are many such compound expressions in which the two terms may be distinguished, where it is yet safe to say that no rigid or technical distinction is intended. In Scripture, “the wise and prudent” (Matt. 11:25), “unlearned and ignorant men” (Acts 4:13), “all patience and longsuffering” (Col. 1:11), “unblameable and unreproveable” (Col. 1:22), “our labour and travail” (I Thes. 2:9)----on which Alford writes, “a repetition to intensify----as we should say labour and pains: no distinction can be established.”

The plain fact is, those commentators and expositors who are always laboring to distinguish such terms have altogether missed their calling. They have mistaken a mode of expression which is employed to speak forcefully to the heart for one which is designed to fill the head with technical niceties. They have lost the spirit and purpose of the word of God in the fruitless speculations of a shallow and barren intellectualism.

To return to “thief” and “robber,” the LXX also associates these two words, and practically equates them. In Hosea 7:2 we read, “and a THIEF shall come in to him, even a ROBBER spoiling in his way.” This according to the English version attached to Bagster's edition of the LXX. “Robber” is an appositive of “thief.”

Turning to the English, though we grant that in general a thief is one who steals by stealth, and the robber by threats or violence, yet this distinction is certainly not rigidly observed. Trench grants that examples without number might be given from older works in which no such distinction appears, and this is certainly true, though it may be to a lesser degree, to the present day. Long after Trench wrote, the Oxford English Dictionary defined “thief” as one who takes the property of another “by stealth,” but adds, “In more general sense, comprehending such as rob with violence; e.g. robbers, freebooters, pirates, etc.; now rare exc. as a general designation of one who obtains goods by fraudulent means, over-reaching, deceit, etc.” How rare such usage may be is not mine to determine. The fact is, the usage exists.

An older man who marries a younger woman is said to “rob the cradle,” though he does not do this by threats or force. A horse thief is a horse thief, whether he takes the horse by stealth from the pasture, or takes it out from underneath its owner, and no one has ever heard of a horse robber. On the other side, a bank robber is a bank robber, whether he robs the teller at gun-point, or enters the place by stealth at night, and no one has ever yet heard of a bank thief. George Miles White was properly a “bank burglar,” as he calls himself, yet says, “'Tall Jim,' ... and I, had robbed a bank at Adams, N. Y., and had been sentenced to Auburn Prison in that State, for ten years each. Then I was possessed of a fortune accounted as great. Also I had acquired the knowledge that money was all-powerful, even though it was at the command of an incarcerated thief.”

In lamenting the effects of his first book he says, “...these friendly followers of my unfortunate career gasped in dismay when I robbed the first bank under their very eyes, and regained in booty an amount more than equal to all I had been defrauded of. Shocked that I had become a thief, yet they condoned the crime.”

Again, “Jim Griffin, the famous bank sneak, who figured in one of my biggest robberies.”

A missionary's journal, written in 1833, contains the following entry: “Early this morning, a thief or thieves entered our house. The robbery was very artfully executed.”

Another, writing in 1933, describing D. L. Moody's Chicago meetings in 1876, says, “I cannot forget one night I was late, and the doors were locked, and by a small margin I was on the outside. I could not help but think, suppose I was locked out of heaven, but through hook and crook I got in! Then I felt like a robber, who crawled in over the back fence.” Crawling in over the back fence is an entry by stealth, not violence, so that according to the dictates of the grammarians he ought to have called himself a thief, not a robber, but the fact is, there is no rigid distinction between these words. Lexicographers would like to believe that there are nice distinctions in the meanings of various words, and, the wish apparently being the father of the thought, suppose therefore that those distinctions actually exist, but usage is often against them.

On July 10, 1998, after the rest of this was written, I providentially heard Paul Harvey's news report. He told of a thief who had been threatening people with “Give me your money or I'll kill you.” Our modern translators can of course tell us that this was no thief at all, but a robber. Paul Harvey is apparently ignorant of the whims of the grammarians and the decrees of the lexicographers, yet I think he knows common English.

It appears then that though the words “thief” and “robber” may be distinguished in meaning in both Greek and English, when our purpose calls for such distinction, yet the distinction between them is not rigid, and they are often used indiscriminately. This being determined, we turn to our third question. Is the distinction between them important enough to call for the abandonment of the familiar language of the common English version? It must be understood that the term “the penitent thief” is an old landmark, belonging to the common thought and language of all English Christians. It ought to be understood also that it is a much different thing to translate the Bible for the first time into any language, than to revise it after its language has been long established in the minds and hearts of the people. Do any of the modern revisers understand this? It would be an easy thing to give numerous examples of “the penitent thief,” “the dying thief,” and “the thief on the cross,” from every quarter of Christian literature, both before and after the publication of the Revised Version, which took upon itself to alter “thief” to “robber.” The gain which accrues to the understanding in making such a change is negligible, or non-existent, while the loss to the feelings is substantial. The small gain is not worth the large loss. This was the general opinion among men at the time of the publication of the Revised Version.

