Vol. 23 New Series August, 1961 No. 4

James Moffatt, D.D., published a new translation of the Old Testament about thirty-five or more years ago. This was criticized in the Bible League Quarterly of London in their October-December issue of 1926, by Professor Oswald T. Allis, Ph.D. It was shewn that Moffatt did not always stick to what the Hebrew text said. Further, he had a habit of changing the order of verses at will. Thus, in Exodus 14, which has 31 verses, he inserted verses 8 and 9 after verse 4; while the middle of verse 21, the whole of verses 24 and 25, and the beginning of verse 27 are cut away and inserted between verses 29 and 30.

Prof. Allis says this was done because Moffatt believed that these verses contained two, or rather three, different accounts of the event described. This appears especially in his treatment of v. 21, which, in the King James version is:

Moffatt changed this to "Moses stretched his hand out over the sea; the waters parted." Yet there was nothing inconsistent in the King James version in this verse. The stretching out of Moses' hand was to be the signal for the coming of the wind which was to be God's instrument in making the sea dry.

The "critics" however, believed that there were two different accounts of the event. The "Jehovist" account reads ". . . . and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night and made the sea dry land." The "Priestly" account says: "And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. . . and the waters were divided." Having thus carved up the verse thus the "critics" proceeded to call attention to the difference between the two accounts thus artificially produced. The one is naturalistic, a strong wind blew the waters away, just at the right time; and the Israelites saw the hand of God in it. The other account is magical, Moses waved his rod, like a magician's wand, and presto! the waters were cleft and the Israelites passed through. This regrouping of the material, and treating the "Jehovist" account as the more reliable, was meant to rationalize the narrative, and, by eliminating the supernatural, make it acceptable to the "modern mind."

Exodus 14 gives a single self-consistent account of a mighty wonder wrought by the God of Israel. A theological professor who reconstructs it to make it accord with his theory of natural law occupies a preposterous position, because his. theory of natural law is disproved by established facts of history and experience. But not only so, he insults God by expressing his own mere human ideas.

Another example is found in Proverbs 22:6, "Train up a child in the way in which he should go: and when he is old he will not depart from it." Moffatt twists this into "Train a child for his proper trade, and he will not leave it when he is old."

At 1. Samuel 14:11 Moffatt rendered as follows: "So the two of them shewed themselves to the Philistine garrison, and the Philistines said, 'Look at the mice creeping out of their hiding-holes.'" The King James version reads: "Behold the Hebrews come forth out of the holes where they had hid themselves." Here the word for Hebrews is 'lbrim, whereas the word for mice is 'akbarim. In the Hebrew text this only means the difference of a "k" in the word for "mice." But why was this change made by Moffatt? The Greek Septuagint clearly reads "Hebraioi" (Hebrews). Prof. Allis says Moffatt would probably have admitted that there was no real evidence in favour of "mice," but he might have said, "But after all the difference between 'mice' and 'Hebrews' is only a matter of a single letter; and the new reading makes good sense and is an ingenious conjecture,—why make a fuss about it?" Were he quite candid he would have added, "And we critics are inclined to favour this conjectural rendering, because if it is adopted it proves that the passage has been altered, and consequently supports the view that the text of the Old Testament is 'often desperately corrupt.' And this, of course, gives us critics larger scope for the exercise of our skill in correcting and improving it." (In his Preface, Moffatt stated that "The primary difficulties are started by the text. The traditional or 'massoretic' text is often desperately corrupt." In the same Preface he also describes himself "as an honest translator").

If he was an honest translator, why did he mutilate passages? In Psalm 6:8 he cuts out the words "for the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping"; and in Psalm 56:10 "in the Lord will I praise His word"; and in Ps. 103:22, "Bless the Lord 0 my soul"; and in Ps. 99:1, "he sitteth (between) the cherubims." The word "Selah" is always omitted too.

In Isaiah the following words are left out: 2:9, "therefore forgive them not"; 2:13, "(that are) high and lifted up"; 3:1, "the whole stay of bread and whole stay of water"; 17:5, "and it shall be as he that gathered ears in the valley of Rephaim"; 24:7, "all the merry-hearted do sigh"; 47:12, "wherein thou hast laboured from thy youth"; 64:3, "Thou camest down, the mountains flowed down at Thy presence"; and there are many more such mutilated verses.

Proverbs 31:30 reads in the King James: "Favour (is) deceitful, and beauty (is) vain: (but) a woman (that) feareth the Lord, she shall be praised." Here is Moffatt's revision: "Charms may wane and beauty wither, keep your praise for a wife with brains." This is not translation at all, but sheer invention.

