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Response to “Unitarian Religious Councils and Their Bible”

Dear Sir:

I have recently read your latest “Truth vs. Error” column (Beacon Lights, June/July 1962 issue) pertaining to “Unitarian Religious Councils and Their Bible.”  Although I proudly stand within the Reformed tradition of Protestant Christianity, I am not too familiar with the Reformed denomination represented by yourself and your publication.  Nevertheless, as I receive the issues of Beacon Lights through my librarian, I follow some of the events and issues with which your youth and their leaders are concerned.  This is to say that I understand you personally to have a most responsible task in guiding your young readers into the path of Truth.  Knowing that you would not wish to misguide young minds through inadvertent error within the abovenamed article, I should like to assert three facts and then speak to them:

1) Unitarians do not comprise leadership positions in the major denominational agencies.

2) the National Council of Churches of Christ (NCCC) is neither “Unitarian” nor a “Communist-front organization.”

3) the recent English Bible translations are neither “modernist” nor “Unitarian.”

 

1)  Unitarians do not comprise leadership positions in the major denominational agencies.  As a denomination the Unitarian-Universalist Church has no participation in interdenominational activities or agencies.  According to their own published literature, they have varied interests quite apart from those to which the Protestant churches are directed.  It is conceivable, at the same time, that there may be unitarians (small “u”) who are nominally within the Trinitarian camp.  Why they are there, only they individually know.  Surely, no verifiable evidence has been found – and thus not cited – to suggest that there is a large-or even small-scale “purpose…to infiltrate churches, schools, committees and organizations with Unitarianism until they are completely unitarian” (p. 13).  I have several Unitarian friends who inform me that their religion is not one for proselytism.

Furthermore, it should follow that they are not desirous of causing Christianity “to fall to pieces.”  To say that “nearly every college and university today has a unitarian ‘university pastor’” is to make an unfair generalization, unfair that is to the many dedicated campus Christian workers across the nation.  Such a statement is in disregard of the many denominational campus foundations, some of which I have had the privilege to work with.

It is interesting to note your grouping of “freethinkers, Jews, Unitarians, rationalists and neo-evangelicals” in connection with religious education.  It would appear that you imply the International Council of Religious Education (ICRE) to be an organization containing non-Christian members.  You rightly note that this council has merged with the NCCC and that the Division of Christian Education now concerns itself with matters similar to those of the ICRE.  However, to suggest that the churches involved are what you say they are is difficult to take seriously.  Readers BEACON LITES – SEVEN – Aug. Sept. turning to the International Journal of Religious Education, official publication, will note the member denominations, which are above repute.  Could it be, Mr. Harbach, that you are confusing this group with the Religious Education Association, which is non-sectarian and which “gives its authors entire freedom of expression, without any official endorsement”?  Yet, even here we would say:  that there are Christians associated with it is something for which we should be glad and pray that their presence will be providentially influential.

Incidentally, you mention in your article “the well-known Unitarian Joseph Henry Thayer” in connection with the American Standard Version, and refer to the Greek-English lexicon which he edited (while a professor at Harvard University).  The word monogenes (“only-begotten”), recorded on page 417f (not “page 418”), is noted as referring to an only kin.  How is this description at variance with a Trinitarian viewpoint?

2)  The National Council of the Churches of Christ is neither “Unitarian” nor a “Communist-front organization.”  During the recent Third Assembly of the World Council of Churches at New Delhi, India, representatives of the NCCC joined the other delegates in affirming the new basis for membership, to wit:

The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of Churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according to Scriptures and therefore seek to fulfill together their common calling to the glory of the one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The old basis for membership called the World Council a “fellowship of Churches which accept our Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour,” hardly a unitarian affirmation!

