From "The Interpreter" 1909.


Tuesday, 27th September, 1870.


MR. KING:- Of course I have no expectation of exactly pleasing our friend in the course I pursue, and I have no great desire to make much effort to do so. I shall endeavour, as fully and fairly as I can, to bring the question in dispute before you. The question for the evening is, "What is Christianity?" What I have presented to you, the whole of it, is in answer to that question. My first speech ended before I had got more than half way through the outlines of Christian doctrine which I thought desirable to give. My opponent completed his speech and sat down without dealing with it, and I thought, therefore, that I would proceed to tell him what I find in the New Testament concerning faith, and certain other points of Christian doctrines and practice.

I proceeded immediately to deal with faith, in answer to his demand, but I think he will need to supply me with a couple of talking machines, such as are at work, I think, in London, because, though I pursued the course he indicated, he complained that I had not been attending to the particular statements which he made in another part of his speech. But, if I had done that, and left the other undone, he would have complained on that head. I shall, therefore, take my own way, and endeavour to deal with his objections (so far as time will admit) in due course.

He objects to my intimation that we are bound to deal with the words of the New Testament as with the words of other authors. He says, "How so? We reject certain parts of the writings of other authors as wrong and accept other parts as true! Does Mr. King mean this? And if not, what does he mean?" I mean, that in ascertaining what the writers of the New Testament mean by the sentences they give us we must treat those sentences by the same rules of interpretation we apply to any other book. It is not a question of the truth of what we read. It is a question of what the writers mean; and in order to ascertain that, it is not what I say they mean, that must be accepted by you, nor what Mr. Bradlaugh says they mean that must be thus accepted. We are to test the words as to their meaning by the recognised principles which we apply to other authors.

Having made that point clear, I observe that the Bible does not profess to describe more than one perfect man. The apostles are imperfect, the prophets are imperfect, the worthies of the Old Testament are all imperfect. The book itself professes to present but one perfect man - Christ himself, and, therefore, the apostles are not submitted to us as examples otherwise than as they follow Christ; nor are their doings endorsed by Christ, further than their official action is concerned. What then, they, as apostles of Christ, instituted in His kingdom and in His name, he has made Himself responsible for. If, outside that line, Peter under temptation, took to swearing and denying Christ, he did not do so in the exercise of any apostolic function. Indeed he was reclaimed from that fall before he received that final commission which pertains to the now-existing kingdom and Church of Christ. He, with others, had been previously commissioned to go and announce to his Jewish brethren the near approach of Christ's kingdom, and it was after that previous commission that he fell into sin, and his doing so was foretold by Christ, and it took place before he received that baptism in the Holy Spirit which was to fit him for the work he was to accomplish after his conversion; and, therefore, we have simply to look at the apostles as commissioned by Christ to act in setting in order His kingdom for Him, as He did not remain here to order it Himself.

For this work He promised the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth, to bring to their remembrance whatsoever things he had taught them, and to shew them things to come. This authority was conferred upon them, and in view of it He had said to Peter prospectively (and substantially to the rest of the apostles), "Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." We have, then, simply to distinguish between their conduct as private individuals, and their official action as the apostles of Christ.

I have said that nothing is to be added to Christianity as left by them, whereupon my opponent asks, how we are to be bound if I quote from some other translation and give you what is not in the common or authorized version of the Bible; and I am requested, if I do so, to say to what extent I accept the English version, and why I refer to anything exterior to it. I have simply to say, that I am not bound to the common version, and that I do not know any Christian who holds himself as so bound. That version, is of course, avowedly a translation. What did the translators translate from? I ask only the liberty to change their translation when it can be shown that the translation is not in accordance with the document from which they professed to translate it. And if I find occasion to change the translation (I don't know that I shall need to do so), I shall not do it on my own authority; you shall have authorities who by their very names shall command respect. [Hear, hear.]

Now with regard to the Old Testament, I wish we understood each other; because I do not want the time wasted. The Old Testament contains the account of the creation; the New Testament recognises it as true. The Old Testament contains an account of what is sometimes called the fall; and the New Testament recognises it as true. We don't propose to set the Old Testament aside, but we take the Bible as a whole. But then, what have we? We have in that book three distinct dispensations - the patriarchal, up to the time of the giving of the law by Moses; the period of the law, and you know from the New Testament that the law was added on account of transgression, till the seed (as Christ is called) should come. We have, then, the dispensation of the law (the old covenant) and the prophets under that covenant predicting that God would make a new covenant, and that, consequently, the one then existing would pass away. Accordingly you have, at a later period, the new covenant and dispensation instituted - in a word, Christianity.

