The reputation that assembly Christians normally have in
evangelical Christendom is that they have a better knowledge than most of their
Bibles. On the surface this may seem to be strange since almost alone in
Christendom we dont have a trained ministry. The explanation is simple,
of course, for we have generally had many Christians in fellowship who studied
the scriptures for the sheer pleasure of doing so. In fact in former days there
were those who taught themselves to read after they were converted so that they
could read the scriptures for themselves. After all Christians who claimed to
guide their church practices by the Bible could not afford to be ignorant of
Such was their love of the Bible that early in our history there began conferences for Bible teaching. While the worldling flocked to the sports stadia and pleasure palaces at weekends and at holiday times assembly Christians were glad to meet with like-minded folks to hear Bible teaching. This explains the large number of Bank Holiday conferences throughout England and Wales, the numerous Scottish New Year conferences and the Saturday conferences in the more populous parts.
Nor were we behind anybody in Christendom in scholarship. Our proportion of Bible translators must be higher than most. John Nelson Darby, no matter what evils he may be charged with, was the translator of the Bible into four major European languages. His English version was completed by William Kelly, no mean scholar himself. Darbys written language leaves a great deal to be desired in the realm of fluency yet another translator, Weymouth paid tribute to Darbys in this sentence: "The reader who is spent on getting a literal rendering, such as he can commonly find in the R.V. or often a better one, in Darbys New Testament, should always be on his guard against its strong tendency to mislead." It is surprising that nobody has collected Kellys own translation from his various books and issued it as such.
Another substantial contribution to Bible study by "early brethren" were "An Englishmans Hebrew and Chaldee Concordance" and "An Englishmans Greek Concordance to the New Testament" which were sponsored and paid for by George V. Wigram. Among the help enlisted for these, perhaps the best of all concordances, was that of one of the greatest of 19th Century Bible scholars, S.P. Tregelles who was for many years associated with assemblies. Only ill health prevented Tregelles being one of the translators of the 1881 Revised Version. He did prepare a Greek text of the New Testament.
Another of the early brethren was F.W. Grant whose "Numerical Bible" constitutes a translation in its own right. Nobody has made a greater attempt to provide an edition of the Bible for students who have no knowledge of Hebrew and Greek than Thomas Newberry whose signs and symbols indicate to the English reader the tenses, numbers, etc., of the original words.
The 20th Century has seen at least two eminent Bible scholars emerge from our ranks. The first was W.E. Vine whose "Dictionary of New Testament Words" is a dictionary-cum-commentary. The other is Prof. F.F. Bruce whose work is sufficiently well known to the present generation as not to need mentioning.
I have merely mentioned the scholars. No young Christian need feel embarrassed about the intellectual standing of quite a number of those who have taken a simple approach to Christian living and church practice. All of this ignores the many other aids to Bible understanding contributed by our forebears on this pathway. Dr. Harry Ironside believed that one of the biggest contributions assemblies had made to Christendom was its numerous books on scriptural topics. This applies both to writers and to publishers. An early brother, William Yapp, was a publisher and gave his name to a form of Bible binding which is well known to this day. Various publishing houses have been established during our history and three in the British Isles still issue books.
Needless to say their approach to understanding the Bible was fundamentalist. Thats why such complete obedience was given to what they believed to be Gods Word. Even Malcolm Muggeridge teaches that people who do not believe this would be far better to stop claiming to be Christian. If the Bible is Gods Word then I am duty bound to obey it; if it is not Gods Word then I am at the mercy of every mutilator of the book.
Apart from the return to New Testament simplicity early brethren contributed to Christian thought the idea of dispensationalism. This means that Gods dealings with men proceeds in cycles, in each of which His offered relationship is an advance on what was offered previously. The big weakness attached to making a new discovery is that those accepting the idea tend to find it everywhere and scripture is strained and wrested to prove it. This may well have happened but it does not mean that scripture knows nothing of dispensations. If there is any progress of doctrine then dispensations must exist. Equally anybody who attempts it must find it hard to really prove that God does not have a nobler set of blessings for His church than He has for his earthly people, Israel.
Another great contribution made to Bible thought and accepted on a large scale by the evangelical world is "the catastrophic view of eschatology." This simply means that the world is not steadily becoming better but rather that Christs coming will be swift and sudden to execute judgement. Generally speaking it was believed that this coming would be in two phases one to remove His own" from the world to glory and the other to return with them to the world in judgement.
Great delight was taken in interpreting Old Testament typology. This was taken to mean that God had hidden his intentions for men and the world in the various celebrations of ancient Israel. That imagination was allowed to run riot I would not deny but there seems little doubt that those men of God were more on the right track than their successors who see no significance in those things at all. The New Testament attaches significance to meanings of names, tenses or words, events, etc., and therefore nobody can dogmatically deny that this principle runs through Holy Scripture.
Language may date but meaning cannot change. These men were less far from Gods truth than some think. Lets appreciate what they established. Lets have the same desires as they had to find in Gods word what he has stored for us there. We have more leisure than they had and generally speaking a better education. Lets maintain our reputation of knowing our Bibles and practicing what we know.
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