Saturday, September 30, 2006

Turning the other Cheek

St. Alexander Nevsky

"Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also" Matthew 5:38-29.

The question we must ask about this passage is does the Old Testament law regarding an eye for an eye related to personal revenge, or defending ones family, faith, or homeland from attack? It in fact pertains to personal revenge. This law was an improvement on the usual practice of exacting many times more punishment than the original offense had inflicted on the person offended. Christ raised the bar to the next level, and said that we should not seek personal revenge at all. However, we cannot and should not turn the other cheek when the defenseless are being attacked, because it isn't our cheek to turn.

Let's take a look at some other statements from the Scriptures:

"Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked." (Psalm 81/82: 3-4

"Learn to do good; Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless, Plead for the widow (Isaiah 1:17).

Usually, oppressors don't respond to kum by ya. More often then not, force, or at least the threat of force is necessary. So do these scriptures contradict the commands of Christ? No, they refer to defending others, not to seeking revenge.

It is often asserted that Christ never used or advocated the use of force. This is simply not true.

"And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables" (John 2:15).

A scourge is not a bunch of daisies, or a tickle-me-Elmo doll -- It's something used to violently beat other people, so as to inflict pain, in order to violently coerce them in some way or other. Whether He actually struck anyone, or merely threatened to, we are not told, but we do know that the money changers at least believed he would have, and left expeditiously.

Saints Boris and Gleb are often cited by Orthodox Pacifists as examples of the way Christians ought to respond to war. After their father, St. Vladimir, reposed, their brother sought to usurp the kingdom, and so plotted to kill Ss. Boris and Gleb. They offered no resistance, because they did not wish to fight their brother, no to see a bloody civil war. However, they were not facing an external enemy who was seeking the destruction or subjugation of their people, but their own brother, and so they chose the path of martyrdom. Their act of personal sacrifice was praise-worthy.

St. Alexander Nevsky faced a completely different situation, and Ss. Boris and Gleb actually played a role in his course of actions. St. Alexander Nevsky faced an invasion from the heterodox Swedes, and so had to defend his people and his Faith.

Here is the Kontakion of St. Alexander Nevsky:

“As thy kinsmen Boris and Gleb appeared to thee, bringing thee help from heaven when thou didst battle against Velgar the Swede and his warriors, so now, O blessed Alexander, come to the aid of thy kinfolk, and contend thou against those who wage war against us.”

This refers to the following incident from the Life of St. Alexander Nevsky:

“But there was a miraculous omen: at dawn on July 15 the warrior Pelgui, in Baptism Philip, saw a boat, and on it were the Holy Martyrs Boris and Gleb, in royal purple attire. Boris said: "Brother Gleb, let us help our kinsman Alexander." When Pelgui reported the vision to the prince, St Alexander commanded that no one should speak about the miracle. Emboldened by this, he urged the army to fight valiantly against the Swedes.”

Had St. Alexander Nevsky decided to not resist the Swedes, it would not have been a praiseworthy act, but rather a dereliction of duty. It would not have been a higher path, it would have been a sinful path. So in these saints lives we see the balance between turning the other cheek, and defending one own. St. Alexander's actions were praise-worthy, and Ss. Boris and Gleb's were praise-worthy... and there is no contradiction between them because they all responded to differing situations in complete accordance with the commands of Christ.

The following quote from the Moscow Patriarchate’s Social Concept Document, and the section on “War and Peace” is instructive:

“When St. Cyril Equal-to-the-Apostles was sent by the Patriarch of Constantinople to preach the gospel among the Saracens, in their capital city he had to enter into a dispute about faith with Muhamaddan scholars. Among others, they asked him: 'Your God is Christ. He commanded you to pray for enemies, to do good to those who hate and persecute you and to offer the other cheek to those who hit you, but what do you actually do? If anyone offends you, you sharpen your sword and go into battle and kill. Why do you not obey your Christ?' Having heard this, St. Cyril asked his fellow-polemists: 'If there are two commandments written in one law, who will be its best respecter - the one who obeys only one commandment or the one who obeys both?' When the Hagerenes said that the best respecter of law is the one who obeys both commandments, the holy preacher continued: 'Christ is our God Who ordered us to pray for our offenders and to do good to them. He also said that no one of us can show greater love in life than he who gives his life for his friends (Jn. 15:3). That is why we generously endure offences caused us as private people. But in company we defend one another and give our lives in battle for our neighbours, so that you, having taken our fellows prisoners, could not imprison their souls together with their bodies by forcing them into renouncing their faith and into godless deeds. Our Christ-loving soldiers protect our Holy Church with arms in their hands. They safeguard the sovereign in whose sacred person they respect the image of the rule of the Heavenly King. They safeguard their land because with its fall the home authority will inevitably fall too and the evangelical faith will be shaken. These are precious pledges for which soldiers should fight to the last. And if they give their lives in battlefield, the Church will include them in the community of the holy martyrs and call them intercessors before God'.”

Friday, September 08, 2006

Bible Translations, Part 6 of a Draft Article

This is the 6th and final installment of a series of draft portions of an article I am writing on Biblical translations. Comments are welcome via e-mail. See also Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.


