"AS I SEE IT"
Volume 3, Number 10, October 2000
["As I See It" is a monthly electronic magazine compiled and edited by Doug Kutilek. Its purpose is to address important issues of the day and to draw attention to worthwhile Christian and other literature in order to aid believers in Jesus Christ, especially pastors, missionaries and Bible college and seminary students to more effectively study and teach the Word of God. The editor's perspective is that of an independent Baptist of fundamentalist theological persuasion.
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Too Late! Too Late! A Testimony from C. H. Spurgeon
Some years ago I was awakened about three o’clock in the morning by a sharp ring of the door-bell. I was urged without delay to visit a house not far from London Bridge. I went; and up two pairs of stairs was shown into a room, the occupants of which were a nurse and a dying man. There was nobody else. ‘Oh! Sir,‘ said she, ‘Mr. So-and-so, about half an hour ago, begged me to send for you.’
What does he want?’ I asked.
‘He is dying, sir,’ she replied.
I said, ‘I see that. What sort of man was he?’
‘He came home last night, sir, from Brighton. He had been out all day. I looked for a Bible sir, but there is not one in the house; I hope you have got one.’
‘Oh!’ I said, ‘a Bible would be of no use to him now; if he could understand me, I could tell him the way of salvation in the very words of Holy Scripture.’ I spoke to him, but he gave me no answer. I spoke again; still there was no reply. All sense had fled. I stood a few minutes gazing at his face, til I perceived he was dead; his soul had departed.
That man in his lifetime had been wont to jeer at me. In strong language he had often denounced me as a hypocrite. Yet he was no sooner smitten with the darts of death than he sought my presence and my counsel, feeling no doubt in his heart that I was a servant of God, though he did not care to own it with his lips. There I stood, unable to help him. Promptly as I had responded to his call, what could I do but look at his corpse and go home again? He had, when too late, sighed for the ministry of reconciliation, sought to enter in, but he was not able. There was no space left him then for repentance; he had wasted the opportunity.
Therefore, I pray and beseech you, my dear hearers, by the near approach of death—it may be much nearer than you think—give heed to these things. I look round on this building, and note the pews and sittings from which hearers, whose faces were once familiar to us, have gone—some to glory, some I know not where. God knoweth. Oh! Let not the next removal, if it be yours, vacate the seat of a scoffer, or of a neglecter, or of one who, having been touched in his conscience, silenced the secret monitor and would not turn. As the Lord liveth, you must turn or burn; you must either repent or be ruined for ever. May God give you wisdom to choose the better part!”
Charles Haddon Spurgeon
Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit
vol. 63, 1917, pp. 188-9.
“THE MAN WHO HATED EVERYTHING”
I remember ever so vaguely some reference to Henry Louis (better known by his initials H. L.) Mencken being made by Noel Smith, one of my Bible college professors in the early 1970s. He even wrote an editorial in The Baptist Bible Tribune in which he compared the poisonous and malicious cynicism of four noted American authors, among them Mencken. But it wasn’t until a decade later in the 1980s that I first took particular note of Mencken. I ran across a quote by him in a book by Dr. Richard Mitchell, The Graves of Academe (Little, Brown & Co, 1981), to wit: “After sober and judicious consideration, and weighing one thing against another in the interest of reasonable compromise, H. L. Mencken concluded that a startling and dramatic improvement in American education required only that we hang all the professors and burn down the schools.” (p. 69; Mitchell goes on to add, with a bit of chagrin, that “His uncharacteristically moderate proposal was not adopted.”) Being, as I am, somewhat inclined toward biting wit and stinging sarcasm, I decided that I would indeed see what else I could learn about this Mencken fellow.
Almost the next day, as I prowled a recently-opened used bookstore just walking distance from the house, I found the Mencken “mother-lode”—a copy of The Days of H. L. Mencken (Alfred A. Knopf, 1947) a trilogy in one volume of autobiographical memoirs written when he was near 60, and what was long the best biography of Mencken, Disturber of the Peace, by William Manchester (Harper and Brothers, 1950; a “supplement” to this volume may be found in “My Old Man: The Last Years of H. L. Mencken” in Manchester’s Controversy [Little, Brown, & Co., 1976], ). I fell to reading these, completing the first-mentioned book in a couple of weeks, and the other some time later. I have been reading stuff by and about Mencken off and on ever since. (If nothing else, the reader should get the third volume in the trilogy, Heathen Days, and read the chapter “Memoirs of the Stable.” It is far and away the most riotously funny thing I have ever read—and I find it still uproariously funny after 6 or 7 readings).
