My copy of Moffatt's Bible, kept together by black duct tape
Review of James Moffatt's New Testament by Theodore E Schmauk (The Lutheran Church Review 1914)
[The NEW TESTAMENT. A New Translation. By James Moffatt, D.D., D.Litt., Yates Professor of New Testament Greek and Exegesis, Mansfield College, Oxford. Second Edition. Hodder and Stoughton. New York and London: George H. Doran Company, New York. 1913. Price, $1.50, net, Pp 327.]
Here is an English New Testament with the starch and stiffness of antiquity taken out of it, and the dust of former centuries wiped from it. The old records receive a new habiliment, in lines sheer to the figure, and stylistic cut to date. The archaic and formal give way to the common living, flowing talk of life. In addition to emphasizing modernity over the Authorized Version of 1611, and making the thought intelligible to any reader, Dr. Moffatt has attempted to be more accurate than the Revised Version of 1881. Recent grammatical research in the translation of the aorist, the article, and the particles, have been utilized by him, and he has translated directly from the new text of Von Soden, although he has not always followed Von Soden's sometimes questionable hypotheses and arrangement.
When we look at the result in detail, the effect is striking. Not only does a new light shine out from many hitherto obscure expressions, but we are enveloped in a new electric atmosphere. We cannot help feeling at times that Dr. Moffatt has searched for words which would enable him to be as different from tradition as possible, and occasionally we are struck by the flatness or inferiority of the new term. As an instance of all these things, we read, “Blessed are those who feel poor in spirit!” (which is expressive improvement); “the Realm of heaven is theirs.” “Whoever relaxes a single one of these commands, he will be ranked least in the Realm of heaven.” “I tell you, unless your goodness excels that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the Realm of heaven.” “The Realm of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.” “The Realm of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed.” “The Realm of heaven is like dough which a woman took and buried in three pecks of flour.” “The Realm of heaven is like a trader in search of fine pearls." “The Realm of heaven is like a net which is thrown into the sea and collected fish of every sort.” “The Realm of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a marriage banquet in honor of his son.”
The Pharisees and Herodians say to Jesus, “Teacher, we know you are sincere, and that you teach the Way of God honestly and fearlessly; you do not court human favor.” Jesus says to them, “Whose likeness, whose inscription is this?” He tells them, “Give Caesar what belongs to Caesar; give God what belongs to God.” Jesus speaks to the crowds and to His disciples and says, “You are not to be called "rabbi" for One is your teacher, and you are all brothers. One is your heavenly Father; nor must you be called “leaders," for One is your Leader, even the Christ.” Jesus exclaims, “How often I would fain have gathered your children as a fowl gathers her brood under her wings." When His disciples point out to Him the temple buildings, He says, “You see all this? I tell you truly, not a stone here will be left upon another, without being torn down.” He says, “This gospel of the Reign will be preached all over the wide world as a testimony to all the Gentiles, and then the end will come.” The “abomination of desolation” is termed by Moffatt “the appalling Horror.” The “ten virgins” become “ten maidens.” The foolish ones come and say, “Oh, sir, oh, sir, open the door for us!” but Jesus replied, “I tell you frankly, I do not know you.” “Keep on the watch then.” Instead of “Well done! good and faithful servant,” the Master says, “Capital! you excellent and trusty servant.” Judas the betrayer says, “Surely it is not me, Lord.” Jesus says to him, “Is it not?” At every point we find business-like clearness with occasional bathos.
Dr. Moffatt modernizes the words of institution of the Lord's Supper as follows: “Take and eat this, it means my body.” “Drink of it, all of you; this means my blood, the new covenant-blood, shed for many, to win the remission of their sins.” On the cross the soldiers give Jesus a drink of wine mixed with “bitters.” One of them “soaked a sponge in vinegar and put it on the end of a stick.” Jesus uttered a loud scream and gave up his spirit.” After His resurrection Jesus says to the women, “Have no fear! Go and tell my brothers to leave for Galilee.” His last commission reads as follows, “Full authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth; go and make disciples of all nations, baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey all the commands I have laid on you.”
Jesus sees Simon and his brother “netting fish in the sea." And He says, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fish for men.” After the unclean spirit had been cast out, the people discussed the miracle as follows: “Whatever is this?” “It’s new teaching with authority behind it!” When Jesus was praying in a lonely spot, “Simon and his companions hunted Him out and told Him, “Everybody is looking for you.’”
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To the paralytic Jesus says, “Rise, I tell you, lift your pallet and go home.”