So in the light of all that has been said, which translation of the Scriptures should we use? Unfortunately, there is not a simple answer for English speakers at present. I will address the question first in terms of the best options available for personal use, then the best options for liturgical use, and say a few words about how one can make use of the various translations available in their personal study of the Bible.

Options for Personal Use:

A. The King James Version

Generally speaking, the King James Version is where all English translations of Scripture should begin… and it remains one of the best options available, even without any revision. The pronouns and verbal forms that it uses are not hard to learn. The primary problem with it is the occasional translation that needs to be corrected, and the occasional word that is likely to confuse most contemporary readers. Most readers could easily remedy the second problem by simply expanding their vocabulary by about 200 or so words.

The best edition of the KJV available currently is the New Cambridge Paragraph Bible with the Apocrypha, which has modern spelling, punctuation, and formatting, and includes the Deuterocanonical books.

B. The New Authorized Version

The New Authorized Version (NAV), which has been published without the Deuterocanonical books as the 21st Century King James Version and as the Third Millenium Bible with them included, has much to recommend it. Many of the obscure portions of the KJV have been revised to make them clearer. My primary complaints with this version are that they occasionally embed margin notes into the text with brackets, which is likely to confuse most readers that they are reading the text of Scripture rather than a margin note, and also that they did not revised many words or phrases that needed revision, but revised many more words that didn’t… and frankly, the only real purpose that most of these changes seem to have accomplished is that they enabled the publisher to copyright the text (which they would not have been able to do had they made fewer changes). For example, the publisher has removed the word “spake” and replaced it with “spoke”… but does anyone really think that the average reader had a problem figuring out what “spake” meant?

If we take another look at John 1:14-17, we find the following differences between the King James and the NAV:

KJV: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me. And of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.”

NAV: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only Begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth. John bore witness of Him and cried, saying, “This was He of whom I spoke, `He that cometh after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.’” And of His fullness have we all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.

In my opinion, such changes are not an improvement of the text. Nevertheless the text does remove the most common linguistic stumbling blocks that trip up the average reader. Some words in the King James Version now mean something else entirely. For example, the word "convince" in the KJV meant "convict"; "prevent" meant "precede"; and "conversation" meant "manner of living.” And so if we take a look at Psalm 21:3, we can see where the NAV has improved the text for the contemporary reader:

KJV: "For thou preventest him with the blessings of goodness: thou settest a crown of pure gold on his head."

NAV: "For Thou goest before him with the blessings of goodness; Thou settest a crown of pure gold on his head."

Most contemporary readers would not have come away from the text in the KJV with a correct understanding of the text, whereas here the revision of one word has made all the difference. Also the use modern punctuation and formatting, is far easier on the eyes than most King James texts that are on the market.

C. The New King James Version

The New King James Version uses the contemporary English, which is seen by many as a great advantage, but which I personally find to be greatest drawback of this version. I believe that traditional English is better suited for liturgical use, and I also believe that ideally we should use the same translation for worship that we do in private study, because this helps us better memorize the text, and allows the words to better take root in our souls. This is of course a different subject which is beyond the scope of this article, and so I will simply concede that many other Orthodox would not agree and would find the language of the New King James entirely compatible with the style of English they use liturgically.

In any case, the New King James has its advantages. It generally corrects the translational errors of the King James Version, though is based on the Received Text of the New Testament, and so is entirely consistent with the textual tradition of the Church. It also has perhaps the best textual footnotes of any translation in English. It is, of course, more easily understood than the KJV.

As mentioned previously, in the next year or so we should have available the complete Orthodox Study Bible, which will contain the New King James text in the New Testament, and the complete Orthodox canon of the Old Testament which will be a translation of the Septuagint, that uses the New King James Old Testament text as the starting point, and makes changes to that text only as needed in order to make it conform to the Septuagint text. I hesitate to recommend a text that I have not yet seen, but I certainly am hopeful that this will be an excellent option for personal study for Orthodox Christians.

D. The Douay Rheims Version

I must say that the Douay Rheims is not a version I have or probably ever will use a primary translation for personal study, however, I know many Orthodox who do. The text is certainly acceptable, and has the advantage of using traditional English, and having the Deuterocanonical books. It is at times awkward, and it uses terminology that is unfamiliar to most English speakers. It is certainly a version worthy of consultation, when comparing various translations.

Options for Liturgical Use

A. The Psalter

For a Liturgical Psalter, there is currently only one text that I would recommend: The Psalter According to the Seventy published by Holy Transfiguration Monastery. This is far from a perfect translation, but there are no other suitable texts that are currently in print. There has been some talk of revising the Coverdale Psalter, to correct it according to the Septuagint – and if this is well done, it may someday present a better option – but currently this is what we have to work with, and it has the advantage of being the Psalter used in many other liturgical translations available.

B. The Gospel

The best option for a Gospel book that is formatted according to Slavic usage, is from Holoviaks Church Supply. They published a very fine edition which uses the King James Version, however, their supplies of this edition are gradually diminishing, and they thus far have no plans to reprint this text (which is a shame, but I hope they will eventually change their mind). They currently only sell this edition if it is purchased with a metallic cover, thus making it very expensive. The reason they currently do not plan on re-printing their King James Gospel is that they have recently published one that uses the New King James… and for those who prefer the NKJV, obviously this would be an excellent option.

