"AS I SEE IT"
Volume 9, Number 8, August 2006
“I too will have my say; I too will tell what I know.
For I am full of words, and the spirit within me compels me;
Inside I am like bottled-up wine, like new wineskins ready to burst.
I must speak and find relief; I must open my lips and reply.
I will show partiality to no one. Nor will I flatter any man.”
“That which ordinary men are fit for I am qualified in, and the best of me is diligence.”
Earl of Kent
Shakespeare’s King Lear
Act I, scene iv, ll. 32-34
[“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.
AISI is sent free to all who request it by writing to the editor at: DKUTILEK@juno.com. You can be removed from the mailing list at the same address. Back issues sent on request. All back issues may be accessed at http://www.KJVOnly.org
Pandering to the Present Age
A perceptive word from Vance Havner
“Today much of the professing church has gone in for theatrics, running a showboat instead of a lifeboat, staging a performance instead of living an experience, a ‘form of godliness without the power thereof.’ We are playing to the grandstand of a pagan age. What a different ‘show’ from the apostles and early Christians dying for Christ before howling thongs in the Coliseum! We are not sufferers in the arena; we are spectators in the grandstand. We have come a long way from the catacombs!”
The Vance Havner Quotebook, p. 22
Compiled by Dennis J. Hester
Baker Book House, 1986
Acts 19:20: A Test-case for Translation Evaluation
Recognizing the precariousness of claiming inspiration, inerrancy or infallibility for an English translation, even the KJV, many in the KJV-only camp will declare that they believe in the perfect inspiration and preservation, not of the English version, but of the original language texts behind that version. In short, perfection in text is affirmed for the Greek “Textus Receptus” and the Hebrew “Masoretic Text” (now including vowel points and all). Of course, this view conveniently ignores the troubling questions: ”Which TR edition?” (since no two are identical) and “Which Masoretic text edition?” (no two being letter-perfect alike). But we will leave that matter aside in this discussion.
At any rate, accepting what these men (such as D. A. Waite, David Cloud, and a host of like-minded lemmings) affirm in principle, let us examine how it plays out in practice.
Two Biblical texts are tailor-made for our investigation, Acts 19:20 for the Greek and Isaiah 44:8 for the Hebrew. We shall address the former, and reserve the latter for another day.
In Acts 19:20, the Textus Receptus editions individually and collectively read “ho logos tou kuriou,” that is “the word of the Lord.” F. H. A. Scrivener, in his The New Testament in Greek According to the Text Adopted in the Authorized Version (Cambridge: University Press, 1881) provides indispensable assistance at this point. Scrivener’s work was a reconstruction of the presumptive Greek text followed by the KJV translators (which had never before been put in print). Scrivener made a meticulous examination of printed Greek texts extant as of 1611: the Complutensian Polyglott Greek text (1514), all 5 editions by Erasmus (1516, 1519, 1522, 1527, 1534), the texts of Aldus (1518), Colinaeus (1534), the four Stephanus editions (1546, 1549, 1550, 1551), the Antwerp Polyglott Greek (1572), and all five of Beza’s editions (1560, 1565, 1582, 1589, 1598) [of course, the Elzevir editions of 1624, 1633 and 1641 are irrelevant at this point, since they came after the KJV, though they apparently read the same at Acts 19:20 as all the other editions mentioned]. Scrivener’s labors led him to conclude that the 1598 Beza edition (5th) of the Greek NT was that most closely followed by the KJV men. However, Scrivener located some 250 places in the NT where that Greek text was not followed. In 190 of these, the reading of one of the other Textus Receptus editions was apparently followed. In an appendix, Scrivener notes the precise locations and editions where the KJV departs from Beza’s 1598 for some other TR edition (pp. 648-655). Acts 19:20 is not one of the places listed since all TR editions agreed in reading “the word of the Lord” like the Beza 1598 edition. That is established fact.
However, in an additional list, Scrivener gives 60 readings where the KJV followed NO printed Greek text available to them, and therefore departed from all TR editions. The KJV’s preferred authority in these places? The Latin Vulgate! And among these 60 non-TR readings is Acts 19:20, for here, the KJV, against all TR editions, presupposes a Greek reading “ho logos tou theou,” that is, “the word of God.” (Let it be noted, the Trinitarian Bible Society 1980 reprint of Scrivener’s text behind the KJV NT omits a number of features of Scrivener’s edition, including this important appendix showing KJV departs from the 1598, and from all TR editions. It does, however, read as Scrivener’s text, i.e. “the word of the Lord”).
