"AS I SEE
Volume 4, Number 4, April 2001
["As I See It" is a monthly electronic magazine compiled and edited by Doug Kutilek. Its purpose is to address important issues of the day and to draw attention to worthwhile Christian and other literature in order to aid believers in Jesus Christ, especially pastors, missionaries and Bible college and seminary students to more effectively study and teach the Word of God. The editor's perspective is that of an independent Baptist of fundamentalist theological persuasion.
AISI is sent free to all who request it by writing to the editor at: DKUTILEK@juno.com. You can be removed from the mailing list at the same address.
All articles are by the editor (unless otherwise noted) and are copyrighted but may be reproduced for distribution, provided the following conditions are met: 1. articles must be reproduced in unedited, unabridged form; 2. the writer must be properly credited; and, 3. such reproduction must be for free distribution only. Permission to distribute in any other form must be secured in writing beforehand. Permission for reproduction in Christian print periodicals will generally be given.]
"GOD FORBID!" : A STUDY IN BIBLE TRANSLATION METHODOLOGY
The phrase "God forbid"
occurs some 24 times in the King James Version of the Bible. Nine of these
occurrences are in the OT (and thrice the similar "the LORD forbid"),
while fifteen are found in the NT. Of the NT occurrences, all but one are found
in the writings of Paul.
As has been pointed out countless times with regard to the use of the phrase "God forbid" to render the words of the original Hebrew and Greek, it is a close English equivalent except for two facts: 1. the word "God" is not found in the original text; and 2. neither is the word "forbid." Other than that, it is a fine representation of the original!
It is obvious, of course, that here at least, the KJV is not a literal translation of the original, but is at best a paraphrase, a "dynamic equivalent." (Do I hear some rigid KJV adherent mutter under his breath, "God forbid!"?)
It is our aim to examine the words of the original, their force and meaning, trace the origin of the common English rendering as far as possible, and compare this with translations in other languages, and in more recent English versions.
Because it would divide our attention and take us too far afield in this context, we will set aside the OT references and focus on those in the NT, saying only that the OT references are similar in nature to what we will discover regarding those of the NT.
The NT passages, gleaned from Strong's concordance, are Luke 20:16; Romans 3:4; 3:6; 3:31; 6:2; 6:15; 7:7; 7:13; 9:14; 11:1; 11:11; I Corinthians 6:15; Galatians 2:17; 3:21; 6:14. In every case but the last, the phrase is a self-standing grammatical unit, expressing strong opposition or rejection of a just mentioned opinion, point of view, or implied answer to a question. In Galatians 6:14, it is incorporated into a sentence.
In all 15 references, the Greek phrase is identical: ME GENOITO. ME is a negative particle usually used with verbs in the subjunctive, optative or imperative moods. GENOITO is a rare NT occurrence of a verb in the optative mood (just 56 cases in all). It is from the verb GINOMAI, "to be, become, happen," etc. Taken together, the phrase may be literally rendered, "may it not be," a phrase weaker in force in English than the Greek original.
It is of note that GENOITO is sometimes used in the Septuagint, the pre-Christian Greek translation of the OT, to translate the Hebrew word "amen." So, to write GENOITO would be as if to say "amen!" while in the negative, ME GENOITO is in essence to declare "no amen!" And just as "amen!" is a strong affirmation of agreement, so "no amen!" would be a strong expression of disagreement. Modern English equivalents would be "not at all!" or "absolutely not!" or "certainly not!" or "by no means" or "under no circumstances" or "perish the thought!" or even the colloquial, "no way, Jose!" (see the New King James Bible, New American Standard Bible, and New International Version in the passages involved). While all of these modern renderings are other than strictly literal renderings of ME GENOITO, they at least have the advantage over the KJV rendering of not introducing the name of God where it is not found in the original.
Where exactly did the rendering "God forbid" come from? Well, it was not an innovation with the KJV. It is found all but uniformly in earlier English Bible versions. It is employed in all 15 passages in the Catholic Douay NT of 1582 (this version influenced every page of the KJV NT), and in three distinct editions of the Geneva version (1557, 1560, 1602), in the earlier Cranmer version (1539), and also Tyndale's editions of 1526 and 1534. Even Wycliffe's version of 1380 uses "God forbid" in all but Galatians 6:14, where he has "far be it from me," which is a literal translation of the Latin Vulgate on which Wycliffe based his version. (I was not able to check the Bishops' Bible of 1562, the version on which the KJV revision was based, but I would be greatly surprised if it differed greatly from the other 16th century English versions. One author affirmed that Coverdale's [1535?] revision of Tyndale's version had "that be far" in at least some passages, but I was not able to confirm this). In retrospect, Wycliffe, translating from a Latin text and not from Greek --but not literally translating that Latin into English--seems to have set a pattern which subsequent English Bible translators followed as a matter of course.