A new option for those seeking a traditional English translation of the Gospels, is the Gospel Lectionary published by the Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies. It is based on the King James Version, but is formatted according to Byzantine usage… again, an advantage for those of that tradition, but a disadvantage to those who of the Slavic tradition. It does have a scriptural index in the back that will help those following Slavic practice to find the correct reading more easily than most Byzantine style Gospel Books. This edition is very affordable, and the format of the Byzantine lectionary is actually very well suited for those who would like to have a Gospel Book at home to read the daily readings.

C. The Epistle Lectionary, or Apostolos

The best option available at present for those following Slavic practice is the Apostol, published by St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press. The translation used is neither King James, nor New King James, but a synthesis of the two. It retains the traditional pronouns (for the most part) and verb endings, but eliminates archaic words. At times one might have wished that they had kept more of the King James text than they did, but the text is more easily understandable than the unrevised King James text would have otherwise been.

For those following Byzantine practice the Epistle Lectionary, published by the Center for Traditionalists Orthodox Studies is a good option. Like the Gospel Lectionary they publish, this too is based on the King James text. One of its draw back is that it is published only in paper back at present. This has the advantage, however, of making it inexpensive enough for individuals to purchase a copy for home use. Another downside to this edition is that some of the “corrections” of the King James text in this edition are debatable. For example, in the KJV, 1st Corinthians 11:14 reads “Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?” The CTOS edition emends this to read “Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have flowing hair, it is a shame unto him?” I understand the point that they are trying to make, and the translations is not completely indefensible; but no other translation translates it this way. If one wanted to bring out the nuance that they are trying to highlight it would probably have been better to have translated it as “wear long hair” rather than “have long hair” or “have flowing hear”, and also this really gets us beyond translation into the realm of commentary… and that is what commentaries and footnotes are for. And although emendations are made such as this, many instances in which the text of the King James is no longer easily understood, and could easily be corrected by updating a word or two are unfortunately left unrevised. Nevertheless, on the balance, this edition is a good option… again, particular for those wishing to follow the daily readings at home.

Using Various Translations in Personal Study

For those who have not studies the original languages of Scripture – and even for those who have – it is often helpful to compare various translations in order to gain a fuller appreciation for the possible range of meaning of a text. While I would not recommend the following translations for use as the primary translation an Orthodox Christian should use, for reasons addressed above, these versions are useful for comparison:

1. The English Standard Version

2. The Revised Standard Version

3. The New Revised Standard Version

4. The New American Standard Bible

The RSV, and NRSV are also especially useful because they contain the complete Orthodox canon of the Old Testament, and so until the complete Orthodox Study Bible is available, one or the other of these versions is an essential text to have on hand.

One of the advantages the internet affords is that we can compare numerous translations with a few clicks of a mouse, without having to have hard copies of them all at home. Some of the better web sites for this purpose are:


Some dismiss concerns about Biblical translations as unimportant, or a simple matter of taste. “To each his own,” and “What ever floats your boat” are the sacred proverbs of our culture today. However, as Bishop Tikhon of San Francisco noted, “the word "Orthodox" itself implies a certain care about correct syntactics, semantics and pragmatics, the correct use of language…”16 Words mean things, accuracy matters, fidelity to the traditional understanding of the Scriptures is essential, and beauty in worship (and this in our translation of the Scriptures, which is at the core of our worship) is something we must strive for.

As with most things in the Orthodox Church, there are boundaries of acceptability -- within which, there is a certain amount of diversity of opinion that is completely acceptable, but outside of which there is spiritual danger that must be avoided. There may even be some disagreement about exactly were the lines should be drawn that mark those boundaries, but Orthodox Christians should be in agreement that translations that distort and obscure the meaning of the text, that strip the text of significant Christological and prophetic concepts, and lack a reverence for the words that the Holy Spirit has inspired his prophets and apostles to write are to be avoided.

The translation of the Sacred Scriptures should be approached with the utmost care and reverence – this should be obvious. The selection of a translation calls for care and reverence as well. Furthermore, the reading of that translation calls for all of that plus a great deal of diligence, as we read in the Psalter:

“Set before me for a law, O LORD, the way of Thy statutes, and I will seek after it continually. Give me understanding, and I will search out Thy law, and I will keep it with my whole heart” (Psalm 118:34-35 LXX).

As anyone who has invested the effort into the reverent study of the Scriptures can attest, the rewards are well worth the effort.

16 Bishop Tikhon of San Francisco (OCA), Bishop's Pastoral Letter on the New Revised Standard Version, The Orthodox West, Winter 1990, Sept. 8, 2006 <>.

In case you missed Rush Limbaugh on CBS

You can watch it here:

Rush's point is best summed up by the words of my father:

"My only problem with Moslems is that they want me dead."

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Oh Happy Day!

The Decision of the Synod of Bishops

The Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, at its regular session on August 24/September 6, 2006, considered:

The report of the Secretary of the Commission on discussions with the Moscow Patriarchate, Protopriest Alexander Lebedeff, on the results of the seventh joint meeting of the Commissions held in late June of this year.

After an exhaustive discussion of the matter, decreed:

To take into consideration the report of Protopriest Alexander Lebedeff.

