Article No. 7

LIVING LETTERS

Under this title Tyndale House Publishers. Wheaten, Illinois, U.S.A., have published a paraphrase of the New Testament Epistles by Mr. Kenneth N. Taylor. Since the first printing in August 1962 there have been many reprints and upwards of one million copies have been distributed. The paraphrase has been quite widely adopted and used by evangelical workers who have felt that such a presentation of the Gospel message in plain modern English would help them to reach with God's Word some who were unlikely to be touched by the Authorised King James Version. The following remarks are based upon the nineteenth reprint published in 1964.

This edition includes a preface by Dr. W. Graham describing the work as "a paraphrase that speaks the language of the hour ... I read with renewed interest the age-abiding truths of the Scriptures, as though they had come to me direct from the Lord ... I believe that these paraphrased epistles communicate the message of Christ to our generation."

This book is placed in the hands of many people who have no knowledge of the Bible and it is important that those who distribute it and use it should enquire whether in this paraphrase " the language of the hour" truly represents the "words which the Holy Ghost teacheth". It is also needful to ascertain whether the paraphrase presents anything more or less than "age-abiding truths of Holy Scripture", and whether in fact the paraphrase "communicates the message of Christ ".

"Living Letters" also contains an extract from Tyndale's prologue to the first printed English New Testament -- "And if they perceive in any places that I have not attained the very sense of the tongue, or meaning of the Scripture, or have not given the right English word, (I exhort and beseech them) that they put to their hands to amend it, remembering that so is their duty to do ". The Epistle to the Romans presents a fair example of the style, vocabulary and method adopted throughout the paraphrase, and the present article is concerned only with this part of the New Testament.

Inappropriate Vocabulary

Among the salutations in Chapter 16 "Gaius ... saluteth you " is rendered, "Gaius says to say "hello" to you for him". Chapter 14:7 " For none of us liveth to himself etc." is paraphrased, " We are not our own bosses ". In 9:21 "One vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour" is changed to, "one jar beautiful, to be used for holding flowers, and another to throw garbage into ". It is a mistake to assume that modern English must necessarily be either vulgar or trivial. The Apostle Paul was deeply conscious of the high office to which he was called, and he was a refined and scholarly man. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit he wrote with a dignity, simplicity and clarity in keeping with the majesty of the Author of the message which he delivered.

The ultra-colloquial renderings are unnecessary and inappropriate. If the aim is to convey more clearly what may be a little obscure in the older forms of the language, it is not necessary to sink to the lowest stratum of current usage. If a more modern form is demanded, "Gaius sends his sincere greetings", and "We are not our own masters " would be more dignified and more consistent with Paul's style of writing, and also quite comprehensible to anyone with any knowledge of the English language. With regard to Romans 9:21, this verse says nothing about flowers or garbage, and the adoption of such gratuitous additions to the text opens the door to a thousand and one alternatives, none of which would be legitimate. If "honour and dishonour" are too difficult, a simpler form would be, "One jar for the prominent position and one for a lower place".

Meaning of the Greek Text obscured

There are many passages in which the paraphrase appears to disregard the actual meaning of the Greek. In the first verse the Greek declares that Paul was "called", "an apostle", and "separated unto the Gospel of God". The paraphrase has "chosen", a "missionary" and "sent out to preach God's Good News". This third expression is not the equivalent of "separated" which means "set apart", and refers to the electing purpose of God, of which Luke writes in Acts 9.15. "A chosen vessel unto me, to bear my Name before the Gentiles". The paraphrase obscures the distinction between "called" and "chosen", and between "separated" and "sent out".

Romans 1.13. "That I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles". Living Letters speaks of "good results among the other Gentile Churches", which implies that Paul's ministry was merely to the Gentile churches, whereas in fact he went to places where there were no Gentile churches. He was used as God's instrument to gather out the Gentile churches, and these churches were his "fruit among the Gentiles"-among Gentile unbelievers who were called out of darkness by his ministry. The addition of the word "Churches" is without any warrant in the Greek and obscures the meaning.

