GS 2007 art 134

GS 2007 Article 134 – Committee for Bible Translation (CBT)

The advisory committee presented its second proposal:

1.      Material

  • 1.1     CBT Report
  • 1.2-11  Letters from the following ten churches:
  • Guelph, Spring Creek, London, Brampton, Carman West, Carman East, Chilliwack, Yarrow, Willoughby Heights, Orangeville

2.      Observations

  • 2.1     Synod Chatham 2004 gave the CBT the mandate to do a preliminary investigation of the English Standard Version (ESV) and to provide Synod 2007 with a report on the ESV translation, using also the input solicited from the churches.
  • 2.2     In the summer of 2004, the CBT sent out a request to the churches for input regarding the ESV.
  • 2.3     Because the ESV is essentially a revision of the Revised Standard Version (RSV), the CBT undertook an independent study comparing the ESV with the RSV, making use of the data and criteria found in the 1995 Report of the CBT which, in turn, relies on two earlier evaluations of the RSV found in the 1974 and the 1977 CBT Reports.
  • 2.4     On the positive side, the CBT notes the following:
    • 2.4.1    The ESV has moved words which had been inappropriately footnoted in the RSV to the main text, thus establishing the authentic Word of God more clearly to the reader.
    • 2.4.2    The ESV recognizes the personhood of the Holy Spirit where the RSV did not.
    • 2.4.3    The ESV has a much greater respect for the Masoretic Text than does the RSV.
    • 2.4.4    The ESV has a greater respect for the unity of Scripture than does the RSV.
    • 2.4.5    The ESV avoids the use of archaic terms such as “thee” and “thou” and thus avoids issues surrounding the deity of Christ (the RSV not always uses these pronouns in respect to the Lord Jesus).
    • 2.4.6    The ESV is aware of unscriptural influences in the RSV and in various places has taken away this influence, e.g., in regard to false ideas about the history of man and biblical authorship and certain biblical terms (e.g., the RSV replaced “expiation” with “propitiation” but the ESV goes back to the latter term).
    • 2.4.7    In summary, the CBT states that the ESV seems to “show a much greater respect for the Bible as the Word of God than the RSV.”
  • 2.5 On the negative side, the CBT notes the following:
    • 2.5.1    Where the ESV changes the RSV it can be excessively literalistic and its wording is sometimes muddled and confusing (e.g., Ex 20:21-22).
    • 2.5.2    At times the ESV seems unaware of weaknesses in the RSV and has adopted the RSV reading without any change (e.g., 1 Sam 13:1) where the ESV, like the RSV, leaves a “hole” in the text.
    • 2.5.3    Out of the 26 suggestions given by the 1977 CBT for changes in the OT text of the RSV, only 12 have been followed by the ESV. Out of the eleven suggestions for changes to the NT text of the RSV, seven were followed. This raises the question of just how thorough the ESV’s revision of the RSV really is.
    • 2.5.4    The ESV does not seem to fit with its own principles of translation. On the one hand, the preface to the ESV states that the ESV is an “essentially literal translation”; on the other hand, the ESV uses the RSV as its starting point and the RSV cannot be described as an “essentially literal translation.” In light of the ESV’s stated goals and claims, the underlying RSV seems to be a “soft underbelly.”
  • 2.6     The CBT received responses to its request for input from five churches. The CBT report states that the “specific data presented to us in the various letters was covered by the committee’s own investigation via the old CBT reports.” One of the responding churches still uses the RSV and would be served by an investigation of the ESV. Two of the responding churches do not have strong opinions, one is for the ESV and one is against.
  • 2.7     The CBT believes that the churches are well-served by the New International Version (NIV). It states that “after a decade of usage, our members are finally getting used to it and are making it their own.”
  • 2.8     The CBT does not believe that it is healthy to frequently change the recommended translation of the Word of God for use in the churches.
  • 2.9     The CBT believes that the ESV is, in many respects, a considerable improvement over the RSV, especially in key matters of theology and text. “A full investigation,” states the CBT, “may reveal further strengths and also weaknesses of this translation. However, given that Synod 1995 found that the RSV could no longer be recommended because there were “better translations available” and given that the ESV is built upon the RSV, the CBT wonders whether it is truly worth the time and effort to engage in a full investigation.
  • 2.10   The CBT is not sure whether the mandate it received from Synod Chatham 2004 was to consider the ESV as a replacement for the NIV or to provide an alternative to the RSV or to give all the churches the possibility for another translation recommended for study purposes. The CBT seeks clarity from Synod 2007 on this point.
  • 2.11   The CBT received a communication from Rev. W. VanOene with five areas of concern. The CBT states that three of his concerns have been dealt with by previous CBT reports and that his remaining concerns could find no consensus among the CBT members. The CBT has left it open to Rev. VanOene to give further elucidation of his points.
  • 2.12   In regard to its mandate to monitor new developments, the CBT states that “there were no new developments in the field of Bible translation.”
  • 2.13   The CBT makes the following recommendations to this synod:
    • 2.13.1  To reappoint a CBT with the ongoing mandate as articulated by Synod 2001.
    • 2.13.2  To weigh the CBT’s preliminary investigation along with the input received from the churches to determine if a full investigation of the ESV is warranted.
    • 2.13.3  To make clear to the CBT the purpose of such an investigation (if mandated) and what the place of the ESV might be in the churches.
    • 2.13.4  To give the CBT guidance re travel costs. The CBT feels that more in person meetings
    • would be beneficial but were unsure about the funds allocated to cover such meetings.
    • 2.13.5 To appoint a new CBT member to replace Rev. J. Ludwig whose term expires in 2007. They suggest appointing an expert in the English language.
  • 2.14 Ten letters from the churches were received by synod in response to the CBT Report to Synod 2007. The highlights are as follows:
    • 2.14.1  Guelph agrees that it is not healthy to frequently change the recommended Bible translation. Guelph also requests that in addition to the one recommended version a second category be termed “faithful translations of Scripture for study and comparison purposes” and that this category would include all versions which have been previously found faithful or not unscriptural, namely, the KJV, the NASB, the NKJV and the RSV. Furthermore, Guelph requests that if synod determines that insufficient study has been done of the ESV that it as yet be evaluated in greater detail to determine whether it is worthy to be included in the second category. In addition, Guelph requests synod to mandate the CBT to evaluate two newer translations to determine whether they are worthy to be included in this second category. Guelph is also concerned that church members might confuse the NIV with the TNIV. Finally, Guelph requests synod to mandate the CBT to ascertain whether the International Bible Society still stands behind its Press Release of May 27, 1997 to continue publishing a gender-accurate NIV.
    • 2.14.2  Spring Creek overtures synod to not mandate the CBT to further investigate the ESV on the grounds that only a small number of churches responded to the CBT’s request for input. Spring Creek emphasizes that the work of the CBT must serve the federation of churches and not just a few churches.
    • 2.14.3  London request a preliminary comparison between the ESV and the NIV. The church at Yarrow requests a full investigation of the ESV. The church at Orangeville requests a more thorough investigation of the ESV to determine whether it can be recommended for use in worship and/or as a translation for study purposes.
    • 2.14.4  Willoughby Heights requests synod to mandate relevant synodical committees to approach the topic of Bible translations in the context of our ecumenical relationships with the goal of coming to a mutually agreed upon version to be adopted by all English speaking Reformed churches in ecclesiastical fellowship.
    • 2.14.5  Brampton, Carman East, Carman West, Chilliwack, Spring Creek and Smithers request synod not to mandate a further study of the ESV.

