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“ The New Covenant” and its Critics.
The Publishing House should be congratulated on the example it has set in inserting a disparaging criticism of one of its own publications, in its principal periodical. Publishers usually employ only the gamut of eulogy in their book-notices, declining to use their type in dispraise, however just. The example of the Publishing House should convince its patrons that it has confidence in its own books, and that it is determined to deal justly by its constituents, or it would not permit disparagement of its publications in its own critiques.
The author of the article should also be commended, so far as he has indicated actual defects in a volume of his own church literature. Too frequently religious critics and jour nals can find only words of praise for works in their own sectarian interest, and adverse criticism is a stranger to their pages. The “ Review of “The New Covenant,'"1 in the April number of the QUARTERLY, might, however, with great propriety, have been excluded from its pages, had its admission rested on its claiin to be in the full sense of the word a book review, for it does not even attempt to indicate the merits of the book, or what the author purposed and has accomplished in its preparation. But the publishers seem to have preferred to err on the side of toleration, rather than incur the charge of undue partiality for their own. Certainly no other conceivable reason could demand their publication of Prof. Forbes's critique.
The unusual examples set by the Publishing House and Prof. Forbes will excuse, if excuse is needed, the equally unusual circumstance of an author writing in defence of his own book ;-moreover, the character and importance of the work, as an attempt to faithfully present the Christian Scriptures in modern English, with the results of the best criticism
1 A Review of “The New COVENANT," by Prof. H. P. Forbes. in the April QUAR
wrought into the text, should justify its author in explaining its merits to those who have had no opportunity to examine it, and in relieving it from the adverse criticisms of those wlio from any cause liave mistaken and misstated its contents. Such a work as a new translation of the Scriptures, destined to be identified with our church literature, should at least be accurately described in this review, which, more than any other of our church publications, should pronounce upon the character of our literature. The author of the work has, for these and other reasons, concluded that he can, without presump
tion, sct some of his critics right, and present to the public · a few of the claims on which his work rests: claims that few beside himself can be supposed to see as clearly as he sees them, and which none beside himself would be likely to take the trouble to describe.
Before noticing his QUARTERLY critic, however, the author will devote some attention to certain critical references that have been made to his version from other sources. They have proceeded frein several directions.
1. From those who deny the supernatural origin of the Bible, and who object to our book because it proves by the actual language of the Word that the unreasonable doctrines they reject are not taught therein. The tone of their criticisms indicates that they very much desire that the Bible may seem to teach irrational doctrines, in order that they may have the better ground of opposition to it. One of them says:
While our own view of the eschatology of the New Testament is doubtless substantially the same as that of our Uni'versalist brethren, yet, in the interest of sound scholarship, we cannot help protesting against efforts to make the gospels explicitly teach the doctrine of a final restoration of all men to holiness and happiness. It does not follow that because the dogma is a rational one, it is to be found upon the pages of the four evangelists.
The animus of such a critic is apparent. He regards the doctrine of universal restoration as a reasonable one, but is unwilling to adınit that the four Gospels teach it, and “The New Covenant” is condemned because its more literal rendering shows that the New Testament does teach the doctrine. The Bible as an inspired book is the special abhiorrence of this class of critics, and next to that is a successful attempt to show that the book of books is worthy of confidence. The more clearly “ The New Covenant” teaches a rational Christianity, the more obnoxious it becomes in their eyes.
A specimen of this critic's treatment is seen in this : Instead of “ thorns” the word “ acanthuses” is employed in “The New Covenant.” Now “acanthuses” is the original, and the very word Jesus employed. Acanthus (axavba akantha) is also good English, is, in fact, the English as well as Greek name of the plant Jesus referred to. There are other thorny plants besides the acanthus, among them the oxóloy, (skolops) 2 Cor. xii. 7. Jesus said and meant “ acanthuses ;” and yet the critic referred to quotes the following from the book : “He that is sown among the acanthuses is the one that hears the word, and the cares of the won, and the delusion of riches choke the word and it becomes unfruitful; ” and proposes to style our book the “ Acanthus Version.” Very good. He could not better compliment it than by naming it for a characteristic that demonstrates its accuracy.