On the basis of the decision of the Council of Bishops of May 15-19, 2006, to confirm and approve the “Act on Canonical Communion” in its revised form as prepared by the church Commissions at the seventh joint meeting, along with other materials developed by the Commissions.

In accordance with the directions of the Council of Bishops of 2006, to instruct the Commission on discussions with the Moscow Patriarchate, jointly with the Commission on dialog with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, to work out the details of the ceremony of the signing of the “Act” and the Rite of establishment of canonical communion of both parts of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Also, in accordance with the decision of the Council of Bishops, to authorize Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Germany, Chairman of the Commission on discussions with the Moscow Patriarchate, to coordinate together with Archbishop Innokenty of Korsun the simultaneous publication of the “Act” which has been confirmed by both Holy Synods on the official websites of the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church.

To consider at the next expanded session of the Synod of Bishops, to be scheduled at the time of the feast day of the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God this year, on the proposals prepared by the joint Commissions at their next meeting.

To inform the flock through a special Address on the present state of the negotiation process and the proposed plans for the future.

Epistle of ROCOR regarding the Act of Canonical Communion

of the Synod of Bishops
to the God-loving Flock of the
Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia

Dear in the Lord Fathers, Brothers and Sisters!

For 90 years now, the dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia have existed on all continents, along with monasteries, publishing houses and parishes. Everything that signifies church life: parish councils, sisterhoods, schools, youth groups, general parish meetings, magnificent choirs, altar boys, etc. gathered around them. All this arose as diocesan conferences and Church Councils convened, which regulated all of church life. Thus, through the chaos of the persecution of the Russian Church, the Russian Orthodox people gathered to stand around their Hierarchy, which found itself abroad, and strove to serve towards the emancipation and rebirth of their people on the foundation of the Orthodox Faith.

Within the boundaries of Russia, persecution took the form of the absolute destruction of faith in Christ. Much was destroyed, many suffered. But the Lord did not permit the disappearance of the Church in our Homeland. In those places where ancient churches survived, people are once again gaining spiritual nourishment. That which was destroyed is being rebuilt. Church life is rising from the ashes. Archpastors, clergymen and believers are trying to rebuild Orthodox Russia anew. This process of renascence requires effort and the strength of will, since it is necessary to conduct spiritual educational work with the descendants of the generations of godless violence which touched absolutely every person without exception. Many obstacles remain on this path, but we see that these obstacles, and the remnants of Soviet times, are gradually being overcome.

The day has arrived when we must seek the reestablishment of communion with the wellspring of our own traditions. For there are two wills at work—one being that of those Russians who are children of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, prepared in every way to cooperate in the reestablishment of church life and development of the spirituality of the people, and the other is from our brethren and sisters in Russia, who labor towards her rebirth and extend their hand to us.

Positive changes in the church life of our Homeland spurred the Council of Bishops of October 2000 to establish a Committee on the unity of the Russian Church and to bless the organization of scholarly conferences on church history with the participation of the members of our Church and representatives of the Church in Russia. These conferences were held in 2001 and 2002. Then, in December 2003, a Commission on discussions with the Moscow Patriarchate was formed. At the same time, the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate decided to create a similar Commission on dialog with our Church. This bore witness to the earnest and good-willed effort of both parts of the Russian Orthodox Church to make sense of the tragedy of our common history, so that we "may discuss peacefully… whatever question there is which separates your communion from us," as we read in Canon 92 (103) of the Council of Carthage, which called upon the flock to trust their Hierarchy, which possessed the right to heal the divisions between the Orthodox and the Donatists.

The "Regulations of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia," the by-laws under which our Church lives, demand that we regularize the situation of the Local Russian Church. It is important to note that a commission to revise the "Regulations of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia" was established before the year 2000.

This shows that even then it was apparent that our "Regulations" are in need of amendment. Since 2000, new possibilities emerged in this regard. Now, in connection with the adoption of the "Act on Canonical Communion," our by-laws can be reexamined, taking into account new possibilities.

Still, it is necessary to point out that we are not discussing the "self-abolishment" of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. Our Church will exist as before, as attested to by the first paragraph of the "Act on Canonical Communion:" "The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, conducting its salvific service in the dioceses, parishes, monasteries, brotherhoods and other ecclesiastical bodies that took shape through history, remains an indissoluble part of the Local Russian Orthodox Church." These words in the "Act" attest to the recognition on the part of the Moscow Patriarchate of our historical path and of the living bond between the entire Local Russian Orthodox Church and its part abroad, which always existed and which we never denied. This historical document will reestablish the unity of the Russian Orthodox Church, through this mutual act acknowledging the lawful status of the Russian Church Abroad and the Moscow Patriarchate in Russia. Each side, preserving its identity as a Church, will continue to exist in full legality and independence, but now recognizing the other side and declaring the unity of the Russian Church. For this reason, this means the reconciliation and mutual recognition of each other while yet preserving our administrative self-governance, for we understand the needs of our clergy and of our flock better than they understand them in Moscow.

The IV All-Diaspora Council and the Council of Bishops that followed approved the steps towards reestablishing unity already taken by our Hierarchy, and blessed its continued progress.

