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OOME GEERT—A PROFILE OF GREAT UNCLE GERRIT VERKUYL

 

Grandma Den Ouden , Mrs. Nys Den Ouden (6-9-1881/2-14 -1952) came from a large and distinguished family.  There were eleven children born to Matthys Verkuyl (born 10-1-1833) and Jannetje Streefkerk (born 1840) : Meitje, Hendrick, Arie, Gerrit, Anna, Anneke, Naatje, Jannetje,  Johannes, Pieternella, and Mathila.

Only three of the family emigrated to the United States: Gerrit in 1894, Jannetje (Grandma) in 1912 and Naatje(Nellie—Mrs. Peter Cole—date unknown) who settled in Sacramento, CA.

Tante Anna came for a visit to Grandpa and Grandma in the 30s.  I remember vividly a large trunk and she wore a beautiful black satin dress with black velvet and netting insets.  She was the most regal person I had ever met and now I wonder what she thought of the very modest farmhouse where her sister and family lived.

In 1972 on our first sabbatical, we invited my parents to join us in visiting relatives in Holland.  We made an appointment to see Tante Pie (pronounced pea) (Pieternella) in Leyden at one o’clock.  We had great difficulty in finding the address, De Witte Singel

(The White Canal) and finally parked our VW so close to the canal that my mother feared we would all fall in the water.  The neighborhood was extremely affluent and the house we entered was like a museum with many art objects and vases and statues all over.  I had never been in such a house.  The home had been furnished from their many travels, especially while her husband was in the Dutch consulate in Indonesia. There she sat royally among the rich décor as she “received” us with considerable warmth.  Our children, Christine, 11, Alicia, 8, and David, 4, were angelic and even graciously accepted and ate some overly sweet candy they were offered.  It still is an hour deep in my memory.

But it was Oome Geert, one of Grandma’s older brothers, who with my uncle Bernard, provided and still provide models for me of the Christian scholar.

On my second Christmas (1933), I received a little book, Children’s Devotions, published by Westminster Press in Philadelphia in 1917 with a subtitle: Containing private and united prayers for children, and suggestions for Bible reading, memory work, and clean books.

The inscription reads in flowing European-style writing: To my grand nephew, Nelvin Leroy Vos.  Gerrit Verkuyl.  Christmas 1933.  The dedication states: To the memory of a Christian home in Holland and to the service of every home in America this little book is dedicated.

The book has simple prayers for children divided into various sections such as For Children under Eight and Suggestions for Young People.  In the middle of the book are several pages, God’s Special Messages to Children with passages from the Bible.  And the book concludes with a section, Splendid Reading for Boys and Girls, a remarkably diverse listing of five pages with titles such as Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Robinson Crusoe(for and Iboys eight years old! ), Hans Brinker, Little Women, and Song of Hiawatha.

My next most prized possession of Oome Gerrit is an undated hand written letter. but within the letter, he indicates he is age 93 so it must have been  about 1966.   I had sent him my resume and a copy of my first book, The Drama of Comedy: Victim and Victor.

He begins by congratulating me: “I am glad you completed your schooling and are happy in the thick of your interesting engagement for which you have been so well prepared.”  He continues by describing his career:” When to me the choice had to be made between teaching and preaching, I decided that teaching was my hobby with preaching occasionally and almost from the first I wrote occasionally for publication.”,,

(An understatement since Amazon lists nine books!).  He then writes of “the joy of seeing your thoughts presented to the public.  This requires intense application, the best that is in you.  It is also a service to your fellow man, also to women, and affords both satisfaction and stimulus for worthwhile production.”  All of this, he writes “has made my life experience interesting to others and to myself.  Now at 93, I am through with the zest and the ability no longer suffice.  But I am still somewhat better for those efforts.”  Then comes a benediction: ”May grace, wisdom and power  be granted you to share with others the Christian experience and ideas you are finding helpful, enriching to others and fostering growth as you move on.” He ends with:” it means to me a happy, useful, life for which I thank God, Nelvin, and those who have inspired me and of whom you are one.  I am glad to have enjoyed partnership with you.  May God continue to bless you and keep you humble.  Yours for Him, Gerrit Verkuyl.

The third item is a small hardbound book, Berkeley Version of the New Testament with Footnotes, published by Zondervan  in 1945. This translation, and later of the Old Testament (he called them Berkeley since his residence was there for many

years) were clearly his most important work.  He had begun the New Testament already in 1936 and began the Old Testament with twenty other scholars in the 50s and published this volume in 1959.

It was some time in the mid-50s when I was teaching at Calvin that the committee preparing the Old Testament met on the Calvin campus.  (I have a Banner photo of the group from my mother’s scrapbook.) Oome Gerrit invited me to sit among the scholars for a session.  All I recall is that it was a passage from Proverbs that was under discussion and that I felt very honored to be among them and to know that it was my great uncle who was the leader of this momentous task.