The reading “the word of the Lord” found in all TR editions is also the reading of the great majority of extant Greek manuscripts (there is a minor question of word order that we may here bypass), and as a consequence it is the reading in The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text, edited by Zane C. Hodges and Arthur L. Farstad (Nelson, 1985. 2nd edition). Likewise reads The New Testament in the Original Greek: Byzantine Textform, edited by Maurice A. Robinson and William G. Pierpont (Chilton Book Publishing, 2005). Further, all the prominent textual critics of the 19th century agree that the Textus Receptus reading here is right--, Griesbach, Scholz, Lachman, Tischendorf, Tregelles, Alford, Wordsworth and even Westcott and Hort. So agree 20th century text-editors as well--Nestle, Aland, the UBS committees, et al.
The evidence supporting the Latin Vulgate reading adopted by the KJV at Acts 19:20 is exceedingly thin--reading “word of God” are Greek manuscripts E (which has a parallel Latin text; 6th century AD), 88 (12th), and 436 (11th). These alone are cited in the UBS Greek NT editions 2-4 (recent Nestle editions do not address the variant). Alford’s 19th century The Greek Testament (vol. II, p. 215) mentions also manuscripts 21 (13th), 73 (11th), and 106-2 (11th); with the late 19th century change in manuscript numbering schemes (after Alford’s time) there may be some overlap with the UBS listing, i.e., Alford’s numbers may refer to some of the same manuscripts as in the UBS text. At any rate, the Greek evidence in support is meager.
There is some small support for the minority Greek in the ancient versions (but none from the fathers). As stated, the Vulgate reading is “God” (though some manuscripts, notably Amiatinus, often considered the best, read “Lord”). [It is worth noting here that Erasmus, who often altered his Greek text to conform it to the Latin Vulgate, did not do so at Acts 19:20].
Likewise most of the “Old Latin” manuscripts read “God”: ar (9th); c (12th/13th); e (6th); gig (13th); and p (13th), ph (12th), ro (10th), and w (14th/15th). It is almost certain that some at least of these are not pure “Old Latin” manuscripts, but mixtures of Old Latin and Vulgate readings. (Manuscript D [6th century], its parallel Old Latin version “d”, as well as the Peshitta Syriac (5th) read “he pistis tou theou,” i.e., “the faith of God,” so in a sense, they also support the reading “God,” while abandoning the reading “the word.”)
Elsewhere among the versions, besides the Latin, some Coptic manuscripts may read “God” (though the authorities differ--the 3rd and 4th UBS editions are at odds on this point). Similarly, the Armenian version may or may not read “God” (again the UBS editions differ on the evidence).
But wherever the Coptic and Armenian evidence actually falls, it is an unalloyed fact: the Textus Receptus, in all its editions, reads “the word of the Lord.” Yet, the KJV, following the Latin instead of the Greek, reads “the word of God.”
But, some will object--“the KJV wasn’t the first or the only English version to abandon the Greek for the Latin here.” Indeed, that assertion is correct. Wycliffe’s version, made from the Vulgate, naturally reads “God” with the Vulgate. But so too did Tyndale (in all three editions) and the Great Bible (1539), the Geneva (1557, 1560), the Bishops’ (1568) and the Rheims (1582--made from the Vulgate). Indeed, I could find no English translation before the KJV that read “Lord” instead of “God.” Yet, that does not acquit the KJV translators. As translators, they were to work from the original language texts, and to revise previous versions on the basis of the Greek. The very first rule given to them by the King was: “The ordinary Bible read in the Church, commonly called the Bishops Bible, to be followed, and as little altered as the Truth of the original will permit.” The standard, then, was the “truth of the original,” not previous English versions of whatever sort. The translators were under solemn obligation to revise any places where the Bishops Bible did not conform to the truth of the original, and here, indeed, they failed in their duty.
Furthermore, it was not as if the KJV translators had no good precedent to follow regarding Acts 19:20. Luther’s 1534 and 1545 editions followed the Greek, not the Latin, and read “Herrn” (Lord). Likewise, the Reina (1569) and Reina-Valera--both accessible to the KJV men--also read “Senor” (Lord). And Calvin, in his influential commentary on Acts also read “Lord.” So, the KJV men, had they followed the Greek and these guides, would have fulfilled the King’s requirement at Acts 19:20, but they abandoned the original Greek for the Vulgate Latin instead.
