God in the Dock: Great Stuff from C.S. Lewis

I have long been a C.S. Lewis fan, enjoying his apologetics books, his Narnia stories, and even his Science Fiction trilogy. Lewis, who died in 1963, was Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English Literature at Cambridge University. But it was his Christian writings that brought him notoriety.

I thought I had read all there was to read of Lewis’ apologetics. However, Lewis did not restrict his apologetic efforts to his books. He gave speeches and lectures, wrote articles, and exchanged letters with prominent opponents. Forty-eight of his essays and twelve of his letters were gathered together by his estate and published in God in the Dock. Although published in 1970, I only recently learned of and purchased God in the Dock.

The essays cover a lot ground, including the problem of evil, miracles, religion and science, the problem of the pain of animals, modern translations of the Bible, women priestesses, Christmas, and even the notion of “national repentance.” It is interesting how relevant many of these articles are to modern American Christianity. This could be because England went through similar struggles decades ago or because Lewis was far sighted. I suspect it is a combination of both.

One example I will discuss here is Chapter 10: “Modern Translations of the Bible.” It was originally published as an introduction to a new translation of the New Testament Epistles. Therein, Lewis responds to those who questioned the need for a new translation of the Bible. He notes that some believe that the “Authorized Version” is “the most beautiful rendering which any language can boast” and others “cannot bear to see the time-honoured words altered.” Lewis provides able answers.

First, “the kind of objection which they feel to a new translation is very like the objection which was once felt to any English translation at all. Dozens of sincerely pious people in the sixteenth century shuddered at the idea of turning the time-honoured Latin of the Vulgate into our common and ‘barbarous’ English.” God in the Dock, page 229. Lewis goes on to point out that the New Testament was not written in a holy language, but in common Greek. “The same divine humility which decreed that God should become a baby at a peasant-woman’s breast, and later an arrested field-preacher in the hands of the Roman police, decreed also that He should be preached in a vulgar, prosaic, and unliterary language.” Ibid, page 230.

Second, Lewis notes that older translations simply become outdated. Language moves on. It is always changing. Old translations become less and less “good translations,” because the language has moved past them. As Lewis comments, “It is no longer modern English: the meanings of words have changed. The same antique glamour which has made it (in the superficial sense) so ‘beautiful’, so ‘sacred’, so ‘comforting’, and so ‘inspiring’ has also made it in many places unintelligible.” Ibid. In other words, to capture the true meaning of the original writings, we will always need updates and new translations.

Finally, Lewis warns that elegance and beauty in the language may be distracting from the real message of scripture. “Through that beautiful solemnity the transporting or horrifying realities of which the Book tells may come to us blunted and disarmed and we may only sign with tranquil veneration when we ought to be burning with shame or struck dumb with terror or carried out of ourselves by ravishing hopes and adorations. Does the word ‘scourged” really come home to us like ‘flogged’? Does ‘mocked him’ sting like ‘jeered at him’?” Ibid, page 231. Of course, in the few decades since Lewis wrote, we can see that even the terms he chose as more vivid (“flogged” and “jeered”) may seem softened in today’s terms.

I cannot do Lewis justice even when I am liberally quoting him. In any event, I strongly recommend God in the Dock.


BK said…
God in the Dock remains my favorite handy guide to interesting thoughts on issues of apologetics. The essays, while short, are full of ideas that are only partially developed or even just briefly noted without much discussion. I have read the book at least five times and I still get new thoughts out of it each time I read it. Thus, I echo Layman's recommendation.
Layman said…
Yeah, I realized I'm a late comer on this one. But it is not much discussed so I thought I'd advertise it a little.

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