Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Letter from A.T. Robertson to E.J. Goodspeed about "Russellite Propaganda"

In my answer to the question, "Why do different editions of the New World Translation (NWT) contain different footnotes to its rendering of John 8:58?" ("Upon the Lampstand," December 17, 2009), on page 8 and on the related note on page 14 (for note 38 on page 8), I wrote  the following in part concerning a possible reason for why renowned Southern Baptist Greek grammarian A.T. Robertson (1863-1934) failed to properly identify the Greek idiom used in John 8:58, namely, because in my view Robertson was "at times overly motivated by loyalty to Trinitarianism." 

Here is what I wrote from my pages 8 and 14 on this point in a larger context:
Though several Greek and New Testament scholars before K.L. McKay accurately wrote about the meaning of John 8:58, McKay has helped to further undo part of the damage done by Trinitarian scholars such as A.T. Robertson, whose theology appears to have overridden his grammatical skills when it comes to texts such as John 8:58. ... [A.T.] Robertson was at times overly motivated by loyalty to Trinitarianism in his treatment of certain grammatical issues, which can be seen in his handling of the use of eimi in John 8:58. Consider Robertson’s lamenting of “those who” believed various things during his time, including “those who accept the New Testament writings as adequate interpretations of Christ and Christianity, but who say that Trinitarianism is a misinterpretation of the New Testament” (A.T. Robertson, The Minister and His Greek New Testament [Grand Rapids: Baker, repr. 1977], page 61).

The Elihu Books Topical Index now contains a copy of a handwritten letter from A.T. Robertson to Bible translator E.J. Goodspeed (1871-1962) dated May 19, 1931, which I believe further reveals a theological bias which may explain why at times in his writings Robertson cites or even discusses certain theologically charged texts (like John 8:58), only to then abandon a full and fair  grammatical assessment in favor of the assumption of Trinitarianism.  

This does not mean Robertson's works are not full of much that is useful, enlightening, and historically interesting. But I do believe this letter from Robertson to Goodspeed further reveals the importance of keeping Robertson's knowledge, in particular his written expression of that knowledge, in its proper and full context, especially given the wide and longstanding circulation that Robertson's writings have been given, which writings should be accepted or rejected based on the good reasons provided or not provided or considered thoroughly or even at all by Robertson, as with anyone else's writings.

In this letter (a transcription of which I provide below) Robertson expresses his receipt and appreciation for Goodspeed's (then) newly released, "Strange New Gospels," in which Goodspeed reviews various documents and texts related to the New Testament, as understood during that early part of the twentieth century (in the mid to late 1920s). In writing to Goodspeed about this new work, Robertson brings up the English "Concordant N.T.," which Robertson calls "Russellite propaganda," referring to the founder and first president of Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society (later Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society), C.T. Russell (1852-1916).

Here is my transcription of the letter below the handwritten date:
My dear Dr. Goodspeed: I have
only this morning, after my re-
covery from the influenza,
read your useful and timely
"Strange Gospels."

I get frequent inquires about
some of that stuff and I am
glad to be able to tell of your
careful presentation of the facts.

Only this morning I have a
letter from California (sent
by way

from New Zealand) about the

[Page 2]
Concordant N.T.; a Russellite
propaganda which is de-
ceiving many innocent people.
I denounce it on occasion.
I wish you would take one chapter (or one N.T. book)
in it and expose its fal-
lacies and hallucinations.

It is doing much more
harm than the "Strange Gospels."
I have marked in the circular
the "New Short Grammar"
(Richard R. Smith, Inc.) which
you may stumble on.

Cordially yours,
A.T. Robertson
Clearly, despite being a learned and accomplished Greek grammarian, A.T. Robertson was heavily influenced by his theology, so much so that he considered other groups' views (such as those of the "Russellites" and those expressed in the "Concordant N.T.") to be "propaganda which is deceiving many innocent people," and whose "hallucinations" Robertson 'denounced on occasion.'

Yet, it is A.T. Robertson whom we also find characterizing  another well-regarded Greek grammarians before him, G.B. Winer, as having "exerted a pernicious influence" over those scholars who differed with Robertson (including Winer) over texts such as Titus 2:13. But this very text is one Robertson himself interprets according to later (that is, post-biblical) theological constructs, specifically, those having to do with the Trinity and its concepts of "God" as positively referring not only to the Trinity (though only "one God" is claimed) but also applying positively to the "persons" of the Trinity, none of whom are individual beings themselves, but all of whom share equally in the one being of the Trinity. This equal sharing is what it is that allows Robertson to use "God" or "Deity" for Jesus in New Testament texts such as Titus 2:13.—See Robertson's, "The Greek Article and the Deity of Christ," The Expositor, 8th Series, volume 21 (1921), pages 182-188.

See page 275 of my Third Edition of Jehovah's Witnesses Defended, note 103, for the reference to Robertson's characterization of Winer (which is on page 187 of "The Greek Article" article by Robertson, cited above). See Chapter 2 of my Third Edition of Jehovah's Witnesses Defended for a discussion of how Trinitarian writers and scholars have for centuries (for over 1,500 years, in fact) misinterpreted the use of "G-god" nearly everywhere if not, in fact, everywhere the original words for "G-god" appear in the Old and in the New Testaments, as well as in many if not in all Dead Sea Scroll and Jewish Pseudepigraphal literature available to date.—See Jehovah's Witnesses Defended, Third Edition, Chapter 2.

Of course, Trinitarians' view and uses of "G-god" would not necessarily keep them from using the same terms for "G-god" of idols or for non-Judeo-Christian "gods," accurately. Yet, because the words informing Trinitarianism are either biblical words (for examples, "God," "Father," and "Son") or they seem like and may in some sense be biblical words, but the biblical meaning and what we read about the meaning of the same words in the writings of Trinitarians are nothing alike. This includes the word "person," which is used by Trinitarians in a theological, metaphysical sense for members of the Trinity, though "person" is never used in this same way in the Bible in relation to the Trinity, or for the Trinity itself, leaving Trinitarians such as Dr. James White to refer to the Trinity as a "what" as opposed to the three "persons" of the Trinity who are "who's."—See James White, The Forgotten Trinity (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany, 1998), page 27, and my review and response to the same in my Jehovah's Witnesses Defended, Third Edition, pages 134-154.

Still, unless people require the Trinitarian to explain the basis for his or her use of every single use of the words for "G-god," then it will be that much more difficult for you and for them to see the meanings given to the words for "G-god" and for related, descriptive words and phrases such as "Son" or "sons of God" in the biblical writings and in other, related literature written or available during the biblical periods.