As often happens, with scholars who take exceeding pains to make things clear to the people, Dr. Moffatt occasionally used a term which is more obscure than the phraseology of the old Authorized Version to American ears. Thus, in place of “Is not this the carpenter,” he says, “Is not this the joiner.” The disciples, instead of taking “a staff only” are to take “a stick” (which reminds Americans of arbitrary despotism). Instead of “no money in their purse,” they are to take “no coppers in their girdle.” Then, of course, instead of not putting on two “coats,” they are ordered “not to put on two shirts.” The translator is very forcible in describing John the Baptist's interview with Herod. John tells Herod, “You have no right to your brother's wife.” Herod says to Herodias, “Ask anything you like, and I will give you it.” He swore to her, “I will give you whatever you want.” The girl says, “I want you to give me this very moment John the Baptist's head on a dish.” Dr. Moffatt translates “Talitha cumi,” “Little girl, I am telling you to arise.” The people bring “their invalids and beg him to let them touch even the tassel of his robe.” Jesus “puts his fingers into the deaf man's ears, touches his tongue with saliva, and looks up to heaven with a sigh.” The people are “astounded in the extreme” and say, “How splendidly he has done everything!” “Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched” is translated, “Where their worm never dies, and the fire is never put out.”
The Hosanna at the entry of Jerusalem is made to read, “Blessed be the Reign to come, our father David's reign. Hosanna in high heaven" The scribes “walk about in long robes, get saluted in the market place, secure the front seats in the synagogue, and the best places at banquets: they prey upon the poverty of widows and offer unreal prayers.” The widow's mite gets a scholarly jolt. Dr. Moffatt translates, “They have as put in a contribution out of their surplus, but she has given out of her neediness all she possessed, her whole living.” The “alabaster box of ointment” becomes a “flask of pure nard perfume.” When Pilate asked Jesus whether he is the King of the Jews, Jesus replies, “Certainly.” When the women come to the tomb, they say, “Who will roll away the boulder?” It is still a question whether “lithos” was surely a boulder, even though Joseph, who “swathed Jesus in the linen” rolled it up against the opening of the tomb.
Of the section beginning Mark 16:9, Dr. Moffatt notes quite unconventionally that “the following appendix represents a couple of second century attempts to complete the Gospel.” The beginning of the Gospel of Luke he translates, “A number of writers have essayed to draw up a narrative of the established facts in our religion.” The Gloria in Excelsis becomes “Glory to God in high heaven, and peace on earth for men whom he favours.” The translator certainly makes the parable of the new cloth and the old garment very much clearer, saying, “No one tears a piece from a new cloak and sews it on the old cloak; otherwise he will tear the new cloak and the new piece will not match with the old.” The parable of the Unjust Steward is translated as follows: “There was a rich man who had a factor, and this factor he found was accused of misapplying his property. So he summoned him and said, ‘What is this I hear about you! Hand in your accounts; you cannot be factor any longer.’” The dying thief says, “We are getting what we deserve.” We rather expected to find Dr. Moffatt going so far as to say, “We are getting what is coming to us.” Jesus replies to the thief, “I tell you, surely you will be in paradise with me this very day!”
The Gospel of John opens as follows, “The Logos existed in the very beginning, the Logos was with God, the Logos was divine.” When Jesus after His resurrection stood on the shore of the sea of Tiberias and spoke to the disciples out on the boat, He said, “Lads, have you got anything!” In the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus is said to have been forty days “discussing the affairs of God's realm.” When Peter rises and raises his voice at Pentecost, he says, “These men are not drunk as you imagine; why, it is only nine in the morning!” Paul at Athens says, “As I scanned your objects of worship, I actually came upon an altar with the inscription ‘To an unknown God.” Well, I proclaim to you what you worship in your ignorance.” Paul announces to the Romans, “I am proud of the Gospel; it is God's saving power for every one who has faith, for the Jew first and for the Greek as well. God's righteousness is revealed in it by faith and for faith—as it is written, “By faith shall the righteous live.” On the whole, many passages in the book of Romans become very clear and vivid, under the transforming hand of Dr. Moffatt, and particularly apropos is the following, “But who are you, my man, to speak back to God!”
Dr. Moffatt has succeeded well in breaking up Romans 5: 12-19 into a series of short sentences. He translates the beginning of Romans 6 as follows: “How can we live in sin any longer when we have died to sin? Surely you know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into his death! Our baptism into his death made us share his burial, so that, as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live and move in the new sphere of life. For if we have grown into him by a death like his, we shall grow into him by a resurrection like his, knowing as we do that our old self has been crucified with him in order to crush the sinful body and free us from any further slavery to sin.”