But we must express our thanks to this critic for a verbal correction in John vi. 71, which should read “ Judas (son) of Simon of Kariotus," instead of “ Judas, son of Kariotus," the words • of Simon” having been accidentally omitted by us.
2. Another class includes certain Christian people who unwillingly see in “ The New Covenant” an exponent of Universalism. These writers do not undertake to show that our renderings are inaccurate, and they do not seem to see that they make a fatal admission when they acknowledge that while our rendering is more literal and exact, it causes the book to seem to teach universal salvation. This is surely no objection to it. The Baptist translation is not at all to be condemned because it contains the adınitted facts that favor the position of that church, but wbich the Revision Committee declined to embody in the Revision. Why should it be reck
oned a fault in “The New Covenant" that it insists on the facts that favor the Universalist theories? The question sliould not be, Is the version more favorable to the doctrine of universal salvation than is the Revision ? but, Is it accurate where it differs from that version, and from King James's ? The translator only asks to be tried by this test. But these critics do us unintentional injustice. Take the candid Interior (Chicago), as an example:
That his translation is a faithful one, except where controverted topics are involved, we fully admit. Yet it loses the force imparted by the old Anglo-Saxon dialect to the authorized version, and that without any compensating benefit. In his translation of certain controverted passages Dr. Hanson certainly runs into a worse error than he cures, when he makes the young ruler ask, " What shall I do to inherit æonian life?” and makes the Saviour talk of “donian” fire, "æonian" chastisement, “wonian" tabernacles, and “æonian” life. We submit that to the average reader of the New Testament that adjective has no meaning whatever, and that, consequently, every sentence in which it occurs is meaningless. We all think we know what • baptize' means; what'æonian' means, who knows?
The Interior does not seem to be aware that Tennyson, De Quincey, and other standard writers employ these words. But nothing can be fairer than our treatment of the æonian phraseology, which should secure the approval not only of Universalists, but of all others as well. In the Established Version and Revised Version aion, aiônios, aiór, aiovios, are rendered “age,” “world,” “ everlasting,” “ forever," " eternal,” etc. But nothing is now better settled than that “age” and “ ages are the exact renderings of the now, and “ age-lasting,” or pertaining to an age, the meaning of the adjective, in almost all cases; and in all cases so far as a time-sense is involved, indefinite but limited duration is the meaning of the words. But there are instances of the use of the adjective in which it is claimed by some scholars that something more than mere duration is denoted ; that is, quality as well as duration. The æonian life is something more than an age-long life, they say. We have no precisely equivalent English adjective for aiūnios, and inasmuch as the wonian terms are the pirotal
words in the controversy between Universalists and Partialists, what can be at once more candid and exact than to transliterate rather than translate them ? Orthodox critics and some others accuse the translator of “The New Covenant" of carrying his Universalist idiosyncracies into his translation. This is precisely what he has not done. He might have rendered the noun “ age” every time, and the adjective “ age-lasting,” and justified this course by the lexicography, etymology, and usage of the word in all classic and sacred literature. As a partisan theologian he should have done so. As a rigid critic he might have done so. Had he made his version solely in the interest of his church, he certainly would have done so. But there was another course open to him, that was not obnoxious to any charge of theological bias, and that no candid reader could object to, which was to Anglicise the noun by the word won, singular, æons, plural, and the adjective by æonian. These are recognized English words, and have the merit of being the very words of the original, and any reader can interpret them wherever they occur, as the connection requires. Certainly no one can accuse the translator of being biased when he refrains from translating the terms expressive of duration by such words as “ age” and “ age-lasting, ” which he was fully justified in doing, and gives the very form of the original.
The only objection offered is, that these words are not in common use. But there are many excellent and important words in the New Testament not in common use. Æon is in the English dictionary, and æon and æonian are found in standard English literature, and are becoming more and more common. The same objection could have been made to the use of the word “chasm" a few years ago.
It is the best word to represent the Greek reudered “gulf” in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, (Luke xvi, xáoua, chasma); but it had not been naturalized in English speech when the Established Version was made. Æon and æonian are fast becoming familiar, and are the best possible words to represent aiør,aiovios. This is our double answer to critics who NEW SERIES.