The above-mentioned "Act" has been approved and confirmed by the Synod of Bishops, but it will be finally adopted when it is signed by the Primates of the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church. Working out the details of this signing, and also the Rite of the establishment of canonical communion has been assigned to the Commission on discussions with the Moscow Patriarchate. It is expected that it will embark on this task jointly with the Commission on dialog with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia at their next meeting. Then, the results of this meeting will be considered at the next session of the Synod of Bishops, which will be held in December of this year.

Dear in the Lord fathers, brothers and sisters! We do not intend to depart from our positions of principle, in particular with regard to the ecumenical movement. We intend to continue to firmly speak out in condemnation of the so-called "branch theory" and of joint prayer with heretics, which is emphasized in our anathema of ecumenism adopted by the Council of Bishops of 1983. This is reflected in the documents of the church Commissions confirmed by both Holy Synods and published in the official publications of the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church. From this we see that in the Moscow Patriarchate, our attitude towards the heresy of ecumenism has long ago been absorbed. That is why we are not compromising the inherited principles which have always guided us. Still, we were always open to dialog with everyone, but on the condition that this be done without any hindrance to Orthodox teaching. In the decisions of the Councils of Bishops we always held fast to the ecclesiology of moderation, and never rejected the presence of grace in the Moscow Patriarchate or in other Local Churches.

We will continue to maintain the spirit of our great fathers, the founders of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, following their legacy and the historical path of our Church. To carry this great inheritance to Russia is the mission we strive to fulfill.

We will always remember that only in the Kingdom of Heaven will everything be perfect and good, that in the Church on earth we will perpetually experience difficulties caused by human passions, failings, temptations and sins, which must be overcome by means of beneficial fraternal dialog and cooperation, condescension, understanding and a Christian attitude towards each other, as Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians: "correct such a one in the spirit of meekness" (Galatians 6:1).

In conclusion, let us remember Schema-Archimandrite Amvrossy (Kurganov) of blessed memory, the Abbot of Vvedensky Milkovo Monastery in Serbia, whence came several bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, since departed. The eminent church figure of the Russian diaspora, P.S. Lopukhin, writing on the Christian death of Fr Amvrossy, said: "I preserve in my memory this image of a man, weeping in joy on his death bed for Divine unity." Blessed Metropolitan Anthony said of Fr Amvrossy that in spirit he was closer to him than anyone.

May God grant all of us to experience this feeling of "spiritual joy in Divine unity," leading us to the successful conclusion of the process of reconciliation of the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church.

May the Lord help us! Amen.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Bible Translations, Part 5 of a Draft Article

This is the 5th installment of a series of draft portions of an article I am writing on Biblical translations. Comments are welcome via e-mail.See also Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

5. Political Correctness

In recent decades we have been confronted with the new phenomenon of political correctness, and this has resulted in new version of the Bible that have attempted to neuter the English text to accommodate the concerns of radical feminists. This is silly for several reasons. For one, radical feminists are not likely to be happy with any translation of the Scriptures no matter how neutered the English in it might be. Secondly, the very idea that gender distinctions in a language are at all to blame for any grievances that feminists might have is ridiculous on the face it.

Only those who are completely ignorant of how languages other than English function could believe that gender distinctions are the cause of the ill-treatment of women, or that removing such distinctions would in any way improve the status of women. There are in fact two major languages that have no gender distinctions at all, and so the two cultures associated with these languages should have been feminist utopias throughout human history. The two languages I refer to are Turkish and Chinese. However, I think one could safely defend the argument that women in European cultures have been treated significantly better in the past two thousand years, despite them having to suffer the indignities of being “forced” to use languages that make gender distinctions. In fact, I think one would be hard pressed to find two literate cultures in which woman have historically been treated worse than that of the Turks and the Chinese -- and I say that as one who otherwise loves Chinese culture, but the way women were (and to a large extent, still are) treated is not the high point of Chinese civilization.

These neutered versions of the Bible have a problem with the words “man” and “mankind” and so replace them with “person, “human,” and “humankind.” However, it should be noted that the words “human” and “humankind” have the offending word “man” in them. One might also point out that the word “woman” also has this offending word. Anyone who understands English should know that when we speak of God’s love for man, we are including both the male and female members of this species. These translations are so averse to the use of the term “man” that they have distort the meaning of the text to avoid using it. For example, in the NRSV we have St. Peter telling Cornelius that he too is a “mortal”, when the word in Greek is “anthropos” (“man”), which is a term that does not focus on life expectancy. The NRSV also removes the very important messianic phrase “Son of Man” from the entire Old Testament (this being an exceptionally offensive phrase, having two gender distinctions it as it does). And so when we read Daniel 7:13, in the NRSV, we find:

“As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him”

This totally disconnects Christ’s use of the phrase “Son of Man” from this prophecy. Fortunately we are spared readings such as ““Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Human has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8.20), or “Who do people say that the Human is?” (Matthew 16:13), but all of the prophetic significance of this term is sacrificed on the altar of feminism.

These neutered translations also are forced to insert words that do not exist in the original text, to omit words that do, and to change the number and person of pronouns to avoid words with gender distinctions. The result is simply a translation that misleads the reader and obscures the meaning of the inspired text… and it is all just so silly.15

Versions that contain more or less neutered English include the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), Today’s New International Version (TNIV), the New Living Translation (NLT), The Good News Translation (GNT or GNB), the New Century Version (NCV), the Contemporary English Version (CEV), the New American Bible (NAB), the Revised English Bible (REB), and the New Jerusalem Bible (NJB).

