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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
'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
----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!
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n Book Review n
by Glenn Conjurske
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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)
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
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,
'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
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.
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n Stray Notes on the English Bible n
by the Editor
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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
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
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
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
----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
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)
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
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
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.
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.
I am aware that it is the way of Mrs. Riplinger and her kind to belittle
both scholars and scholarship
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
OP&AL is a testimony, not a forum. Old articles are printed without
alteration (except for correction of misprints) unless stated otherwise,
and are inserted if the editor judges them profitable for instruction
or historical information, without endorsing everything in them. The editor's
own position is to be learned from his own writings.