Henry Mencken was born in Baltimore in 1880, and died there in 1956, having lived nearly the whole of his life in the house purchased by his parents when he was a toddler. He was German in ancestry (three-fourths of his grandparents had immigrated to Baltimore in pre-Civil War times), a source of growing lifelong pride as he researched the family history, and even traveled to Germany for the expressed purpose of meeting some living (and very distant) ancestors in “der Vaterland.” Henry’s father was owner of a cigar factory and moderately well-to-do, and was, like his own father, a non-religious skeptic, a tragic legacy which he passed on to Henry. As a juvenile, Henry attended for a time a Methodist Sunday School, and later completed Lutheran catechism; as an adult, he heard many conservative preachers, including Billy Sunday, but the influence of his father’s example, and his reading as a youth of such authors as T. H. Huxley overwhelmed the Christian influences in his early life.
At first doomed as a post-school teen-ager to labor in the cigar factory (with a view to later management and ownership), young Henry had “druther” be a newspaper reporter and author. He in fact rejoiced when his father died in 1899 (he even burned a picture of his father the day of the funeral), because it freed him from his personal “slavery” to the factory. He sought employment as a fledgling reporter, and ended up doing volunteer reporting for some while before he was actually paid for his work.
He had found his element. For the rest of his professional career he was active as a reporter, writer, editor, and literary critic. He was long-associated with the Sunpapers of Baltimore, and edited by turns The Smart Set and The American Mercury, two monthly literary magazines of the first third of the twentieth century. As an author, he wrote numerous books on a wide variety of topics, some of which remain standard works to this day. The two of greatest lasting merit, besides the Days trilogy, are The American Language (discussed in “The Study of English,” AISI 3:2) and A New Dictionary of Quotations (see “A Guide to Books of Quotations,” AISI 3:6). A selection of his own “best” writings were compiled by Mencken and published under the title A Mencken Chrestomathy (Knopf, 1949). Probably Mencken’s most famous single literary production was the notorious bathtub hoax story. Written as though a piece of serious historic research (though it was pure invention from start to finish), Mencken wrote what was passed off as a true account of the invention of the bathtub. Many were taken in by this elaborate fraud, and the story was referenced for decades as authoritative in serious literature, a fact which Mencken found vastly entertaining.
Ever the industrious reader and meticulous about detail, Mencken labored long and hard to make a name for himself and expand the reach of his influence. By translating and publishing some of Frederick Nietzsche’s works, he introduced that philosopher of Aryan supremacy to the American public. By the early 1910s, he was one of the leading literary critics in America, and by 1920, he was the most important and influential literary figure in the country. Dozens of soon-famous novelists and essayists were “discovered” by Mencken, or were given a big break by him, when he promoted and publicized their work. Sinclair Lewis, whose career Mencken had greatly helped, dedicated his anti-Christian novel Elmer Gantry to Mencken. Mencken, however, greatly disliked Ernest Hemingway personally (which immediately raises my estimation of Mencken).
Mencken’s fortes were politics, and social criticism. He was a self-styled libertarian, who strongly despised social reformers, do-gooders, “up-lifters,” Prohibition, Woodrow Wilson (and later both Calvin Coolidge and Franklin Roosevelt), but especially conservative, fundamentalist Christianity. His brutal sarcasm and ridicule were generously heaped on anyone and anything he opposed. And he opposed and ridiculed a great many things. It seemed as if he were well-described by inverting a famous Lincoln phrase, namely: “With malice for all, with charity for none.” In fact, he was given the personally unwelcome designation as “the man who hated everything.” Mencken protested this title, asserting that he in fact was in favor of a good many things, including common decency, hard work, and leaving people alone. Mencken is the quintessential “curmudgeon” of the modern era—a crusty, cantankerous man of withering sarcasm and brutal denunciation of everything he found disagreeable (just behind Mencken in the curmudgeon pantheon come Mark Twain and Ambrose Bierce; the classic curmudgeon, the man who set the standard for all time, was Englishman Samuel Johnson [1709-1784]).