15 See Wayne Grudem, What's Wrong with Gender-Neutral Bible Translations? Sept. 4, 2006, <>, as well as The Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy, Sept. 4, 2006, <>.

Bible Translations, Part 4 of a Draft Article

This is the 4th installment of a series of draft portions of an article I am writing on Biblical translations. Comments are welcome via e-mail.See also Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

4. The Quality of the Translation, and its Liturgical Utility

A text can be accurate, based on the correct original text, be free from any taint of heresy, and yet still be a horrible translation. Let’s consider a two examples, looking first at the King James Version, and then at several subsequent “improvements”.

Psalms 8:4:

"What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?" (KJV)

"What is man that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You care for him?" (NASB)

"what are mere mortals that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?" (Today's NIV)

"what are mortals that you should think of us, mere humans that you should care for us?" (New Living Translation)

"Then I ask, "Why do you care about us humans? Why are you concerned for us weaklings?"" (Contemporary English Version)

"what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?" (NRSV)

"But why are people important to you? Why do you take care of human beings?" (New Century Version)

John 1:14-17

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me. And of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." (KJV)

"And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. John testified about Him and cried out, saying, "This was He of whom I said, 'He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.'" For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ." (NASB)

"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only [Son], who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, "This is he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.' ") Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." (TNIV)

"So the Word became human and lived here on earth among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the only Son of the Father. John pointed him out to the people. He shouted to the crowds, "This is the one I was talking about when I said, `Someone is coming who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before I did.' " We have all benefited from the rich blessings he brought to us--one gracious blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; God's unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ." (NLT)

"The Word became a human being and lived here with us. We saw his true glory, the glory of the only Son of the Father. From him all the kindness and all the truth of God have come down to us. John spoke about him and shouted, "This is the one I told you would come! He is greater than I am, because he was alive before I was born." Because of all that the Son is, we have been given one blessing after another. The Law was given by Moses, but Jesus Christ brought us undeserved kindness and truth." (CEV)

"And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." (NRSV)

"The Word became a human and lived among us. We saw his glory -- the glory that belongs to the only Son of the Father -- and he was full of grace and truth. John tells the truth about him and cries out, saying, "This is the One I told you about: 'The One who comes after me is greater than I am, because he was living before me.'" Because he was full of grace and truth, from him we all received one gift after another. The law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." (NCV)

"The Word became a human being and, full of grace and truth, lived among us. We saw his glory, the glory which he received as the Father's only Son. John spoke about him. He cried out, "This is the one I was talking about when I said, "He comes after me, but he is greater than I am, because he existed before I was born.' " Out of the fullness of his grace he has blessed us all, giving us one blessing after another. God gave the Law through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." (Good News Translation)

I would contend that none of the subsequent translations listed above has made even the slightest improvement on the language of the King James version, and that to the extent that they have departed from the wording of the King James, they have diminished the beauty of the text. The only modern translations that have more or less maintained a degree of beauty in their translation have been those that attempted to revise the King James text, while maintaining to some extent or another its wording and cadence. I would include among these texts the English Standard Version, the Revised Standard Version, and the New King James Version.

Even some of the great skeptics of modern times have acknowledged the beauty of the King James Version:

“It is the most beautiful of all translations of the Bible; indeed it is probably the most beautiful piece of writing in all the literature of the world.” -H. L. Mencken11

“The translation was extraordinarily well done because to the translators what they were translating was not merely a curious collection of ancient books written by different authors in different stages of culture, but the Word of God divinely revealed through His chosen and expressly inspired scribes. In this conviction they carried out their work with boundless reverence and care and achieved a beautifully artistic result.” –George Bernard Shaw12

"It is written in the noblest and purest English, and abounds in exquisite beauties of mere literary form." -Aldous Huxley13

One can also simply read the preface of almost any translation of the Bible in English, and read acknowledgements of the King James Versions beauty.

So one might ask why it is that King James Version is almost universally acknowledged to a beautiful translation, and yet no other translation has been able to produce a translation that comes close to it? I think there are two primary reasons for this:

1). The scholars that translated the King James Version lived at a time when scholars were still expected to be a masters of all learning, and so these scholars were not only the brightest minds of their day in terms of the original texts and ancient translations of the Scriptures, but they were also masters of their own language. In our time, one might find a scholar who is a master of one area or the other, but it is very rare to encounter a scholar who is a scholar of both Scripture and English literature.

2). Because the goal of the King James Version was to produce a translation that was appointed to be read aloud in Church, its translators paid particular attention to how the text would sound when read aloud. There were of course concerned with producing an accurate translation, but they were also concerned with producing a reverent and beautiful translation that was pleasing to the ear.14

Now it must be conceded that the King James Version has some significant problems in terms of its liturgical use today. There are passages in the KJV that are hard to understand for most contemporary English speakers, and there are passages that are even misleading now, due to changes in the meaning of certain words over time. This being the case, there is in fact a need for some revision to the text, and there are editions of the King James Version that make such revisions… but the question is how much of the text needs to be revised, and on that there is not unanimity. Also, some attempts at correcting the King James text have been poorly done… but “I run before my horse to market.” I will go into more detail about the various options available today in the conclusion.
11 The Third Millennium Bible, (Gary, South Dakota: Deuel Enterprises, 1998), p. xiii.

