William Phelps, Human Nature and the Bible

Quote:
PRIESTS, atheists, sceptics, devotees, agnostics, and evangelists are generally agreed that the Authorised Version of the English Bible is the best example of English literature that the world has ever seen. It combines the noblest elevations of thought, aspiration, imagination, passion and religion and simplicity of diction. Everyone who has a thorough knowledge of the Bible may truly be called educated; and no other learning or culture, no matter how extensive or elegant, can, among Europeans and Americans, form a proper substitute. Western civilization is founded upon the Bible; our ideas, our wisdom, our philosophy, our literature, our art, our ideals, come more from the Bible than from all other books put together. It is a reevaluation of divinity and of humanity; it contains the loftiest religious aspiration along with a candid representation of all that is earthly, sensual and devilish. I thoroughly believe in a university education for both men and women; but I believe a knowledge of the Bible without a college course is more valuable than a college course without the Bible. For in the Bible we have profound thought beautifully expressed; we have the nature of boys and girls, of men and women, more accurately charted than in the works of any modern novelist or playwright. You can learn more about human nature by reading the Bible than by living in New York.The Elizabethan period – a term loosely applied to the years between 1558 and 1642 – is properly regarded as the most important era in English literature. Shakespeare and his mighty contemporaries brought the drama to the highest point in the world’s history; lyrical poetry found supreme expression; Spenser’s Faerie Queene was a unique performance; Bacon’s Essays have never been surpassed. But the crowning achievement of those spacious times was the Authorized Translation of the Bible, which appeared in 1611. Three centuries of English literature followed; but although they have been crowded with poets and novelists and essayists, and although the teaching of the English language and literature now gives employment to many earnest men and women, the art of English composition reached its climax in the pages of the Bible.The translators made more mistakes in Greek than they did in English. When we remember that English is not a perfect language, for as a means of expression it is inferior to both Russian and Polish [shout out for my Polish brethren, ed.), it is marvelous to consider what that group of Elizabethan scholars did with it. We Anglo-Saxons have a better Bible than the French or the Germans or the Italians or the Spanish; our English translation is even better than the original Hebrew and Greek. There is only one way to explain this; I have no theory to account for the so-called “inspiration of the Bible,” but I am confident that the Authorized Version was inspired.

Now as the English-speaking people have the best Bible in the world, and as it is the most beautiful monument ever erected with the English alphabet, we ought to make the most of it, for it is an incomparably rich inheritance, free to all who can read. This means that we ought invariably in the church and on public occasions to use the Authorised Version; all others are inferior. And, except for special purposes, it should be used exclusively in private reading. Why make constant companions of the second best, when the best is available?

The so-called Revised Version and modern condensed versions are valuable for their superior accuracy in individual instances; they may be used as checks and comments; but for steady reading, and in all public places where the Bible is read aloud, let us have the noble, marbly English of 1611. I suggest that one reason why so many people cease reading the Bible after childhood, is because most copies are printed in abominably thin and small type. It is easy to obtain a Bible in convenient shape and weight, printed in large, black types, which pleases the eyes instead of destroying them.

Yale University,
Tuesday, 22 August, 1922.

Human Nature and the Bible, by William Lyon Phelps, B.A. Phd. from Yale University and M.A. from Harvard University, Introduction.

Question: What did Professor Phelps mean when he used the term “the Bible”? Please give your definition.

According to Professor Phelps:
• The AV is the best example of English literature that the world has ever seen
• Everyone who has a thorough knowledge of the Bible may truly be called educated
• A knowledge of the Bible without a college course is more valuable than a college course without the Bible
• “The Bible” can be read (I presume that he meant, the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament which are given by inspiration of God)
• The art of English composition reached its climax in the pages of “the Bible” (I presume that he meant, the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament which are given by inspiration of God.)
• Anglo-Saxons have a better Bible than the French or the Germans or the Italians or the Spanish (Wow, what a statement. I think Brother Ruckman might agree, I don’t. I believe the Bible in whatever language is God’s written word and the Standard version in those languages are the best for those language groups.)
• Our English translation is even better than the original Hebrew and Greek. (Wow, what a provocative statement! He could not be out done by Brother Ruckman himself! I disagree with the Professor’s statement here. I don’t believe the English Scriptures are “better” than the original Hebrew and Greek, except perhaps for the English reader – they can read English, where most English readers cannot read Hebrew and Greek.)
• The Authorized Version was inspired. (Wow, that’s quite a statement! I don’t think Brother Ruckman has ever made such a wild statement. Personally, I believe the Scriptures are given by inspiration of God and that the AV is an Authorized copy of the Scriptures in the English language – please note the difference.)
• We ought invariably in the church and on public occasions to use the Authorised Version. (If you asked me, I would agree, so would John R. Rice.)
• All other versions are inferior to the Authorised Version. (Our good Professor is on quite a roll isn’t he!)
• Except for special purposes, it should be used exclusively in private reading. (I’m pretty sure that those readers who did not heed my warning at the beginning of this post are pretty “chapped” by now! I disagree with the good Professor on this point. I think you have a right to read whatever you want. However, I would suggest reading the AV for it is clearly the word of God in English. Not even Brother Ruckman makes such a wild statement. At our Church in the States you can read any version you so desire. We don’t even take the stance of Bob Jones University – “Only the King James Version can be read from this pulpit”)
• Other versions may be used as checks and comments. (Use whatever version or commentary you so desire to help you understand the Scriptures)

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