Introductory Note:

When I was much younger my father told me that he preferred the Phillips translation. I did not think much about it at the time but every time I read the Phillips selection from Spiritual Classics I think about what my father said. Last week I asked my 92-year-old father why he preferred the Phillips translation. He laughed and said that was a long time ago and I have many other versions of the Bible on my shelf now. He thought for a minute and then he told me about his father sitting in the rocking chair in his bedroom reading the King James Version. Dad said, “I don’t know if he really understood what he was reading but it was his practice to read the Bible every day.” When the Phillips translation became available in the United States, my father was teaching young people in Sunday School. The Phillips translation made the Scripture much easier to understand. He went on to say that the various versions and translations were all helpful. “They are all like facets of a diamond that reflects the brilliant light. What is important is seeing the Light.” It seems to me that the Phillip’s translation of the The New Testament in Modern English helped my father see the Bible afresh.

In the translator’s foreword, J.B. Phillip’s said something about the technique he found helpful. “I have found imaginative sympathy, not so much with words as with people, to be essential. If it is not presumptuous to say so, I attempted, as far as I could, to think myself in the heart and mind of Paul, for example, or of Mark or of John the Divine. Then I tried further to imagine myself as each of the New Testament authors writing this particular message for the people of today. No one could succeed in doing this superlatively well, if only because of the scantiness of our knowledge of the first century A.D. But this has been my ideal, and that is why consistency and meticulous accuracy have sometimes both been sacrificed in the attempt to transmit freshness and life across the centuries.”

Here is one of my father’s favorite passages from the “The New Testament in Modern English.” Phillip’s gives this passage the subheading: I pray that you may know God’s power in practice.

“When I think of the greatness of this great plan I fall on my knees before the Father (from whom all fatherhood, earthly or heavenly, derives its name), and I pray that out of the glorious richness of his resources he will enable you to know the strength of the Spirit’s inner reinforcement that Christ may actually live in your hearts by your faith. And I pray that you, firmly fixed in love yourselves, may be able to grasp (with all Christians) how wide and deep and long and high is the love of Christ and to know for yourselves that love so far beyond our comprehension. May you be filled through all your being with God himself!” —Ephesians 3:14

Margaret Campbell

Excerpt from Spiritual Classics

Just over two hun­dred years ago, in 1754 to be pre­cise, Horace Wal­pole coined the word serendip­i­ty,” which has now come to be accept­ed into our lan­guage. The word, which is derived from the ancient name for Cey­lon, is defined as the fac­ul­ty of mak­ing hap­py and unex­pect­ed dis­cov­er­ies by acci­dent.” Before I go on to dis­cuss the work of trans­lat­ing the Gospels I feel I must men­tion some of the hap­py and unex­pect­ed dis­cov­er­ies” which I made in the trans­la­tion of the Epistles.

Serendip­i­ty 1 

The first one I will men­tion, which of course may all the time have been no secret to any­body else, was the expres­sion rich in mer­cy” (Eph. 2:4). This struck me as a pos­i­tive jew­el. Just as we might say that a Texas tycoon is rich in oil,” so Paul writes it as a mat­ter of fact that God is rich in mer­cy.” The pagan world was full of fear, and the Chris­t­ian gospel set out to replace that fear of the gods or the fates, or even life itself, with love for and trust in God. Rich in mer­cy” was good news to the ancient world and it is good news today.… 

Serendip­i­ty 3 

I had for some time been wor­ried about the expres­sion fear and trem­bling.” It did not seem like­ly to me that Paul in writ­ing to the Philip­pi­ans could have meant lit­er­al­ly that they were to work out their sal­va­tion in a con­di­tion of anx­i­ety and ner­vous­ness. We all know that fear destroys love and spoils rela­tion­ships, and a great deal of the New Tes­ta­ment is tak­en up with get­ting rid of the old ideas of fear and sub­sti­tut­ing the new ideas of love and trust. 

I realised that the Greek word trans­lat­ed fear” can equal­ly well mean rev­er­ence” or awe” or even respect,” but I was both­ered about the trem­bling.” Sure­ly the same Spir­it who inspired Paul to write to Tim­o­thy that God hath not giv­en us the spir­it of fear; but of pow­er and of love and of a sound mind” could not also have meant us to live our entire lives in a state of ner­vous ter­ror. I came to the con­clu­sion, a lit­tle reluc­tant­ly, that the expres­sion in fear and trem­bling” had become a bit of a cliché, even as it has in some cir­cles today. 

