Ervin E. Stringfellow

by William E. Paul

(Bible Collectors’ World – Jan./Mar. 1999)

Ervin Edward Stringfellow was born in a log cabin in Mahaska County, Iowa (near the town of Oskaloosa) on February 28, 1884. Stringfellow, in writing of his youth in 1931, said, “My parents were in very humble circumstances. Through my boyhood days the only books we possessed, aside from our school books, were a Bible, a life of Grover Cleveland, and a book on business forms.”

At age 14, while working in his uncle’s store for $1.50 per week, his Sunday School teacher, a flour mill worker, came into the store all covered with flour and asked the young boy to become a Christian. This led to his conversion and membership in a local Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). At the age of 15, after a preacher from Drake Bible College (later Drake University) encouraged him to get an education, he entered Penn College Academy (later William Penn College, Oskaloosa, IA) where he obtained a teacher’s certificate. This enabled him to teach in the public schools where he earned $350 during his first year. He taught school from 1900-1903, with some of his students being older than he.

By 1904 Stringfellow was a student at Drake University, but he left after two quarters due to lack of funds. He found employment for awhile as a railroad section hand as well as doing various types of farm work. One summer was spent in church work for the American Sunday School Union in northeast Kansas and the following year in Oregon. It was while on such a trip to Oregon that he preached his first sermon. Stringfellow did most of his traveling either on foot or by riding a bicycle and only seldom by horseback. He never owned a car, which were quite scarce in those days.

In 1905 Stringfellow was back at Drake University, where he received some financial help by assisting the Greek professor there. He graduated, with honors, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Greek and history in 1909.

On June 22, 1909 Stringfellow married Myrtle May Blake. They had four children: Wihna, Ervin, Helen and Granvili. From 1909 to 1911, he was a part-time instructor in the classics (Greek and Latin) at Drake, at which time he received his Master of Arts degree. The following year (1912) he taught summer courses at Princeton University. He then enrolled at Princeton as a graduate student where he attended from 1913 to 1914, earning his Ph.D. in 1914. He spent a brief period taking summer courses at Chicago University in 1915. He then began teaching in the fields of New Testament language, literature and history at Drake and became Professor of New Testament Languages in 1919. He held this post until his retirement in 1950, having served on Drake’s faculty for 41 years!

Stringfellow also held several pastorates in Iowa during most of the years he taught at Drake: Fairview, New Virginia, Maloy, Diagonal, Bondurant, Lorimor, and Tingley. And he served as president of the Iowa Christian Church Convention for a period of time. Besides his two-volume New Testament translation, with annotations, Stringfellow wrote Sunday School literature for Bethany Press for six years, and authored a dozen or so articles for publication in various church periodicals.

The first part of Stringfellow’s translation of the New Testament, The Gospels, A Translation, Harmony and Annotations, was published in 1943 by the John S. Swift Co., Inc. at St.. Louis, Missouri. It is a large (8½ X 11 inch), blue, hardback edition of 263 pages. The type was “set” using a typewriter and laid out in several columns. The work appears to have grown out of Stringfellow’s teaching experience at the Bible College of Drake University. It contains five basic features: (1) A translation of the Greek text based on Westcott and Hart, with special attention given to the correct rendering of the Greek tenses. (The translated portions of the New Testament were later called by the author “perhaps the least important of the five features.”); (2) A Harmony of the Gospels, based on the work of Stevens and Burton; (3) A series of extensive footnotes (called “explanations”), which are viewed by the author as “the main purpose of the book” and are decidedly interpretative and somewhat liberal in nature; (4) A list of questions following each section, designed to test the reader’s (and initially, the student’s) comprehension of the material; (5) A list of the parables of Jesus in chronological order, including the approximate dates of each. To the above features may be added brief introductions to each of the Gospels, a map of Palestine, a sketch of the Temple, and a seven-page index of topics and places.

In 1945, Acts and Epistles, A Translation and Annotations by E. E. Stringfellow, M.A., was published by William C. Brown Co., of Dubuque, Iowa, (the publisher’s name is not indicated in some of the printings). In the words of the author, “It does for Acts what the earlier book does for the Four Gospels.” The book is the same size and format, although a little larger (301 pages), and contains similar features. However, instead of a Gospel harmony, this volume contains the New Testament epistles interspersed into their appropriate places in the text of Acts. Introductions and outlines of each book are also included.

Ervin Edward Stringfellow passed away on June 8, 1962 in Des Moines, Iowa, at the age of 78.