12 G. S. Paine, The Men Behind the King James Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1959) p. 182f

13 History of the King James Version, Sept 4, 2006, <>.

14 Nicolson, p. 209f.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Bible Translations, Part 3 of a Draft Article

This is the 3rd installment of a series of draft portions of an article I am writing on Biblical translations. Comments are welcome via e-mail.

See also Part 1 and Part 2

3. The Theological Perspective of the Translators

Every translator has a theological point of view that influences their translation either for good or for ill. Ideally, we would be using translations done by Orthodox scholars whose work had the sanction of the Church, but unfortunately no such translation has yet been produced. Consequently, until have such a text in hand, we have to find the best options among Protestant and Roman Catholic translations. Even when dealing with the best examples of these translations, we need to be aware of the theological views of the translators, and keep an eye out for when their erroneous views may have negatively influenced the accuracy of their translation.

One of the worst examples of a heretical translation of the Scriptures is the New World Translation, which is published by the Jehovah’s witnesses. It would take a book much longer than the text of the Bible itself to lay out all the dishonest twisting of Scripture that takes place in this translation. It is the work of a group of anonymous “scholars” who ostensibly wished to remain anonymous out of humility, but those who have researched the question have determined that this was more likely a means of cloaking the complete lack of scholarly credentials and linguistic abilities of those who crafted this text.3 To touch upon one of the low points of this translation, it translates the Greek word “kyrios” (“Lord”) as “Jehovah” throughout the New Testament, except where the text clearly refers to Jesus Christ, because they deny both the doctrine of the Trinity, and that Jesus Christ is God. This is a completely arbitrary move designed to promote their heretical theological agenda, and there is absolutely no textual basis for translating the text in this manner to be found in any Greek manuscript of the New Testament. The outright dishonesty of their translation particularly demonstrated by the fact that in Hebrews 1:10, they do not translate “kyrios” as “Jehovah” (or the more proper “Yahweh”) because the quote is applied to Christ… despite the fact that this is a quote from Psalm 102 (101 in the LXX), and the LORD in that Psalm is Yahweh in Hebrew.

Most other examples of the way bad theology has impacted a translation are far less obvious, but no less real. We have already cited an example of how the NIV twisted 2nd Thessalonians 2:15 in order to wring out of the text a translation that was more favorable to the conservative Evangelical Protestant leanings of its translators.

Another example, from the opposite side of the Protestant spectrum is the Revised Standard Version (RSV). Unlike the New World Translation, the Revised Standard Version is the work of qualified and respected scholars (as is the case with most of the translations commonly in use today), and there are not any examples that I am aware of in which one could question the honesty of the translators. One can however question the theology of these translators.
The translators of the RSV were without question on the more liberal side of the Protestant spectrum,4 and even included among their number a non-Christian Jewish scholar.5 The best known example of how the theological perspective of these translators influenced the text is in how they translated Isaiah 7:14:

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Imman'u-el.”

This translation marks a complete departure from 2,000 years of Christian tradition of translation, and is even a departure from the pre-Christian Jewish tradition that translated the Hebrew word “almah” as “parthenos” in the Greek Septuagint, and there is no debating that “parthenos” means “virgin.” Certainly, after the Christians came along and applied this prophecy to Christ, the non-Christian Jews developed the polemic that “almah” was not the precise word for “a virgin” and that it could simply mean “a young woman”. Since there are scholars that accept this argument, one cannot accuse the translators of the RSV of being charlatans for choosing to translate the word in this way. One can however accuse them of departing from the Christian tradition on this question. Furthermore, there are compelling linguistic arguments in favor of the traditional translation of this word, such the fact that the word is never used of a woman who is not a virgin, and that it is used interchangeably with the word “Bethulah,” and that the pre-Christian translators of the Septuagint understood the term to mean “virgin”. Also, contextually, one would have to wonder how a young woman being pregnant would be a miraculous sign. Young women are pregnant all the time. In fact, it would be more of a miraculous sign if it had been an old woman who was pregnant. A virgin being with child, however, clearly is a miraculous sign.6

In contrast, the translation philosophy that is the basis of the King James Version included the following principle:

“When a Word hath divers Significations, that to be kept which hath been most commonly used by the most of the Ancient Fathers, being agreeable to the Propriety of the Place, and the Analogy of the Faith.”7

And so, even if one might argue that the question of the meaning of Isaiah 7:14 could not be definitively proven one way or the other, the fact that the Church had always understood it as speaking of a virgin being with child absolutely settles the question for a believing Christian. It is certainly true that the translators of the King James Version were Protestants, rather than Orthodox, however, their theological assumptions and translational philosophy come far closer to that of the Orthodox than do most other translations. One must still be aware of their theological assumptions, and there may well be cases in which their erroneous Protestant views led them to make translation choices that the Orthodox would not agree with, however, I am not aware of any that clear cut examples, or are very significant.