We must say that the dfficult argument in Romans 9:11 becomes far more direct and impressive under Dr. Moffatt's hand. He puts movement into the various statements, and enables us to feel the flow of the whole argument toward one great goal.
Much of I Corinthians loses its traditional air of sanctity and becomes plain, common, severe admonition, e. g. I Cor. 6: “When anyone of you has a grievance against his neighbor. do you dare to go to law in a sinful pagan court, instead of laying the case before the saints? Do you not know the saints are to manage the world? If the world is to come under your jurisdiction, are you incompetent to adjudicate upon trifles? Do you not know we are to manage angels, let alone mundane issues? And yet, when you have mundane issues to settle, you refer them to the judgment of men who from the point of view of the church are of no account! I say this to put you to shame.” Or take I Corinthians 7: “A woman is bound to her husband during his life time; but if he dies, she is free to marry anyone she pleases—only, it must be a Christian. However, she is happier if she remains as she is; that is my opinion—and I suppose I have the Spirit of God as well as other people.”
I Corinthians 10:16 is translated thus: “The cup of blessing, which we bless, is that not participating in the blood of Christ. The bread we break, is that not participating in the body of Christ? For many as we are, we are one Bread, one Body, since we all partake of the one Bread.” I Corinthians II: 18-20 runs thus: “First of all, in your church-meetings I am told that cliques prevail. And I partly believe it. There must be parties among you, if genuine Christians are to be recognized. But this makes it impossible for you to eat the ‘Lord's' supper when you hold your gatherings. As you eat, everyone takes his own supper; one goes hungry while another gets drunk.”
In I Corinthians 13, we are told, “If I have no love, I am a noisy gong”; “At present we only see the baffling reflections in a mirror, but then it will be face to face.” The translation of the beginning of the 16th chapter of I Corinthians is a Godsend for the advocates of systematic beneficence, “With regard to the collection for the saints, you must carry out the same arrangement that I made for the churches of Galatia. On the first day of the week let each of you put aside a sum of your weekly gains, so that money will not have to be collected when I come.”
The difficult II Corinthians 3:7 is well rendered as follows: “If the administration of death which was engraved in letters of stone, was invested with glory—so much so that the children of Israel could not gaze at the face of Moses on account of the dazzling glory that was fading from his face; surely the administration of the Spirit must be invested with still greater glory. If there was glory in the administration that condemned, then the administration that acquits abounds far more in glory.” But the mystical passage that follows in verse 18 is not cleared as happily.
Paul's irony in II Corinthians 11 becomes very natural, and loses that stiff, hard ring which we find in it in the Authorized Version. But it also loses dignity: “I wish you would put up with a little ‘folly’ from me. Do put up with me, for I feel a divine jealousy on your behalf. . . . You put up with it all right, when some interloper preaches a second Jesus, or when you are treated to a different gospel from what I gave you! Why not put up with me? I hold I am not one whit inferior to these precious ‘apostles'! But perhaps I did wrong in taking a humble place that you might have a high one—I mean, in preaching the gospel of God to you for nothing! I made a levy on other churches, I took pay from them so as to minister to you. . . . What I am now going to say is not inspired by the Lord: I am in the role of a 'fool,' now, on this business of boasting. You put up with fools so readily, you who know so much! You put up with a man who assumes control of your souls, with a man who spends your money, with a man who dupes you, with a man who gives himself airs. . . . But let them vaunt as they please, I am equal to them (mind, this is the role of a fool!). Are they Hebrews? so am I,” etc. “Now this is playing the fool! But you forced me to it, instead of coming forward yourselves and vouching for me. . . . Here am I all ready to pay you my third visit. . . . But let that pass, you say; I was clever enough to dupe you with my tricks? Was I? Did I make something out of you by any of my messengers? . . . Titus did not make anything out of you, did he? And did not I act in the same spirit as he did . . . Now brothers, good-bye; mend your ways, listen to what I have told you, live in harmony, keep the peace.”
Galatians becomes a very lively book under the hand of Dr. Moffatt, and the allegory of the two bond women is easily comprehensible.
The difficult first chapter of Ephesians is well connected. The third chapter of Philippians gains greatly in its contrast between the righteousness of the law and the righteousness of faith in Christ. There is a striking translation of 3:20, “We are a colony of heaven, and we wait for the Saviour who comes from heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform the body that belongs to our low estate, till it resembles the body of his Glory.” But when Dr. Moffatt makes Paul tell his brothers to keep in mind “whatever is attractive, whatever is hightoned,” he surely raises a query in the average American mind.
