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Endless Changes in Biblical Versions – Editorial

THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS MARCH 1985 Editorial Endless Changes in Biblical Versions The Christian world seems to have undergone a dramatic change since the end of the Second World War. Old moral values have lost their traditional meaning. Lines drawn by the old Biblical teachings between right and wrong, good and bad, virtue or vice have become increasingly blurred. Several modern theologians have observed that while, on the one hand, there has been a discernible interest in spirituality in the last decade, there has also been, on the other hand, a distinct feeling that the Bible, as available at present, does not adequately convey the original concepts of Christianity. Consequently several reputable and prestigious groups of outstanding Christian scholars have been simultaneously engaged in preparing new versions of the Bible. As Rev. Eugene A. Nida of Greenwich, Conn, noted: “Never before has such a. variety of new translations, revisions and paraphrasing of Scripture been turned out as in recent times.” Furthermore, “It is building up steadily.” (Newsday, January 8, 1983) Notwithstanding the facts that the original texts of the present Scriptures are not available anyway, as well as the episode of highly arbitrary selection of the gospels contained in it, there have been several major revisions of the text over the centuries. However, what was rather an occasional appearance of a new version in the past has turned into “A Bible translation explosion” in the last several decades, according to Rev. Nida. Mr. George W. Cornell of the Associated Press estimates that there are about 600 Bible translation projects now going on around the world. Already “there have been 78 new Bible translations or revisions in English alone, compared with only a handful in all the years before” as Mr. Cornell observes. One of the many reasons for this unparalleled proliferation of new English Bibles, according to Rev. Bruce Metzger of Princeton, N.J., a well-known Bible scholar who heads a permanent commercial com- mittee working on the Revised Version of 1952, is the accumulation of older, better manuscripts. Of course there is no way to be sure if these older manuscripts are true copies of the originals. The discrepancies in various previously available versions of the MARCH 1985 EDITORIAL Bible are truly bewildering. It is surprising to observe that it was not until 1973 that a committee of Prostestants and Catholics approved a “common Bible.” Of course, not all Protestant denominations have accepted the so called “common Bible.” Correspondent Cornell reports that this agreement of the two major Christian denominations was achieved through a compromise. Some Old Testament books, which were considered needed by Catholicism but not regarded as necessary by the Protestants, have now been added in the 1973 compromise. It is said that these books were a part of King James Version of 1611 but they were eliminated by commercial printers in the 19th century “to cut costs.” (News- day, January 8, 1983). This array of new revisions is being accomplished from a variety of new angles. While the New King James Bible publishers are up- dating the 1611 version with the help of 130 scholars, the Reader’s Digest Bible has condensed the previously used text by 40 percent. While the World Biblical Commentary publishers are busy in pro- viding their own version, the Anchor Bible Company is engaged in the preparation of another, a 60-volume series of a new translation to be produced by Doubleday & Company. In addition, the American Bible Society has been distributing its own new transla- tion. The New International Version has been provided by Zonder- van Publishers to cater to conservative denominations. Of course, to make the gospels comprehensible to people of dif- ferent times, it stands to reason that there should be new translations from time to time to accomodate new vocabulary and changed meanings of the words. What is baffling is the change in the substance of the Bible. How can a non-Christian student of the Bible fully appreciate why there are no real origianl texts? Why have some of the gospels arbitrarily been discarded and others included? Why does the text of the gospels increase or decrease at different times? In this profusion of new biblical versions, perhaps one of the most radical is a new translation which has turned the gender of God. The Lutheran Church in America has already announced its rejection of the new translations because “they are inadequate and stylistically inadequate.” (The New York Times, October 15, 1983) The question arises if, after this radical change in the metaphors used for God, it can still be portrayed as the revealed word. The head of the Greek Orthodox Church also noted that it does not reflect sufficient reverence and tradition. He felt that this new lectionary will bring THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS MARCH 1985 disunity to the Church. Bishop James R. Crumely Jr. of New York has expressed his concern that the new venture might make God ap- pear “bisexual rather than asexual.” Dr. Art Gay, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, observed that the new lec- tionary “might be overkill and they might do violence to the authori- ty of the text.” (The New York Times, October 15, 1983) The Roman Catholic Bishops of the United States have also recently announced withholding of their approval of this controver- sial new version as issued by the National Council of Churches. And thus—the confusion, the controversy and failure of producing a universally accepted version of the Bible goes on interminably. (The New York Times, November 23, 1984) For the believers in Islam, it is a source of deep gratification that their Scripture, The Holy Qur’an, enjoys the unique distinction of a divinely guarded and totally protected text. Of course, the need for new translations to convey its continuously unfolding meaning to mankind living in different ages and speaking different languages will go on. What has not changed—and will never change till eternity —is the originally revealed word of God to the Holy Prophet Muhammad more than fourteen hundred years ago. Khalil Ahmad Nasir SO SAID THE HOLY PROPHET MUHAMMAD A Muslim owes to a Muslim six duties to be bestowed liberally— he should say: Assalamo Alaikum (peace be on you) when he meets him; He should accept his invitation when he invites him; he should pray for him when he sneezes; he should visit him when he is sick; he should go to his funeral when he dies; and he should love for him what he loves for himself. Surely truth leads to virtue and virtue leads to paradise. A person continues to speak the truth until he becomes thoroughly truthful. Surely falsehood leads to vice and vice leads to fire. A person con- tinues to tell lies until he is written down a great liar with Allah.

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