But, some will object further, “This is such a small point. The terms ’the word of the Lord’ and ‘the word of God’ are synonymous. The difference is insignificant.” And to this we readily agree. In actual form, if the words “Lord” and “God” were abbreviated in the Greek manuscripts (as they commonly were), the difference amounts to a single letter. Not only so, there is indeed no difference in meaning (as is true with most of the differences that exist between the TR and modern critical texts). But that is not the issue. The issue is: for those who profess the TR (whatever edition) as their perfectly preserved and final authority, why won’t they admit that the KJV here got it wrong??? The only explanation I can discover is that these who claim to believe the TR is the final authority, in reality believe that claim only as far as the TR agrees with the KJV, but where the two part company, it is the KJV and not the Greek text which is their real final authority. In essence, they agree with the absurd proposition of Peter S. Ruckman, Sr., that the Greek should be “corrected to conform to the English.” Professed TR-onlyism ultimately and all but invariably resolves itself into KJV-onlyism in practice.
In Romania, a zealous but mis-guided American missionary recently launched and carried through a project purporting to translate the Textus Receptus into Romanian, since, it was assumed, no such translation existed (actually, such has existed since 1648!). But in that new Romanian version, when faced with the dilemma of the readings at Acts 19:20, where the TR goes one way and the KJV goes the other, which do you suppose was followed? Right--the KJV. Here, and in numerous other places where the KJV departs from the TR, it is the Greek that is forced to yield place to the English (I am preparing an extended expose of this unfortunate enterprise for a later As I See It).
So then, judging from the treatment of Acts 19:20 at the hands of professed “TR-only” men, we must conclude that though they profess to believe in a perfect Greek text; in practice, they actually believe in a perfect English translation, superior to even the best Greek text. This is a very substantial and serious error.
Samuel Clemens and a Camel
[Editor’s note: in 1862, young Samuel Clemens, then all of 26 or 27, crossed the American West by stagecoach to Nevada, to join his older brother who had been appointed Nevada territorial secretary. Clemens’ subsequent adventures, remarkably embellished, were published in 1872 as Roughing It. In that book, Clemens describes, as an aside, an encounter with a camel in the Holy Land, which he had visited in 1869. His account is a classic.]
“Sagebrush is a very fair fuel, but as a vegetable it is a distinguished failure. Nothing can abide the taste of it but the jackass and his illegitimate child the mule. But their testimony to its nutritiousness is worth nothing, for they will eat pine knots, or anthracite coal, or brass filings, or lead pipe, or old bottles, or anything that comes handy, and then go off looking as grateful as if they had had oysters for dinner. Mules and donkeys and camels have appetites that anything will relieve temporarily, but nothing satisfy.”
“In Syria, once, at the headwaters of the Jordan, a camel took charge of my overcoat while the tents were being pitched, and examined it with a critical eye, all over, with as much interest as if he had an idea of getting one made like it; and then, after he was done figuring on it as an article of apparel, he began to contemplate it as an article of diet. He put his foot on it, and lifted one of the sleeves out with his teeth, and chewed and chewed at it, gradually taking it in, and all the while opening and closing his eyes in a kind of religious ecstasy, as if he had never tasted anything as good as an overcoat before in his life. Then he smacked his lips once or twice, and reached after the other sleeve. Next he tried the velvet collar, and smiled a smile of such contentment that it was plain to see that he regarded that as the daintiest thing about an overcoat. The tails went next, along with some percussion caps and cough candy, and some fig paste from Constantinople.”
“And then my newspaper correspondence dropped out, and he took a chance in that--manuscript letters written for the home papers. But he was treading on dangerous ground now. He began to come across solid wisdom in those documents that was rather weighty in his stomach; and occasionally he would take a joke that would shake him up till it loosened his teeth; it was getting to be perilous times with him, but he held his grip with good courage and hopefully, till at last he began to stumble on statements that not even a camel could swallow with impunity. He began to gag and gasp, and his eyes to stand out, and his forelegs to spread, and in about a quarter of a minute he fell over as stiff as a carpenter’s workbench, and died a death of indescribable agony. I went and pulled the manuscript out of his mouth, and found that the sensitive creature had choked to death on one of the mildest and gentlest statements of fact that I ever laid before a trusting public.”
