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    July 19, 1883

    “The Policy of Romanism” The Signs of the Times, 9, 27.

    E. J. Waggoner

    It is doubtless well known that the American Bible Society and the Baptists are not in harmony; that the Baptists circulate the Scriptures by means of their own organizations, instead co-operating with the society. The cause of the disagreement is this: The only Bible in the Burmese language is that translated by Judson, and the American Bible Society, which professes to be undenominational, refuses to circulate this Bible, because the word “baptize” is rendered by a Burmese word signifying “immerse.” Of course the Baptists were left with no alternative but to do their own distributing.SITI July 19, 1883, page 319.1

    The Christian Union, commenting editorially on this affair, regrets the action taken by the American Bible Society, and says that it is plainly in the wrong. It thinks that the society should do all in its power to bring about a union, and should circulate the version which it now rejects. The following paragraph in this article states the case clearly, and makes an important admission:-SITI July 19, 1883, page 319.2

    “There is a scholarly, an acceptable, an actually accepted version of Scripture in the language of the Burmese. This version is without competition, present for prospective. It is the Burmese Bible. At least for an indefinite time to come. The Burmese depend on it, on it alone, for their knowledge of the word of God. Such, on one side, is the state of the facts. But this Burmese version of Scripture renders the Greek word ‘baptize,’ with its cognates, by a vernacular equivalent meaning ‘immerse.’ No competent scholar will assert that this is an unscholarly rendering of the Greek original. This rendering, however, compels the Christian missionaries who do not practice immersion, and who, of course, do not teach immersion, to explain the terms involved. There is for such missionaries and obvious disadvantage in this. Still, in spite of the disadvantaged, missionaries not Baptists do, as a matter of fact, use this version, making the necessary explanation.”SITI July 19, 1883, page 319.3

    It is generally admitted that no man was better qualified to make a scholarly translation of the Bible than Dr. Judson: In translating the Scriptures into the Burmese language, he rendered “baptize” by a word meaning “immerse,” not on account of theological bias, but because as a scholar he could not do otherwise. Educated as a Presbyterian, all his prejudices were against the Baptists. On his voyage to India he employed his leisure time in studying the subject of baptism, both that he might satisfy himself as to the course which he should pursue in regard to the infants of those who might be converted under his labors, and that he might defend his views against the Baptist missionaries at Singapore, with whom he expected to spend a few months. The result of his careful study was that he rejected infant baptism and sprinkling of adults, and was himself baptized soon after his arrival in India. Of course his translation accorded with his viewa, and all his converts were immersed. In pursuing this course he occupied a position which no scholar will attempt to criticize.SITI July 19, 1883, page 319.4

    And now what is the position of those who do not practice immersion, but who from necessity use Judson’s Bible? The Christian Union says that they are compelled “to explain the terms involved.” What kind of an explanation they could make that would be satisfactory to all parties, we cannot imagine. Here is the situation: (1) A Bible which says, “He that believeth and is immersed shall be saved.” “Repent, and be immerse everyone of you in the name of Christ Jesus;” (2) Educated and acute heathen who well know the meaning of the terms used; and (3) Missionaries who do not believe in nor practice immersion, but who believe in sprinkling instead, yet who, as scholars, know that the translation is a correct one, and, in fact, the only correct translation that could be made. We fully agree with the Christian Union, that “there is for such missionaries an obvious disadvantage,” in making “the necessary explanation.” We would not care to be under such a necessity.SITI July 19, 1883, page 319.5

    But the article contains still stronger testimony in favor of immersion. The editor says:-SITI July 19, 1883, page 319.6

    “If the case were other than it is; if it were a question of antecedent instruction to translators what kind of versions to produce, the case might be different. We might, then, say, Let ‘baptize’ be transferred-that is, transliterated-into the heathen tongues, not translated at all. Missionaries of differing views on the subject of baptism could then use one and the same Bible, applying their several explanations of the terms transferred. This is the course pursued in both the New and the Old Versions of the Bible, and it is a wise one. But here is a version already in existence, already in possession, exclusive possession. It translates, indeed, instead of transliterating. But it translates truly enough, so far as lexicography goes. Nobody can deny that; nobody at least whose denial would weigh. Nay, if non-Baptist Burmese scholars were to make a new version of their own, and in that version translate the terms in question, such scholars would not render those terms in a manner to contradict the version already existing. The utmost that they could do would be to render those terms by words or phrases of a general and indeterminate meaning. What would thus be gained? Why, against a version that gave what is certainly the general meaning of ‘baptize,’ there would be a version that did not give the meaning of that word at all. That is all.”SITI July 19, 1883, page 319.7