Colossians 1:25 is given in very direct English as follows: “I am a minister of the church by the divine commission which has been granted me in your interests, to make a full presentation of God's message—of that open secret which, though concealed from ages and generations of old, has now been disclosed to the saints of God. It is His will that they should understand the glorious wealth which this secret holds for the Gentiles, in the fact of Christ's presence among you as your hope of glory.” In the second chapter Dr. Moffatt says: “Beware of any one getting hold of you by means of a theosophy which is specious make-believe. It is in Christ that the entire Fullness of deity has settled bodily, it is in him that you reach your full life.” Paul's struggle to hold straight those who were influenced by the rites and ideas of the mystery religions becomes very striking: “Let no one lay down rules for you with regard to fasting and the cult of angels, presuming on his visions and inflated by his sensuous notions, instead of keeping in touch with that Head under whom the entire body, supplied with joints and sinews, and thus compact grows with growth divine. As you died with Christ to the Elemental spirits of the world, why live as if you still belonged to the world? Why submit . . . to rules determined by human tenets; they get the name of 'wisdom' with their self-imposed devotions, with their fasting, with their rigorous discipline of the body, but they are of no value, they simply pamper the flesh!”
In II Thessalonians Paul is made to say, “With regard to the arrival of the Lord Jesus Christ and our muster before him, I beg you, brothers, not to let your minds get easily unsettled or excited by any spirit of prophecy to the effect that the Day of the Lord is already here. It will not come till the Rebellion takes place first of all, with the revealing of the Lawless One, the doomed One, actually seating himself in the temple of God with the proclamation that he himself is God. . . . Brothers, we charge you . . . to shun any brother who is loafing. - We are informed that some of your number are loafing, busybodies instead of busy. . . . If anyone will not obey our orders in this letter, mark that man, do not associate with him—that will make him feel ashamed! You are not to treat him as an enemy, but to put him under discipline as a brother.”
In his counsels to Timothy, Paul is made to say, “Deacons in turn are to be serious men, . . . their wives must be serious too. They are only to be married once, and they must manage their children and household properly. . . . Let no one slight you because you are a youth. . . . You have a gift that came to you transmitted by the prophets, when the presbytery laid their hands upon you; do not neglect that gift. . . . Watch yourself and watch your teaching; stick to your work. . . . Widows who really need it must be supported from the funds. . . . The really forlorn widow has her hope fixed on God, night and day she is at her prayers and supplications; whereas the widow who plunges into dissipation is dead before ever she dies. . . . No one under sixty is to be put on the church's list of widows. . . . Refuse to put young widows on the list, for when their wanton desires alienate them from Christ, they want to marry and thus are guilty of breaking their first troth to Him. Besides, they become idle unconsciously by gadding about from one house to another—and not merely idle but gossips and busybodies, repeating things they have no right to mention. . . . Presbyters who are efficient presidents are to be considered worthy of ample remuneration, particularly those who have the task of preaching and teaching. . . . Those who are guilty of sin you must expose in public, to overawe the others. . . . Never be in a hurry to ordain a presbyter. . . . This is what you are to teach and preach. Any one who teaches novelties and refuses to fall in with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the doctrine that tallies with piety, is a conceited, ignorant creature. . . . They imagine religion is a paying concern. And so it is—provided it goes with a contented spirit. . . . O Timotheus, keep the securities of the faith intact; avoid the profane jargon and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘Knowledge.’” In the second epistle Timothy is told: “Pick up Mark and bring him along with you. . . . Alexander the blacksmith has done me a lot of harm.”
Hebrews II: I is rendered thus, “Convinced of what we do not see.” Hebrews 12: I becomes, “We must strip off every handicap, strip off sin with its clinging folds, to run our appointed course steadily, our eyes fixed upon Jesus as the pioneer and the perfection of faith.”
As a whole we do not feel that the book of Revelation is improved, for the spiritual purpose for which it was written, in this translation. The descriptions of the heavenly are not so inspiring, though the presentations of evil and iniquity become more natural. In the multitude of mongrel details we lose a sense of unity, and so far as the visions of evil are concerned, we are reminded of the reptiles and unclean things crawling around in the sheet which Peter saw in his trance on the roof of the house at Joppa, and which, lowered before him, contained all live quadrupeds and creeping things of the earth, and wild birds.
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