Monday, April 24, 2006

Revision of Bible and Prayer Book – is dishonesty involved, especially in Anglican provinces?

In the twentieth century and on into the twenty-first, the West has witnessed a tremendous amount of revision of versions of the Bible and of texts for liturgy, and possibly with consequences yet to be fully understood and their effects experienced.

It is common for authors to revise their books, especially text-books, for second, third and later editions. Then Dictionaries and Encyclopedias are regularly revised in order to take note of research and development. In all these cases, it is essentially the same book, with the same title, theme, structure and shape but with adjusted content.


We are also familiar with revision in the translation of the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into English. The King James Version of 1611 (known in Britain as the Authorized Version, the AV) remained unrevised until the nineteenth century when there appeared in 1881-1885, The Revised Version. This claimed to be based on a more accurate Greek text for the NT and to present a more accurate rendering into English. However, in the UK the KJV did not go out of print but continued in print with the RV alongside it. In the U.S.A. the KJV also remained in print with the American equivalent of the RV, the American Standard Version (1901), alongside it.

Then in the middle of the twentieth century there appeared The Revised Standard Version (1951), which claimed to be in the tradition of translation of the KJV, RV and ASV, all of which remained in print somewhere. Then at the end of the twentieth century, there appeared the New Revised Standard Version which also claimed to follow in the footsteps of the KJV, ASV, and RSV, again which also remained in print.

It will be instructive to note the differences in these various translations.

The KJV is based (a) on the Greek text established by Erasmus & Beza , called the Textus Receptus, and close to the classic Byzantine text, and, (b) following the originals, distinguishes between the second person singular and plural, always using the second singular for God—Thou art my God!

The RV and ASV are not based upon the Textus Receptus but on supposed better and earlier MSS, and they retain the distinction between second person singular and plural.
The RSV is not based on the Textus Receptus but on supposed better and earlier MSS, and uses the second singular (Thou/Thee) only for the Deity, not for a single human being.
The NRSV is not based on the Textus Receptus, but on supposed better and earlier MSS, does not distinguish between the second singular and plural, and seeks to minimize the “patriarchalism” and “sexism” of the originals by providing “dynamic equivalents” for such expressions as “Blessed is the man” [“Happy are they”] and “Brethren” [“Brothers and Sisters”].

Alongside the above there have also appeared, for example, the New King James Version, which is based on the Textus Receptus, but eliminates the second singular; and also the English Standard Version which is an update of the RSV but without the “inclusivism” of the NRSV.

What I wish to focus on here is that in each and every case from the RV onwards the translators were honest as to what they had done, explaining it in the Preface and also choosing a title that indicated what the version was. Since no official edition which is truly a straightforward revision of the KJV has yet appeared, this title of AV & KJV is not used except for the continued printing of the KJV itself in its 17th century text. And it is so used to this day. [By straightforward revision, I mean updating of vocabulary and expressions to take note of changing patterns of the English language. In fact, looking back, it is regrettable that there was not a royal commission appointed every fifty years from 1662 onwards to make such minor adjustments to the text of the KJV and keep it both traditional and “modern”.]

Further, the publishers and translators of the seeming every-ending flow of versions of the Bible based on the dynamic equivalency theory (e.g. Good News Bible) are also honest in their titles and prefaces as to what kind of translation and version is being offered.


This being so, I am led to ask: Why is it that several Anglican Provinces of the Anglican Communion of Churches have not displayed, and do not display, the same kind of honesty when they engage in revision or replacement of The Book of Common Prayer? Let us look into this.

Within England there were several editions of the BCP before the classic edition of 1662, a text which has been translated into over 150 languages, and is still used very widely around the world. The first edition was 1549, the second 1552, the third, 1559, the fourth 1604 and the fifth 1662, and the dates are primarily related to the reigns of different monarchs whose government had to authorize the text.

The BCP (1662) was used in the American Colonies until Independence and then it was revised to become the American edition of the BCP of 1789. It was not a new book but the American edition of the one book, edited to meet the needs of a new country. And this one book was again gently revised by the authority of General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the USA in 1892 & 1928. So there is one American BCP which has had three editions, the last being 1928. (Many traditional Episcopalians regard this 1928 edition as still the true BCP of the PECUSA/ECUSA and it is still printed by Oxford University Press and other presses.)

In the revolutionary decade of the 1960s, there began in the western provinces of the Anglican Communion the provision of new forms of worship in contemporary language and with a new structure (and doctrine) and, after trial runs, there appeared in the 1970s and early 1980s a variety of new prayer books, which were usually clearly distinguished from the received, classic and historic BCP by being given new kinds of titles – e.g., “Book of Alternative Services” & “An Australian Prayer Book”. And the classic BCP remained in place with its ancient title and as the primary prayer book and formulary.

But there was one exception to this general rule in the 1970s and that was -- do not be surprised! -- within the Episcopal Church of the USA, which had been deeply affected by the social and cultural revolution of the 1960s. Here, after the use of trial services, the new book of varied services with new structures and varied doctrines was published. It was not given a title to reflect what it was, but a title to suggest that it was merely and only a gentle revision of the received American BCP (editions of 1789, 1892 & 1928). Amazingly, and dishonestly, this new kind of prayer book was called, “The Book of Common Prayer, 1979,” and all the publicity associated with it presented it as if it were a simple continuation of editions of the authentic BCP of 1662, 1789, 1892 & 1928! What had not been done in the provision of new Bible versions in the USA and Britain was now done in a new Prayer Book version by the ECUSA.

The protests from the Society for the Preservation of the Book of Common Prayer (founded in 1971 at the University of the South & Vanderbilt – and now the Prayer Book Society of the USA) were of no avail and, most regrettably, there was virtually no protest from abroad (for the autonomy of the American Church was over respected). So since 1979 the Episcopal Church has been based on a false claim and, to make it worse, part of that false claim has been the ditching of the classic BCP. So the ECUSA has in fact no genuine BCP, and its authentic editions of the BCP are in the archives (except of course that rebels continue to use it and so do the growing number of continuing Anglican churches outside the ECUSA).

Sadly, regrettably and again dishonestly, other western provinces of the Anglican Communion have followed the bad example of the ECUSA. In the 1990s the province of the West Indies called a book of varied services with varied doctrines, the BCP, and so also did the Church of Ireland in 2004 – and in 1984 the Church in Wales had done something similar. No doubt others will follow, but not the Church of England, whose ties to the Parliament and Monarch prevent such dishonest action.

As the BCP, with the Ordinal and Articles, is a primary Formulary of the Anglican Way, to ditch it and abandon it is in fact officially to abandon the Anglican Way in terms of basic worship, doctrine and discipline. Happily, in those provinces where this abandoning has taken place, there is a remnant which seeks to hold on to the historic foundations and to call the erring provinces back to their true standards of worship, doctrine and discipline. Regrettably, as far as I can tell, the American Anglican Council, the Anglican Communion Network and the Anglican Communion Institute have not yet joined in this call from the Prayer Book Society and others to rectify a great wrong and to make the 1979 book into what its shape and content indicate it is, “A Book of Alternative Services” alongside the classic BCP (1928 edition), which needs to be restored.

Visit ; Peter Toon

April 23, 2006

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