The character “Linus” of the Peanuts comic strip once said “I love mankind; it’s people I can’t stand.” With Mencken, just the inverse was true. He had an overweening contempt for the masses of mankind, but had a strong streak of compassion for individuals whom he knew personally. And while he can be quoted at length expressing racist and anti-Semitic sentiments, those Blacks and Jews (and others of other ethnicities) with whom he came into regular contact were treated with decency, respect and compassion.
It was Mencken who persuaded agnostic attorney Clarence Darrow to defend John Scopes in the famous monkey trial in Dayton, Tennessee in 1925—Mencken hated lead counsel for the prosecution William Jennings Bryan as much as Darrow did, and gloated when Bryan died a few days after the trial ended. And it was the Baltimore Sunpapers, Mencken’s employer, that agreed to pay Scopes’ fine, if there was any. Mencken more than any other person did what he could to turn the Scopes trial into a media circus (and that is exactly what it became), with the deliberate purpose and design of holding the Bible and conservative Christianity up to public, nation-wide ridicule and scorn. Mencken himself attended the trial, and wrote tens of thousands of words from the scene, though he left before the trial ended, thinking that “the show was over,” (and not a little concerned for his personal safety, his poisonous pen having provoked the ire of local Daytonians) and thereby missed the dramatic appearance of Bryan on the witness stand, and his post-trial death.
The Scopes trial proved to be Mencken’s “peak”—he was never more influential, yet his fame and following tailed off precipitously thereafter, and by the mid-30s, he was a has-been, virtually forgotten, and devoid of any sizeable popular following. (He married in 1930, at the age of 50, and devoted the next five years chiefly to his marriage; his wife died in 1935). The last decade-plus of his active life as a writer was spent collecting, consolidating and organizing his personal papers, while continuing to write at a furious pace.
Mencken was felled by a stroke in mid-sentence while conversing with his secretary over lunch in November, 1948, and lived the last 8 years of his life in mental anguish, since this man who lived by and for the written word, was unable to write or read, and could only with much difficulty express himself in speech. He considered the year of his stroke as the year of his death. He died in much bitterness and pessimism.
Even in death, Mencken guaranteed that he would still be the subject of attention for decades after his passing. His will specified that his personal papers and any unpublished works would be parceled out at specified intervals over a period of 35 years following his death. The last of these, an unpublished and unfinished autobiographical account, My Life as Editor and Author was made public in 1991, and published by Knopf in 1993.
Mencken’s diary, released as per the will in 1981, and published by Knopf in 1989, created quite a furor. Many professed admirers of Mencken expressed shock and dismay that Mencken came across in the diary as strongly prejudiced against Jews, Blacks, the English and many other ethnic groups. I confess to being astonished at the professed astonishment of these Menckenians. One of two things is true: either, they were pretending to be amazed, or they were admirers of Mencken only at second or third hand, that is, they were not in fact readers of Mencken, but only adherents to what he was in reputation; they were not knowledgeable admirers. (He was reputedly anti-conservative Christian and that was good enough for them). I found nothing out of the ordinary in the diary regarding Mencken’s attitudes, views, or expressions.
The most recent and fullest biography of Mencken, and the only one to have access to all of Mencken’s papers, is that written by Fred Hobson, Mencken: a Life (Random House, 1994). It is indeed THE biography of Mencken, vastly superseding all previous efforts.
Ordinarily, Mencken denounced fundamentalist Christians (and at least a few of his criticisms were well-deserved), but did not speak evilly of Jesus, treating him after the manner of the liberals and modernists of the day: Jesus was a good teacher and a fine man, but sadly misrepresented by his professed followers, who corrupted his teaching and failed to follow it. However, on occasion, Mencken spoke in a manner highly derogatory to Christ, so much so that I refuse to reproduce it here (see the Hobson biography, p. 478). And after excising the genealogical records, Mencken burned the family Bible.
Mencken is still commonly quoted (I heard a sports commentator cite him within the past month), and the impact of his ideas and influence is still felt, for good or ill (much more the latter than the former), more than half a century after his active life as a writer ended. He was a man of great abilities, though they were often squandered on the profane, the vicious, and the sacrilegious. He died in despair, and without hope.