Romans 1.16. "The power of God unto salvation" is rendered, "God's powerful method of bringing all who believe it to heaven." Here the addition of the word "method" weakens the force of the inspired text, which conveys the meaning that the Gospel is not merely a statement of God's power nor a mere instrument which God's power uses, but God's living revelation of Himself, a Divine power flowing forth from Him to save men's souls (James 1.21). The Gospel is the means rather than the method, but the truth is more impressively conveyed without the addition of anything to qualify the "power of God ".

Romans 1.27. "Receiving in themselves the recompense of their error which was meet". The paraphrase reads, "getting paid within their own souls", but the addition of "souls" is arbitrary and limits the meaning of the passage. The recompense of their wickedness was no doubt received in their bodies as well as in their souls, and the simple wording in the older version is more accurate, without attempting to define what is not defined in the Greek. " Receiving in themselves " refers to their bodies, or their souls, or to both.

Romans 2.7. " To them who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality eternal life". The Authorised Version carefully preserves a distinction in the Greek which is completely lost in the paraphrase-" He will give eternal life to those who patiently do the will of God, seeking for glory and honour and for eternal life. " This rendering conceals the fact that there are two words in the Greek with quite different meanings, "immortality" signifying that which is not subject to decay or corruption, and " eternal life" the continuance of that incorruptible state in endless ages. The handling of this verse by the A.V. translators is a good example of the scrupulous care and sensitive perception which they applied to their task. They preserved the full meaning, while the paraphrase suppresses part of the meaning.

Romans 2.11. "There is no respect of persons with God" is paraphrased, " God treats everyone the same ", which is very plainly contradicted by the context. The whole passage speaks of the judgments of God upon the impenitent in contrast to that blessing of eternal life which He bestows upon them who walk in His ways. It is shown that God certainly does not treat every man the same, but if He treats them differently it is not merely out of respect to their persons. A man is not judged because he is a Gentile or because he is a Jew, but because he is an impenitent sinner. Here again the paraphrase does not convey the meaning of the words of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 12.6. "Let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith". Living Letters renders this, "Prophesy whenever you can - as often as your faith is strong enough to produce a message from God ". This is an attempt to explain what is meant by " the proportion of faith", but it does not explain it correctly. The whole verse states that the Lord's people have "gifts, differing according to the grace that is given to us ", and the exhortation to those who are called to speak in His Name is based on the bestowal of His grace. They must prophesy according to the measure of their faith, but the Scriptures do not suggest that faith produces a message from God.

Romans 14.1. "Him that is weak in the faith receive ye". This is considerably embellished in the paraphrase--" Give a warm welcome to any brother who wants to join as a member of the Church, even if he scarce believes that Christ alone can save him". None of this additional matter has any foundation whatever in the Greek text or in the context, and could give rise to an unscriptural laxity with regard to admission to membership of the Church. The weakness in the faith here does not relate to the saving power of the Lord Jesus Christ, but to " weaker brethren" among Jewish Christians who had scruples about eating the flesh of " unclean " animals and meat which had been offered to idols. They believed that the Lord Jesus Christ had saved them, but that they were still obliged to observe requirements of the ceremonial law. They probably constituted a minority of the Christians at Rome and Paul directs that they should be received into fellowship without constant debates about the things which they were puzzled about.

Important Doctrinal Changes

There are several passages in Living Letters where important doctrines are either distorted or obscured. Endeavouring to make the message more simple in its form the paraphrase in these places actually changes the substance of the message, so that it no longer represents the truth revealed by the Holy Spirit. Romans 1.17 "God makes us ready for heaven--good in His eyes--when we put our faith and trust in Christ to save us". This is an attempt to define justification in simple terms, but the effect is to imply that the work of justification is initiated by man rather than by God. In the previous verse, " to the Jew first, and also to the Greek " is altered to, "first to the Jew, but now everyone is invited to come to God in this same way". If there were an invitation in this verse it would be wrong to conceal it, but it is equally wrong to reduce the effectual "power of God unto salvation" to a mere invitation.

