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James Dodson

[from The Associate Presbyterian, Vol. XIV, No. 12, May 1873, pp. 364-368.] 

Messrs. Editors:—“More plain, smooth, and agreeable to the text” of the original “than any heretofore,” were the three properties which rendered our metrical version of the Psalms acceptable to the taste of the learned, and to the affections of the pious, for more than 200 years. Yet no competent judge claimed perfection for it during that period. But the same is true of the authorized English version of the whole Bible. It is true that a living language undergoes continual change. Some words and phrases go into desuetude, and equivalent terms and phrases are adopted into the current vocabulary. Besides, inventions and discoveries in the arts and sciences, call for new combinations among the elements of language. These facts are familiar to every scholar.

But the translation of the Holy Scriptures is a very responsible work; requiring learning, piety, and integrity: or, as our reformers were wont to enunciate these pre-requisites,—“Known integrity, approved fidelity, and good affection to the cause of God.” A translation of any part of the Bible into any language, from the very nature of the case, is intended for the instruction, &c. of all who use that language. This is exemplified in all heathen lands where Christian missionaries are employed. Our United Presbyterian brethren do not seem to have given sufficient consideration to such obvious facts as these. No part of the Scriptures is so frequently brought before the thoughts and affections of Christians—of those especially who use the book of Psalms in praise—as that part of the Bible. Hence the greater importance relatively, that the version is not a paraphrase. A paraphrase is not suitable matter to be the “sacrifice of praise”—not “a male of the flock” (Heb. 13:15; Mal. 1:14.)

Mr. Easton has detected and pointed out blemishes in the New Version, where “poetic license” has degenerated into licentiousness; where “Watts’ Imitation” is more agreeable to the text than the United Presbyterian version. As an imitation of the Psalms is not the Psalms, so a paraphrase is not the Psalms. The Presbyterian Banner of Pittsburgh, no sooner saw the New Version, than it triumphed in view of the advance thus made towards its own hymnology! There was ground for the conclusion that sensible approximation had been made.

If the “revision” had been limited to the substitution of modern for obsolete words,—as, since for sith, my for mine, on through for thorough, &c., few would have offered objection. When, however, liberty has been taken not only to frame a new version, but to change and transpose words, phrases, and whole lines and stanzas, under the name of a revision; and then, instead of keeping the version and revision locally apart, sandwiching, as it were, both kinds in the volume, and labeling the whole with the title—“Psalms Revised;” this is too much to be recognized as fair dealing with the Christian public.

The encomiums upon the version to be displaced by this innovation, are similar in character to the eulogies heaped upon the Psalms themselves by the votaries of hymns: and as confidence in their affection for the Psalms on the part of hymn-singers is not strengthened, but shaken, by such encomiums, the same is true in reference to our authorized version.

The teaching of history is, that those who first began to lose relish for the deep Christian experience portrayed in the inspired Psalms, expressed dissatisfaction—not with the Psalms themselves;—no, but with the uncouthness of the version in which the mind of the Spirit is clothed. Next, the book of Psalms was deemed to limited in variety both of matter, and especially of metre, to harmonized with the supposed advanced stage of theology and music. Other inspired songs were required, to meet the supposed want: but no one as yet was profane enough to go outside of his Bible for matter of praise. Hence Paraphrases. But no intelligent innovator could consistently stop with paraphrases. Having lost relish for the Psalms, and preferred paraphrases, the next step is, hymns. In these he could and did incorporate such doctrines and practices as were better suited to his experience; although found neither in the Psalms nor in the Bible! Such is the verdict of history.

It is a fact undeniable in our own time, that all those denominations that have relinquished the book of Psalms as the exclusive matter of divine praise, have incorporated their peculiar dogmas of belief in their hymnology. Many years of contending elapsed in Scotland, ere the Reformers succeeded in abolishing the superstitions and sensuous hymnologies, doxologies, &c. of the Romish Church. And now, the “great, fat hymn-books” of Protestant and Presbyterian churches indicate in which direction they are tending. One may intuitively perceive the difficulty—the impossibility—of reunion, a scriptural reunion among churches, while such barriers exist. As the thousands of Grecian gods could not fill the place of the “unknown God;” as millions of Hindoo idols cannot fill the place of Israel’s God; so neither can the millions of hymn-books fill the place of the one only Psalm book. The Apostle’s argument, in which he infers the inefficacy of the legal sacrifices from their multiplication and repetition, is equally conclusive as applied to this case. If hymns would fill the place of the Psalms, then “would they not cease to be multiplied?”

As a specimen of wrong translation in this new Version, let the reader examine Psalm 2:7 (but in the new version it is verse 5). Of this Psalm, besides a revised edition, we have two versions. It is in the former of these new versions that the mistranslation in question will be found. Two Divine Persons are presented here, as really, and almost as plainly, as in Psalm 110:1; yet one of them disappears as speaking, in the version under review. The verse reads thus:

“Thus hath said the Lord Most High,

I will publish the decree:

Thee I own my Son, for I

Have this day begotten thee.”

To some this may seem a small matter, especially as in the other versions the Father and the Son are recognized. It is a fundamental matter, “that all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son, honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.” And this mission of the Son by the Father is just the doctrine—the great fact—announced in this verse. Whereas the version makes the Father speak all the words of the 7th verse, the Son is the actual speaker. And in the whole of his public ministry on earth, there was no other doctrine or fact more emphasized by himself than this,—“I am not come of myself, but He sent me;” &c. Yes, the whole right, mission authority, of the gospel ministry, is by Christ himself expressly grounded on his own mission by his Father—“As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world” (John 17:18).

But it may be said, “all this is taught by the words of the New Version.” True, but not as taught in the original, and also in our authorized version. As in these true readings the Messiah is the speaker, not his father “the Lord Most High;” so the Lord Christ “declares the decree,” securing his lordship by the appointment of his Father. He is no usurper of the office of Mediator or Redeemer; or of any of the specific offices comprised therein,—e.g. of prophet, priest, or king. “He glorified not himself to be made” any of these, but “he that said unto him,” as in the verse in question, adduced as ultimate authority, “thou art my Son,” &c. Thus through ignorance or recklessness these modern poets have deprived the Christian reader, in their rendering of this verse, of a part—a material part—of that testimony of the “Faithful and True Witness,” which he bears to his potestative mission by his Father! Is this a light matter? No; this testimony lies at the foundation of personal faith; and more—at the foundation of the world’s faith, Jews and Gentiles (John 5:36, 37; 17:21). Sharp tools are dangerous to unskillful hands, and to those of others. It would be wise not to “deal in matters too high for us;” and “let patience have her perfect work;” until Christ by his Spirit presents to the church and the world some such learned poets as Rouse, and such divines as those of Westminster and Scotland, to build upon their foundations in Psalmody and Theology. The floods of German speculation—irrational “Rationalism,” of English and New England “Hymnology,” which are threatening to all innovators.

If the eternal sonship of our divine Saviour be a doctrine of the Bible; if this doctrine be the foundation on which is predicated the Mediator’s office and authority; is it a light matter that these grounds of the faith of Christians should, in this false paraphrase, be concealed from the English reader, and the Socinian be strengthened in his soul-destroying heresy? (John 8:24).

But it is said,—“This is a family quarrel; outsides ought not to intermeddle.”—That it is a family quarrel is matter of thankfulness by all who “love the truth and the peace:” but outside of that family there are many others, who are at least equally concerned for the purity of God’s worship, and the integrity or his inspired Word. These, as well as the versifiers and revisers, are charged not to “add to, or take from the Word of God.”

            March 1873.                                                                            DAVID STEELE, Senior.