GS 2013 art 97

GS 2013 Article 97 – Committee for Bible Translation (CBT)

Committee 5 presented its second draft. With some minor changes, this was the result:

1.         Material:

  • 1.1.      Report from the Committee on Bible Translation (8.2.7)
  • 1.2.      Letters regarding the report from the churches at Langley (, Aldergrove, ( Abbotsford (, Attercliffe (, Brampton (, Burlington-Fellowship (, Carman-West (, Cloverdale (, Fergus-North ( and Hamilton-Cornerstone (

2.         Observations:

  • 2.1.      Synod Burlington 2010 (Acts, Article 72) instructed the Committee for Bible Translation as follows (Acts, Article 72, Recommendation 4.2):
    • [4.2.1.] To thoroughly evaluate the updated NIV translation when it is released in 2011and to produce and send a report to the churches within nine months of the release date;
    • [4.2.2.] To investigate the feasibility of obtaining access to the printing rights of the 1984 edition of the NIV;
    • [4.2.3.] To investigate further whether the ESV or the NKJV or the NASB could become the recommended translation for the churches;
    • [4.2.4.] To investigate the possibility and feasibility of publishing an ecclesiastically-produced and owned Bible translation with the cooperation of the English-speaking churches which are members of NAPARC and/or ICRC.
  • 2.2.      In April 2011, the CBT issued a press release to the churches, highlighting that the NIV publisher was replacing all 1984-based products with 2011-based products, while calling both simply the “NIV.” Herewith the CBT sought to caution the churches that the new Bibles they were buying might not be the edition approved for use in the churches.
  • 2.3.      The CBT finds that in some texts of the NIV2011, the translation has been improved so as to render the original more accurately; while in other passages the translation now renders the original less accurately.
  • 2.4.      The CBT shows that in the 2011 edition of the NIV, words and phrases that used to be translated in masculine language (e.g. “brothers,” “man,” the singular pronoun “he” to refer to mankind – all as literal translation of the original) now regularly appear in gender-inclusive forms as “brothers and sisters,” “people,” and “they”.
  • 2.5.      In its conclusion to the interim report, the CBT advises the churches that though much was found in the 2011 edition that was “acceptable,” they yet could not recommend this edition to the churches because of how it translated passages relating to the special offices in the church. “Numerically speaking these passages are few, yet we recognize that they have a weighty effect on the life of the church in practical terms.” The CBT is concerned that if this new translation was approved for use in the churches, in time there could result among the membership a detrimental confusion in the view of the offices.”
  • 2.6.      The CBT reminds the churches that “the reality of the 1984 text’s commercial unavailability has forced us into our present situation of either having to recommend this new translation, or to reiterate a previous CBT recommendation. Unable to do the former, we are grateful that there are three alternatives,” and the CBT proceeds to list the NASB, NKJV and the ESV, “all previously approved by general synods.”
  • 2.7.      In its final report issued in August 2012, the CBT comments on the remaining parts of its mandate, as follows:
    • 2.7.1.   The publisher holding the rights to the 1984 NIV will not grant printing rights for this edition, thus closing the option of the Canadian Reformed Churches reprinting the 1984 NIV.
    • 2.7.2.   After summarizing the strengths and weaknesses of the NASB, NKJV and the ESV, the CBT concludes that “no Bible translation is without some shortcomings and areas of concern.” “Nevertheless, we are persuaded that on balance, the ESV is the translation that is to be recommended to the churches.” This translation is “the most up-to-date translation of the three,” “is not ‘closed’ but can be revised.” The CBT also states that, “though the ESV is not as readable as the 1984 NIV, it is certainly the most readable of the three” other currently approved translations (i.e. ESV, NKJV, NASB) and has “found a wide degree of acceptance in our sister churches and churches of NAPARC.”