A criticism which appeared in The Guardian on the day following the publication of the Revised Version----and which is in some respects very favorable to the revision----says, “But with all these advantages there remains the question whether the Revisers have been sufficiently conservative in details to avoid giving unnecessary offence to ears familiar with the old version. ... We must own, in short, that the Revisers seem to us to have introduced a good many rather gratuitous alterations. ... The two thieves between whom our Lord was crucified become two robbers; and without any real alteration of meaning a break is thus made in one of the most solemn and familiar associations.” This was quoted from the Times. The editor of The Guardian said at a later date, “It is beyond all question that, turn where we will in the chapters before us, abundance of changes present themselves which no obligation of faithfulness required to be made at all. ... The same thing may be said about the change of the 'two thieves' crucified with our Lord into 'two robbers.' The Revisers will never succeed in converting the 'Penitent Thief' into a 'penitent robber.”'

Burgon agreed, and wrote, “That the malefactors between whom 'the LORD of glory' was crucified were not ordinary 'thieves,' is obvious; yet would it have been wiser, we think, to leave the old designation undisturbed. We shall never learn to call them 'robbers.”'

Edmund Beckett summarizes the general opinion of the public, saying, “Nearly every review that I have seen has noticed the change of the crucified 'thieves' into 'robbers.' If this were a first translation of the Bible, and not merely a professed correction of mistakes in the old one, 'robbers' would certainly be more right than 'thieves,' according to dictionaries, Greek and English and legal. For the original word ëwóôáß means pirates or highway robbers or robbers with violence, as we say. ... But considering how universally the 'thieves' have been accepted, not only in this text but in speaking of the penitent and the impenitent thief; and that the same word is used at [Matt.] xxi.13, where 'ye have made it a den of thieves,' cannot mean highway robbers or anything of that kind, though the Revisers make it so; and that the word 'robbers' is very little used alone; and that introducing a new and unusual word requires much stronger reasons than keeping an old one; and that the word 'thieves' in common use is quite enough to include robbers with violence, which 'robbers' alone hardly indicates now; and that it really does not matter which they were, for there is no such peculiar infamy attached to highway robbers over all other thieves as revisionists assume; I concur for all these reasons in the general opinion that the Revisers had much better have left the 'thieves' alone; but they might have put 'robbers' in the margin,” &c.

Simonides Again

by the editor

The following came under my eye too late to be inserted in my article on Codex Sinaiticus. It appears that Simonides had made a name for himself, such as it was, some years before he advanced his claims concerning Codex à. I quote from The Guardian, March 5, 1856, pg. 182:

“The excitement among scholars and explorers caused by the tricks of Constantine Simonides is not likely to die away. Collectors are turning over their treasures, and librarians are looking back wistfully to their recent acquisitions. Oxford, we hear, has escaped without a scroll; but we have reason to fear that other cities have been less cautious or less fortunate. The British Museum bought some of the Simonides scrolls. Sir Thomas Philipps was also a purchaser. Simonides presented himself at the Bodleian with some genuine MSS., his plan being to produce genuine articles first, and afterwards, as he found opportunity, to bring out his other wares. Laying down some real Greek MSS., he asked the librarian to what era they belonged. 'The tenth or eleventh centuries,' said the scholar. Simonides took heart, and produced what he said was a very ancient MS. 'And what century,' he asked, 'do you think it belongs to?' Our librarian looked quietly into the forger's face, and answered, 'M. Simonides, I should say it belongs to the latter half of the nineteenth century.' Simonides gathered up his scrolls, and quitted Oxford by an early train. Professor Dindorf, we believe, wished the University of Oxford to buy the Palimpsest of Uranius, offering to edit the work in case they made the purchase. But Oxford declined the 'Pure Simonides;' and now that other learned pundits are grieving over their losses and their credulity, the Oxonians have some little right to be proud of their scholarship and sagacity.----Athenæum.”

I am aware that it is the way of Mrs. Riplinger and her kind to belittle both “scholars” and “scholarship”----and often enough, I grant, with good reason, especially in the present day. Nevertheless, there is such a thing as true scholarship, and men conversant with ancient manuscripts knew how to tell the difference between a real one and a forgery. There were plenty of libraries and collectors eager enough to buy real manuscripts of antiquity, as is proved by the fact that many of them, suspecting no fraud, actually did buy the wares of Simonides. What possible reason could such men have had to call genuine manuscripts forgeries? If they had been genuine, these men would have been glad to have them. If Simonides had been an honest man, dealing only in actual ancient manuscripts, such men as Tregelles and Scrivener would have been the first to vindicate him.

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