BISHOP'S PASTORAL LETTER ON THE NEW REVISED STANDARD VERSION
I. Synodal Decision: At the 1990 Fall Session of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America convened at the OCA Chancery, Oyster Bay Cove, New York, October 15-18, 1990, His Grace, Bishop Dmitri, presented an oral report on the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (NRSV). Based on this report, the Holy Synod decided not to permit the use of the NRSV in liturgical services and in Bible study. I'm now communicating this decision to you all in the expectation that you will carry it out, of course, but I also wish to provide you a little "background", as I understand it, of the decision.
II. Background: The "NRSV' was produced under the auspices of the NCC. One of the participants in its production was a Greek Orthodox scholar, Father Dimitrios Constantelos. Nevertheless, the members of the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America, upon being acquainted with certain of its key passages and phraseologies, found it to be so divergent from the Holy Scriptures traditionally read aloud in the sacred services of the Church as to render it impossible of acceptance as Holy Scriptures. Here are a few examples of quotations from the NRSV:
(Genesis I: 1-2) In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
(Psalm I) Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked.
(Psalm XXII:16) My hands and feet have shriveled.
(Psalm LI:5) Indeed I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.
(Romans V:12) Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned.
(John I:3-4) All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
(I Timothy II:5-6) For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all — this was attested at the right time.
(I Timothy III: 1-2) The saying is sure: whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task. Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher.
III. Comment: I'm sure that none of the venerable clergy of the Diocese of the West need be reminded that the word "Orthodox" itself implies a certain care about correct syntactics, semantics and pragmatics, the correct use of language, and therefore any member of the clergy might be justified in questioning the necessity of Synodal action in an area where all clergy would come to the same conclusion as have the right revered bishops. Here, frankly, the media come into the picture, as it were; to wit, the "New York Times," which carried an article on the "dedication" of the NRSV in Manhattan. This article made it very easy to infer, from its text alone, that the NRSV had been accepted by the Orthodox in general and the OCA in particular, an inference made even more probable by the accompanying photo of one of our Protodeacons carrying the NRSV aloft in solemn procession at the dedication. I do not myself subscribe to or regularly read that paper, but the article was brought to my attention by some phone calls from around the area of the Diocese of the West. Moreover, I believe the OCA Chancery received a very large number of calls from persons who expressed surprise at our "adoption" of a patently questionable version of a Bible. However, the New York Times article did occasion the bringing to the attention of the Holy Synod of already existing criticism of the NRSV by Orthodox scholars. You may recall that I also mentioned the problems of the NRSV during a plenary session of our Diocesan Assembly.
The prohibition of the use of the NRSV for bible study refers to Orthodox bible study, an activity where the Holy Truths of our Faith as they are revealed in the Holy Scriptures are studied by the Faithful with the guidance of a teacher ordained to the task. So-called critical studies, where various bibles may be subjected to objective examination and scholarly evaluations are, of course, not included in the Synod's prohibition. Indeed, I will be studying this NRSV myself, and comparing it with our Orthodox Septuagint and our Orthodox Gospel Books in Greek and Slavonic and our Orthodox Books of Apostolic Readings ("Apostols") in Greek and Slavonic.
This matter in general heightens my sense of urgency about our lack of Orthodox Holy Scriptures in English. Scripture used and quoted by the Apostles was the Greek Septuagint, and it was from the Greek Septuagint that the Old Testamental texts used in the other Holy Orthodox Churches have been translated. The Old Testament texts in all the English Bibles in use today, including the venerable King James version, are based primarily on Hebrew texts which are frequently less ancient than existing Greek texts. The New Testament, i.e. the Gospel Scriptures and the Scriptures of Apostolic origin read aloud in our Churches, were written in Greek. I ask you all to pray that our Department of Worship, of which I am Moderator, will be able to take productive steps toward providing canonical texts in English for all the readings in the sacred services of our Church. In the meantime, I encourage the use of the King James Version and the New King James Version, acknowledging that neither of these versions is fully accurate and free of mistakes, hence, completely acceptable. I am fully aware that the RSV, which will now be going out of print, is widely used, especially among those trained as clergy after its appearance. When we were trained we learned how to approach the RSV's divergences from our Tradition. Now it seems that that version was only the first step down a road which has, now, stopped at the NRSV, but which may continue in the direction of producing versions which do not reproduce so much the original texts as they reproduce the current theological opinings of their sponsors and publishers. I would like to assure the very many qualified scholars, biblical and otherwise, of our Diocese of the West that I make no pretensions at all to being a critical scholar or to having scholarly credentials in the area of biblical criticism, but I am speaking as I am sure are all my brother bishops, as one charged preeminently with responsibility before God both for Orthodox bible study in the first sense, above, and for insuring the purity of the Gospel proclaimed in our Churches.
I ask for your continued prayers and support (which I feel almost physically, at times) in all our common work. I assure you of my own appreciation of all your work, of my constancy in prayer for you all individually, and I send you as much of a fatherly blessing as I am capable of as a bishop.
[His Grace Bishop Tikhon is the ruling hierarch of the Diocese of the West of the Orthodox Church in America. This article was originally published in The Orthodox West, Winter 1990 issue.]
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