In this connection you imply that the NCCC is (by association) a “Communist-front organization.”  You mention Archbishop Nikodim of the “Communist-controlled” Russian Orthodox Church.  Since the Communists are in supervisory control over everything in Russia, in this sense the Orthodox Church may be said to be “Communist-controlled.”  But, it does not follow that the Russian clergy are therefore Communists.  Archbishop Nikodim himself declared at New Delhi that “acceptance of the new basis (of membership) with its Trinitarian formula is grounded in the gospel…it corresponds exactly to the common faith in the name of which we are here together.”

As for the NCCC being either Communist or Communist-controlled, I refer your readers to the Louis Cassels article, “The Rightist Crisis in Our Churches” (Look Magazine, April 24, 1962).  It is a report on the nature and activities of the NCCC against the background of the anti-Communism controversies that have been raging.  The Council, an interdenominational organization, has done as much, if not more, as any other Christian group in combating the Communist menace in our United States.

Earlier you wrote of the Federal Council of Churches, which merged into the NCCC in 1950.  You stated that “it began to meddle in politics” “shortly after World War I.”  You then wrote, “…The Office of Naval Intelligence of the USN Department stated, according to the Congressional Record, Sept. 10, l935…” (p. 14).  I am unable to comment on the information you quoted since there was apparently no Congressional Record published on the date you mentioned!  The 74th Congress recessed between its first session (ending August 5, 1935) and its second session (beginning January 3, 1936).  Hence, I did not find the source of your information.  I did find, however, in the Congressional Record – Senate (August 1, 1935), page 12248, Volume 79, Part 11, 74th Congress, 1st Session, these words, “a statement adopted by the executive committee of the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America” (namely),

We believe that the United States should withhold aid from all belligerents in any conflict that might arise in the future.

The idea here (in 1935, remember) was that the U.S. Government should not induce the onset of war by any means, and particularly by helping to supply contraband to participating nations.  Rather, the U.S. should enforce embargoes on such goods.  What, I ask, is here inconsistent with the teachings of our Lord concerning peace (cf. Matthew 5:9)?  And, what is wrong with “meddling” (your word) “in politics” for Christ’s sake?  Your big advantage in your article was that you can look back on the past decades, whereas – how could the Federal Council know Germany and Japan were preparing for all-out war?  It was doing the best it could in the light of the best available information.  Wasn’t Pearl Harbor a surprise to you?  I’m sure it must have been to a lot of other Christians, even those associated with the Federal Council of Churches.

3)  The recent English Bible translations are neither “modernist” nor “Unitarian.”  (You do not include King James’ Version of 1611, which he authorized to be produced by scholars from Cambridge and Oxford).  Your article refers to a Bible, and I assume you refer to the Revised Standard Version (RSV).  Thomas Jefferson’s translation of the New Testament without a doubt was influenced by his deistic (Unitarian) views.  The other translations you mentioned are all discussed in the recent book by the conservative English scholar, F. F. Bruce, The English Bible:  a History of Translations (1961).

The second half of your article is devoted to the question:  How does this (RSV) Bible differ from the Hebrew text?  You cite principally four Old Testament passages and two New Testament passages for examination.  To these briefly I shall speak.  Your objection to the RSV appears to center on its translation of these passages because the translations 1) differ from those in the KJV and 2) appear to deny the deity of Christ.  To the first point, I would offer that the English language is a living language and, as such, words tend to lose their original connotation and need to be judged against the context of culture and time in which people find themselves.  Your readers should understand that the RSV is simply a revision of the Tyndale-King James tradition; that is, only those words and phrases were changed which 1) had lost their original (1611) meaning and/or 2) were based on inferior manuscript readings.  You wrote, “Destructive higher criticism omits that excellent, most trustworthy Received Text (TR) whenever it suits its unitarianism to do so” (p. 16).  This, sir, is a biased sentence.  Since higher criticism (an abstraction!) is destructive of inaccurate Greek and Hebrew texts, Evangelical Christians everywhere should be grateful that such is being attempted by sincere Christian scholars.  And, there ought not be any question as to the superiority of uncial manuscripts from the early centuries over that of the Textus Receptus!

