A letter in 1900 from Mary Baker Eddy to William P. McKenzie, a trustee of The Christian Science Publishing Society, first thanks him for the Twentieth Century New Testament he’d sent her, noting both advantages and disadvantages of the new translation, as well as her general preference for the “grandeur of climax” in the Authorized (King James) Version of the Bible. Then her words suddenly take flight in this arresting conclusion: “When we translate matter into Spirit we shall then have not only the Authorized Version, but the eternal version of the Scriptures. I never read the Bible now without such an illumination that every word of it contains a spiritual meaning” (L13053, The Mary Baker Eddy Collection, The Mary Baker Eddy Library).
What would this “eternal version” of Scripture look like? Who would translate it? What would it mean for humanity? These questions take us to the heart of Mary Baker Eddy’s own spiritual journey.
It was “misinterpretation of the Word” that had cost her decades of invalidism. But with her discovery of Christian Science came the “right interpretation” of the Bible, restoring her health and awakening her to a whole new life as a religious leader. What lay at the root of the misinterpretation that had so buried the inspired meaning of Scripture? Basically, it was a matter-based, literal reading of the Bible. “The literal or material reading is the reading of the carnal mind, which is enmity toward God, Spirit,” Eddy explained (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p. 169). The “arrogant pride” of translators and Church officials over the centuries had made them infuse rigid, man-made doctrines into the Bible—such as original sin, predestination, a corporeal sense of deity, and the belief that Jesus was God (see Mary Baker Eddy, Retrospection and Introspection, p. 84). The result? A raft of “fatiguing Bible translations” that squeezed much of the healing impetus out of the sacred text (Mary Baker Eddy, No and Yes, p. 15).
Totally unlike these literal renderings of the Bible is what Eddy called “the metaphysical rendering,” which, she said, “is health and peace and hope for all” (Miscellaneous Writings, p. 169). This vision of Bible truth first dawned on her in 1866, when, near death, she turned to one of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ healings—and immediately revived. That launched her into three years of intense Bible study that transformed not only her view of Scripture, but also her whole worldview.
The Bible became for her a book of universal spiritual laws comprising the “Science of the Bible” (Retrospection and Introspection, p. 27), demanding practical demonstration. It was the same King James Version of the Bible she’d studied practically every day of her life since childhood, but now it spoke to her in a vibrant “new tongue”—heart to heart—that promised healing and salvation not only for herself, but for humanity.
Science and Health repeatedly emphasizes that Bible words alone have no inherent healing power. It’s the spiritual sense behind the words that brings comfort and healing.
From then on, Mary Baker Eddy committed herself to freeing the Bible from the shackles in which the “fatiguing Bible translations” had imprisoned it. “The material record of the Bible,” she declared, “is no more important to our well-being than the history of Europe and America; but the spiritual application bears upon our eternal life” (Miscellaneous Writings, p. 170). Any translation of the Bible viewed from a material standpoint, she saw, would lack healing impact.
So, she set about writing a book, ultimately titled Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, that would unlock the Bible truth humanity so desperately needed. “If the Bible were understood,” she noted, “S & H would never have been written. Every inspired sentence in the Bible has a spiritual meaning and it means nothing that the 5 material so-called senses can grasp or interpret” (A10245, The Mary Baker Eddy Collection).
How does Mary Baker Eddy illumine the spiritual meaning of the Bible in her book? First, she establishes the Bible as the foundation of Christian healing—as her “sole teacher” and “the chart of life” (Science and Health, pp. viii, 24). She makes this bold declaration as the first tenet of Christian Science: “As adherents of Truth, we take the inspired Word of the Bible as our sufficient guide to eternal Life” (Science and Health, p. 497). She weaves into virtually every page of her book quotations, references, and paraphrases, mostly from the translation she’d been raised with, the King James Version. And she provides a 100-page “Key to the Scriptures” that includes a detailed spiritual exegesis of portions of both Genesis and Revelation, as well as a Glossary of Bible terms, all illustrating the deep insight an inspired spiritual perspective brings.
Science and Health repeatedly emphasizes that Bible words alone have no inherent healing power. It’s the spiritual sense behind the words that brings comfort and healing: “Take away the spiritual signification of Scripture, and that compilation can do no more for mortals than can moonbeams to melt a river of ice” (p. 241).
This spiritual sense of the Scriptures is an indispensable part of her discovery. It means reading the Bible with the conviction that Spirit must triumph over matter. It means looking beyond centuries of mistranslation and misinterpretation fostered by “hierarchies, and instigated sometimes by the worst passions of men” (p. 24). It means digging into the Greek and Hebrew texts to find their original meaning, and researching alternative or modern renderings as she herself does in Science and Health, where she quotes from contemporary Bibles such as the one translated by George R. Noyes, as well as from the Saxon and Icelandic translations. Eddy’s Bible collection, housed in The Mary Baker Eddy Library, shows how deeply she researched not only the King James text, but also then current translations such as Weymouth’s, Rotherham’s, and Fenton’s.
Most important, Science and Health challenges the world to engage with—and indeed to help “translate”—what might be considered the “eternal version” of Scripture, by demonstrating the Word of God. By humbly walking in the footsteps of Christ Jesus through daily acts of radical compassion and healing. But fulfilling this assignment will take grit, she warns: “There will be greater mental opposition to the spiritual, scientific meaning of the Scriptures than there has ever been since the Christian era began” (p. 534).
Mary Baker Eddy knew that her mission as discoverer of a “still more spiritual translation” of the Bible would expose her to persecution, just as it did with the first English Bible translators, John Wycliffe, who was “hounded” till his death, and William Tyndale, who was burned at the stake (A10109, The Mary Baker Eddy Collection). But for the Leader of Christian Science, the noble end goal of restoring “the spiritual and original meaning of the Scriptures” (Miscellaneous Writings, p. 25), with all its healing impact for humanity, was absolutely worth it. And it is for us as well.
Today, students of Christian Science may be drawn to various translations of the Bible—the revered and lyrical King James Version and/or the rich array of more accessible and often more accurate translations. But the Bible version Mary Baker Eddy hoped her followers would devote their lives to was, I truly believe, way beyond any translation built with words. It was the “eternal version” of Scripture that she wanted you and me to inscribe in our hearts, and to live—day by day by day—in our healing practice.
Mary Trammell is a Christian Science practitioner and teacher based in Boston, Massachusetts. She earned her MA and PhD in English literature and Bible history, and coauthored The Reforming Power of the Scriptures.