Prior to the King James Version, most Protestant translations had clear signs of promoting a particular Protestant agenda. The Geneva Bible often contained slanted translations with even more slanted marginal notes. Luther’s translation into German had even gone so far as to insert words that did not occur at all in the original text to promote his own doctrinal agenda.9
The King James Version was different for several reasons: the Anglican Church had a much higher opinion of Church tradition; the translators included scholars of various Protestant persuasions and so kept each other honest; and most importantly, King James specifically commissioned this text to have a non-sectarian character, without commentary in the margin notes, that would help accomplish his broader goal of uniting the country that had been bitterly divided in the wake of the English Reformation. He wanted one translation that all English speaking people would use, and thus the translation could not be one that promoted the agenda of a particular Protestant sect.10

3 M. Kurt Goedelman, A Critical Look at the Jehovah’s Witness Bible, the New World Translation, Aug. 31, 2006 <>. See also: Aug. 31, 2006 <>

4 C. P. Lincoln, "A Critique of the Revised Standard Version," Bibliotheca Sacra, Volume 110 (Jan. 1953) pp. 50-66, Sept. 1, 2006 <>

5 Bruce M Metzger, “The RSV-Ecumenical Edition,” Theology Today, Vol. 34, No. 3 (Oct. 1977), p. 316, Sept. 1, 2006 <> It is true that a Greek Orthodox representative was added to the translation committee, but the Jewish scholar was part of the translation when it was actually being done, and the Greek Orthodox representative was added after the real was already completed.

6 For more on question of how “almah” should be translated, see: William F. Beck, What Does Almah Mean?, Sept. 2, 2006, <>, see also: Origen, Against Celsus, Book I, Chapters xxxiv -xxxv, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. iv, eds. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldosn, trans. A. Cleveland Coxe (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), p. 410f. as well as: St. Jerome , Against Jovinianus, Book I, Chapter 32, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, series 2, vol. vi, eds. Henry Wace and Philip Schaff (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), p. 370.

7 Adam Nicolson, God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible, (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2003) p. 73. See also: Laurence M. Vance, A Brief History of the King James Bible, Sept 2, 2006, <>.

9 For example, Luther inserted the word “alone” into his translation of Romans 2:28, to make it support his doctrine of justification by faith alone. When asked for justification for his inserting words that did not exist in the original text, Luther simply responded “It is so because Dr. Martin Luther says it is so!” See Frank Schaeffer, Dancing Alone (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1994) p. 77, and: Jaroslav Pelikan, Reformation of Church and Dogma (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985) p.252

10 Nicolson, p. 77f.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The quick start guide to why Fr. John posts so much about Welfare in Texas

I decided that I should have a one post link to explain to the casual reader who might stumble across this blog and wonder why I post so often on issues related to Welfare in Texas

I worked for what was the Texas Department of Human Services (TDHS) until relatively recently (now it is the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC)) for 13 years... the last five of which I was a supervisor.

The following are the key post that put all the others into context:

1) What's Wrong With Welfare, Part I (an introduction into my connection with TDHS as a "tent-making" clergyman, and my thoughts on Welfare)

2) What's Wrong With Welfare, Part II... Let them eat Spam! (more of my thoughts on Welfare

3) The Meltdown of the Colorado Welfare System, and what it should have taught us about the Meltdown in Texas.

4) The Great Leap Forward, and Other Examples of Bureaucratic Stupidity

5) If I had a Hammer: The Limits of Privatization

6) Foxes in the Chicken House: Big Corporations taking the Tax Payers for a Ride

I left this agency after 13 years, not because I didn't like the people I worked with, or dealing with the people who needed the services it provided. I simply reached a point where I would no longer be a part of the destruction of that agency, and pretend that I could continue to serve the people I had been serving given the increasingly impossible situation that privatization was creating. On the one hand, staff have to deal with the ongoing down-sizing of permanent (and well trained) staff, without any decrease in workload; and on the other hand staff had to deal with the promise that most of them would be out of work within a year... which made the staffing problem even worse. We had to deal with long hiring freezes in the past, as well as high stress levels; but unlike the past, this time around, the only thing we had to look forward to is busting our chops for the next year or so, and then eventually getting a position at reduced pay… if we got one at all.

Given those realities, I decided it was best to create my own options, and find other means to support my family.

This wouldn’t have bothered me so much if this was happening because the state had decided to cut welfare programs, and so fewer staff were needed to do the work. It also would not have bothered me so much if I thought that the new system would work, and save the state money. However, I am firmly convinced that this new system will be a boondoggle of historical proportions when all is said and done (and this only becomes clearer as the months go by). I am also convinced that the day will come that the state will have to rebuild the agency that they are now dismantling… but at a huge cost, because they will have lost all the infrastructure that they had both in terms of facilities and equipment, and in terms of experienced staff who knew how to get the work done. This is bad business for the state, and a shameful way to treat staff that have maintained one of the most cost efficient state welfare agencies in the United States.

When I was still working for HHSC, I suppose some might have thought my complaints were due only to selfish concerns, but now that I haven't had a personal financial interest in the matter for over a year, I hope those who think so will reconsider what I have been saying.

I believe time will prove me right... in fact, I believe that the past year has steadily been proving me right, but another year or two will remove all doubts for anyone who is willing to be swayed by evidence or reason.