To the second point concerning the deity of Christ, present-day Biblical scholars are committed to the primary aim of reproducing in translation as faithfully as possible exactly what a given text says. If (to hypothesize) a given passage was thought by the KJV translators to have a messianic connotation, and the RSV translators discover such not to be the case according to the text, then there should be no question as to which translation to follow.  To illustrate:

Genesis 6:3.  This passage was picked by you because you felt “this (RSV) version denies the Deity of the Holy Spirit” (p. 15).  You are welcome to your opinion, but you are mistaken.  After all, 1) the LORD is the Speaker, and He is speaking of His own spirit (!); 2) Hebrew has no capital or small letters and hence gives neither indication nor authority for capitalizing the “s”.  Moreover, the Hebrew words ydwn and bshgm have, so far as I know, defied translation by the scholars.  (dwn is not the same verb meaning “to judge” and bshgm has no known Biblical parallel as it presently stands in the text).  Hence, the meaning of verse 3 is at present untranslatable and unknowable.  The RSV simply made an attempt at translation just as did the KJV.  Incidentally, what is the third verse really saying within the context of verses 1,2, and 4?

Job 15:16.  The Hebrew ish can be translated either as “man” or as “one who.”  They both mean the same thing, and the RSV translators apparently thought “one who” made a smoother translation.  No denial of anything here!

Psalm 110:3.  Here are to be noted two points:  this Psalm was understood by the Israelites as referring to the coronation of a (Hebrew) king; and, our Lord referred to it in terms of King David speaking about God’s Messiah as being his (David’s) superior, not his son (vs. 1).  The RSV translators simply translated the Hebrew and left it to the reader to interpret it for himself, a most Protestant practice!  Verse 3 reads literally:

Your people are freewill offerings on the day of your host in holy clothing from the womb of dawn the dew of your youth is yours.

There is nothing in this verse referring to Christ’s lordship or to irresistible grace, but such does not necessarily blot out the translators believing these doctrines.  It is just that they are not in this text but elsewhere in Scripture (for example, Acts 2:26 and 10:36; Rom. 2:21-24 and Eph. 2:4-9, RSV).

Luke 23:42.  In this verse the RSV is following better (that is, more ancient) manuscript witnesses than was possible for the KJV.  “Jesus” is on the lips of the criminal; “Lord” is not even found in the better manuscripts.  The translation “kingly power” is just as permissible here as is “kingdom,” as regards the context of the statement.  You, Mr. Harbach, stated:  “It is true my (sic!) Nestles Gk. Testament has this preferred KJV only in the footnotes.  But Nestle’s Gk. Testament makes a modern liberal interpretation of Scripture throughout” (p. 16).  If what you say is true, then why do you even own a Nestle’s Gk. Testament?  (Furthermore, what authority do you have for forbidding the Christian from calling his Saviour “Jesus”?)

Matt. 6:13.  Luke 11:1-4 also contains the Lord’s Prayer.  The reader will want to place both forms side by side to compare them.  Matthew’s form is the one that has been the more popular down through the years, because it lends itself to congregational usage.  The “doxology” is probably the result of a congregational addendum, since the phrase appears in second century Christian documents (for example, the Didache), and does not have good manuscript support in Matthew’s gospel.  Witness its absence in Luke’s version, which is undoubtedly closer to what Jesus said to his disciples.  The fact that the Roman Catholic version does not have the doxology speaks well for it at this point.

Finally, you conclude: “At least two large denominations are using this (RSV) version of the Bible exclusively” (p. 16).  This is an unfortunate understatement.  To quote the most recent statistical evidence,

by the end of 1958, thirty-seven denominations with a church school enrollment of 22,568,159 were using RSV in their curricula

and the RSV has had “a continuing sale at the rate of more than a million copies a year” since it was first published on September 30, 1952.  Religious Education July-August 1962, pp. 283f.)

in conclusion, let it be said that the King James Version shall never be surpassed in terms of its literary beauty and of its place within the hearts of the older generations.  Yet, the Revised Standard Version and, hopefully, subsequent English language translations will be of more benefit to the younger generations in searching out and understandings God’s Word in these troubled times (I Peter 3:15).