SUMMER FOR THE GODS: THE SCOPES TRIAL AND AMERICA’S CONTINUING DEBATE OVER SCIENCE AND RELIGION by Edward J. Larson. New York: Basic Books, 1997; 318 pp. $25.00
In the popular understanding of the conflict between evolutionary teaching and the creationism of conservative Christianity, the final and decisive “battle” was the famous Scopes “monkey trial” held in Dayton, Tennessee, in the summer of 1925. And the popular--especially media--perception of the outcome, is that the creationist fundamentalists were fully, overwhelmingly, and finally crushed, humiliated, and sent packing; case closed, ancient history, settled and done. But such is not the case. The popular mythology about Scopes has been molded--actually marred and caricatured--by the Broadway play/Hollywood movie “Inherit the Wind,” which the unknowing and ignorant accept as a fair presentation of the historic facts of the trial and its results. Vastly more have seen the movie than have read, for example, the transcript of the trial, and for most, it is all they “know” about the trial.
Larson’s thoroughly-researched and heavily-documented book seeks to present the real facts of the Scopes trial: the passage of the law which led to it, the events that brought young John Scopes to volunteer as the defendant in a test case, the entrance of William Jennings Bryan as counsel for the prosecution and his nemesis Clarence Darrow as counsel for the defense, the involvement of the ACLU, the media circus, the trial itself, and the legal and social aftermath of it.
It is fair to say that Larson is inclined toward the evolutionists, though he is on the whole even-handed. I think that he is mistaken in his claim that Bryan was humiliated on the witness stand by Darrow. Having read carefully the transcript of the trial, I think Bryan on the whole did a commendable job, though yielding unnecessarily to “day-age” views of the interpretation of Genesis 1. I will agree that it was a tactical mistake for Bryan to take the stand without also being guaranteed that Darrow would do the same. Bryan was also “snookered” out of presenting his closing arguments in court, which were on the whole full of excellent material.
It is notable that the defense argued for academic freedom to present in classrooms ALL the facts concerning the question of origins, not just one side. This is exactly what creationists argue now: “let the students hear the evidence both for and against evolution.” But now the ACLU and the evolutionists say, “No, only evolution should be taught, and not as a mere theory, but as an established fact, with no one contradicting us.”
It comes as no surprise that the news media of that day was all but universally prejudiced in favor of the evolutionists, and vehemently against the creationists.
One matter that Larson does not address is the content of the “expert testimony” presented on the behalf of Scopes and read into the court record. Virtually the whole of the arguments appealed to by those evolutionist scientists have now been abandoned by evolutionists themselves as “proofs” of evolution (among the proofs the famous Piltdown man “fossil”—the biggest single fraud in evolution history. It is notable that fundamentalist pastor John Roach Straton of New York City denounced Piltdown man as a fraud when it was first announced in the 1910s--and he was proven right 40 years later)!
Larson establishes that the Scopes trial was not the “Waterloo” of fundamentalism and anti-evolutionism that it is popularly thought to have been (an error that I myself have fallen into). Anti-evolution laws were passed in several other states after the Scopes trial, and some stayed on the books as late as the mid-1960s. The notion of the Scopes trial as climactic and decisive was first suggested by Frederick Lewis Allen’s hastily written book Only Yesterday, a chatty oral history of the 1920s written at the beginning of the 1930s. In reality, fundamentalism was not crushed, but the events of the 30s and 40s (particularly the Great Depression and the coming of war) directed attention to other matters.
It is notable that when “Inherit the Wind” came out as a play and then a movie in the 1950s, reporters and historians familiar with (and in some cases present at) the Scopes trial roundly denounced it as a historic fraud, grossly distorting almost every aspect of the trial. But when the play was revived decades later, it was hailed (by those wholly ignorant of the facts) as a great achievement.
Larson’s book is a very helpful study, and should be read in conjunction with a transcript of the Scopes trial (which has been reprinted at least once in the past decade or so).
IT'S A YOUNG WORLD AFTER ALL by Paul D. Ackerman. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986. 131 pp., paperback
If it can be firmly established that the age of the earth (and by extension, the Solar System and the universe) must be counted in thousands, rather than in millions or billions of years, then a coup de grace will have been delivered to the theory of evolution. One thing is not in dispute: for evolution to take place requires vast amounts--almost infinite amounts--of time. "Time" is the omnipotent god of the religion of evolution
Dr. Paul Ackerman, who has long taught in the psychology department at Wichita State University, has assembled a number of convincing scientific evidences that the earth is a mere youth, relatively speaking, with a maximum possible age of a few thousand years. Included in these proofs are treatments of moon dust, comets, polonium halos, the speed of light, polystrate fossils, and numerous other indicators of a young earth.
