Friday, December 14, 2007


But is this an erroneous translation of the original Greek?

My aim in this short piece is to encourage users of the 1979 Prayer Book of TEC to be test its texts by the clear standards of Scripture.

In both the Rite Two (most widely used) and in the Rite One (much less used) Eucharist of The Episcopal Church, just before the Administration of Holy Communion, the Celebrant (or “Presider” as now called) breaks the consecrated Bread/Wafer, is silent for a moment, and then says Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us, and the congregation responds with, Therefore let us keep the Feast.

What I wish to explore here is the source of these spoken words, whether they are rightly translated, and finally what are the implications if they are wrong translated.

Marion J. Hatchett in his Commentary on the 1979 Book tells us that this exchange is in technical terms the “anthem” and is derived from the first edition of The Booke of The Common Prayer (1549) where we find these words:

Christ our Passover Lamb is offered up for us, once for all, when he bare our sins in his body upon the Cross, for he is the very Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world; wherefore let us keep a joyful and holy feast with the Lord.

It is instructive to note what is taken and what is not taken from this 1549 text by the creators of the 1979 Eucharistic text. In fact their reducing it to form an exchange is much like what they did with the Blessing from The Orthodox Liturgy at the very beginning of the Eucharist as they shortened it and changed its theology.

For Archbishop Cranmer and his colleagues, who prepared this BCP of 1549, the words “once for all” with “offered up” were absolutely fundamental. They were wholly opposed to the idea that in any way whatever the priest re-offered the one Sacrifice of Calvary. So they would not have approved the 1979 form of words for it allows the idea that the one Sacrifice of Christ has been re-presented and re-sacrificed by the priest.

Secondly, the basis of the 1549 text is a medley of verses from the Bible—1 Corinthians 5:7; 1 Peter 2:24 and John 1:29, and in this case from the English Bible available at that time, The Great Bible of 1540. Seventy years later the translation in the KJV was much the same,

For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with the old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

He himself bore our sins in his own body on the tree.

John saith, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”

To appreciate the translation in 1 Corinthians 5:7 it will be helpful to see what the best of modern versions have. Here is the R.S.V.

For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

The Roman Catholic version used each week at Mass, the NAB, also has “has been sacrificed.” And so do all others I have examined.

Therefore, what is not obvious to those using the 1979 Prayer Book, unless they are familiar with the developing forms of the English verb, is that “is sacrificed” is a past tense pointing to an event which occurred in the past, once at one time. So the 1979 text is misleading for it was designed for modern Americans, and they do not use the old form of the past tense; they say, “has been” or “was” sacrificed not “is sacrificed” to refer to a past event. In fact, to say “is sacrificed” probably conveys the idea of being sacrificed right now or just now!

I ask in passing: Is it the case that this old form of English was retained in order to make room for a modern Roman Catholic doctrine of the sacrifice of the Mass? Or was it a way of claiming the first edition of the real BCP to support the 1979 Prayer Book’s false claim to be authentically The BCP?

It is of note that Archbishop Cranmer deleted the words in the experimental 1549 edition (quoted above) of The BCP in the revised edition of BCP 1552 and these words have never returned to any authentic edition of The BCP since then.

One reason why Cranmer left out the reference to 1 Corinthians 5:7 is that the latter is part of an explanation by Paul, which requires knowledge of how the Passover was celebrated in Judaism and further requires thinking of Jesus against this background as the Pascal Lamb slain. In fact it takes more than one sermon to explain clearly verses 7 & 8 of 1 Corinthians 5. Modern churchgoers do not get the point and teaching there without much background information and to cite in—especially briefly and in bad translation—is to create problems..

In conclusion:

If people feel obliged to use the Rite One or Rite Two texts then I would say there are three alternatives, if they wish to be biblically sound and honest. (a) give some clear and careful instruction regularly to the people on the form and meaning of the verb “is sacrificed;” (b) leave out totally this whole exchange, do not dramatize the breaking of the bread, and go straight to the communion of the people; or (c) change the verb to have a contemporary ring so that it is, “Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us.” All in all I would avoid the whole of this section as it is biblically unsound and also is based upon Dix’s theories which have now been shown to be at best questionable and most likely wrong!

No one anywhere can deny that the verb in the Greek used by St Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:7 of the death of Jesus Christ is in the past tense. In no way is it a present tense.

The Revd Dr Peter Toon December 6, 2007

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dr. Toon,

Thanks for pointing this out. As an occasional visitor with friends at TEC HC services using the 79 book, I'll encounter this again, but with a rich understanding of its original use, and current missuse, and likely will remain silent during future exchanges of this anthem.


Mark of Kentucky
Prayer Book Society Member