“I was about to say, when diverted from my subject, that occasionally one finds sage brushes five or six feet high, and with a spread of branch and foliage in proportion, but two or two and a half feet is the usual height.”
New York: New American Library, 1962
pp. 39-40 [last pages of chapter 3]
“Wounds” or “Tasty Morsels”?
Can you tell me why at Proverbs 18:8 & 26:22, the old KJV translates the Hebrew as "wounds" and NKJV, NIV and NASB translate as "tasty morsels"? Thanks for your help.
Dear Mr. R-----
The word translated variously "wounds" (KJV) and "tasty morsels" (or to be more precise, “tasty trifles”-NKJB; “dainty morsels”-NASB; “choice morsels”-NIV; “delicious morsels”-ERV; “choice food”-HCSB) in the Hebrew of Proverbs 18:8 and 26:22 (identical verses) is "mitlahamim," a plural noun (or participle, in the hithpael stem) apparently from the root "lhm." The word occurs nowhere else in the Hebrew OT. In such cases--where we do not have a number of occurrences from which to form an idea of a word’s meaning--we are left to other resources. These include 1. related OT words from the same root in Hebrew; 2. the usage of the word in post-Biblical Hebrew; 3. related words in other Semitic languages; 4. the rendering in ancient versions; and 5. the context.
In this case, we get no help from related OT words from the same root, since there are none.
In post-Biblical Hebrew, the word and form mitlahamim occurs in Sifre on Numbers and Deuteronomy, an early post-NT rabbinic commentary on those books. It is immediately evident that the occurrence in Sifre--more than 1,000 years removed from the use in Proverbs,--provides no help. Jastrow, a standard dictionary of rabbinic Hebrew and Aramaic, notes the rabbinic attempt there to explain this unique word in Proverbs, wherein it is proposed that the word means one who professes attachment, that is flatterers, hypocritical sympathizers (p. 863). It is obvious that this is merely a guess by the rabbinic interpreters, and demonstrates that the word had long before dropped out of use.
In seeking related words in other Semitic languages, the closer the language to Hebrew, the more likely a connection. Therefore, related or cognate words are sought in such cases, first in Aramaic or Phoenician or Ugaritic, these being the closest to ancient Hebrew in time and space. But there is none in any of these tongues. Nor in the more remote Akkadian or Ethiopic. In Arabic, often very remote from Hebrew and often not a safe guide in such cases, the root “lhm” means “to swallow” (so say standard Hebrew dictionaries--Gesenius, Brown-Driver-Briggs, Koehler-Baumgartner, etc.). This seems to fit well the context of the passage, since these “mitlahamim” go down into the recesses of the stomach, and are therefore presumably “things swallowed” (the hitpael stem in Hebrew generally conveys passive or reflexive ideas). Unquestionably, the rendering of this word by the NKJB, etc. is dependent on this root's meaning in Arabic, not always the surest guide, but this seems to be the only linguistic help available from the Semitic languages.
Next we turn to the ancient versions, treating them chronologically. The pre-Christian Septuagint Greek version of Proverbs at 18:8 may be translated, “Fear casts down the timid (or, lazy), and the souls of the effeminate shall hunger.” (cf. Lancelot C. L. Brenton’s translation). This seems to pre-suppose a Hebrew text radically different from the Masoretic text (and indeed corresponds closely to Proverbs 19:15, both in Hebrew and LXX), and therefore offers no insight. At 26:22, the LXX may be translated “Words of tale-bearers are soft, but they strike unto the inner rooms of the bowels.” (cf. Brenton). This does seem to follow a text generally akin to the Masoretic text; how “mitlahamim” came to be understood as “soft” is somewhat puzzling. The pluralizing of “tale-bearer” is readily explained: the preposition “ke” attached to the front of the word in Hebrew (“as”) and the “m” at the beginning of the word were read as “ym” (easier to misread in archaic Hebrew script than in the square script) and read as though attached to the word “tale-bearer” (Hebrew, nirgan) thereby making it plural (*nirganim). But how the remaining “--*tlahamim” was understood as “soft” I cannot unravel. At any rate, the KJV does not seem to have been influenced in its rendering by the LXX here.
