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Modern Speech Versions of the Bible: The Moffatt Bible

This is a popular modern-language Bible, published by Harper and Row with 1368 pages at $14.95. It may not be the best modern-language Bible, but it is far from being the worst, many rating it among the best.

Moffatt, strangely, begins his Bible not with Genesis 1:1, but with 2:4a, “This is the story of how the universe was formed.” But as with many books in the Old Testament, this, the first, got its title from its opening words, which show that it began as most translations, including our Hebrew Bibles, have it. In Exodus 6:3 we read, “I am the Eternal. I appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as God Almighty, but I never (emphasis is mine!) made myself known to them as ‘the Eternal.'” This does not agree with Genesis 4:26, “He was the first to worship the Eternal by name.” (cp. The Essentials of Reformed Doctrine, on God’s Essence and Names, Lesson 3, footnote question 3.) In Genesis 1, the words “created” and “creation” appear only once, and only once in the Psalms. James Moffatt does not usually translate bara as “create.” Striking is the translation in Genesis 4:23:

The man who wounds me,

him I slay,

I slay a boy for a blow!

Genesis 6:3 reads, “Human creatures ­are but flesh; my spirit is not to be immortal in them,” and verse 4 contains a little theosophy: “…angels had intercourse with the daughters of men, and had children born to them.” In Genesis 9 and 17 it is not covenant but compact, speaking of “the lasting compact between God and every living creature,” a really impossible idea. Also, there you find not seed, but the much less preferable term descendants. Also in this section of the Bible you read not of Noah’s ark, but “Noah’s barge,” although in the gospels the James Moffatt Bible has “ark.” (The Jehovah’s Witness Bible has “box.”) In Genesis 15:6, the term is not “righteous­ness,” but in the New Jewish Version it is “merit,” and the James Moffatt Bible makes it “real religion.” The Hebrew bears out neither “merit” nor “true religion.” Especially the former would make Paul in Romans 4:4 contend for “works.” Righteousness is the word, and is what the true religion demands! To Genesis 44:4 the James Moffatt Bible adds from the Greek Septuagint. “Why have you stolen the silver goblet…?” In Genesis 49:10, a Messianic prophecy, no mention is made of Shiloh; instead we have:

The sceptre passes from Judah,

nor ever the staff of sway,

till he comes into his own,

and makes the clans obey.

In Exodus 10:1 it is not, “I have hardened his heart.” but “I have made him stubborn.” and then again, not “Pharaoh hardened his heart,” but “Pharaoh stiffened himself.”

At some points, the text reads very graphically and colorfully, as in Job (the James Moffatt Bible translates Eyob. Why not Iyyob?). In Job 15:29 we have:

But what he won he cannot keep,

the harvest of his gain he cannot reap.

Would any man of sense argue so wildly,

or make himself a wind-bag?

James Moffatt often rearranges the Scripture text to suit his imagination of what is a more logical order, e.g., he has the following verse order in Job 40:1-2, 8-14, 3-5: 42:1-3. 5-17: 40:15-24 Where are verses 6 and 7? Probably deliberately omitted because they were thought to be copyists repetition error of the eye (from 38:1, 3). Another modern Bible which also does a good bit of rearranging of verses is the Roman Catholic New-American Bible.

Job 23:14 King James Version. “But He is in one mind, and who can turn Him? and what His soul desireth, even that He doeth, is better than, “But who can make him change his mind? He does whatever he may choose!” It will be somewhat strange to us to read in Psalm 51:7. “Purge me with marjoram,” (while hyssop does appear in the James Moffatt Bible in Hebrews 9:19). This is also strange to us: “So they put a sponge full of vinegar on a spear.” (John 19:29). So Psalm 110:1, King James Version. “The Lord said unto my Lord, ‘Sit Thou at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool’ “is better than, “the Eternal has this oracle for my lord: sit throned at my right hand….” Like other modern language Bibles, Isaiah 7:14 of the James Moffatt Bible has, “there is a young woman with child who shall bear a son and….”  But the prophet was not foretelling anything so ordinary and commonplace. It is the same in Matthew 1:23, “The maiden will conceive and bear a son” Here we have improper translations of the Hebrew almah and the Greek parthenos. Here at this point, too, we should look at Matthew 1:16, where the James Moffatt Bible actually makes Joseph the father of Jesus in the reading, “and Joseph (to whom the virgin Mary was betrothed) the father of Jesus, who is called ‘Christ.’” Yet this very passage, even in the James Moffatt Bible, upholds the virgin birth, plainly declaring that Joseph was not the father of the Child: “what is begotten in her comes from the holy Spirit” (v. 20), and “she was discovered to be pregnant by the holy Spirit” (v. 18). We may also note that in this verse (18), the James Moffatt Bible puts “Jesus” in brackets, suggesting it ought better be omitted, as it is in the New English Bible, but no known Greek manuscript omits it.

In Isaiah 52:15 the King James Version properly translates, “so shall He sprinkle many nations (recall Matthew 28:19), and definitely not, “so many a nation shall yet do Him homage.” We much prefer the King James Version to the James Moffatt Bible in Daniel 7:13, 14, “Then in my vision by night I saw a figure in human form coming with the clouds of heaven, coming up to the primeval Being.” Where is the Son of Man? Where are the Old Testament roots for the doctrine of the Son of Man?