As I went on trans­lat­ing I found that this must be the case. For when Paul wrote to the Corinthi­ans and report­ed that Titus had been encour­aged and refreshed by their recep­tion of him, he then went on to say that the Corinthi­an Chris­tians received him with fear and trem­bling” (2 Cor. 7:13)! Now this makes no sense, unless it is a pure­ly con­ven­tion­al ver­bal form imply­ing prop­er respect. For, lit­tle as we know of Titus, we can­not imag­ine any real Chris­t­ian min­is­ter being encour­aged and refreshed by a dis­play of ner­vous anxiety. 

We get the same phrase occur­ring again in Paul’s advice to Chris­t­ian slaves (Eph. 6:5), where the con­text makes it quite clear that faith­ful­ness and respon­si­bil­i­ty are much more what Paul means than fear and trem­bling.” This much became plain, and then I realised that when Paul real­ly did mean the words to be tak­en lit­er­al­ly he ampli­fied them to make sure they would be prop­er­ly under­stood. I think we some­times imag­ine that the incred­i­bly hero­ic Paul suf­fered from no human weak­ness­es, except for the thorn in the flesh” about which all New Tes­ta­ment com­men­ta­tors have writ­ten (2 Cor. 12:7). But if we turn to 1 Corinthi­ans 2:3, we find Paul writ­ing that I was with you in weak­ness, and in fear, and in much trem­bling.” Now this is a dif­fer­ent thing alto­geth­er. Here we have a man hon­est enough to admit that he was fright­ened and that he was, or had been, ill. Fear and trem­bling” here are per­fect­ly legit­i­mate. It is only when they are used as a phrase almost with­out lit­er­al mean­ing that we begin to feel uncomfortable.

Serendip­i­ty 9 

There are nat­u­ral­ly many more hap­py and unex­pect­ed dis­cov­er­ies which I made over the years, some of them per­haps mere­ly reveal­ing how super­fi­cial must have been my pre­vi­ous knowl­edge of the New Tes­ta­ment let­ters. But since this is a per­son­al tes­ti­mo­ny, I have felt it right to men­tion some of the things which came to me with fresh and star­tling clar­i­ty. I have kept the best until last. 

It occurs in John’s first let­ter, chap­ter 3, verse 20. Like many oth­ers, I find myself some­thing of a per­fec­tion­ist, and if we don’t watch our­selves this obses­sion for the per­fect can make us arro­gant­ly crit­i­cal of oth­er peo­ple and, in cer­tain moods, des­per­ate­ly crit­i­cal of our­selves. In this state of mind it is not real­ly that I can­not sub­scribe to the doc­trine of the For­give­ness of Sins, but that the tyran­ni­cal super-Me con­demns and has no mer­cy on myself. 

Now John, in his wis­dom, points out in inspired words, If our heart con­demn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.” This is a gen­tle but salu­tary rebuke to our assump­tion that we know bet­ter than God! God, on any show­ing, is infi­nite­ly greater in wis­dom and love than we are and, unlike us, knows all the fac­tors involved in human behaviour. 

We are guilty of cer­tain things, and these we must con­fess with all hon­esty, and make repa­ra­tion where pos­si­ble. But there may be many fac­tors in our lives for which we are not real­ly to blame at all. We did not choose our hered­i­ty; we did not choose the bad, indif­fer­ent, or excel­lent way in which we were brought up. 

This is nat­u­ral­ly not to say that every wrong thing we do, or every fear or rage to which we are sub­ject today, is due entire­ly to hered­i­ty, envi­ron­ment, and upbring­ing. But it cer­tain­ly does mean that we are in no posi­tion to judge our­selves; we sim­ply must leave that to God, who is our Father and is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.” It is almost as if John is say­ing, If God loves us, who are we to be so high and mighty as to refuse to love ourselves? 

Excerpts tak­en from Spir­i­tu­al Clas­sics: Select­ed Read­ings on the Twelve Spir­i­tu­al Dis­ci­plines (Richard Fos­ter and Emi­lie Grif­fin, Edi­tors. Harper­collins, 2000.) and are used with permission.

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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