The Latin Vulgate at 18:8 is adequately translated in the Rheims-Douay version as “The words of the double-tongued are as if they were harmless, and they reach even to the inner parts of the bowels.” This is followed by a rendering of the widely differing LXX (this double-translation in the English is paralleled in some Vulgate manuscripts). Proverbs 26:22, where the Vulgate differs from 18:8 in only a few minor matters, is translated in the R-D “The words of a talebearer are as it were simple, but they reach to the innermost parts of the belly.” In the Latin, the words rendered “harmless” and “simple” are identical, viz.¸simplicia, which carries the idea of being simple, plain, frank, genuine, sincere, without duplicity. Nothing at all like “wounds” of the KJV (or “tasty morsels,” et al. of more recent versions).
Next we come to the Peshitta Syriac version. Lamsa’s English version of the Peshitta at 18:8 is adequate: “The words of the slothful man bring evil to him, and they cause him to go down into the inner chambers of Sheol.” The words corresponding to the Hebrew “mitlahamim” are “bring evil to him” and obviously are both a wide departure from the Hebrew, and provide no source for the KJV’s “wounds.” At 26:22, the Peshitta reads: “”The words of a trouble-maker are disturbing; they descend into the inner chambers of the heart” (similarly Lamsa). “Disturbing” is the representation of the Hebrew, “mitlahamim.” This too is excluded as the source of “wounds” in the KJV.
I couldn’t make sense of the Aramaic Targum to Proverbs (though there is obvious inter-dependence between it and the Peshitta, a fact long-recognized by scholars), and so leave it out. Thus far the ancient versions available to me.
Inasmuch as the KJV (and its English predecessors) was often influenced by contemporary non-English Bible versions, we will take a look at Luther’s German Bible as well as some others. Proverbs 18:8 in the 1534 German Bible (the first made from the original language text) as well as the 1545--they are identical here,--may be translated “The words of the slanderer are blows, and enter through the heart.” Proverbs 26:22 reads similarly, “The words of the slanderer are as blows and they go through the heart.” (Luther omitted the “as” in 18:8, which is present in the Hebrew). Here then, we do find “blows” (Schlaege) which is the equivalent of the KJV’s “wounds” and likely enough its source.
The Reina (1569) and Reina-Valera (1602) Spanish translations were known and consulted by the KJV translators. Those versions read at 18:8 “The words of the gossiper seem soft, but they descend (enter, 26:22) to the hidden (secret, 26:22) part of the belly.” These Spanish versions seem most akin to the rendering in the LXX (at 26:22) and the Latin Vulgate.
The KJV was nominally based on the Bishops’ Bible of 1568, though my lack of access to it makes its reading a moot point just now. Another version regularly consulted by the KJV men was the Geneva version published in 1560. It reads, instead of “wounds,” “flatterings,” so the KJV was not following the precedent of this English version.
This brief survey demonstrates that the ancient versions as well as the Reformation-era versions including in English are "all over the map," apparently simply guessing from context the meaning of this rare word.
Thus far my own resources. Some commentators can lead us further.
John Gill (1697-1771), master of rabbinic literature and eminent Bible commentator, surveys various interpretations at Proverbs 18:8: a. “as wounds: [from medieval Jewish commentator Rashi, though Gill doesn’t mention him, and from him to Luther and the KJV]; b. “as those that are wounded” (thus Reformation-era Hebrew scholars who made new Latin versions of the OT Junius, Tremellius, and Cocceius, and the KJV margin, which has “Or, like as when men are wounded,” their second variant rendering in this verse--the other is “whisperer” as an alternative for “tale-bearer”); c. “secret hidden ones” (medieval Jewish commentator Aben Ezra); d. “smooth” or “flattering” (medieval Jewish commentator Kimchi; Reformation Latin translator Montanus, and Vatablus, Mercerus, Gejerus et al.); and e. “greedily swallowed down” (Schultens, based on the Arabic; Albert Schultens [1686-1750] was a celebrated Arabist and Hebrew scholar. See New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia entry). This last is the one Gill accepts as correct.
Crawford Toy (1836-1919), sometime Southern Baptist turned Unitarian, in his technical I.C.C. volume on Proverbs (T. &. T. Clark, 1908), also surveys opinions, actually noting several more than Gill, and presents the apparent linguistic basis (such as it was) for each view. He, too, gives the palm to Schultens’ view (“greedily swallowed down”) as most likely correct. Rather than drag these in, let me just direct your attention to that treatment should further information be desired.
