Puritanism--Reductio ad Absurdum

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First, please let me make it perfectly clear that much to Erik's eternal chagrin, I do have enormous respect for and love of the writings of some of the Puritan divines. I nevertheless can set that in the balances with the plain fact that on some issues they were simply wrong. They overcorrected a perceived fault and wound up in error themselves.

That said, I was amused by the following anecdote:

from God's Secretaries
Adam Nicolson

The words of scripture, and an intellectual consideration of them, were the essence of Separatist Christianity and in many ways of Protestant Christianity itself. Some separatist pastors took this one step further: if the Bible was the word of God, it was intended to be conveyed to men in its orignial languages. Every translation, however good, was bound to contain errors and so by defintiion could not be used. If God had spoken in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic, then those were the lanugages in which he should be heard. John Smyth, originally from Gainsborough, but by 1608 pastor of the Brethren of the Separation of the Second English Church at Amsterdam, its congregation made of of Lincolnshire farmers, decided that they needed to hear the scriptures in the original. One can only imagine the effect on the poor exiles from Gainsborough: hour on hour of Smyth reading out passages of Hebrew and Greek of which they had not the fiantest understanding, desperately looking for the sanctity in this.

Smyth was an eccentric--after realising that no other ecclesiastical authority could be as pure as himself, he dunked himself in holy water and became famous as the Se-Baptizer or Self-Baptist--but his position is only a distortion and exaggeration of what everyone in Protestant Europe believed. (p. 181)

The book is full of vignettes like this. We get a sense of the times and of the people and of the conflicts of ideas that gave rise to the Authorized Version. What many protestants do not remember or even know is that the Authorized Version in its original translation included all of the deuterocanonical books. The KJV is a truncation of the full translation of the text of the Bible. This is an aside.

For those interested in the history of the most important translation of all time, this book is a remarkable and easy introduction. I don't find much to complain of by way of partisanship, and I think, on the whole Nicolson strives and attains a nice balance between Anglican and Separatist and between undue admiration and undue criticism. I love the way he gives us Lancelot Andrewes, pious, holy man weeping for his sins and Lancelot Andrewes, betrayer of a congregation beseiged by the plague. We get the portrait of a flawed man striving for holiness. We get, in miniature a portrait of ourselves--of the contradictions and contraindications each of us lives out.

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I am reminded of the saying still current among older Presbyterians and many Evangelicals: "If the King James Bible was good enough for St. Paul, it's good enough for me."



I was at one of my favorite used bookstores on Friday and came accross a copy of some Edwards sermons. I almost bought it, but in order to keep within my book budget, it had to go in favor of a beautiful book on the churches of Rome. So much for my attempt at Ecumenicism.

As for this original language stuff, the Mohammedans are the same way. They will claim that you are only really reading the Koran if you read it in Arabic. They will discuss the "nuances of the Arabic language," but, when pressed, will come up with not a single thing that is really untranslatable.



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on September 30, 2004 7:24 AM.

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