Thursday, September 30, 2004

Two Bible Versions and Two Forms of Liturgy needed for western Anglicans?

Those of us who defend the received, traditional, historical and biblically-based Anglican Way, with its commitment to the classic Formularies (The Book of Common Prayer, The Ordinal & The Articles of Religion) are not totally blind or foolish or out of touch with modern reality.

We recognize that many Anglicans believe that it is right to talk to God in much the same way as they speak decently to fellow human beings. We are aware that many Anglicans think that to be credible in the modern west the Christian message has to be simple, clear, relevant and easily understood. So we notice that there is not only a demand for a version of the Bible but for a form of church service that fits into these parameters.

So how to be face up to this situation? What do we say? More specifically, what do I say?

Before I make my "say", may I explain that in the present crisis of the Anglican & Episcopal Way in the West/North, there is a fresh and lively debate beginning on what is an appropriate liturgy for an Anglican Province that aspires to dynamic orthodoxy in pleasing the Lord. I welcome this and hope that it continues and is in depth. (Translating the Bible and creating liturgy are extremely difficult tasks!)

First of all, I say this. Let us hold on to the received, classic Formularies and to the received, classical English Bible (the KJV). Let us not allow these to be removed from the scene. Let them always be there both to be used and to be consulted. And let us not fiddle with them to update them or to improve them. Let them remain as they are and let us use all our skills to understand them aright.

Secondly, firmly rooted in the tradition of this Anglican Way, then let us first of all agree on what kind of modern Bible version is required in order to be the best possible means of bringing the original, written Word of God to modern ears as it is read in church services? Here, initially, there are three choices - a version based on the traditional theory of essentially literal (word for word, phrase for phrase), a version based on the 1960s theory of dynamic equivalency (thought for thought equivalency), and a version based on a mixture of the two previous theories.

We need to agree on the version of the Bible first of all because good English Liturgy uses so many portions of a version of the Bible that its style and form need to be known in advance so that the rest of the content of Liturgy can be in harmony with it.

Please note that I am referring here to the use of an English Bible for public reading and not for personal, private study or devotional use.

I want to suggest that of the three choices, the only kind of version suitable both for public reading and therefore also for use in Liturgical texts is one that belongs to the tradition of essentially literal translation. We surely need to know as nearly as it is possible what actually was originally said, even if it sounds odd or strange to our modern ears.

Regrettably the NIV, the NEB, the REB, the NRSV and the NJB to name well known versions contain a mixture of two methods, the essentially literal and dynamic equivalency; that is, they are a mixture of both translation and paraphrase and are so because of a determination to be relevant or easily understood by modern westerners or not to be offensive to modern theories of human rights.

This leaves us, for example, with the ASB (1901), the RSV (final edition
1971) and the ESV (2001). However, the ESV does not yet have the Apocrypha, which is needed for Lectionary readings and for use in Liturgy for Canticles. (Again, I repeat that I am here referring to versions of the Bible suitable for public reading and for use in public Liturgy. What a person uses on an individual basis is governed by so many factors that I cannot write of them here.)


If we examine the versions of the Bible most used publicly by those in the West/North, who presently aspire to dynamic orthodoxy, we find that they belong more to the mixture of the essentially literal and the dynamic equivalent than to the first category of only essentially literal. But when we look at the passages from the Bible used in the post 1970s liturgies that are used, we see that they belong nearly wholly (especially in North America) to the dynamic equivalent approach (e.g., "and also with you" for "and with your spirit" and "Happy are they..." for "Blessed is the man...").

With or without the homosexual debate/crisis to focus the mind, it seems to me that unless there can be an agreement amongst the would-be orthodox of the Anglican Way in the West/North as to (a) keeping the classic formularies firmly in place with the classic Bible - and always available; and (b) agreeing on what kind of version of the Bible and form of Liturgy is to exist officially and publicly alongside the classic texts (as an alternative not a replacement) then the centrifugal forces so powerfully present right now in the ECUSA, the Anglican Church or Canada, and other provinces, will continue to operate, as we all read different versions of the Bible and do our own thing at our local parish church or college chapel and spin more apart than we are now.

The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon M.A., D.Phil. (Oxon.)

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