(On one point I would differ from Ackerman's interpretation--the axial wobble of the earth dated to the 24th century B.C. is more likely to be associated with the mass extinction of mammoths in Siberia than the Flood, which I think must be dated earlier by a couple of millennia).
Documentation is provided, and the style of writing is such that high school, and even junior high students can readily understand the material. This is one fine book.
A HISTORY OF THE DEBATE OVER 1 JOHN 5:7-8 by Michael Maynard. Tempe, Ariz.: Comma Publications, 1995. $31.50
No doubt this book cost its author a great deal of labor, but it proved to be a sadly misguided and poorly-directed effort. The book is one vast presupposition in search of evidence (the author admits as much). He starts with the conclusion, that I John 5:7 is a genuine part of John's epistle, and then seeks support for this a priori conclusion wherever and by whatever means he can. Defects in evidence, evaluation of evidence, evaluation of sources, uses of sources, selective use and misuse of evidence, and even logic, reason and deduction crowd virtually every page.
There indeed was a famous and centuries-long debate, beginning in the 16th century, about whether I John 5:7 (and a bit of v. 8) was a genuine part of I John. That debate was over in the mid-19th century, by which time the great bulk of the evidence had been gathered and evaluated. F. H. A. Scrivener, a defender of the Byzantine/majority text-type asserted that no one whose opinion was worth considering accepted this passage as a genuine part of I John. The evidence is simply overwhelming. Only 4, all very late, of nearly 500 manuscripts of I John have the disputed words in the text, none of them agreeing exactly with the printed form found in the so-called "received text." Four more manuscripts have the disputed words in the margin, in at least some cases having been copied there from printed editions. To this is added their absence from all the ancient versions of the NT except the Latin versions, and even there it is absent from the original form of the Vulgate, and with considerable variations among the manuscripts which do have it--a regular sign of a spurious text (the few Armenian manuscripts that reportedly contain the passage are apparently back-translations from printed Greek texts, and therefore of NO independent value as witnesses. Ditto for the Slavonic).
No Greek-speaking church father, even during the great Trinitarian controversies of the 2nd-4th centuries shows any knowledge whatsoever of the existence in Greek of the disputed words, which is simply inexplicable if they are genuine, seeing how the Greek fathers ransacked the Bible from Genesis to Revelation for every possible proof text--real or imagined--for the doctrine of the Trinity (Maynard slides over this glaring fact with scarcely any notice at all, yet it is a crucial consideration). Those who have carefully weighed this mountain of evidence have uniformly come down on the side rejecting the passage as non-original. If all the evidence against the insertion of these words can be set aside on the basis of the most meager of evidence, as Maynard would have us do, then we would be left with not even the least amount of certainty of the genuineness of a single word in the NT.
The flaws of the book are manifold and serious. First, Maynard has more or less regurgitated in print every single bibliographical reference that he unearthed that had even the most remote relevance to the purported design of the book as indicated in the title (and in many cases, these bear no relevance at all). Sources are listed one after another after another in chronological order, most with no discussion or analysis as sources. No doubt, in most cases, Maynard had never seen the items he lists. Nevertheless, he throws them at the reader in rapid succession, supposing that he will be heard for his much speaking (the book could be shortened by half if all this extraneous material were edited out).
Maynard badly misrepresents many of his sources. Typical is his appeal to Gregory Nazianzen (pp. 40, 41) as though he were a supporter (at least indirectly) of the disputed words. Rather than pointing out a grammatical irregularity in I John 5:8, Gregory is defending the passage as it stands (without verse 7) against a criticism raised against it by a critic. A reading of the whole passage in the original source demonstrates this.
Maynard supposes that merely noting a critic of some aspect of his view, and then dismissing him, is adequate rebuttal. He twice refers to me, and in neither case responds to the contents of my writings. He notes that I affirmed in print that Erasmus was a lifelong Catholic (a view Maynard and his fellow-travelers find distasteful since they are all but surgically-attached to Erasmus' Greek text). Maynard fails to mention that in the paper he refers to, I give quote after quote after quote from Erasmus' own mouth affirming his loyalty to the Roman Catholic Church, its pope and its doctrine. His own mouth hath bewrayed him. Yet Maynard with a straight face affirms that there is no real evidence that Erasmus was a lifelong Catholic.