    Note first the latter portion of the above paragraph: “Nobody whose denial would weigh” can deny that “baptize” is correctly rendered “immerse.” “If non-Baptist Burmese scholars were to make a new version of their own, and in that version translate the terms in question, such scholars would not render those terms in a manner to contradict the version already existing. The utmost that they could do would be to render those terms by words or phrases of a general or indeterminate meaning.” But this, as the editor says, would be no translation at all. That is, we must either translate the Greek word “baptize” by “immerse,” or else not translate it. Well, why not translate it? Because the great mass of professed Christians do not choose to practice immersion, as they admit that the Bible teaches, and they want to be left free to put their own construction on the term. We are obliged to say that we could not write a recommendation for honesty for those who take such a position.SITI July 19, 1883, page 319.8

    The case is more serious than is commonly supposed. It involves the question whether or not the Bible shall be placed in the hands of the people, or whether they shall depend upon the priests and clergy for their knowledge of the Scriptures. If one word be not translated, why translate any of the Bible? If it is a wise thing to translate the Greek word “baptize,” then why not transliterate the entire Bible? Then the New Testament in English, French, Italian, Spanish, etc., would consist merely of the Greek words of the text, but with the Roman letters instead of the Greek characters. For the inhabitants of Burmah, the Burmese characters which correspond to the Greek letters, would be used, and so in other languages. This would enable the people to renounce the words, but as they would not know their meaning the clergy could apply any meaning which suited their notions, and not be under the necessity of making embarrassing explanations. Then every body could make use of the Bible. The Spiritualist could teach that Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6, 10; Job 14:21, and kindred passages mean that departed souls are conscious and able to communicate with their friends. The Mormon could teach that the seventh commandment requires every man to keep at least two women whom he shall call his wives. Even the atheist or the pantheist could quote the first commandment as meaning either that there is no God, or that there are millions. In short, there are no errors which might not be successfully promulgated on the authority of the Bible, because people who know no language but their own could not judge for themselves whether or not the facts were as represented. As far as the mass of people are concerned, the Bible would be just as valuable if it were written in hieroglyphics or senseless jargon; and for real use it would be as well to have no Bible at all, for that is what it really amounts to.SITI July 19, 1883, page 319.9

    We have called this the policy of Romanism, and such it is. The policy of that church has ever been to keep the Bible out of the hands of the people. She says that they may read it in the original; but as comparatively few are able to do this, that amounts to a complete prohibition. By leaving it untranslated, the priests can teach whatever they please without fear of contradiction. The Protestant world never tires of giving honor to Wickliffe, Luther, and Tyndale, for giving the Bible to the people in their own language, thus breaking the banns of Rome, yet it sanctions a course similar to that which the Catholic Church pursued; for it must be evident to all, that the difference between keeping the whole Bible from the people, and keeping a part of it from them, is only one of degree.SITI July 19, 1883, page 319.10

    And this is the course that the Christian Union and with it all the so-called orthodox denominations, thinks is a wise one to pursue, at least in regard to the subject of baptism. We most heartily dissent. It is a very convenient subterfuge, and for that very reason it is not wise. Honesty is better than policy If we are to take the Bible as our guide, let us have it just as it is. If it crosses our preconceived ideas, then let us change our own opinions and practices and make them accord with the standard. If any are determined to hold onto their own theories, or to tradition, in direct opposition to the Bible, let them do so on their own responsibility, and not use the authority of the Bible to back up that which it does not teach. If men do not believe what the Bible says, then let them cease quoting it as authority. “Every word of the Lord is pure;” and a practice which cannot stand when compared with the pure word as it came from the pen of inspiration, ought not to be adopted by men claiming to be Bible Christians. We fear that there are more persons than is commonly supposed, who are letting themselves liable to the penalties threatened in Revelation 22:18, 19. E. J. W.SITI July 19, 1883, page 319.11

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