I could find no trace of "God forbid" earlier than Wycliffe. An Anglo-Saxon translation of part of the Bible was made in England during the Middle Ages on the basis of the Latin Vulgate; only the Gospels are preserved to this day. The one occurrence of ME GENOITO in the Gospels, Luke 20:16, is rendered "Dhaet ne geweordhe," literally, "may that not happen." Evidently, "God forbid" did not pass into later English versions from the Anglo-Saxon.
Can the influence of some foreign version be discerned in this matter? Apparently not. The Latin Vulgate, known and used by all Bible translators in the Reformation era, regularly in the 15 NT passages has "absit," a third person singular subjunctive form of "absum--to be away from" and therefore meaning "may it be away or distant" or more colloquially "far be it" (neither "God" nor "forbid" being expressly mentioned).
Jerome's Latin NT translation (begun in 384 A.D.) was a revision of earlier Old Latin versions. The one place where I was able to check the rendering of the Old Latin version, Luke 20:16, it did not differ from the Vulgate. The KJV (and earlier English versions) apparently did not derive "God forbid" from influence from the Old Latin.
Nor did Luther's German influence the English, since Luther regularly follows the Vulgate closely, giving "das sey ferne," literally, "may that be far away." (Galatians 6:14 has "es sey ferne," "may it be far away"). And of course Wycliffe, the first English version and the first to use "God forbid," preceded Luther by 140 years anyway.
Other Reformation-era translations of the NT into the languages of Western Europe show a uniform absence of anything like "God forbid" in their rendering of ME GENOITO. Calvin's Latin version gives either "ne ita sit" ("may that not be") or "absit" ("may it be far").
The French Ostervald-Frossard version, a revision of a Reformation-era version, has usually "nullement!" ("not at all, by no means"). In Luke 20 and Galatian 6, it has phrases meaning literally, "may that not thus come (to pass)" and "may I not arrive," respectively. This French version is commonly hailed by KJVO advocates as the French equivalent of the KJV.
The Spanish Reina-Valera version of 1602 (Trinitarian Bible Society edition, which in some places has been altered by the TBS from the original 1602 edition) mostly has "en ninguna manera"--"in no manner," or something closely akin. A couple of places it has phrases meaning "may that be far away," reflecting the Vulgate. At Luke 20:16, it has, uniquely and inexplicably, "Dios nos libre"--"God free us." The baseless insertion of "God" here parallels the English custom, but it is not an equivalent phrase to "God forbid," since God is invoked, not to prohibit the action, but to free the petitioners from it.
Frankly, I am at a loss to explain how it came to pass that "God forbid," came to be considered by Wycliffe and other early English translators from Tyndale to the KJV as a suitable and correct translation of the Greek ME GENOITO. It was strictly a phenomenon that arose in the then-very small English-speaking world, as far as I can tell. It shows no equivalent in the prior Latin or Anglo-Saxon versions, nor in the contemporary German, Latin, French or Spanish versions. It cannot be defended as "the closest possible English equivalent." The renderings of the NKJB, NASB, and NIV are very much to be preferred to it.
"The phrase ME GENOITO is an Optative of Wishing which strongly deprecates something suggested by a previous question or assertion. Fourteen of the fifteen New Testament instances are in Paul's writings, and in twelve of these it expresses the apostle's abhorrence of an inference he fears may be (falsely) drawn from his argument." (Ernest De Witt Burton, Syntax of the Moods and Tenses in New Testament Greek, Kregel, 1976, p. 79)
Thank you very much for these comments on the Kennedy mafia [in AISI 4:3]. I've read excerpts from "The Sins of the Father," and I've thought much along the same lines as you expressed in the latest AISI since doing so. I remember my mother telling me that the Kennedy's were "as close to royalty" as this country has. Now, I love my mother, but I couldn't disagree with her any more about something. She is flat out wrong about that. I sent her a copy of AISI. I pray she'll think about what you've written.
Have a blessed day in the Lord.
Thanks for the article on the Kennedy's. It was an eye opener. Nathan Miller in his book "Star Spangled Men" puts Jack Kennedy as one of the two most overrated presidents the U.S. has ever had. After listing the ten worst, he then writes an epilogue in which he says Kennedy and Thomas Jefferson were the two most overrated presidents the U.S. has seen. I enjoy your articles.
