“If Any Man Draw Back”

by Glenn Conjurske

“Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.” So reads Hebrews 10:38 in the common English Bible. The italics indicate that the words “any man” are not in the original, but have been supplied by the translators. My contention is that the words in italics have been improperly supplied—-for the simple reason that there was no reason to supply anything at all. It is perfectly legitimate—-often necessary—-for a translator to add words in his translation, if there is an ellipsis in the original—-if something is implied in the original, but not stated—-and we have no objection whatever to that. For example:

In I Cor. 14:33 we read in the Greek j V j j v , J v , j ‘ j v , literally, “For God is not of confusion, but of peace.” But this sounds strange to English ears, and therefore we read in the English Bible, “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace.” The italics show us that the words “the author” were added for clarity in the English, but are not in the Greek. We may rightly question whether “the author” was the best thing to add, and might prefer Luther’s Denn Gott ist nicht ein Gott der vnordnung, sondern des Friedes—-“For God is not a God of confusion, but of peace”—-yet we have no objection to something being added, where it is required to make clear and natural English.

But there was no such requirement in Hebrews 10:38. The perfectly literal, natural, and obvious translation of the verse is, “The just shall live by faith, but if he draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him”—-and this (or something equivalent to this) was the rendering of all the early English versions. Thus:

Tyndale, (1526): “But the iust shall live by faith. And yf he withdrawe hymsilfe/ my soule shall have no pleasure in hym.” So exactly (with variations in spelling) all of Tyndale’s revisions, Matthew (1537), Taverner (1539), and the Great Bible (1539).

Coverdale (1535) has, “But the iust shal lyue by his faith: And yf he withdrawe himselfe awaye, my soule shal haue no pleasure in him.”

Coverdale’s Latin-English New Testament (1538—-Southwark edition) reads (after the Vulgate), “But my ryghteous shall lyue by faythe: Yf so be he shall wythdrawe hymselfe, he shall not please vnto my soule.” The Paris edition of the same (made under Coverdale’s personal supervision) has, “But my ryghteous shall lyue by faith[:] yf he wythdrawe hymselfe, he shall not please my soule.”

Thus it will be seen that all of the early English versions read “if he,” the word “he” being part of the verb in the Greek, and obviously referring back to “the just.” There was no reason to add any words at all, nor was there anything ambiguous or unclear in the literal translation. There was no reason to depart from that literal and natural translation—-EXCEPT an obvious doctrinal reason. And doctrine it undoubtedly was which brought about the introduction of “any man” into the verse, for the obvious purpose of disassociating the one who draws back from “the just.” That change came about as follows:

In 1556 Theodore Beza, a disciple of Calvin, and a Calvinist of the Calvinists, published at Geneva a new translation of the New Testament into Latin. In the second clause he departed from the Vulgate rendering, quod si subtraxerit se, “but if he withdraw himself,” in exchange for at si QUIS se subduxerit, “but if anyone withdraw himself.” The Latin quis, which he introduced in italics (it having no corresponding word in the Greek), is “anyone,” or, as it was usually expressed in English in that time “any man.”

In 1557, just a year following the publication of the Beza’s Latin Testament at Geneva, the Geneva New Testament appeared. This of course was also produced at Geneva. It was the work of Calvinists, and it is possible that Beza himself had a hand in it. In this version the English New Testament for the first time departed from the natural and obvious meaning of the Greek, and followed Beza’s interpolation, thus reading, “Now ye iust shal lyue by faith. but if any withdraw him selfe, my soule shal haue no pleasure in hym.” The word “any” was not so much as put in italics. The Geneva Bible of 1560 followed suit, only italicizing the added word, thus: “but if anie withdrawe himself.”

In 1568 the Bishops’ Bible appeared, but saw no reason to follow the Genevan version in this innovation (though much influenced by it in general). It reads, “And the iuste shall lyue by fayth: And yf he withdrawe hym selfe, my soule shall haue no pleasure in hym.”

In 1611 the King James Version adopted the Genevan innovation, reading, “Now the iust shall liue by faith: but if any man drawe backe, my soule shall haue no pleasure in him.” “Any man” was not put in italics until the revision of 1638.

Beza, of course, must justify his insertion of quis, and to do so he referred to the Septuagint version of Habakkuk 2:4, from which the book of Hebrews quotes, but in which the first and second portions of the verse appear in the reverse order. Thus the implied pronoun in “if he draw back” has no antecedent in the Septuagint, which has led some to contend for inserting a supposedly implied V (“anyone”) in the Greek there. So “Beza—-the great authority for the rendering—-`but if any man draw back’—-described the Apostle as inverting the clauses of the sentence, but retaining the Prophet’s meaning. And this, so far as I can perceive, is his ostensible reason for introducing `any’ or `any man.’ That, by this rendering, another version was avoided, by no means agreeable to Beza’s Theological opinions, there can be no doubt; and it is probable that he easily persuaded himself that his construction was the true one.”

But Beza’s explanation can hardly be admitted. The writers of the New Testament often cite from the Old Testament loosely, and at times, to all appearances, purposely alter the passage which they quote. When we translate the New Testament, we must translate what the apostles wrote, and not the Old Testament passages as they stood before the apostles altered or adapted them. To revert in the New Testament to the Old Testament passages as they stood before the apostles quoted them would be in fact to undo what the apostles wrote, and to undo also the inspiration of the Holy Ghost in those places of the New Testament.

Even if we were to admit it to be legitimate, then, to insert V in the Septuagint at Hab. 2:4, it by no means follows that it is legitimate to insert it in Hebrews 10:38. When the apostle inverted the clauses, he did not “retain the meaning” of the Septuagint, but obviously altered it. With the clauses inverted as they stand in the book of Hebrews, “he” has an antecedent, and there can be no possible reason to look for another—-except a doctrinal reason, and that is not admissible. We must get our doctrine from our Bible, and not our Bible from our doctrine.

Thus the learned Delitszch writes on Heb. 10:38, “Our author inverts the two clauses, thus diverging from the verse as it stands both in the original and the versions, leaving the subject of J v no longer doubtful, and making more impressive the warning against apostasy.” And further, “To insert an imaginary (with Grotius), or an [ (with Winer and De Wette), before J v (`but if any man draw back’), would thoroughly pervert the writer’s meaning. The subject in both clauses is the same—-the just man, the man who is justified by his faith; and the sense in which J v is here used is that of not keeping faith, wavering in faith, forsaking the path of faith and the community of the faithful. (The just man, the man accepted before God, lives by faith: but if he loses his faith, and faithlessly draws back from the right path, his acceptance is forfeited.) That such apostasy is possible even for those who have been truly justified, i.e. for Christians who have had more than a superficial experience of divine grace, is one of the main points of instruction in this epistle. To teach this lesson, the two clauses are inverted of the prophetic utterance.”

Let those who do not like Delitszch’s interpretation find a better if they can, but let them interpret the actual words which the apostle wrote, and not first alter his words to conform them to what they think he should have written, or to what their doctrinal prejudices dictate that he must have meant. Beza’s reason for introducing quis in his version is too transparent, and the notoriously Calvinistic Geneva Bible no doubt followed him for the same reason—-learned and ingenious explanations notwithstanding. The simple, natural, and obvious translation of the Greek words is “the just shall live by faith, but if he draw back,” and it is safe to say that with nothing but the Greek words before them, no one would ever have dreamed of translating them any other way. It was only an unwillingness to accept the doctrine which is apparently implied in the words which dictated any other translation.

Glenn Conjurske