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William Griffin

In Praise of Paraphrase

Among his mail one foggy Oxford morning, C. S. Lewis found a letter-cum-manuscript from J. B. Phillips, vicar of the Church of the Good Shepherd in London. He didn't know the man, but the vicar had said some nice things about his books and broadcasts.

As for the enclosed manuscript, well, with bombs falling and sirens wailing and buildings collapsing all around, London wasn't so unlike first-century Rome, at least from the Christians' point of view. Paul's epistles seemed right to the point.

Trouble was, the young people in Phillips' parish couldn't understand the Authorized Version. What they needed was something just a little easier to read. Hence, his own attempt at Colossians. What did Lewis think?

Immediately he put the translation to the test.

"Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ," read the eighth verse of the second chapter in the Authorized Version.

"Be careful that nobody spoils your faith through intellectualism or high-sounding nonsense," read Phillips' rendition of the same passage. "Such stuff is at best founded on men's idea of the nature of the world, and disregards Christ!"

Lewis thought he knew Colossians pretty well, but this Paraphrase, for that's what it was, seemed to hit the nail right on the head. He then read the Phillips version from beginning to end. "It was like seeing a familiar picture after it's been cleaned," he wrote to the good vicar.

That was in 1943. Subsequent sales of Phillips' New Testament in Modern English proved that there were millions of Christians on both sides of the Atlantic who needed and appreciated the restoration. And so the periodic restoration process has continued down to our own day.

In 1971, Kenneth Taylor in the Living Bible: "Don't let others spoil your faith and joy with their philosophies, their wrong and shallow answers built on men's thoughts and ideas, instead of on what Christ has said."

In 1982, the Authorized ...

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