Now what we want is, that it should be understood - and it would save Mr. Bradlaugh trouble both here and elsewhere, if he were to understand the bearing of one institution upon the other. For instance, under the old covenant which was mediated by Moses, you have circumcision. The law of that dispensation declared that the soul which is not circumcised shall be cut off; the uncircumcised was to have no place whatever in the privileges and immunities of citizenship. But, when you come down to the new of Christian dispensation, circumcision is no longer binding, but, on the contrary, you are distinctly taught, that if a Gentile is circumcised Christ shall profit him nothing. You may tell me this is a contradiction, if you please. You may say, that according to one part of the book men will be condemned if they are circumcised, while according to another part men will be condemned if they are not circumcised. But there is no contradiction, you have simply two periods - two dispensations - one to which circumcision appertains and one to which it does not. What was binding in one case is forbidden in the other.

Now, what I want to be understood is this, - what belongs to the Jewish system and what belongs to the Christian system. The Jewish law was never given to any nation except the Jews. It was never designed for general application, and you have in Christianity a dispensation entirely different. Its commission is - "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature." There is no restriction, none whatever, but the apostles were to preach the gospel to every creature. I want you to distinguish the difference between these two widely differing dispensations. I do not think there is much probability of Mr. Bradlaugh quoting from the Old Testament anything I shall object to, if only he keep in view that distinction. I am not seeking to exclude any part of either the Old or the New Testament, but only to distinguish the Jewish and the Christian dispensations. The one is typical of the other - the one is preparatory of the other, the one was set up until the other should come: and he who confounds the two only deceives those who listen to his interpretation.

Hence, then, with regard to war. If we are referred to Deuteronomy, we find that it appertains to the national system given to the Jews. It does not apply to the Christian dispensation. The Christian is told to put up his sword. He is given to understand that the use of the sword is contrary to the will of Christ. I say there is no contradiction in this, - the one thing belongs to a dispensation passed and gone, and very different indeed from the Christianity which has now taken its place.

My friend asks me why I used the word ge-enna in place of the word hell. I had simply this reason for so doing - as he no doubt very well knows, there are two words in the Greek New Testament both translated by the common word hell. The one word means a place or condition of punishment, the other does not; but having these two Greek words translated by one English word, we find there are some passages in which the meaning is obscured. Simply, then, to distinguish between the two, I used that word. [Applause.]


MR. BRADLAUGH: - I suppose my opponent, who kindly gave you some quotations, had not time for quotations as to justification by faith being stated only to be repudiated. Then he says, it is not worth while wasting time about the version. He says he will quote to you authorities. Aye! For what? For the "particular document" from which the translators professed to translate this book.

Now, I would like to see that particular document. I remember a good many documents, and I have a good many in my own library, but I do not remember any particular document from which the translation was made. And it is no waste of time; it is unfair and a waste of time to refer to some other authority without telling the people what he refers to. He has not told you what sort of reliance he places on the version, and how am I to know whether any objection I take may not be met by him in this way, - "Oh, that is not correct; that is not the version?" How am I to know that we are not misled as to what he considers the correct version of Christianity, because you have not always the benefit of Mr. David King's learning to explain to you how much of this book is true or is not true, unless we have some guide in this particular document.

If we are only to take what is supported by some great authorities, I am afraid our investigation of what is Christianity in the Book will not be a very satisfactory one. Why, I hold in my hand a little book written by an authority who says, that the more the matter is investigated by these documents, the more crude and unsatisfactory it is. But when I hear what the document referred to is, it is possible, with my limited reading, I may raise objections to it. I object, however, to any appeal to an unknown document to correct a known book, and I deny that there is a particular document from which the translation is supposed to have been made to which our friend can refer as an authority.