SOUND WORDS FROM SPURGEON'S SERMON
"The Seed Upon the Rock"
(Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. 49, 1903, #2,844)
"Do not judge the reality of your conversion either by the suddenness of it or by the length of time which it occupied; for it is true that superficial conversions are usually sudden, although all sudden conversions are not superficial." (p. 386)
"I believe that, at this present time, we are in great danger of being burdened with a crowd of so-called converts who do not really know anything as it ought to be known. They attended a revival meeting, were much excited, and thought they were converted; but just ask them to explain to you the simplest truths of the gospel, and you will soon discover how little they know. Could they explain the three R.'s--ruin, redemption, and regeneration? Do they know what the ruin is? Do they know what the remedy for that ruin is? Do they understand at all what it means to be born again? Do they comprehend what the new nature is, or what 'justification by faith' means? I do not mind whether they know the meaning of the terms that are familiar to many of us; but do they know the truths themselves? There is a certain degree of Christian knowledge which is absolutely necessary to salvation." (p. 387)
"I do think that, in truly gracious conversions, the deepness of earth, at least in part, lies in deepness of emotion. I often regret that I do not see so many converts of the old-fashioned sort as I used to meet with. I know that emotion does not save the soul, but I believe that those who are saved are usually filled with emotion. We are saved by faith; but that faith produces very decided feelings. For instance, where there is true deepness of earth, there is generally a deep sense of sin. A man does not usually truly say, 'I believe in Christ,' until he has first of all felt, 'I need a Saviour.' In the present day, far too many seem to come out of the City of Destruction without any burden on their backs, and I am afraid that means that they never really come out at all. Some of us had the burden on our backs much longer than we need have done, and we do not hold ourselves up as examples to others; but yet I, for my part, have often blessed God for those bitter years of conviction, because now I know what others may have to endure, and I can help other poor souls who are deep down in the dungeons of Giant Despair. But where there is no true sense of sin, or very little of it, there is generally a very poor sort of conversion." (p. 388).
"If you fancy that, all the way to heaven, it will be hosannas and palm branches, we may as well correct your mistake at once. There are lions to be faced, and giants to be fought with, there in the Slough of Despond, and the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and Vanity Fair, and the pilgrim's way lies through them all; and if you are not prepared for these experiences, I do not wonder that, having no depth of earth, you say, 'I shall give it all up.' As for myself, I am resolved that, if I never have a ray of comfort between here and heaven, if I live to eighty years of age in darkness, I will still follow Christ." (p. 390)
"I well remember a lady, whom I should not be slandering if I said that she was as proud as she was tall; but, on one occasion, when I scarcely knew her, she said to me, 'I always pray for you, Mr. Spurgeon, every day.' I said, 'I thank you very much,' and she added, 'My one prayer for you is, that God will keep you humble.' I said, 'Thank you, madam, that is a very wise prayer; I am sorry that I have not remembered you in that way, but I will do so in future.' 'Oh!' said she, 'but I do not need it, for I was never tempted to pride.' 'Madam,' I said, 'I shall remember you now twice a day, night and morning, for I think that you are in a greater danger of pride than anybody whom I have met with for a long time.' " (p. 393)
CAIN'S MURDER OF ABEL: GEMS FROM MATTHEW HENRY
[Note: my experience in reading scattered bits of Matthew Henry's ever-famous commentary is that at times he can be verbose and tedious, seeming never to come directly to the point, while at yet other times he is rich and exceptionally perceptive. The following excerpts of the latter sort, are from his remarks on Genesis 4.--editor]
"That calling or condition of life is best for us, and to be chosen by us, which is best for our souls, that which least exposes us to sin and gives us most opportunity of serving and enjoying God."
"The first that went to the grave [i.e., Abel] went to heaven. God would secure to himself the first-fruits, the first-born to the dead, that first opened the womb into another world."
"[Cain] endeavors to cover a deliberate murder with a deliberate lie: 'I know not.' He knew well enough what had become of Abel, and yet had the impudence to deny it. Thus, in Cain, the devil was both a murderer and a liar from the beginning."
"See how sinners' minds are blinded, and their hearts hardened by the deceitfulness of sin: those are strangely blind that think it possible to conceal their sins from a God that sees all, and those are strangely hard that think it desirable to conceal them from a God who pardons those only that confess."
"Who knows the extent and weight of a divine curse, how far it reaches, how deep it pierces? God's pronouncing a man cursed makes him so; for those whom he curses are cursed indeed. The curse for Adam's disobedience terminated on the ground: 'Cursed is the ground for thy sake'; but that for Cain's rebellion fell immediately on himself."