In this Bible, the Hebrew names of God are lost to the reader. In our King James Version, Lord with small capitals is Jehovah, and Lord (lower case) God (small Capitals) is Adonai Jehovah; but the James Moffatt Bible makes it all simply “the Eternal.” In Judges 6:22 it is “my lord the Eternal,” while in 6:24 “Jehovah-shalom” is the “Allswell-Eternal.”

It is a little painful, to say the least, to read in Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are those who feel poor in spirit.” Jesus was not at that point discussing how certain people feel, but was describing the spiritual character of the blessed citizens of the kingdom of heaven, indicating what they are and what they think, rather than how they feel and how they live (what they do!). Then, the omission of the doxology of the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:13b), for the most part omitted by modem Bibles in general, is really unjustifiable. Nor is the American Standard Version justifiable in putting the doxology off to the margin with an inaccurate note: “Many author­ities, some ancient, but with variations, add, ‘For Thine is….’’’ For actually almost all Greek manuscripts have it, and one textual scholar says all but ten have it. (see Lange’s Commentary, Matthew, addenda. 567ff.)

In Matthew 19:9, the last clause, “and whoso marrieth her who is put away doth commit adultery” is omitted by Good News For Modern Man (Today’s English Version), the New English Bible and the Revised Standard Version, but it is retained by the American Standard Ver­sion and the James Moffatt Bible and by many other manuscript sources. Where is there any real weight and warrant for these omissions? In Matthew 26:29 we read, “till the day I drink it new with you in the realm of my Father,” which is not even as good as the New American Bible’s not so good rendering, “drink it new with you in my Father’s reign.” In Mark 15:39 (Matthew 27:54) the centurion is made to confess, “This man was certainly a son of God” (so the Revised Standard Version, Phillips and the New English Bible). This translation is, indeed, modern, even rationalistic; and, as we know, rationalistic exegesis denies the deity of Christ. The Greek does not warrant any article (including the indefinite), but we should have either “God’s Son,” or hulos theos may be regarded as a proper name, as the German Gottessohn. Further, most Prot­estant modern Bibles do not include Mark 16:9-20, at least not in the same type as the text, or without being bracketed or explained in a footnote. The James Moffatt Bible has it in an appendix with an explanatory note, a lengthy bracketed paragraph expanding verse 14, and two additional sentences attached to verse 20. For more in support of this section of Scripture, see Dean Burgon’s book, “The Last Twelve Verses of Mark.”

According to the James Moffatt Bible, Luke “claims to special inspiration, merely premising that he has taken pains to be accurate, orderly and well informed” (Intro. XXIX, 1926 ed.). Yet Paul calls Luke’s gospel not just accurate, well informed statement, but Scripture (I Timothy 5:18), which Paul also claims is inspired by God (II Timothy 3:16). If we will compare Luke 1:68-70 with II Peter 1:21, we will see that since the world began God had inspired the mouth (words) of His holy prophets!

In Romans 9:5, the King James Version equates Christ with God, whereas the James Moffatt Bible, the J.B. Phillips and the New American Bible all distin­guish Christ from God. (Note: The Reformed Episcopal Seminary, back in the 40’s, taught us that “nearly all modern critics say this word ‘God’ in Romans 9:5 refers to Christ: so Rothe, Lipsius, Weiss, Schliermacher, Ritschl and Schultz.”) In Lange’s Commentary, Romans, 309, we find these words, “On no exegetical point, where there is room for discussion, has the unanimity of commentators, of all ages and confessions, been so entire, as in referring this to Christ.” Romans 12:1 begins well but ends strangely: “Well then, my brothers, I appeal to you by the mercy of God to dedicate your bodies as a living sacrifice, consecrated and accept­able to God: that is your cult, a spiritual rite.”

It is not only extremely remarkable, but simply amazing that in I Corinthians 11:24, 25 we have, “after thanking God he broke it, saying, ‘This means my body broken for you…. This cup means the new covenant ratified by my blood….’” What is so remarkable about this is that the Greek verb used is “is” and should have been so translated, and not, as Moffatt has it, “this means.” What is so amazing about this translation, contrary to the majority of modern Bibles, is that it includes the word broken in “broken for you.” The James Moffatt Bible substan­tiates this inclusion in a well-documented footnote which states that although the (modernistic destructive higher critical) Van Soden Greek text omits (brackets) “broken.” it is upheld by eight and more authoritative sources, so that the text must be read with the word “broken.” We agree. This word is omitted by six authorities, but twelve authorities have it. The claim that the word is an interpolation is worse than weak.

Again, we are surprised to find, as with most of the modern Bibles, that I John 1:7 is omitted, with no explanatory footnote. But see the John Gill commen­tary on this text. Perhaps you, too, will find it good enough for you. Space permits no further examination of the idiosyncrasies of this modern Bible. It contains some sections of fine, striking language of high literary caliber which are worth reading. Only God’s inspired infallible Word could be the basis for what it is, the highest form of literature.

The really Reformed believer, the Reformed theologian, and the Reformed textual scholar “will not attempt to re-arrange the date of Scripture, nor will he place a question mark behind this or that historical event. In a word, he will leave the Bible alone. This man will bow before the entire book” (Rev. Prof. George M. Ophoff, TSB. 3, 81). That leaves Moffatt low on the scale of anything like Reformed (biblical) scholar­ship.