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'And Such were Some of You'
|JB Phillips |
(photo: Mark Gerson)
Some sixty years ago a parish priest, J B Phillips, sent a copy of his translation of Colossians to C S Lewis. He wrote back with great encouragement: 'It's like seeing an old picture after it's been cleaned.' Lewis suggested he should translate all Paul's epistles, and offered a possible title - 'Letters to Young Churches'.
This suggestion was accepted and I remember first reading it as a student, and its vividness.
Phillips went on to translate the whole New Testament and then wrote a short book, Ring of Truth, expressing the profound impact the experience of translation had made on his life.
In it he wrote this astonishing passage:
One letter which really struck me a blow from which I never recovered was 1 Corinthians. I was reminded that Corinth was a byword for every kind of vice and depravity. I had a fair picture of the sort of place it must have been for the founding of a Christian church, when I suddenly came across 1 Corinthians 6: 9-11.
Paul writes: 'Don't be under any illusion. Neither the impure, the idolator or the adulterer, neither the effeminate, the pervert or the thief, neither the swindler, the drunkard, the foul-mouthed, or the rapacious, shall have any share in the kingdom of God. And such, remember, were some of you.'
Out of his whole translation, Phillips puts this one sentence in italics. 'I realised', he wrote, 'what an astonishing piece of Christian evidence this is, to Paul and his fellow apostles. It was plainly the invasion of the human spirit by God's own spirit.'
When I was in my 20's I attended many meetings and Bible studies led by Frank Buchman, and he constantly underlined this passage. Referring to impurity, he would say: 'Not one drop'. And he would quote Henry Wright of Yale: 'The joy of the uncommitted sin'.
The American Congregationalist, Horace Bushnell, used this definition of purity: 'Purity is, in character, as transparency is in the crystal. It is water flowing, unmixed and clear, from the mountain spring. Or it is the white of snow. Or it is the clear open heaven, through which the sparkling stars appear, hidden by no mist of obstruction. Or it is the pure light itself in which they shine.'
One of Gandhi's favourite verses came from Christ in Mark's Gospel, chapter 9, 'Salted with the fire of the discipline'.
In his book, That Hideous Strength, C S Lewis writes of his principal character:
He was aware without having to think of it that it was he himself and nothing else in the whole world that had chosen the dust and the broken bottles, the heap of old tin cans, the dry and choking places. It could have been 'the system', 'an inferiority complex due to his parents' or the 'peculiarities of the age'.
None of these things occurred to him now.
Let me return to the passage from Corinthians, 'And such were some of you.' No one is too set in their ways, too far gone, that cannot be redeemed.
And no city.
Paul says elsewhere: 'The past is finished.'
What a dazzling hope!
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