Book Review: The Seven General Epistles

Despite the claims of this book to provide a definitive translation of the seven general epistles (James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2, & 3 John, and Jude), and provide some theological ruminations on these subjects, this work is a deeply flawed and somewhat disappointing one. It is not without worth, but it is sadly incomplete and overrated. Let us examine the book’s materials and see why it is somewhat lacking.

The book begins in a bad way, with a personal by the author in which he brags about his own skill in Greek as well as his own knowledge about the Bible. After this comes an introduction about his “precise” translation, which is only correct if by precise one means extremely wordy, awkwardly phrased, and so wooden that even I don’t talk in such a stilted manner. It’s English as written by a pedant whose ambition for scholastic glory overwhelms his modest command of syntax and grammar, and who apparently lacks access to a thesaurus. Then comes the translation of the seven books, with several pages of notes after most of the books, allowing you to count how many times he uses the present continuous tense when the simple present tense would suffice and be more elegantly phrased. After this comes a side by side comparison of Jude and 2 Peter 2 to show how alike they are. Then comes a lengthy and occasionally tedious in-depth word study of various important words in the General Epistles like knowledge, commandment, law, love, hate, and by this [standard]. Then comes a side by side comparison between Coulter’s translation and the King James Version (which is often, incorrectly, called the Authorized Version), showing how much wordier and more awkward the Coulter translation is to the informed reader, and then closing with a 19th century Greek Interlinear text.

The foregoing commentary on this book’s contents ought to clue the reader into the fact that while this book is doctrinally sound, it is lacking in stylistic and historical merit. For one, the book focuses on the fact that it uses the 1550 Stephens Text, the same text from which the King James Version was translated, but gives no mention or credit to the fact that the King James Version itself was largely copied verbatim from the (better) Tyndale and Geneva translations, which are not mentioned at all in this volume, a serious lapse in its historical perspective. It appears as if this book is trying to sell itself to ignorant KJV-only types who have no knowledge of the history of biblical translation into English, rather than to those whose knowledge of such matters exceeds the modest knowledge of the author.

There are technical flaws in the work as well. The Coulter translation shows far too many glosses, such as frequent appearances of: “perfected [made complete.]” The word used for “perfected” in the Greek translation (teteleiotai), could be translated “completed,” and it would be a lot less less irritating to have it translated so than to be reminded that perfected meant “made complete” all the time and did not mean that Christians were ever completely perfect. Additionally, the author could learn a lot about phrasing from the poetic translator Tyndale, who had a natural ear for poetry. Coulter clearly does not have a poetic ear, and his translations of verses like James 2:19 and 1 John 1:7, 9 are about as stilted as the Aquila version of the Septuagint made to avoid the Christian-favoring translations of the original translation. I am not technically qualified enough in the Greek to judge whether Coulter’s near-obsessive use of the present continuous (or present progressive) tense is accurate for the Greek, but it does not always read very pleasantly in the English.

Nor are these the only flaws present in the work. The author shows a serious interest in the Greek language and Greek words, as befitting someone proud of his linguistic abilities, but he shows absolutely no awareness of the possibility that the Greek New Testament was itself a translation of Aramaic originals, and his complete lack of awareness of the Hebraic nature of the early church and its customs cuts from under him the ability to claim that he is providing in this in-depth Bible study the whole biblical truth. He is providing some, and it is useful, but it is clearly limited by his lack of awareness of textual history, both in English as well as Greek and Aramaic. This nearly complete lack of knowledge about such vitally important matters is striking, and one wonders whether someone needs to hand him the work of David Daniell (whose biographies of Tyndale and whose lengthy and majestic history of the Bible in English are both must-reads for the textually-inclined believer) so that he can get a clue about the history of English translations of the Bible, and a copy of Andrew Gabriel Roth’s Was The New Testament Originally Written In Greek? so that he can become informed about the flaws in, or at least questions about, the perspective of Greek primacy he seems to hold so tenaciously.

But for me personally, the most irritating of flaws present in this work is the tone I read in it. Whether it is the know-it-all bragging about Greek knowledge and bashing of modern translations, when he doesn’t even know the KJV he trumpets is largely plagarized, or the too-frequent use of all caps because apparently the reading audience cannot be trusted to understand what words are important, so they have to be yelled at. When I know a few things the author doesn’t appear to know, and he goes into all caps yelling mode in words like “The love,” as if I am an ignorant schoolboy, I feel insulted. An insulted audience is not an audience likely to write glowing book reviews, either.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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2 Responses to Book Review: The Seven General Epistles

  1. Pingback: Book Review: If The Foundations Be Destroyed | Edge Induced Cohesion

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