“The Root of All Evil” Again

by Glenn Conjurske

I have lately read a most excellent article on “The Greek Article in the Revised Version,” by John Stuart Blackie, in The Contemporary Review for July of 1882. This article is full of true learning (enforced by telling examples) and solid common sense, and of course condemns the “minute micrology” of the Revised Version, which is so intent upon pedantic minutiae that it both misconstrues the Greek and murders the English. Of particular interest to me is the fact that this article exactly confirms what I had published before on “the root of all evil.” In reading Mr. Blackie’s article, I found myself heartily wishing that I had known of it when I published my notes on this subject a year and a half ago.* But perhaps it is better that I did not, for at any rate it will now appear that I was in no way influenced by this author, but that we have arrived at exactly the same view in entire independence of each other.

Mr. Blackie writes, “In the First Epistle to Timothy, vi.10, occurs the maxim, often quoted in this commercial country but seldom acted on, that ‘the love of money is the root of all evil.’ Now there is no definite article in the Greek predicate, and by Greek usage could not properly be, according to the example which we already gave from Plato, ðëÞñùìá ôyò ðüëåùò ìéóèùôïr ‘hired labourers are the complement of the state.’ (Pol. ii.2). But the translators of the authorized version, following the fine instinct of a cultivated English ear, have wisely put it [the article] in; the translators of the revision, more anxious always to preserve a literal transcript of the Greek in all cases than to present the English reader with an idiomatic English turn, have weakened the emphasis which the Apostle meant to convey, by making him say, it is ‘a root’—-a very small root perhaps—-not ‘the root’ of all evil. But is not ‘a root,’ some one will say, the right thing after all? The Apostle cannot be understood to say that it is the only root, for there are many other roots, such as envy, hatred, anger, and even the contempt of money exhibited in the squanderer and the spend-thrift. Quite true; nevertheless, in the connection, rhetorically and not scientifically, the Apostle did mean to say that the love of money is ‘the root,’ that is, a very big root, and the dominant or great root, of all evil; and he would most certainly, in the present case, have emphasized ¼ßæá with the article, had the well-known idiom of the Greek language not rendered this quite unnecessary. Let any man call to mind what Goethe says in ‘Wilhelm Meister’ about reverence being the root of all high moral excellence, and he will see that to use the indefinite article in such case, whether the German has the article or not, is contrary to the English idiom. A man may say in good English, that the love of money is a root from which many evils spring; but he cannot say the love of money is a root of all evil. The emphasis implied in the ‘all’ requires to have a corresponding emphasis expressed distinctly by the article as the adjunct of the previous word.”

Glenn Conjurske

So much for Mr. Blackie. I confess it has been a strong temptation to italicize a number of his excellent expressions, but I have allowed him to speak without any added emphasis. I do desire, however, to call attention to a couple of points.

Observe that Mr. Blackie declares that (in statements of this character) the English predicate requires the article, though the German may do without it. That is to say, “good English” requires it, for we may say most anything in bad English. It is manly and vigorous English which takes the article here. To drop it makes the English anemic—-and really unEnglish.

I desire further that my readers would take particular note of Mr. Blackie’s expression “rhetorically and not scientifically.” Though he uses different terms than I would use, yet he here expresses a profound truth, of which modern scholarship has little understanding. That truth is this, that the language of the Bible is common, not technical. The attempt to make the language of the Bible technical, which all the modern translations are more or less guilty of, but from which the old version is remarkably free, results in taking all the popular appeal out of the book, and transmuting it into a repository of technical niceties and pedantic refinements—-”this host of petty pedantries,” Blackie calls them—-a book for the heads of shallow intellectuals, but not for the hearts of spiritual men, or sensible men, or common men. A large proportion of the cries of “inaccuracy” against the old version, and of the boasts of “more accurate” for the new versions, are based upon nothing else than an attempt on the part of an ignorant and incompetent scholarship to take the common language of the Bible and run it through a technical sieve. Shallow intellectuals, we are well aware, will revel in the over-strained refinements which result, but for all that they constitute a real alteration of the nature of Scripture.

Glenn Conjurske

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