Book Reviews

LETTERS OF PAUL, HEBREWS AND THE BOOK OF PSALMS, The Arthur S. Way Translation; Kregel Publications, 1981; 483 pp., $12.95. (Reviewed by Prof. H. Hanko)

This translation of a part of the New Testament and the book of Psalms was first published in 1919—before the proliferation of Bible translations of our modern era. It has been reprinted by Kregel. 

In the Preface, the author describes his work:

I might describe it as an attempt, not to present everywhere the verbal equivalent of what the Apostle said, but to convey what he meant. To take one instance—where Paul has used a metaphor, condensed, or implied in the use of a certain word (e.g., ‘grow,’ ‘build,’ ‘run’), I have generally expanded it, remembering that the hearers’ thoughts would instinctively fill up the picture, familiar to them, evoked by a word whose bare lexicon-equivalent has not the same force for us.

Still, I would deprecate the name of ‘paraphrase’ for my version, since my aim has been to follow the original closely, trying to bring out the full meaning, and even suggestion, of each word, deviating only when, to convey the significance of a passage, some expansion seemed advisable; my object being to do away with the necessity for explanatory notes by making the translation sufficiently full to carry its own explanation. However bold some of these connective interpolations may seem, they, in almost every instance, simply embody an explanation or develop a hint given by some commentator of commanding authority. The link of transition consists, in most cases, of a very few words, the principal exception being at the commencement of chapter ix of I Corinthians, where the sequence of the Apostle’s argument has been a well-known crux of commentators.

As is true with many new translations, this one too sheds light upon some rather obscure passages of the KJV. While it certainly gives the author’s own idea of a passage, in many instances the suggested (and expanded) translation is helpful; but this means that we have commentary, not translation.

There are, however, weaknesses. The purpose of a new translation, it would seem, would be to put the “archaic” language of the KJV into more modern (and, therefore, more understandable) language. Perhaps because this translation was prepared in the early part of the Twentieth Century, it does not succeed in giving us an up-to-date version. We need not, I think, belabor this point. One quotation will demonstrate what we mean. The author’s translation of Romans 8:2 is: “For the Law of the Spirit, which breathes a life absorbed into that of Messiah Jesus, has emancipated me—the erewhile thrall—from the law of sin, of death.” I doubt whether any one would consider this clearer in meaning than the KJV. 

Secondly, the translation is not very accurate. I can give only a few instances, but they should prove the point. Romans 8:28-30 reads: “And sure am I, that, on those who love God, all things are with one purpose working to bring blessings—yes, on those to whom, according to His providential plan, He has cried ‘Come ye to me!’ Long ere this He knew our hearts, long ere this He claimed us (as a man claims property by setting his landmarks thereon) as those whom He should mould into the very likeness of His own Son, so that He should have many brothers, Himself the firstborn. And to us whom so He called He gave righteousness: and us, to whom He has given righteousness, He has crowned with glory too.” Another example is found inRomans 9 where the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart is translated as: “He confirms in their stubbornness.” Perhaps one more example will illustrate the point and, at the same time, give some of the flavor of the translation. This is Hebrews 11:1-3: “Faith is that attitude of mind which is the foundation-rock on which hope stands, that which satisfies us of the reality of things as yet beyond our ken. It was through their exercise of this faith that the men of old had God’s witness borne to their righteousness. It is through faith that we discern that the epochs of our earth’s development were molded by the fiat of God, that it was not His design that the world which we now look upon would be the outcome of a mere process of evolution—evolution from nothing but matter palpable to our senses.” 

The Psalms are not really translated, but put into metrical and rhyming verses. They are more on the order of our Psalter versifications than translations. 

While we are talking about translations anyway, there are two remarks that should be made about the proliferation of translations which really do not have anything to do with the accuracy of a translation as such. The first is that, it is to me beyond question that the many translations now offered are more confusing than helpful. If, e.g., one consults the various translations of a given text which he is studying, the result can only be confusion as to the meaning of the text in many instances and an almost total inability to learn what the Word of God is really saying. We must be on our guard against this, for it is destructive of true Bible study rather than helpful. Whatever translation one uses, and I still prefer the KJV, one ought to stick to one translation and not bother himself with a multitude of others. And one ought to be sure that the translation one does decide to use is an accurate one.