The website, www.Bible collectors.org reprints an article in which Dr. Verkuyl explains his work with the New Testament.  The first sentence is representative of his direct style:” The conviction that God wants His truth conveyed to His offspring in the language in which they think and live led me to produce the Berkeley Version of the New Testament.”  He says that his work with children and youth made him aware that the King James Version, beautiful as it is, is not easy to comprehend.  So in the light of his concern for such an audience, he began translating the story of the baby Moses in Exodus 2 . Then when he was later employed by the Presbyterian Board of Christian Education, he said:” This work allowed me to make use of the New Testament in the original language in hope that someday I might do my own translating of it.”

All did not go easily with the translations. There is an exchange of many letters from 1950 to 1953 located in the archives of the Presbyterian Church in America between Doctor Verkuyl and Dr. J. Oliver Buswell, president of the National Bible Institute and also a professor at a conservative institution, Faith Theolological Seminary, in which several difficulties surface.  Dr. Verkuyl had considerable trouble recruiting scholars for his Old Testament translation.  He had done the New Testament by himself, but did not feel adequate in Hebrew to do The Old Testament although he writes: “Have been digging down into my Hebrew now for a year and am gaining on it.”  The people are busy; they are getting older.  The scholar who translated Isaiah and Job was 89, and Uncle Gerrit was now in his 80s.

And he knew what he was looking for:” But we are now searching for the right men.  We know we want Conservatives…” Later he writes: “And no trend or bias in the footnotes except adherents to the evangelical truth.”  Dr. Martin Wyngaarden of Calvin Seminary did become one of the scholars in the work and Uncle Gerrit comments: “Those Dutchman can work when they have a mind to.”

The correspondence includes a discussion of a Lutheran biblical scholar, Dr. Charles M. Cooper of the Lutheran Seminary in Philadelphia, in which a professor from the National Bible Institute calls Cooper “a very pronounced liberal higher critic.”  Buswell adds: “When I showed your letter to the head of our Semitics department, he recognized the name [Cooper]as that of a rather radical liberal.  Now, granted that translation work must be an entirely our objective, nevertheless, there will be an important points.  Radical differences of opinion between those who believe that the Bible is the Word of God, and those who believe it is a collection of Oriental myths.  Would it not seem wise to make this stipulation for members of the committee?”  My comment would be that although Dr. Cooper was not a conservative such as those who were invited to participate in the translations, he was not by any means a radical liberal who believed the Bible was a collection of Oriental myths.

Three larger issues lurk between the lines of this correspondence.  The first is tension between Uncle Gerrit and Buswell.  He wants Buswell to be involved in the next edition of the New Testament: “… I am inclined to believe we might join forces.”  But Buswell appears to want to do his own translation.  Later, Dr. Verkuyl writes: “my work is not perfect and neither would his be, but by laboring together, it will be much better.  I would be perfectly willing to have Buswell-Verkuyl or Verkuyl-Buswell  as the translators of the N. T. and I wish you might seriously consider it.”  But as far as I know, Buswell did not get involved in the work.

The second is Uncle Gerrit’s difficulty with Zondervan Publishing, the company which did his New Testament and will now be working with the entire Bible.  The company appears to want Uncle Gerrit to do the entire work of revising the New Testament and translating the Old Testament obviously because to involve Buswell and a large committee would increase the royalties.  Zondervan did compromise since later; a committee of twenty was formed to work with the Old Testament.

The third issue is the competition.  The Revised Standard Version of the Bible published by National Council of Churches of Christ was to come out in 1952.  The conservative scholars wanted to give an alternative to what they saw as too liberal a translation and from Uncle Gerrit’s point of view did not do the job well: “The R.S.V., by retaining so much of the K. J. V. [King James Version] vocabulary has succeeded in presenting the Word in the most Elizabethan language of all 20th century translations at the expense of clarity for today’s readers.  To me in modern translation is next to useless that fails to bring God’s thoughts to the Bible-readers in the best words of current use.”  That statement catches the vision and intent of Uncle Gerrit’s momentous almost lifelong undertaking of translating the Bible.

Later, in one of the letters in the Calvin College archives dated September 1956, he writes:  “The work on the Old Testament started six years ago is not yet finished.  Right now it is especially difficult, since four books were turned down by members of the staff when we met in Grand Rapids in June.  I have turned over the book of Isaiah to a new translator to start all over.  But I am correcting the books of Deuteronomy, Job and Ezekiel myself.  Two of those are finished, but I am still wrestling with Ezekiel.  In one more month this too should be ready.  After that, of course it has to be read through once more.  The fault was using more or less than the original text allows.”