The sum of the matter: on this issue--the force and meaning of mitlahamim in Proverbs 18:8, and 26:22,--we can say with certainty only that our understanding of this unique word remains at best tentative. Numerous views, opinions, and interpretations have been offered by translators and commentators, many not very persuasive. The KJV in its text followed the lead, out of several possibilities, of Luther who in turn followed a medieval Jewish grammarian, yet even the KJV translators warn us not to dogmatize peremptorily by giving an alternate translation in the margin. While the best “fit” seems to be Schultens’ explanation (something greedily swallowed), first offered a century after the KJV was published and therefore unavailable to them (and vindicating their caution about not dogmatizing), yet further discovery might clarify and correct this understanding someday. At any rate, no one knows enough at present to be utterly dogmatic, and certainly no one dares claim that any extant translation in English is dead on absolutely right on this--the resources for such a claim simply do not exist with regard to these verses.
PS. The NET Bible, First Beta edition (2001), renders mitlahamim as “choice morsels” and has a note (n. 24) at Proverbs 18:8 which informs us regarding this Hebrew word that, “earlier translations took it from a Hebrew verb halam . . . meaning wounds.” Such a transposition of a verb’s root letters (here “l” and “h”) in Hebrew is quite unlikely, and so basing an interpretation (“wounds”) upon such a speculated alteration is misguided.
Why I Am A Baptist, edited by Tom J. Nettles and Russell D. Moore. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2001. 257 pp., paperback. $14.99
Historically, there have been several books with the title Why I Am A Baptist. All that I have seen are compilations of testimonies by various individuals explaining the reason for their Baptist religious affiliation The first such titled book that I read was that edited by Joe T. Odle and published by Broadman Press in 1972 (incidentally, the two best testimonies in that book were those by Noel Smith and Billy Graham).
This present compilation is a “response” or “reaction” book. It was called forth by the publication in 1999 of a like-titled book edited by Cecil Staton, Jr., a Southern Baptist “moderate” (read “apostate”), and issued by the “moderate”-founded alternative to Broadman & Holman, namely Smyth & Helwys in Macon, Georgia. As reported by the editors in the preface of the present volume under review, that book was an attempt to maintain that Baptist identity was not a matter of doctrine or theology. In response to that revisionist position, Nettles and Moore have assembled the testimonies of 27 different Baptists, some from earlier generations--even a couple of centuries ago in one case, but most from living Baptists, with the great majority being Southern Baptists (in some ways the book could have been titled, Why I Am A Southern Baptist since the Convention and its numerous agencies are repeatedly held up for praise, and independent Baptists are occasionally singled out for criticism). Many of the testimonies are from life-long Baptists, though some are from those who became Baptists as adults, or who though raised Baptist left the Baptist fold for a time but were compelled by the Bible to return to the historical roots. There is also a strong thread of Calvinism in many of the testimonies, though not all (Paige Patterson is a notable and eloquent exception).
The Testifiers all with one accord, though with a variety of approaches, point to doctrinal beliefs derived from an authoritative, inspired Bible as the cause that makes them Baptists. Chief in their doctrinal convictions are an inerrant, inspired Bible as the sole guide to theological truth, believer’s baptism by immersion, regenerate church membership, congregational church government, the universal priesthood of believers, soul liberty (and responsibility), and world evangelism. Among the testimonies the best--in my opinion--were those by Albert Mohler, Paige Patterson, and Wayne Grudem.
While not a systematic presentation of Baptist distinctives, these testimonies explain why these individuals, and millions more, are Baptists, and the Baptist by conviction will find much herein to rejoice in. Baptists by conviction are to be preferred to those who are merely Baptist by tradition or convenience. Being Baptist then IS a matter of doctrine and theology--and indeed had always been so, until the “moderates” sought to re-write history to accommodate their unbelief.
A History of the Baptists by Robert G. Torbet. Valley Forge, Penn.: Judson Press, 1963. Revised edition. 553 pp., hardback.
Originally issued in 1950, Torbet’s Baptist history has long been recommended as a “standard” reference work, and over the years, I have read bits and pieces of it, until recently when preparing to teach a course on Baptist doctrine and history, I decided to read through the whole book.