Most respectfully,

John E. Brown*

Alma, Michigan

 

*Mr. Brown, A.B., A.M., B.D., is Instructor of Religion at Alma College, Alma, Michigan- Ed.

 

REPLY:

In answer to my worthy opponent’s open letter debate over religious councils and versions of the Bible, I submit the following.  By the first paragraph of the June-July issue of Beacon Lights I mean to say that within many Protestant churches, schools and organizations there has been a falling away from the historic, orthodox, Christian faith, which we call Presbyterian or Reformed, to ecclesiastical modernism and theological unitarianism.  It is not my intention to bring the Unitarian denomination to the fore, but to confute theological unitarianism.  This, according to verifiable evidence in church history, developed within a formerly Protestant body until very much of that body completely disappeared by becoming Unitarian (upper case “u”).  “Through skillful management the Unitarians gained control of the (Congregational, RCH) ‘societies’ so that about 1300 Unitarians dispossessed 3900 orthodox Congregationalists of property to the value of more than $600,000.  Eighty-one congregations in Massachusetts lost their church property.”  (Lars P. Qualben, “A History of the Christian Church,” Nelson, 1940, p. 516.)

The remark in my second paragraph is not unfair to faithful campus Christian workers.  There are fine campus Christians, such as members of Inter-Varsity Fellowship.  But to indicate that there is unitarianism in many of the American schools is not unfair to faithful Christians who never slipped into or were converted from this error.

That there have been non-Christian members in some of the organizations referred to is simply a fact.  Read the inside flaps of the cover on the RSV Bible.

Relative to Dr. Thayer’s statement as found in his lexicon, it is to be noted that he does not understand the Lord Jesus Christ to be the only begotten Son in the trinitarian sense.  To him, “only begotten” does not mean that the Word “was eternally generated by God the Father (the orthodox interpretation),” but that Christ is “essentially Son of God” only “by the incarnation.”  Christ was not by nature the Son of God.  That He is, according to the Greek of John 1:18, called “the only begotten God” is recognized as “supported by no inconsiderable weight of ancient testimony…but is foreign to John’s mode of thought and speech (3:16, 18; I Jn. 4:9) dissonant and harsh, (and) appears to owe its origin to a dogmatic zeal…”  A reference submitted in support of the above philosophy is that of the Unitarian Review for June 1875.  All this is surely at variance with the trinitarian viewpoint.  Further, it should be made clear that by the doctrine of the trinity we do not mean any scheme of tritheism; nor any theory of a modal trinity, according to which the one solitary god manifests himself in three modes of action; nor any sub-ordinationist position; nor a mere economical trinity, which is deducted from the external works of God, and not from His Being.  But by the trinity we mean the ontological trinity.  Whatever falls short of this essential trinity is a variance with the trinitarian viewpoint.

It is well known that the membership in the NCC consists of those who are theological liberals, modernist.  As such, there are top and leading men in the council saying that we should abandon the principle of sola scriptura in favor of adding tradition to the Scripture; that the Apostles’ Creed cannot be accepted in the literal, natural sense; that the doctrine of justification by faith must not be held too dogmatically; and that the idea of an infallible Scripture is archaeological rubbish.  With such drastic deviation from genuine, historic, biblical Christianity, for the ecumenical liberals it will not be long before every vestige of essential trinitarianism will have disappeared.

It should be noted that we did not say that the NCC is a Communist-front organization.  The contention is that the council gives aid and comfort to the Communist movement by its policies and acts.  It is also historical that it is noted for its pacifistic efforts against national defense.