Romans 2.29. " ...circumcision is that of the heart in the spirit, and not in the letter ", becomes " He is looking for those with changed hearts and minds ". The Apostle is describing a work of God's grace which brings about a change of heart and renewal of a right spirit within the sinner, but it is not Scriptural to suggest that God is looking for such, as if the change took place by man's volition, or as if God must find out by searching what was unknown to Him before.

Romans 3.25. "Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood ... " is changed to, "He used Christ's blood and our faith to satisfy God's wrath". The word propitiation signifies the mercy seat, which represents the Lord Jesus Christ making propitiation for sinners, that is obtaining mercy and forgiveness for them. This is the object of faith, not the complement of it. Christ's blood made full, perfect and sufficient satisfaction before any sinner was brought to exercise faith in Him.

Romans 3.27. " Where is boasting then? It is excluded ... by the law of faith" is paraphrased, "our salvation ... is based on what Christ has done and our faith in Him". The text means that Jews and Gentiles alike have nothing to boast about as far as their works are concerned. If they have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, they are not trusting in their works but in His. He is their all-sufficient Saviour and the object of their faith and the foundation of their hope and assurance of eternal life. The paraphrase appears to suggest that "what Christ has done" was not enough without something added by ourselves. This may have been far from the paraphraser's mind, but the rendering lends itself to this kind of interpretation--" He has done His part, but to complete the work I must do mine", while the voice of faith is rather constrained to say, " The Lord hath done it - no other foundation can any man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ ".

Romans 5.17. "They which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ". In Living Letters this reads, " All who will take God's gift of forgiveness and approval ... ". The overflowing abundance of God's grace is given no place at all, as if the words of the Holy Spirit were no more than superfluous rhetoric, and grace and righteousness are reduced to forgiveness and approval. The imputation of the Redeemer's righteousness no longer clearly appears. "They which receive" experience and exemplify "the abundance of grace", while "all who will take" represent the exercise of man's will rather than the display of God's grace. In some contexts the distinction may not be so significant, but here it is essential. If any advocates of the paraphrase suspect that the 1611 translators gave an unwarranted "Calvinistic" emphasis to this verse, they will be constrained to admit that the preference for "receive" in most of the modern versions renders their suspicion groundless. The Revised Version, R.S.V., Darby, Alford, Moffat, Weymouth, Williams, Goodspeed, Berkeley, Lamsa, N.E.B., N.A.S.V. all have "receive" in this verse, and the substitution of "take" apparently reflects the doctrinal view of the paraphraser rather than the vocabulary of the Greek text.

Several other passages betray the same kind of doctrinal bias.

Romans 8.28-30. "The called according to His purpose" becomes "If we are fitting into His plans".

Romans 8.29. "Whom He did foreknow He also did predestinate" is changed to "God decided that those who came to Him -- and all along He knew who would -- should become like His Son". This version makes God's choice conditional upon foreseen faith and obedience, as if faith and obedience could be rendered by man apart from God's grace.

Romans 8.30. "Whom He called, them He also justified" is rendered, "When we came, He declared us not guilty".

Romans 9.30. "The Gentiles have attained to righteousness"-- in Living Letters, "God has given the Gentiles the opportunity to be saved".

Romans 11.12 in Living Letters "If the whole world become rich as a result of God's offer of salvation etc."

Romans 11.15. Living Letters, "He turned to the rest of the world to offer His salvation." In these latter verses the Greek text says nothing about an offer of salvation, but the "riches of the world" and the "reconciling of the world".

The conclusion is that a paraphrase of this kind, however genuine and sincere may be the intentions and desires of those engaged upon the work, obscures the plain truth of the God-breathed Scripture in a variety of ways--by using language inappropriate to the character and office of the inspired writer; by conveying a sense unsupported by the " wards which the Holy Ghost teacheth " ; and by introducing into the text doctrinal concepts at variance with what is actually taught in the Word of God.

 

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