"There is not a more restless fugitive upon earth than he that is continually pursued by his own guilt, nor a viler vagabond than he that is at the beck of his own lusts."
SAM HOUSTON AND THE AMERICAN SOUTHWEST by Randolph B. Campbell. New York: HarperCollins College Publishers, 1993. 178 pp., paperback
One of the most colorful people in American frontier history was surely Sam Houston (1793-1863). His military leadership in the Texas war for independence was crucial to its success. He is the only man to serve as governor of two different States. And he almost alone of prominent leaders in Texas vigorously opposed cessation and the break up of the Federal Union.
Houston, one of nine children, was born in Virginia, and moved with his widowed mother and siblings to Tennessee when he was 12. At 16, he left home, and lived for three years among the Cherokees, learning their customs, language, and point of view (he was thereafter always sympathetic toward the Indians in the repeated and always successful attempts of Whites to force the Indians off their lands with no adequate compensation or, in many cases, no compensation whatsoever).
As a member of the Tennessee militia, Houston served with Andrew Jackson, who became his protégé and counselor, in the Indian wars of the 1810s.
In his 20s, after 6 months' study (rather than the usual 2 years), Houston passed the state bar examine. Shortly thereafter, he became the attorney general in Lebanon, Tennessee, an office which launched him on a meteoric political career. He served two terms in the U. S. Congress, then was elected Governor of Tennessee when just 34 years old. The bachelor governor met and soon married a woman of 20, but the marriage failed after just three months when his wife abandoned him and returned home (no legal divorce was sought or granted for a number of years). Houston resigned as governor, and in his despondency, moved to Oklahoma territory and took up residence with the Cherokees there. He soon became a member of the Cherokee nation and took a second "wife" (though still legally married to the first wife) who was ¼ Cherokee. This marriage ended after several years, terminated by a divorce in accordance with Cherokee custom.
For the first three decades of his adult life, Houston was plagued by alcohol abuse and drunkenness. This placed a huge strain on many of his personal relationships, and came close to wrecking his life completely.
Houston crossed over into East Texas (then a part of Mexico) and acquired land there in accordance with Mexican settlement policies. He joined the Catholic Church (one of the legal requirements for land ownership) but he had no sympathy with Catholicism. When war with Mexico was imminent, Houston, with his military experience and natural leadership qualities, was chosen as head of the Texas army (such as it was) in 1835.
Houston advised the withdrawal of a Texas occupying force from San Antonio and the demolition of the Alamo mission, but his counsel was not heeded. When Texas declared independence on March 1, 1836, the Alamo with its small force of defenders (less than 200) was already under siege by 5,000 Mexicans led by General Santa Anna. On March 6, the Alamo fell, and all the defenders were killed, some after surrendering. Three weeks later, Santa Anna ordered 430 Texan POWs executed at Goliad.
Houston's responsibility was to defeat the advancing Mexican army. His scheme was a series of tactical withdrawals ever further east, until he had an advantageous battleground of his choosing near San Jacinto, due east of present-day Houston. There Houston's force--less than half the size of the Mexican army, inflicted 630 deaths, took 730 POWs, and captured Santa Anna in the aftermath, while suffering just 2 killed and 23 wounded. The war was effectively ended.
Houston was twice elected President of the Texas Republic during its brief decade of existence, and was beset with unending problems, chiefly heavy indebtedness and lack of revenues, compounded by an uncooperative legislature. In his second non-consecutive term, Houston reduced government expenses by 90% over his predecessor, but the Republic's continued existence was still very precarious.
Houston took as his third wife a woman from Alabama aged 21 (he was 47). Together they would have 8 children. She transformed his life, greatly restricting his alcohol use. She was a devote Baptist, and eventually Houston became a born-again baptized believer in Jesus Christ, and member of a Baptist church. The evidence of both his subsequent life and his words prove that his conversion was genuine.
After Texas was admitted to the Union, Houston was three times selected by the legislature to be one of the state's U. S. Senators. As a senator, he labored strenuously to reduce sectional tensions over the issue of slavery, seeking compromises that would keep the Union together and avoid civil war. (Only Houston and Senator Bell of Tennessee among southerners voted against the Kansas-Nebraska act of 1854, which allowed for the extension of slavery to the Plains states). A decade before it occurred, Houston predicted the coming of civil war and correctly foretold the disastrous consequences for the South.