As to the modern ecumenical movement and its Soviet membership, the movement itself has admitted that Soviet security agents are among the Russian Orthodox Church delegations.  Although “…the Soviet church delegation undoubtedly contains some ‘security agents’ of the Kremlin, it is worth searching within such a group for a ‘man you can trust as a fellow Christian’…” (The Evening Press, Binghamton, N.Y., May 23, 1962).  What the Soviet church delegates have said and will say in the future demand careful scrutiny by the alert Christian.

Relative to the quotation from the Congressional Record:  I am amazed that anyone would say in opposition to this quotation that “there was apparently no Congressional Record published on the date you mentioned!”  Now the date I mentioned was plain enough – Sept. 19, 1935.  It is not the least bit difficult to verify the fact that there was a Congressional Record published on that date.  That the “74th Congress recessed between its first session (ending August 5, 1935) and its second session (beginning January 3, 1936)” conflicts with the information I came across.  Across the top of the page where the quotation in question appears there are the words, “Congressional Record – Appendix – September 10, 1935, page 15271.”  I should have furnished this reference in the June-July BL.  The report in which this quotation appears begins on p. 15270.  It contains the remarks made in the House of Representatives, Saturday, August 17, 1935!  The words of the quotation come under a memorandum listing Communist-aiding organizations in the United States.  Much has been done to belittle and discredit this Congressional report but without success.  Read it again as found on p. 14 of that particular BL issue.

The Look article, April 24, 1962, supposed to represent the viewpoint of American Protestantism, is really the viewpoint of the religious liberals of this country.  It is propaganda for the modernist ecumenical movement.

Concerning Matt. 5:9:  Jesus certainly did not advocate “peace” as popularly conceived today.  The concept peace according to the New Testament is not the peace of the nations, nor world peace, not an earthly peace.  Peace, according to Scripture, is the peace of God, peace through the blood of His cross, the peace that passes all understanding, and which is effected by God reconciling the estranged, elect sinner to Himself through faith in Jesus Christ.  True peacemakers aim to advance his peace for Christ’s sake.  The peacemakers of Matt. 5:9 are not to be found among men of the world.  For they are very particularly identified in the Beatitudes as poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, the hungry and thirsty after righteousness.  The men of this world are war-makers.  According to the text, only the children of God are peacemakers.  The Christian is a fighting peacemaker, not against war itself, nor against certain external conditions, but against the cause of all war – sin!

Re politics.  It is our contention that Christian churches ought not to enter the field of politics as churches.  That is definitely not the calling of the church as church.  But Christian men in their capacity as citizens may do anything in this field which does not conflict with Scripture.  However, the church must remain in its own proper sphere, concerning itself with church matters, and not those of another sphere, e.g., the state.

Re the NCC’s new basis-for-membership statement.  Liberal theologians do, indeed, ascribe “Godhead” to the Lord Jesus Christ, and so speak of Him as “God and Saviour”.  But what do they mean by such expressions?  Usually, that Christ has a high, unique position assigned to Him; or that man’s God-consciousness came to its peak in Jesus; or that the divine attributes of grace and truth came to the highest development in him.  If something of this sort is meant by saying that Jesus is God, it is not the same as saying that the Lord Christ is God the Son, the second Person of the trinity, who became man and dwelt among us.

Concerning the KJV, it is not likely that anyone would charge it with modernism.  But as already proved, and as in later issues I will, DV, prove, the ASV does make certain concessions to modernism.  As to the Moffatt version, will anyone claim, much less prove, it is trinitarian?

To the charge of writing a biased sentence (p. 16), I must confess that it is biased.  In fact, the entire article is biased, in that it is biased in favor of the Reformed Faith as set forth in the original Westminster Confessions and in the Reformed Confessions.  The truly Reformed or Presbyterian are never neutral.  They never approach Scripture as an agnostic, nor with a method to determine whether the Bible is the Word of God.  The Christian cannot and does not deny his faith.  His starting-point, his basic presuppositions are not neutral generalizations.  In all his thought he presupposes the doctrine of God and the doctrine of creation.  Now, the great scholar Moffatt says of the Textus Receptus, upon which KJV is based, that “it was, it could not but be notoriously corrupt.”  This is a biased sentence!  Moffatt’s bias regards the KJV as “notoriously corrupt.”  This is a bias of which I cannot be accused.