At Isaiah 52:13 Moffatt reads: "Behold My servant Israel yet shall rise, he shall be raised on high." The King James version reads thus: "Behold, my servant shall deal (margin: prosper) prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high." Rotherham's rendering is, "Lo! my Servant prospereth,—He riseth and is lifted up, and becometh very high." The King James and Rotherham versions are supported by the ancient versions. But Moffatt, by making conjectural changes, alters "shall deal prudently" (Hebrew, yaskil) into "Israel" (Hebrew, Yisrael). Then he boldly inserts the words "they cry" in 53:1 and the word "Israel" in verse 2, making these verses read: "Who could have believed," they cry, "what we have heard? Who ever had the Eternal's power so revealed to them? Why, Israel of old grew like a sapling," etc. Prof. Allis says the insertion "they" in 53:1 clearly refers back to the "nations" and "kings" mentioned in the previous verse (52:15). The nations are speaking of Israel as suffering for their sins! Yet the Bible tells us plainly that the Babylonian captivity was in no sense vicarious (cf. Ezek. 14, especially v. 21). Israel was not suffering for the sins of the nations, but for her own sins. And this passage, which speaks so plainly of one "who had done no violence, neither was any deceit in His mouth," yet upon Whom was laid "the iniquity of us all," makes no mention of Israel. It clearly does not fit Israel.

Prof. Allis then turns to Acts 8:35, where Philip, "opening his mouth, and beginning from this scripture, evangelizes to him Jesus." Philip interprets the prophecy of verses 32 and 33 to the eunuch, shewing to him that the suffering servant was Jesus. But Moffatt would tell us that the servant was Israel, Israel bearing the sin of the nations!

Prof. Allis then has a paragraph headed "He Could Have Advised the Creator." This refers to a distinguished surgeon who was said to have remarked while operating for appendicitis: "If I had been present when the Almighty created the first man, I could have given Him some very useful hints!" To this Prof. Allis replies: "That is the language of human pride. It is irreverent, it is blasphemous. Yet we cannot study the theories of the critics and observe the way they wrest and mutilate the Scriptures, without being forced to the conclusion that they believe they could have given Moses and David, Isaiah and Jeremiah "some very useful hints" as to what they should have uttered "in the name of the Lord." And since these worthies had the misfortune to die before they could profit by the wisdom of such critics, these modern scholars proceed to revise their utterances and incorporate these 'useful hints' in the sayings of these prophets of the Lord."

Moffatt was very fond of rearranging the contents of the old Testament books, without regard to the form in which they have come down to us. So we often find bits of verses tacked on to other verses. Thus, 2. Kings 14 commences with verse 8, while ch. 18 commences with verse 13. After ch. 19:8 we find 9a, then vv. 36 and 37, followed by 9b, then v. 10, etc. Then after v. 20 come 32-34, followed by v. 21-31, then v. 35. Ch. 20 shews only vv. 20 and 21.

There is much shifting of verses in Genesis 34, 35, 36 and 37; also in ch. 43, 48. The same is true of Exodus and Leviticus. Four verses of Isaiah 10 are wedged into chapter 28. Chapter 29 is partly in ch. 31, while ch. 37 follows ch. 39 and 36, but its verses are very irregular. Amos ch. 5 has its verses much out of order.

It was quite obvious that Moffatt was attempting to make a new version of his own, superior to the Divine account. In his New Testament he tried the same thing, especially in John's Gospel.

In ch. 2 of John, after v. 12, he inserts from ch. 3 verses 22-30, then shews vv. 13-25. The in ch. 5 he has vv. 1-47, followed by vv. 15-24 from ch. 7, assumed to be its original position. In ch. 9 he shews vv. 1-41, followed by vv. 19-29 taken from the middle of ch. 10, "for the sake of sequence.." Ch. 11 shews the order of verses as 1, 2, 5, 3, 4, 6-17, but vv. 18 and 19 are inserted between 30 and 31, as "they seem originally to have lain there." Verses 20-30 follow v. 17. Ch. 12 shews vv. 1-36, followed by 44-50, "restored to original position in middle of v. 36." Chs. 15 and 16 are then "restored to their original position in the middle of ch. 13:31." Then follows ch. 14, and next comes ch. 17. Ch. 18 shews vv. 1-14, then 19-24, next 15-18, then 25-40.

All these changes are thought to have been improvements, but the ancient MSS do not encourage this.

Moffatt was a Scotsman and liked to use Scotticisms, especially the verb "get" or "got," used before words like "circumcised," "scorched," "he got overcome," and "to get saluted," and "so as to get justified," are some of his Scotticisms. In Matt. 26:22 we read "surely it is not me." He was specially fond of the word "manage," another Scotticism. At Rev. 9:7 we find "sort of crowns."

Moffatt died in June, 1944, in New York. He was born in Glasgow and educated there. From 1927 till 1939 held the chair of Church History in the Union Theological Seminary in New York.

His tendency was like that of two other "Doctors," Peake and Driver. All three indeed knew just how to "doctor" the Holy Scriptures and pervert them. But God's Prophets and Apostles could do quite well without the title "Doctor."

A.T. Last updated 12.11.2005