Houston had hoped to be the Democrat nominee for President in 1852, but was rejected in favor of dark horse candidate Franklin Pierce who defeated Mexican War hero Winfield Scott for the presidency. In 1857, Houston narrowly lost a bid to be governor of Texas. His 1859 race proved successful (his elective offices are amazing: U. S. Congressman, U. S. Senator, President of the Republic of Texas, and Governor of both Tennessee and Texas. There was even popular agitation for Houston to run for U. S. President in 1860).
Having never read any previous biography of Houston, and only knowing indirectly about many events that were associated with his life, almost the whole of Campbell's book was new material to me. I was particularly interested to learn of Houston's religious beliefs. Though nothing was said of Houston's religious upbringing, it apparently must have had some biblical basis. He did seek Presbyterian church membership while living in Nashville, but was rejected, and acknowledged that he was "unregenerated" religiously speaking. His life in the 1850s and beyond reveal a different man, a man who prayed earnestly, who read the Bible with his family, who regularly sought God's guidance in decision making. Houston's religious beliefs are worthy of much closer investigation (both The Encyclopedia Of Southern Baptists and William Cathcart's Baptist Encyclopedia have articles on Houston, which, naturally focus on his conversion and subsequent life).
Campbell acknowledges that the single best biography of Houston is that of Marquis James, The Raven: A Biography of Sam Houston (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1929; 489 pp.) which was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for biography. I checked with my local used bookdealer for a copy, and sure enough, he had one, a first edition in fact, which he sold me on the cheap.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN & THE WIDOW BIXBY by F. Lauriston Bullard. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1946. 154 pp.
In the vast sea of books about Abraham Lincoln, this account focuses on what can well be described as a "footnote incident." In the Fall of 1864, it came to the attention of President Lincoln that War Department records showed (somewhat erroneously, as it later turned out) that a Boston widow, one Lydia Bixby, had lost five sons in battle in the cause of the Union. Lincoln then composed and sent to the Widow Bixby a letter of sympathy and consolation at her great loss. This letter was immediately published and subsequently republished repeatedly in periodicals and books, retaining its fame even to the present hour (it was read in a very dramatic scene by the George Marshall character in the recent movie "Saving Private Ryan"; it was in fact that scene which reminded me of the letter, and set me in search of information which ultimately led me to this little book). The original manuscript seems not to have survived, though precise copies were made from the original before its disappearance.
Decades after the letter was penned, some questions were raised by hyper-critical cynics as to whether it was in fact the President's own composition, or whether it was merely written by one of his secretaries, with Lincoln's signature added (or even "faked," according to the more extreme claims). Bullard acquits himself well as a literary and historical detective and establishes conclusively (to my mind) that all claims by skeptics denying Lincoln's authorship of the letter are devoid of substance or credible basis. The letter is wholly Lincoln's, genuine in every in syllable. It expresses the deeply-felt and genuine sympathy of Lincoln for the great personal loss Mrs. Bixby had endured. An interesting account of a minor incident in the Lincoln panorama.
The letter of Abraham Lincoln to Lydia Bixby:
Washington, Nov. 21, 1864
I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts, that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.
I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.
I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours, to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of Freedom.
Yours very sincerely and respectfully,
MAN WITH A MISSION: MEL TROTTER AND HIS LEGACY FOR THE RESCUE MISSION MOVEMENT by Leona Hertel. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2000. 176 pp, paperback. $10.99
Several years ago (AISI, 1:7) we reviewed Fred Zarfas' meager 1950 biography of Mel Trotter, lamenting the fact that Trotter surely deserved a better literary effort than that volume. Here is a better treatment, though not remarkably better; it has the advantage of covering not just the first 40 years of the Rescue Mission in Grand Rapids, but its entire first century.
In the 60 years after Trotter's death in 1940, the rescue mission he founded had a series of superintendents/ executive directors, many serving only a few months or a few years, though one served 35 years. This seemingly rapid turn over at the top does not mean that the mission was without continuity. In fact many of the volunteers who served through the mission had records of faithful, committed service of many decades (including the author, who, among other things, served as organist). As the city of Grand Rapids has changed, along with the larger national culture of the U. S., the mission has also changed--sometimes its location, but often its programs to meet new needs. Where once the chief substance abused was alcohol, today drugs ravage many down and outers. Single mothers are another group that requires greater effort today than in the early part of the century. Summer youth camp has become an important part of the mission's work. The HIV plague is another recent challenge. Methods must change as needs change, though the aim is always the same: bringing lost sinners to Christ.
I must ask: what is the average fundamentalist church doing to reach those at the bottom of society, whose lives are in shambles? In most cases, we give money to the local rescue mission and pat ourselves on the back for having "done our part." Shame on us for such short-sightedness. There is a great deal more we can and ought and must do. May God stir us up to do it.