The Gen. 6:3 passage.  It is denied that the word translated “strive” (KJV) means “to judge.”  The Hebrew is yadhon, from dun (din), “to judge.”  It’s news to me that this word is untranslatable and therefore unknowable.  Perhaps this is why such a great scholar as Moffatt so strangely translates it, “my spirit is not to be immortal in them.”  But if this assertion is true, why do we read, even in the RSV, where the same word is found, “the Lord will judge the ends of the earth” (I S. 2:10)?  Why do we read, “appoint magistrates and judges who may judge all the people” (Ezra 7:25, RSV)?  Why is the word rendered “judgment” in Ezra 7:26, RSV?  Is this a mere “attempt at translation” or the satisfactory rendition of the word?

Job 15:16.  True, the Heb. ish can be translated either as “man” or as “one who.”  But “man” is surely more in harmony with the context, especially verses 7 and 14.  The Ger., Du., Moffatt and RSV Bibles have “man” rather than “one who.”  The ASV (and the RSV) means not that man by nature is unclean, but that merely “one who is (happens to be) abominable and corrupt” is unclean – a puerile remark.  This is a denial that man by nature is totally sinful.

Ps. 110:1, 3.  It is an error to think that verse 1 does not teach the lordship and deity of Christ, for He Himself in Matt. 22:41-45 taught that it does.  Peter also so taught (Acts 2:34-36).  As to v. 3, the Heb. definitely bears out the KJV.  The meaning is that in consequence of the Lord’s sending out His rod of strength (v. 2), His people shall be willing in the day of His power. For this reason, God has a willing army of converts!  They are voluntaries in the kingdom because God worked in them to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phil. 2:12f).  So, clearly, the meaning is not that Christ’s armies will be a glorious host on the day that His people make themselves freewill offerings.  This would be patently Arminian.

Luke 23:42.  Re-read the paragraph in B.,. XXII, 5, 16.  Here, we prefer the KJV which follows the TR, and which, in turn, is supported by the Caesarean Text and the Syriac and Persic versions.  Admitted that four of the most ancient manuscripts (mss.) have O Jesus! Instead of to Jesus; and that all these four plus two additional very ancient mss. omit Lord.  Still, I am inclined to agree with Godet, that “It seems to me probable that the omission of the word Lord in the Alex. (andrinus), arises from the mistake of the copyist, who was giving the prayer of the thief from memory, and that the transformation of the dative to Jesus into the apostrophe O Jesus! was the effect of this omission.”  The thief’s Lord, remember! is in harmony with the enlightenment he received from the superscription placed on Jesus’ cross above His head, “This is the King of the Jews!

Why, if Nestle’s Gk. Testament is so filled with modern liberalism, do I own one?  Isn’t the answer obvious?  I am contributing editor for Truth vs. ERROR.  I must know, and prefer to know, what the enemies of Christianity think and teach.  Every minister should have a Heterodoxy Section in his library with material from Arminianism to Zoroastrianism.

Matt. 6:13.  Re-read the argument presented on pg. 16, above.  Assertion:  The doxology “does not have good mss. support in Matthew’s gospel.”  We can agree with this.  Nevertheless, consider:  1) that there are many (note:  many, not merely some) authorities which add the doxology, 2) the church will probably always continue as it has to conclude the prayer with these words, 3) the words are without question scriptural, 4) there is then good reason to regard them as genuine, and 5) without them the prayer comes to a very unnatural close, 6) with all this being so, it does not serve us well to furnish us with a version which abruptly closes on the word “evil.”

Respectfully submitted,

Robert C. Harbach