3.      Considerations

  • 3.1     The preliminary work of the CBT indicates that the ESV is a “considerable improvement” on the RSV.
  • 3.2     Given that Synod 1995 found that the RSV could no longer be recommended because there are “better translations available” and given that the ESV is built upon the RSV text, it is not worthwhile at this time to engage in a full investigation of the ESV.
  • 3.3     Since the last synod, the CBT has not received any communications from the churches in regard to problems with the NIV. This demonstrates that the vast majority of the churches in the federation are content with the NIV as the recommended translation for the churches.
  • 3.4     Synod Fergus 1998 indicated that besides the NIV, other approved translations include the NKJV and the NASB. Because the ESV has been found superior to the RSV, it can be added to this list of approved translations. This list of recommended translations can function as a response to Guelph’s request for a category of translations recommended for study and comparison purposes. Pastors and consistories can also give guidance in this area.
  • 3.5     The request of Willoughby Heights in 2.14.4 above has merit especially in regard to the work of the Common Songbook Committee. Working toward a common songbook for the CanRC and the URCNA will eventually require a common Bible translation for biblical passages cited in the confessions and liturgical forms.
  • 3.6     Guelph is correct in stating that church members might be confused by the similarities in name between the TNIV and the NIV. However, this matter can be addressed in local congregations.
  • 3.7     The suggestion of Guelph to have the CBT ascertain whether the IBS still stands behind its Press Release of May 27, 1997 has merit. The churches need to have confidence in the continued availability of the recommended translation.
  • 3.8     One church has requested the CBT to investigate two particular Bible translations. However, this church did not do a preliminary study of these translations and therefore it is not warranted at this time to mandate any further investigation.
  • 3.9     Because the work of studying Bible translations is detail-oriented, the CBT should be able to have face to face meetings of its members. To keep costs down, committee members should be geographically proximate to each other.

4.      Recommendation

Synod decide:

  • 4.1     To continue to recommend the NIV for use within the churches but to leave it in the freedom of the churches should they feel compelled to use other translations that have received favourable reviews in the reports of the CBT, namely, the NKJV, the NASB or the ESV.
  • 4.2     To thank the CBT for its work.
  • 4.3     To appoint a CBT with members who live in the same general area so that in person meetings are affordably possible.
  • 4.4     To give to the CBT the following mandate:
    • 4.4.1    To receive comments from the churches/members about passages in the NIV which are thought to need improvement.
    • 4.4.2    To evaluate these comments and pass on valid concerns to the NIV Translation Center.
    • 4.4.3    To monitor developments in case significant changes appear in the text of the NIV.
    • 4.4.4    To take up contact with the IBS to confirm that the IBS still stands behind its press release of May 27, 1997.
    • 4.4.5    To request the Liturgical Forms and Confessions Committee to initiate discussions with the URCNA in regard to promoting an agreed upon English translation for use in the liturgical forms and confessions of an eventual common songbook and to be available to assist the Liturgical Forms and Confessions Committee in this regard.
    • 4.4.6    To receive input from the churches regarding Bible translations which the churches through their own careful study have found to be worthy of recommendation for use among the churches.
    • 4.4.7    To serve the next general synod with a report to be sent to the churches at least six months prior to the next synod.