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Editor’s Introduction$ 

Editor’s Introduction


            John Wallis, the author of the Explanation,[1] was one of the scribes of the Westminster Assembly and is more broadly known as a pioneer in mathematics. The Explanation met with great approval by the Assembly and was printed in 1648.[2] Wallis’s Explanation contains the original text of the Shorter Catechism, including questions, answers, and Bible proof texts. For each Catechism question and answer,

Wallis inserted a series of additional questions, each of which has a “Yes” or “No” answer. In the spirit of Wallis’s original work, this present translation of Wallis’s Explanation uses the main questions and answers from the editor’s translation of the Westminster Shorter Catechism[3] and simply inserts translations of Wallis’s new questions and answers into the modern Catechism text between the question and the long answer of the Catechism.[4] As such, all footnotes, introductory material, appendices, and so on that appear in the translation are preserved as well. Finally, in contrast to the formal prose of the Catechism, Wallis’s questions are in an informal conversational style, and often in incomplete sentences; the editor has endeavored to preserve this aspect as well.


            Wallis’s phrase in his title, “meanest capacities,”[5] seems offensive today, but at that time it applied mainly to younger children; older children were expected to memorize and understand the Shorter Catechism. Wallis addresses his book to “Christian Reader,” an appropriate form of address in seventeenth-century England where most people considered themselves Christians and substantial knowledge of the Christian religion was general. In the modern, internationally connected, and multicultural world, there are many people who have had little or no exposure to biblical, much less Reformed, Christianity. It is this audience, as well as children in Christian families, who may benefit from the simplified questions, additional detail, and clarifications provided in the Explanation. Thus, the editor was motivated to translate this nearly lost work for the benefit of twenty-first-century readers. 


            While the editor does not presume to replace any denomination’s standard text, the present translation is also given in order to make the original richness of the 1647 WSC accessible and easily read by the contemporary reader, all to the glory, praise, and honor of God. The editor has endeavored to faithfully retain the meaning of the original text, translating word for word when possible. At the same time, the goal of readability is paramount with the intent that one may read with ease, focusing on the material without being distracted by antique spelling, vocabulary, grammar, or difficult sentence constructs. For this reason, there are times when the original text is quite considerably modified and rearranged. Details on the translation process and philosophy may be found in Appendix B.


            Regrettably, no human work can be translated without some loss of finer shades of meaning. It is the editor’s opinion, however, that this loss is small compared to the loss imposed on many readers by changes in word and phrase meanings over time. Readers interested in more detailed study are encouraged to consult the referenced Scriptures and some of the many commentaries on the WSC, as well as the original WSC itself.


            The Scripture proof texts given here are the originals provided by the Westminster Divines. This is in keeping with the goal of providing a faithful translation of the original WSC. Most editions of the WSC use different sets of proof texts than the original; the editor makes no judgment concerning these other sets, recognizing that others may have different goals.


            The editor has endeavored to translate faithfully without interjecting his own opinions. Nonetheless, the WSC is a human work that is a product of its place in history and geography. God has continued to raise up able theologians in the intervening 370 years, and we now know that there do exist a very few theological errors in the WSC. The editor is conscience-bound to point out these errors for fear of propagating that which is not in accordance with Scripture. All such editorial opinions are clearly designated in the footnotes. Let the reader be as the Bereans, searching the Scriptures, guided by the Holy Spirit. 


Change Log


            Unlike traditional paper book publishing, electronic publishing allows fairly rapid increments to new additions. This log allows the reader to know what changes have been made from an earlier version.


March, 13, 2018

Question 9, second yes/no question, was reworded for clarity. Footnote was added to last question to warn reader that some Bible versions omit the conclusion from the Lord’s Prayer. Minor typographical corrections.


October 22, 2015

Original release.


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[1] John Wallis, A Brief and Easie Explanation of the Shorter Catechisme Presented by the Assembly of Divines at Westminster, to both Houses of Parliament, and by Them Approved (London: printed by A. Miller for Tho. Underhill as the sign of the Bible in Wood-street, 1648). Reproduction of the original in the Congregational Library (London, England). Identified on UMI microfilm (Early English Books, 1641–1700) reel 1859 as W46. Published by EEBO Editions, ProQuest, December 13, 2010)  ISBN-13: 978-1171330981. This source text is the sole source for the present translation. The editor has found the EEBO source text reproduction to be of fair to poor quality and to contain many errors; neither the EEBO source text, nor the present translation of Wallis’s material should be considered authoritative. Generally, these errors do not appear to the be the fault of EEBO.

[2] William Maxwell, DD, Hetherington, LLD, History of the Westminster Assembly of Divines (Edmonton, AB: Still Waters Revival Books, 1991), 302.

[3] Tom Sullivan, Editor, Westminster Shorter Catechism, (Accessed August 8, 2015).

[4] Due to the number of errors in the Explanation, no attempt was made to use text from the Explanation as source material for the main Shorter Catechism questions and answers.

[5] The editor has put “Newest Students” for “Meanest Capacities” in the title. Wallis surely meant no unkindness.