    • 2.7.3.   The CBT advises against pursuing our own ecclesiastically-produced and owned Bible translation on grounds that it would “isolate us from the rest of the Christian community” and would require “a vast amount of work and effort” that can better be employed in other projects. Further, the committee “does not consider an ecclesiastical translation to be necessary because there are available translations which are faithful and can serve the churches well.” The idea of an ecclesiastically produced translation was put to NAPARC, but “there was no interest expressed in this idea by any of the member churches.”
  • 2.8.      In conclusion, the CBT recommends:
    • [1.]      That the churches use the ESV in place of the 1984 NIV,
    • [2.]      That Synod Carman 2013 mandate the CBT to
      • [2.1.]    Solicit, receive and evaluate comments from the churches on the ESV;
      • [2.2.]    Submit worthy translation changes to the ESV editorial committee;
      • [2.3.]    Prepare and distribute a report to the churches in advance of the next synod.
  • 2.9.      A number of churches have responded to the CBT report:
    • 2.9.1.   The churches at Abbotsford, Attercliffe, Carman-West, Fergus-North and Langley endorse the committee’s recommendation for the ESV. Attercliffe adds that they wish synod to recommend that the churches “all use the same translation.” Abbotsford and Carman-West also request that the ESV be the recommended translation for the Scripture references in the Book of Praise.
    • 2.9.2.   The church at Abbotsford raises the possibility of developing our own translation for “specific Scripture passages for liturgical and confessional use,” e.g., the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the salutation, votum and blessing.
    • 2.9.3.   The church at Burlington-Fellowship requests that synod not “require” the use of the ESV in the churches, but “to leave this as an option for the churches and to allow the 2011 NIV to be an option as well.”
    • 2.9.4.   The churches at Aldergrove, Brampton, Cloverdale and Hamilton-Cornerstone present arguments against the recommendations of the CBT. Their arguments are compiled below. These churches request that the CBT be mandated to study more close the primary texts impacting on the issue of office, the readability of the ESV in comparison to the NIV 2011, the long term availability of the ESV and meanwhile give freedom to let the churches “test” (Aldergrove) or even “use” (Cloverdale) the NIV 2011. At the same time the CBT could be mandated to take up contact with the NIV Bible Translation Committee about the translation of the passages dealing with the offices.
  • 2.10.    As weaknesses perceived in the CBT report, the churches (2.9.4 above) mention the following:
    • 2.10.1. The ESV is basically a revision of the RSV (perhaps 6%), the very translation Synod Abbotsford 1995 judged to be inferior to the NIV.
    • 2.10.2. The prose section of the Book of Praise has recently been revised in order to be in line with the 1984 NIV. Going forward with the NIV (2011) would require minimal changes to the prose text, while moving to the ESV would require much greater changes – and that would be a shame for the work recently done.
    • 2.10.3. All translations previously recommended for use in the churches also had weaknesses, but these weaknesses were not seen as insurmountable because corrections could be made from the pulpit, in the Catechism room and the like.
    • 2.10.4. The churches mentioned that the five passages judged to be problematic (namely Romans 16:1, 2; Philippians 1:14; 1Timothy 2:12; 2 Timothy 2:2 and James 3:1) are, in proportion to the good, much too few to disqualify this edition.
    • 2.10.5. The CBT report lacks a comprehensive examination of the overall suitability and readability of the ESV. This is seen as important because the churches need (especially for youth and outreach) a Bible translation that truly sounds like 21st century English.
    • 2.10.6. The churches refer with appreciation to an article by Dr. Mark Strauss wherein he argues that the ESV is full of archaisms, awkward language, obscure idioms, etc.
    • 2.10.7. It is not helpful to change the recommended Bible translation too often.
    • 2.10.8. The track record of the CBTNIV suggests that this committee is open to receiving suggestions for improving the NIV2011.
    • 2.10.9. The CBTNIV has pointed out that 95% of the NIV2011 is identical with the NIV1984.