Torbet limits his study to people actually called Baptists, which restricts the field of view to the 1640s and later. “Baptist” beginnings per se are traced in England as adherents to believer’s immersion as the only Biblical baptism emerged out of English separatists (Torbet notes the various theories of Baptist successionism). English Baptist history is divided between two camps--the general Baptists (who held to unlimited atonement) and particular (i.e. Calvinistic) Baptists, with the advancing and retreating fortunes of each group traced through time. The origins and spread of Baptists in Europe outside Britain are also noted and described; in each case their origin came from contacts with or through the missionary efforts of British or American Baptists.
The far greater part of the book is taken up with Baptists in America--no surprise since by the far the greatest number of Baptists have been American. The issues, controversies, splits, and divergent bodies of Baptists all come under review.
Missions among Baptists is given considerable attention. Baptists were at the forefront of the missions movement in the late 18th and throughout the 19th century, including such famous names as William Carey, Adoniram Judson, Luther Rice and others. The numerical expansion of Baptists in some countries (Burma, Russia, Romania) can only be described as at times remarkable.
In dealing with the rise of modernism and the fundamentalist reaction to it (late 19th/ early 20th century), Torbet betrays his own colors as an adherent to the modernist camp. He sides with John Clifford and Alexander MacLaren, both deniers of inerrancy in the famous “Down-grade” controversy involving Spurgeon in the late 1880s. In presenting developments in Baptist history in America in the first half of the 20th century, Torbet gives some attention to the conflict, but fails to give it the emphasis and importance that it deserves, and never notes that abandonment of orthodox theology was the cause of the declining numbers and influence among northern Baptists. Torbet takes no note of the fact that the chief factor in keeping modernism out of the Southern Baptist Convention for a generation of two longer than its in-roads in the Northern (later American) Baptist Convention was the separatist/ exclusionary action of putting apostates out of their midst (the most notable case being the removal of Crawford Toy from a professorship at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary over his adoption--inspired by Darwinism--of higher critical views regarding the OT). As a Northern Baptist himself, Torbet gives much more attention to Baptists in the North than the South, though the Southerners greatly outnumbered the Northerners in all periods after 1800.
One clear distinction between Southern and Northern Baptists early on in the 20th century was helpfully brought out. In the North, most mission, publishing, educational and social work was done through independent agencies associated with but not owned by the Convention. In the South, the Convention actually owned and directly controlled the various boards, agencies and schools through which it carried out its collective work (and it was this Convention ownership, funded by the Co-operative Program, that was the Trojan horse that enabled apostates to gain and maintain control of the SBC for 40 years in the mid-20th century, as Paul Pressler and others acknowledge; I very much prefer the independent agency approach, as it disperses power and presents less of a threat to church autonomy. But I digress).
The poorest part of Torbet’s book is his treatment of the period 1900-1950, because instead of facing head-on and in depth the issues confronting Baptists, he drones on about agencies and programs. The pre-1900 portion of the work is definitely superior to the last half-century.
Because it is more than half a century old (the revisions made in 1963 were very limited), this Baptist history is decidedly dated, often tedious, and sympathetic to modernism. The bibliography of some 20 pages of small print, is of real merit, but is also a half-century out-of-date. If this were ever truly a “standard work,” it does not merit that designation today. It may be consulted for reference (it has a good index) and bibliographical purposes, but surely something better must be sought.
From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: a Biographical History of Christian Missions by Ruth Tucker. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004. Second edition. 526 pp., hardback. $29.99.
We reviewed, and very favorably, the first edition of this book (copyright 1983) in As I See It 2:11 (November, 1999). This second edition, while containing most of the same material as the first edition, does add some new material, occasionally eliminates sections and rearranges others, with some rewriting and revising evident. The chapter and general bibliographies are expanded. The book remains one of the most informative books on missions available and should be at the top of every Christian’s “must-read” list. I re-read the entire work (my previous reading was some 7 years ago), and profited from both being reminded of what I had read previously, and informed regarding what was new. The missionaries and their lives presented here are real people, not idealized figures, with an assortment of foibles, failures, peculiarities, eccentricities, doctrinal defects (not all are “evangelical” Christians, caveat lector), displays of bad judgment and sometimes carnal selfishness. Yet, God was able to use them in His plan of world evangelization, because they were available and willing. We can learn from their mistakes and be motivated--and shamed--by their zeal and commitment. By all means get and read this volume.