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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

J I Packer and the RSV

During my conversation with Dr. Packer I asked him many other questions. Here is a question from my co-blogger, Wayne. I do hope that people realize that I had absolutely no idea how Dr. Packer would respond to my questions and that he was aware of and uninhibited by the tape recorder. He is a very confident speaker.

Suzanne: What advantages are there to retaining the obsolete negative word orders found in the RSV?

Dr. Packer: I hope we made it plain in the introduction what we what we were seeking to do, which was to work over the text of the RSV, removing all the blemishes which kept it from being as good as its skill in verbal expression should have made it. The language is, I think, in the old RSV, is brilliant but there were all sorts of weaknesses. We found more than we bargained for when we started on the work.

Suzanne: Uneven?

Dr. Packer: Well, it was uneven. I think that must have something to do with the fact that it was translated by liberals who haven’t got the same devotion to the actual wording and structure of the original as evangelicals, as I think you and most certainly me, do have.


I will write about Dr. Packer's comments on the King James Version in a few days.


I have actually used the RSV for the last 10 years as a pew Bible without being aware of any blemishes. That goes to show how much I have been listening in church. (I just stuck this link in in case there are any Plymouth Brethren or fans of Garrison Keillor who would like a break from this blog!)

Anyway, I have never noticed blemishes in any Bible that I am aware of. Unevenness or weaknesses, maybe, blemishes or inaccuracies no. However, I would like to come clean here on my Bible reading history, since others have done so recently.

I was brought up listening to the King James Version, in season and out. Therefore it is the Bible in my head. Forgive me, cobloggers. At the age of 12 our Bible study leader decided that we were ready to graduate from the pure milk of the word, to something a little meatier, and we used the Darby translation. To this day I often wonder where that elusive phrase went. Ah, it was in the Darby Bible! The sentences are no loss, however, each a page long. This translation was not considered suitable for reading out loud.

I started studying Greek at 14 and my older brother gave me a Greek New Testament, 2nd edition, 1968, for my 15th birthday. Now that I had the Greek New Testament and used it, I did not feel the need for an authorative English version. At 16 I bought myself a New Living Bible.

In university we were persuaded to use the NASB and I memorized many chapters of that. Throughout these years I also used the Louis Segond, French Darby, Bonnes Nouvelles, also the Gute Nachtricht Bibel and the Vamva Greek Bible.

Shortly after that I became a high school English teacher and bought a Good News Bible. This is the Bible that I still have and use along with the Greek New Testament. My Hebrew is a little sketchy.

The one Bible that has been with me through most of my life is the Greek NT. It has a utilitarian wine vinyl cover, which disappointed me at first, but it is in good condition still.

I have reviewed this personal history to help me think about the various functions that a Bible fulfills in one's life. Why is one version not enough?

Apparently in looking back, I memorized from the KJ and NASB. I am sure that my stilted writing sometimes reflects that.

However, I never thought of authority resting in anything other than the Greek NT. When at the age of 19 and 20 I was exposed to the textual criticism of the theologians of the University of Toronto this tested both my faith and my father's. (I mean my real father here, Wayne) (And this tested my parents patience as well.) However, we all carefully repositioned our faith in Christ and carried on.

For communication with others, the Good News Bible is simply the best. Okay, the NIV and the TNIV are absent from this list. Oops. Sorry. I cannot really recommend any specific Bible above any other. It is important that people realize that no Bible is 'transparent to the Greek'. I knew the Greek New Testament fairly well before my theology had even passed go. And every single Bible that I know has some good things and is missing some others.

However, I wish to help create and maintain an environment that allows the Bible to be translated by trusted scholars in a variety of ways without risk of ongoing persecution and criticism.

Update: I have reposted this since it was posted in its draft order and therefore might be missed, especially since it is part of the J I Packer series I thought it was worth reposting.

I have included the comments here.

Rey said...
Suzanne giving a shout out to the Peebs. heh heh. (I did read the rest of your article and have been following your entire series on the interview with Packer but haven't had anything to ask or add--just so that you know I'm not randomly making a comment from the void after seeing the mention of Plymouth Brethren.
4:23 PM

Suzanne McCarthy said...
Hi Rey,You will know where I am coming from if I say that ordained ministry is far more of a taboo to me as a PB than as a woman,(at least in our exclusive assembly) However, I do support the full ministry of women, for other women. I still have many happy memories of my PB upbringing.
6:06 PM


At Tue Feb 28, 08:59:00 PM, Blogger KAT said...

I'm a fairly young Christian (28 now, and accepted Christ when I was 17). The only Bible that was in my house when I started reading was an old ABS copy of the RSV. The first book that I read was Matthew, and it was that reading session that truly changed my life.

However, from there, many difficulties started to arise. I didn't understand a lot of what I was reading (or rather, I only understood what I was reading in a general sense). But with the aid of biblical movies and a "Comic Book Bible" (sounds funny, but I'm not kidding!), my knowledge of the Bible story as a whole improved. They served as "Cliffnotes", if you will.