In another place, Maynard notes my declaration that with the exception of one very careless Adventist writer (who sparked the modern KJVO movement) all written sources known to me declare that the Waldensian Bible was translated from the Latin Vulgate (and not the Old Latin). Rather than interact with my sources, Maynard merely quotes from a writer in his camp who asserts the contrary, without a single shred of supporting proof. He also repeatedly affirms or quotes affirmations that the Old Latin is virtually the same as the "received text," but never offers any examples of readings which support the assertion. Indeed, numerous readings showing large differences from the received text can and have been compiled to disprove the assertion, but Maynard shows no knowledge of it. Such methodology is not convincing.
Maynard slices the evidence as thin as possible, and then boasts of the pile of proof he has. For example, he notes that the disputed passage is found in Wycliffe's English version, all the pre-Luther printed German Bibles, and a German manuscript perhaps of Waldensian origin, but fails to mention the fact that all of these were based on the Latin Vulgate version as it existed in the late Middle ages, and in effect do nothing more than testify that the passage is found in the Medieval Vulgate, something not in dispute. All these Bibles have no authority beyond that of the Vulgate on which they were based, and therefore do not constitute twenty or so separate authorities, but only one--that of the already-known Medieval Vulgate version.
Maynard also appeals to faulty evidence. He expressly notes that the presence of the disputed verse in some printed editions (not manuscripts) of the Syriac Peshitta is known to be due to an editor inserting his own Syriac translation of the Greek words into the text against all known Syriac manuscript authority. Maynard then turns around and cites four such deliberately altered printed texts as though they had authority in deciding the issue!!!!
Documentation is often sorely lacking, or grievously incomplete. Secondary sources are cited in a number of places where primary sources could and should have been quoted.
Sometimes Maynard translates Latin and German quotations into English for the reader and sometimes he doesn't (in at least two cases, untranslated quotes are unfavorable to his thesis, and may have been deliberately left in an "unknown tongue").
One of the most amazing things in the book is what isn't there. No place does Maynard assemble the few Greek witnesses supporting the insertion, and show exactly how they read. One would suppose that he would present in detail the evidence which actually may be appealed to in support of his presupposition, but it will be sought for in vain here.
Among Maynard's favorite tactics is "poisoning the wells," that is, he supposes that simply by hanging some distasteful epithet on some man he has completely discredited that man's views and opinions on a subject. In one place, he assembles a list of theologically-tainted men--chiefly Unitarian or Arian in theology--and by showing that they uniformly rejected I John 5:7, this is somehow supposed to discredit the opinion they held regarding I John 5:7's genuineness. Of course, Maynard has selectively left off the list a long list of Trinitarian writers who likewise deemed the evidence against the genuineness of the passage as overwhelming, men like Burgon, Scrivener, Luther, Tregelles, Tyndale, Horne, Scofield, etc. etc.
Maynard can minimize unfavorable evidence with the best of them. When he wishes to downplay the differences between the received text and the majority text, he quotes an estimate of some 1,000 differences, while the actual figure is much closer to 2,000 differences. He is either ignorant of this fact, or has chosen to ignore it. In either case, he is culpable, in the one of suppression of evidence, in the other of inadequate research. Maynard will have to greatly improve the quality of his research, writing and judgment if he ever hopes to be taken seriously as an author.
I have scarcely touched the serious and pervasive flaws present. Only the poor quality of the binding and the worse quality of most of the illustrations can match the contents for badness. On the whole, I am left with a mental image of Jeremiah's basket of inedible figs.
For an honest and concise presentation of the evidence regarding the passage, I suggest the reader consult the passage in the commentaries of Adam Clarke, Henry Alford, and B. F. Westcott, or Bruce Metzger's A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (I could expand this list sizably, but these are generally accessible sources). While none gives all the known evidence, each gives an adequate picture of the evidence and its evaluation, in contrast to Maynard's monstrosity.
JEWISH NEW TESTAMENT, translated by David H. Stern. Clarksville, Maryland: Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., 1989; 400 pp., paperback. $14.99.