Well then, we will go step by step, and I must say that I was very much amused indeed with the skill with which he draws his distinction with regard to Peter's official and his non-official action. He told us that in some commission given to Peter, and substantially to the other apostles, - "Whatsoever ye bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever ye loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven," and so on, and my only reason for asking him the question was, because he tells us that this special commission was given after the offence and repentance for it. It is possible I read the Bible wrongly: perhaps I do, but I want to know precisely the state of the case, because my calculation is, that Peter turned out a thorough rascal after he had been entrusted with the mission of binding and loosing. Of course I may be wrong in it; I shall be glad to be set right; it may be found in the "particular document," for it is not to be found in this version.

There is a difference, I am told, between Peter's official and non-official action. What is the difference between official and non-official action? Non-officially he denied his Lord and Master; officially he was Peter the good; non-officially he was Peter the rascal; and all I can say is, that if we are to distinguish between official and non-official Christianity, I give up this debate at once. If that is the way the matter is to be dealt with, and the demand for explanations met, I do not understand the value of this debate.

But is it a fair argument, even taking it in my friend's point of view? He says he must test the words as we would the words of any other writer. On what principle, in the words of any other writer, would be introduce the word official? What standard of reading would authorize him to introduce the word official there? But he says Peter did this outside his official action. Oh, then, we are to split him in two, and say that he was rascality outside and goodness within! Is that the principle on which answers are to be given in this debate? Are we to turn Christianity inside out? Really, it is monstrous to discuss in this way.

Now, what was the temptation of Peter? Suppose it was an infidel who had forsaken his master, who had seen him do wonderful things. Would it not be a sad temptation to escape punishment, and say that his creed was not strong enough to hold him as against the fear of that punishment? Was there are other principle, and if so, what? And if my friend says I must read the book as any other book, what particular text contains the principle? What God fore-knows He ordains and predestines, and had he fore-ordained and predestined that Peter should deny Jesus; and if so, what he foreknew and predestined, is that to be pronounced unofficial? Why was it not as official as anything he did?

Now, I will ask him where in the book one is separated from the other. I don't say that he separates them; he does not perfectly separate them. I should like to know the particular chapter or text that divides the patriarchal period from the dispensation of the law and the prophets, and that of the law and the prophets from the Christian dispensation. And I will further ask him how it can be possible that there can be any separation, for in the Epistle to the Hebrews, when speaking about the teachings of Jesus and the apostles, reference is made to both the law and the prophets?

Does it not resolve itself again into what I said at the first - that where there is not an absolute repeal of injunctions in the New Testament as part of Christianity. But then our friend says there is a repeal in the case of war. He says, the injunction about war was repealed. Let us try the effect of that argument. Supposing it were, was the original command good or bad, according to our friend's view? If it was bad then it is equally bad for the patriarchs, or any persons succeeding them, as for other people. But is it repealed? What does the text mean then (Luke 19:27), which says "But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me." Our friend may tell you that that was part of a parable. But it was not, and I make that answer so that he may be able to deal with it. He may say that it was not correctly translated, and I shall wait for that answer till it comes.

Again, take it according to our friend's doctrine that I may quote any part of the Old Testament except such parts as are not repealed, I must take it with that restriction or repeal that the New Testament puts on it; therefore I must not take the Old Testament texts with regard to war, if the New Testament negates war. I am not to quote a barbarous principle if the New Testament negates it.

Now, I ask my friend to refer to Deuteronomy (13:6), as to persons seeking to entice others away from their religion. "If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which has thine own soul, entice thee secretly saying, Let us go and serve other Gods which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers: namely of the Gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth; thou shalt not consent unto him, nor harken unto him; neither shalt thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him; but thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die; because he hath sought to thrust thee away from the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. And all Israel shall hear, and fear, and shall do no more any such wickedness as this is among you."

I ask whether that is part of Christianity? If it is not, then, having referred to the text which I read from Matthew 10, which my friend probably has not had time to deal with, I ask whether it is not very much a continuation of the same persecuting doctrine, with the exception that the punishment is to continue for some longer period. I ask you whether our friend has dealt with the question of punishment in the same frank spirit that I have answered him. He said something about ge-enna, but did not go on to answer the question, "Do you believe that hell is a place of eternal punishment?" I want to know what he repudiates, and what he does not. He repudiates part of this book; will not be fettered with it; and I want the whole benefit of this. Don't let him tell us that it is a waste of time. It is no waste of time to understand each other. It is no waste of time to plumb an antagonist, and ascertain how much is real and how much is pretence, and I shall go on with the time until I ascertain the way this stands. [Applause.]