3.         Considerations:

  • 3.1.      The CBT served Synod Smithers 2007 with a “preliminary investigation” of the ESV and reported that the ESV is “a considerable improvement” over the RSV. At the same time, the CBT admitted that, “A full investigation may reveal further strengths and also weaknesses of this translation” (Acts of Synod Smithers 2007, Article 134, Observation 2.9). Because there was no pressing need to move away from the NIV1984, Synod Smithers 2007 continued to recommend the NIV1984 while leaving the use of the ESV in the freedom of the churches (as had previously been done with the NKJV and the NASB). The ESV has thus already been formally recognized as a faithful translation. In many of our English-speaking sister churches, the ESV has been well-received.
  • 3.2.      The NIV1984 has served the churches well since first recommended by Synod Abbotsford 1995. Regrettably, however, the publishers will no longer make this edition available and so the churches are compelled to make a choice for a new recommended translation. (Historically, synod has only made a single translation the recommended one while a few others have been approved for the churches to use should they so desire) The churches (as well as households and schools within our community) are looking for guidance and leadership on this pressing issue. While there is no need to remove the NIV1984 from the list of approved translations for use within the churches (so that churches remain free to continue to use it according to local availability and desire), synod needs to come with a new recommended translation.
  • 3.3.      Regarding the NIV2011, the CBT draws attention to five texts that they feel could eventually impact the churches’ view of women in office. The committee does not see a problem with other changes reflecting gender-neutral language (e.g., ‘brothers’ has in some instances become ‘brothers and sisters’; ‘man’ has in some instances become ‘people’; the masculine singular pronoun ‘he’ has in some instances become ‘they’). It would be helpful to investigate whether anything is lost from God’s revelation in the gender-neutral translation philosophy of the NIV2011.
  • 3.4.      The CBT notes that the ESV also uses some gender-neutral language in its translation, but mentions that the translation policy of the ESV strives to do justice to the gender implied in the original.
  • 3.5.      Synod Lincoln 1992 observed that the then-current report of the CBT flagged concerns about gender issues concerning the NRSV. The CBT stated, “…it is unacceptable for use in the Canadian Reformed Churches because its preoccupation with the gender issue has resulted in a translation that changes the intent of the text, hinders an understanding of prophecy and introduces new teachings” (Acts of Synod Lincoln 1992, Article 35, II.). It would be worthwhile for the present CBT to compare the CBT findings of 1992 on this issue with the translation philosophy and practice of both the NIV2011 and ESV to see whether any of those earlier concerns may hold for either or both of them.
  • 3.6.      In its report to synod, the CBT only made comments on the readability of the ESV in passing and a number of churches have expressed concern about this matter and how it may affect reception among church members. This is worthy of further attention by the CBT.
  • 3.7.      Given that a Canadian Reformed translation of the Bible appears out of the question, the church at Abbotsford suggests making our own translation of specific parts of Scripture that have a direct bearing on our Book of Praise or our liturgy, e.g., the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the votum, etc. None of those passages, however, have been questionably translated in the NIV or the ESV and so a unique Canadian Reformed translation of these passages has no real grounds.
  • 3.8.      The argument that all the labour recently done to change the Book of Praise would be lost if we would now recommend the ESV to the churches, is exaggerated. The number of literal Bible quotations in the prose section of the Book of Praise is actually quite limited.

4.         Recommendations:

That Synod decide:

  • 4.1.      To thank the CBT for their work.
  • 4.2.      To refrain at this time from recommending the NIV2011 for use or testing in the churches.
  • 4.3.      To recommend to the churches the use of the ESVand leave it in the freedom of the churches to use the NKJV, NASB or the NIV1984.
  • 4.4.      To mandate the CBT as follows:
    • 4.4.1.   To provide a thorough study of the effects of gender-inclusive translation philosophy in the NIV2011 and the ESV, comparing also the earlier findings on this subject by the CBT on the NRSV in 1992, to ascertain whether anything is lost from God’s revelation in the use of this philosophy and how it has affected each translation.
    • 4.4.2.   To provide a thorough study of the ESV with special attention to its readability and to what degree the concerns expressed by previous iterations of the CBT about the RSV remain a concern in relation to the ESV.
    • 4.4.3.   To solicit, receive and evaluate comments from the churches on the ESV, to submit worthy translation changes to the ESV editorial committee and monitor the response.
    • 4.4.4.   To send the committee’s critical remarks and suggestions for improvement on the five texts pertaining to women in office (see Observation 2.10.4) to the CBTNIV and monitor the response.
    • 4.4.5.   To serve the next general synod with a report sent to the churches at least six months prior to the next general synod.