The second remark has to do with memorization of the Bible. It is important that the child of God become thoroughly acquainted with the whole Scriptures. This is important for his calling to defend the faith, to teach his children the Word of God, to carry that Word with him in his heart and mind so that the Word may be a lamp to his feet and a light on his path, and to know the Scriptural basis for the truth he believes. But when he allows himself to make use of many different translations, he will know none of them and will not be able to quote from or refer to any of them. And, committing the Scriptures to memory is still easiest from the KJV, for its rhythmical cadences are the most easily learned of all the translations. I have tried it myself from the NIV; and, while I know this was not a completely fair test because of my familiarity with the KJV, it proved almost impossible for me to commit the NIV to memory successfully. 

One other word of criticism about this translation and many others. Oftentimes, ostensibly for purposes of clarification, the key concepts of Scripture are not used. I refer to such terms as regeneration, justification, election, propitiation, reconciliation, etc. These terms have been used by the Church of Christ since the beginning of her New Testament History and, in some cases, even from earlier times. They carry with them a particular connotation, a definite “freight” of thought and meaning. They are often themselves Scriptural terms. They are essential for anyone to understand the truth and maintain the faith. If they are discarded, even in the interests of greater clarity, a very great and precious heritage is lost and the reeducation of the Church becomes a necessity. This is dangerous business and results inevitably in a generation of doctrinal illiterates. And when the saints no longer know the truth, the heritage of the faith is lost, with all the dire consequences which result from it.

PHANTASTES and LILITH, by George MacDonald (with an introduction by C.S. Lewis) Eerdmans, 1981, $3.95, paper (Reviewed by Gertrude Hoeksema)

Born in 1824 from a line of Scottish Calvinists, MacDonald became a preacher when he grew up. Early in his ministry, however, he ran into trouble in his congregation because of heresies in his preaching; for he had left the Calvinist doctrines of faith and turned to neo-orthodoxy. In 1853 he left his troubled ministry and began to lecture and to write. 

Many of his books are fairy tales or myths. BothPhantastes and Lilith are myths and are written for adults. In Phantastes the author takes the name ofAnodos and begins a trip through fairy land. Throughout his trip he sees and senses this fairy land in other dimensions than those on this earth. His adventures and sensational rescues are believable because of the author’s natural and straightforward way of fantasizing. When the friendly tree-spirits befriend him, when the Shadow (the power of evil) dogs his footsteps, and when the marble fairy statues become alive, it all seems natural in fairy land. InPhantustes as well as in Lilith the conflicts and battles with evil occur at night; for fairies and demons are night creatures. 

Lilith, a night creature who was at times a princess and at times a spotted leopardess, takes her name from the Hebrew word in Isaiah 34:15 which in English is translated as “screech owl” or “night monster.” The book is the story of Mr. Vane, who walks through an old mirror in his attic into another world. There he meets Mr. Raven, who at will becomes either a bird or a man and who later reveals himself as Adam. Mr. -Raven guides his adventures through fairy land and leads him to the Little Ones who are kind, gentle folk, and then to Lilith, the evil princess of the corrupt city of Bulika. War breaks out between the forces of good and evil, wars which could take place only in fantasy land, ending in victory for the Little Ones. 

These two books are more than mere fantasy. Throughout are symbolism and allegories, always relating to Biblical ideas of good and evil, life and death, the tangible and the intangible. For example, the Shadow represents the devil, and Lilith seems to be the personification of evil in the world. The Little Ones are those of whom Christ said in Mark 10, “Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little children, he shall not enter therein.” In Lilith the author presents his own erroneous views of death as soul-sleep and the view that through that, sleep the heathen are eventually converted. 

At times his symbolizing and allegorizing become so heavy and detailed that the reader almost loses the thread of the story. However, if you are a reader who enjoys an interesting fantasy with Biblical and philosophical overtones which make you ponder deeper issues, you will enjoy these books.