Nevertheless, the Berkeley Version is frequently cited on websites by conservative scholars and institutions.  One commentator writes:” A European moved to the United States, so mastered Greek and English languages that in his translating the original, he produced highly readable Scripture.”

The original Berkeley Version is out of print, but Amazon has used copies for sale.  The Modern Language Bible which is called a revision of the Berkeley Version is available at www.Christian book.com for $14.99(hardbound) and $9.99(paperbound).

Dr. Verkuyl’s other publications mostly center on his work in Christian education

(also all out of print  with some used available from Amazon):

— Scripture Memory Work: A Handbook containing selections with helps for the

reader(1918)

— Devotional Leadership: Private Preparation for Public Worship(1925)

— Things Most Surely Believed: A Study in Christian Essentials for Growing Workers

(1926)

— Qualifying Men for Church Work(1927)

— Adolescent Worship: With Emphasis on Senior Age(1929)

— Christ in the Home: Studies in Christian Nurture(1932)

— Christ in American Education(1934)

— Reclaim Those Unitarian Wastes(1935)

— Teen -Age Worship(1950)

 

In contrast to his scholarly achievements, particularly his translations of the Bible, it  has been quite difficult to uncover personal details about Oome Gerrit. He was born on September 14, 1872, in Niewe Vennep, Holland, the same home presumably where Grandma Den Ouden was raised.  He married Tante Minnie in 1912.  They had two children, Janet and Dorothy(one letter speaks of her being on the mission field).  Aunt Gerdena told me that they too lived in California and our family continued to have some correspondence with them in later years.  She also told me that Uncle Gerrit was disappointed and angry that the Woodstock Presbyterian Church did not allow him to preach there when he was visiting our family in the 30s.

According to Ellis Island records, he emigrated to the United States in 1894 at age 21 on the ship Werkendam sailing out of Rotterdam. In 1901, he graduated from Park College in Parksville, Missouri, whose website says that it was founded “as a Christian college” in 1875.  This college awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1921.  He earned a Master of Divinity in 1904 at Princeton Theological Seminary, a very distinguished Presbyterian school, and at the same time, he earned an M.A. (in what?) at Princeton University in 1903.  Then to a New Testament Fellowship to Germany at the University of Leipzig where he received his Ph.D. in 1906.  He also studied at the University of Berlin in 1906.The German universities were and still are noted for their prominence in Biblical studies.   A scholar, indeed!

He was ordained by the Presbytery of North Philadelphia on November 13, 1906, and began serving a Presbyterian church in northeast Philadelphia, Wissinoming, from 1906 to 1908.

He found his true calling when he was appointed to serve as National Field Representative for Leadership Training of the Presbyterian Board of Christian Education which he did from 1908 to 1939 until his retirement at age 67.  According to the archives at Princeton Theological Seminary from which I derived much of the above personal information, he did occasional supply in various churches in the Bay area here and there from 1939 to 1952.  In 1952 to 1953, he served as interim pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Richmond, California.  There is no more information about his later years other than that which we know about his translation of the Bible. Thus I could not discover the date of his death.

His position with the Presbyterian Board of Christian education must have included a lot of teaching.  Calvin College and Seminary archives (why?) has three of his letters in his Dutch handwriting, re-typed in Dutch, and then translated into English, one from which I already quoted.  The first was written on the day I was born (July 11, 1932).  The letterhead gives his title and the address of College Avenue, Wheaton, Illinois.  It is written to his sister, Pie, (Pieternella) and her family.  He speaks of working “a lot in Wisconsin.”  He continues:” Now I will leave for New York state to teach there for four weeks; after that two weeks in Indiana.  I will be preaching somewhere not so far from Jannetje in Iowa.  I will take the train to visit her for a day or so.”  So that must have been one of his visits soon after I was born.

In the letter he also speaks of translating his new book, Christ In the Family, and sending a copy to H. Colijn, a very prominent Dutch political figure who was in the Verkuyl family.  Later he asks:” Would you ask Chris [her husband] what conditions Dutch publishers have when they publish a book?  Here in the USA, the publisher takes all the financial risks.  I am contemplating sending Colijn a copy so that it may be placed in “de Heraut”[I could find no Dutch translation for this word] later on.  But the ideas in it may be too radical for Holland.”

And that last comment may well sum up Uncle Gerrit’s dilemma and perhaps his strength.  Although a conservative in his background and in his Biblical translations, he was a progressive in challenging the tradition by doing his very own version of the Scriptures.  Clearly, many of his ideas about leadership and Christian education were ahead of his time.

I was so privileged to know him: his very tall and stately bearing, his warm smile, and his gentlemanly but kindly manner to me — all this is a memory I deeply cherish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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