From there, I accidentally came across the NCV, and my knowledge improved even more. After that, I went back to the RSV with a better understanding and appreciation for it. I stuck with it for about a year -- rigorously. Day in, day out I read it -- and unfortunately, because of that daily, rigorous use of it, that old ABS Bible fell apart.

When I saw that I needed a replacement, I began to look for another copy of the RSV, but unfortunately, the RSV was out of print by this time (this was around 1995 or so). Thus, my quest and exploration of Bible translations began.

I had already been familiar with the NCV, as I noted, but I felt that it was far too simplified (not necessarily a bad thing, but it just wasn't for me). I went through translation after translation, but couldn't find anything that I could completely settle on. The more I read them, the more I realized the strengths and weaknesses of each. And by the time that I did finally run into another copy of the RSV, I was able to detect it's weaknesses as well. I felt that I couldn't solely depend on it either.

Needless to say, but I'm still at this point, 11 years later. I'm still on a quest. My bookshelf is lined with various translations, popular and obscure, and I juggle them around as if I were in a circus act.

The RSV and NRSV are still among my favorites though (if only because of the NCC's ecumenical intentions). I also favor the Jerusalem and New Jerusalem versions, Andy Gaus's New Testament, and of course, the KJV.

Not to say those are my only favorites -- it seems that I like any Bible translation in one way or another. However, if there was a translation that could speak as fluidly as the GNB or NLT, had as much recognition for inclusiveness as the NRSV or TNIV, had as little ecclessiastical and historical pretension as Gaus' New Testament, had as much literary beauty as the JB/NJB or KJV/RSV, had the ecumenical and canonical scope as the RSV and NRSV, and lastly, maintained a textual and interpretive outlook that was, for the most part, orthodox, then at point, I think that my quest for the perfect translation would finally end.

As for the ESV, it does make some notable corrections to the RSV that I can appreciate (I just don't appreciate how the ESV is being promoted...but that's another topic). I'm surprised that you haven't noticed them. Among them are, of course, the perennially favorite Isaiah 7.14 (ESV's "virgin" vs the RSV "young woman") and other Messianic readings (Ps 22 for example). These are the more obvious and controversial ones.

The RSV has less controversial and incorrect renderings though, and the ESV makes subtle changes that I wish were in the RSV. For example (just a minor one), in 1 Cor 15:44, the RSV translates psychikos as "physical". The ESV corrects this as "natural".

Though I like the RSV, it's rendering of psychikos is unwarranted and goes completely against the thrust of Paul's main argument here. It's not a controversial rendering like Isa 7.14, but it's just one of those little things that bugs me whenever I read it...

Which leads me to my last point...

Every Bible translation contains something that bugs me...Whether the problem is grammatical, textual, or interpretive, there's always something...

Maybe I'm a little obsessive or neurotic, I don't know ;). But this is why I juggle....Sometimes I even think that God wants me to juggle! That I'm not supposed to have a "perfect" translation. That I'm supposed to run into flaws -- That these flaws keep me from being lazy; that they keep me vigilant and alert, and give me a desire to dissect, measure, and weigh things -- a desire to keep on reading..

At Tue Feb 28, 09:18:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Truly I don't want to be too hard on the ESV. I suspect that many women would never notice the things that I do. The use of 'sons of God' though is very irritating after the KJV 'children of God'.

It is the strange connection between the ESV translators and the CBMW that perturbs me.

And three cheers for the Comic strip Bible! It is a very big hit in our house. I have it now beside me. I will have to post about it soon. It is published by Chariot Books, From David C. Cook. It is called The Picture Bible. Is that the one?

At Tue Feb 28, 09:30:00 PM, Blogger KAT said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At Tue Feb 28, 09:38:00 PM, Blogger KAT said...

It is published by Chariot Books, From David C. Cook. It is called The Picture Bible. Is that the one?

Yep, that's it! :)

I don't have a copy any longer, but it served me well at one time. It probably still could.

At Tue Feb 28, 10:38:00 PM, Blogger Brian said...


Could you go into more detail on the below statement? I am curious what it is about textual criticism that tested your faith.

When at the age of 19 and 20 I was exposed to the textual criticism of the theologians of the University of Toronto this tested both my faith and my father's. (I mean my real father here, Wayne) (And this tested my parents patience as well.) However, we all carefully repositioned our faith in Christ and carried on.


At Tue Feb 28, 11:20:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Great post, Suzanne. Thanks for sharing so much of yourself.

At Tue Feb 28, 11:44:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Hi Brian,

That seems like a very big question and hardly relevant here. Were you thinking of asking about anything in particular?

At Wed Mar 01, 07:10:00 AM, Blogger Brian said...

Yeah, probably not relavent to this post...sorry.



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