Among the armload of recent English translations of the New Testament, this one stands out at least in its design and purpose. That purpose is to bring out in translation the Jewishness of the New Testament, that is, to show in translation the distinctive elements which betray its Jewish origin and content. In achieving this goal, Hebrew or Aramaic forms of names are substituted for the familiar English Bible form--Peter becomes Kefa, Paul is regularly Sha’ul, Jesus is Yeshua, etc. Hebrew or Aramaic (or in some cases Yiddish) words are substituted for English ones: “peace” becomes “shalom,” “priests” becomes “cohanim,” “Passover” is regularly “Pesach,” “law” becomes “Torah” (or is interpretively paraphrased), “Holy Spirit” becomes “Ruach Ha Qodesh,” “Scriptures” becomes “Tanakh” (an acronym for the Hebrew words for “Law, Prophets, and Writings,” the three-fold division of the OT in the Hebrew Bible), etc. There is a convenient glossary on each pair of pages giving the common English equivalent of these substitutions; there is also an explanatory glossary in the back of the volume. Some words that one would expect to be so treated are not--“prophet” is not rendered by the Hebrew “navi’” and “Egypt” does not become “Mitzrayyim.” And, strange as it may seem, some of the Semitic words which do occur in the original Greek New Testament are actually obscured by the translator--“Amen” is (sometimes) translated as “yes,” and both “mammon” and “hallelujah” are translated into English, rather than left in Hebrew.
The translation is professedly of the “dynamic equivalent” mold, giving explanatory ‘translations’ where deemed necessary (the treatment of “law” in Romans and Galatians is a notable example). “Gospel” becomes regularly “Good News,” while “cross” is “execution stake” (I suspect this was motivated by a desire to not unnecessarily create barriers of prejudice in Jewish readers), and “church” is sometimes “congregation” and sometimes “messianic community.” “Faith” and “believe” become “trust” (both noun and verb), which, while bringing out the idea of faith as being more than mental assent, nevertheless sounds rather stilted and awkward when we find in Hebrews 11, “By trusting, . . . by trusting, . . . .” “Save” is “deliver,” again seeking to bring out the idea of rescue from imminent peril inherent in the NT word. The uniform substitution of the English word “emissaries” for the Greek “apostles,” though bringing out the sense of the Greek, is not an improvement. He might have with equal justification rendered it “missionaries.”
“Baptize, baptism,” are literally and correctly rendered “immerse, immersion” (no doubt since Jewish proselyte baptism, like NT Christian baptism was by immersion). This is perhaps the first “immerse” version in English since the 19th century editions made by Baptists.
Some strengths of the version: it is based on the UBS3 Greek text, a text very much closer to the form of the original, in my considered opinion, than either the textus receptus or the “majority text.” The translation is set up in paragraph form, a great aid to understanding the flow and sense of the text, rather than treating each verse as an independent paragraph (as is done in the KJV, NKJB, and NASB). The translation is into contemporary English, with all archaic words and forms eliminated. All OT quotations are inset and bold-faced, with references given in the footnotes, all for easy recognition.
Some particular weaknesses: though the author is apparently theologically orthodox, he surprisingly blunders in his translation of Titus 2:13, II Peter 1:1, and Romans 9:5, all of which teach in Greek the Deity of Christ, and where in each case this is not brought out in translation. Likewise, the translator fails to note the probable identification of Jesus as “the shekinah” in James 2:1. At Titus 3:5, washing is interpreted as being immersion in water (!), thereby supporting, at least indirectly, the error of baptismal regeneration. In the preface, the author declares that the Hebrew almah (Isaiah 7:14) means a young woman with an unsullied reputation, whereas it means more than that--specifically signifying “virgin.” At II Peter 1:20, the translation agrees with the official Roman Catholic position: that individuals should not interpret the Bible for themselves. Contextually, that verse is NOT speaking of the readers of Scripture, but the writers.
Numerous other inconsistencies, infelicities, and inaccuracies of various sorts could be catalogued (I read half the NT books in preparing the review). This version will never become a “standard” English translation, though it may be consulted with some profit if used with discernment, both for its contemporary English and its “Jewishness.” The author has prepared a companion commentary on the NT, and has published a comparable translation of the whole Bible.