I received a few emails about my suggestions about reading the holy Scripture, reading the Bible, and there were some questions that had to do with the English translations. I mentioned on my last reflection that I did not think that they were really major difficulties in the differences between the Hebrew Bibles that we have now, which is probably Masoretic, more or less medieval Jewish texts, and the Greek translation of the Scripture called the Septuagint, which is used in Orthodox liturgical services and is translated into English in the Septuagint Bibles and certainly in the Orthodox Study Bible. Concerning the Orthodox Study Bible, I would say that the New King James translation that is used for the New Testament, I’m just not familiar with it very much, but I assume that there are no major problems there, and the Old Testament in the Orthodox Study Bible is the English translation of the Septuagint—an English translation of the Septuagint. I said last time there are many English translations of the Greek translation from Hebrew called the Septuagint.
As I said, I thought that there are real differences between the Hebrew texts as we have them now and the Greek translation called the Septuagint as we have it now, especially in English translations. There are differences; there are variations. I said last time that I thought in some places the Hebrew seemed to make more sense than the Greek, because of the context, because of what was said there, because of what the meaning might be. But I said also that I didn’t think that there was any major problems with even the mistakes. They don’t lead to any really tragic or misunderstandings or something about the Christian faith or about the Judeo-Christian faith if you want, the Old Testament as interpreted in the New.
I recommend that everybody would just read as much and as widely as they can, and read as many variations as they can and see what’s there and be enriched by it—and be challenged by it, too. There’s challenges of course. But I’d like to say now a few more words about the English translations, because there were a few emails with some questions, and I’d like to respond to them now. First of all, there was the question about the old Revised Standard Version, or the original Revised Standard Version that I recommended highly, particularly in the New Testament, but in the Old also.
And there is the Oxford Annotated Bible, with Apocrypha, that’s published by Oxford University Press. My own opinion is still that that’s the best. I mean, if you’re going to have one and stick with one, that’s a good one to have. Why? Because the translations are pretty accurate. The Old Testament is from Hebrew, not Greek, but they’re pretty accurate. They have very good and enlightening footnotes. Most of the time the footnotes are the Orthodox reading, especially in the New Testament, where it’ll say, “This kind can be cast out only by prayer,” and then the footnote would say, “Other ancient texts say: and fasting.” It’ll say, “If you hate someone without a cause, it’s murder,” and the footnote will say, “Other ancient texts add: If you hate someone without a cause” is in the text. Or it’ll say, “God’s only Son,” and the footnote will say, “Literally: only-begotten.” Or it will say, “And a young maiden will conceive” or “A young woman will conceive,” and there will be a footnote; it’ll say, “Or virgin.” So it’s very honest, it’s very clear, and it’s very useful. I think it’s the most useful.
I mentioned that that particular version of the Bible—and it’s the full Old Testament: when it says “with Apocrypha,” it means the Old Testament books that ancient Christianity and Orthodox Christianity to this day consider as parts of the Bible: the Ecclesiasticus, the Wisdom of Solomon, the Wisdom of Sirach, the Esdras books, Manasseh prayer, the Maccabean books, and also the Prayer of the Three Youths in Daniel. That’s all part of the Bible for us; we read from that in church. We read from the Wisdom of Solomon in church. We chant the Song of the Three Youths on Pascha Eve and so on. So that’s the full Bible. That would be the full Bible.
But I mentioned that this is also available from Ignatius Press. Now, if you go online and just Google in “Ignatius—I-g-n-a-t-i-u-s—Ignatius Press,” you will see the Bibles that they have advertised. I would not recommend their Bible study books, because they’re pretty much Roman Catholic Bible study books, but the text itself, where they do advertise the Revised Standard that was originally published together by Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox also affirmed it, with the annotations that are in there, I think it’s a pretty good Bible. It’s definitely if you’re going to have one that you’re going to use, that’s a very good one to use.
Now when we think about the translations, and I mentioned probably it’s good to read a lot of different ones—it’s enriching, it’s helpful—I think we have to also keep in mind that different translations in English can be different for what you want to use them for. One might just be for technical study; another might be for singing in church. Here I definitely think personally that the old King James is simply too hard for people to understand now, and that many of the words there are no longer meaning the same thing as they did at one time, and therefore the meaning is not clear. I mentioned already on the air the old word for “crowd” was “press”: “couldn’t get near Jesus because of the press.” Maybe that’s true about journalists, but it meant the crowd. Or if it’s something like from childhood, it would say it was this way “of a child,” well, it meant since childhood, so that’s kind of hard to understand. Or “thy goodness preventeth me”: it doesn’t mean that it stops me; it means that it goes in front of me, it walks in front of me.
So there are different meanings of words, and I think the old King James is simply too old and that the Revised Standard, which basically took King James and updated the language and kept the thees and the thous and the psalms is pretty good, which leads to another question. What’s the best to use liturgically, like, for example, reading the Psalter or reading the Old Testamental readings? Probably reading the Old Testamental readings, like from the Old Testament, it would be good to use the Septuagint, because that’s what’s there, that’s what’s there in Greek, and sometimes the differences are important—not tragically different or misleading, but sometimes they’re important.
But the other thing is that you also want to have a text that sounds good in English, that’s melodic, that’s easy to understand. Some of the translations are not easy to understand. Certainly the original King James Version, the psalms read would not be easy to understand. But sometimes the Septuagint psalms are not that easy to understand either. The translations are not very fluid, not very well done from the point of view of language and choice of words and so on. I think the Jerusalem Bible psalms are just terrible in my opinion. They’re almost paraphrases and they try to be so up-to-date with language that it sounds like slang almost.
In the monastery where I serve now, they use a lot of different translations. I think it was a choice of the leadership at one point in the monastery history to have different psalms so that people could just see the differences, and they couldn’t decide what would be the best to use. My own opinion is that that’s a mistake. I’ve mentioned this before in my lifetime. But I believe that liturgically any community, like a seminary or a parish or a monastery, should probably in church be using the same translation regularly, and only making changes when it’s absolutely necessary, especially in the psalms, and then the prokeimena and the alleluia verses that come from the psalms, because sometimes you cannot even recognize when you use different ones at the same services that it’s the same verse. Sometimes the verses are pretty different. Sometimes it doesn’t matter, but sometimes it’s interesting to see that you have the same words being used. I think there should be consistency in liturgical practice.
I also believe that psalmody in church should become familiar to the participants, so familiar that they know it by heart, so familiar that they anticipate the words that are coming next, so familiar that they could almost sing along with it, even without a book, once you get into the rhythm. Because when it’s changed all the time, you can’t memorize it, and then you stumble. In the worst case scenario, I would say it’s almost like being tortured. You go to church and you don’t know what you’re going to hear next.
It’s like when they use different languages in church, too. I think if we have to use different languages in church, like Greek and English, or Slavonic and English, or Georgian or something, we shouldn’t be just jumping back and forth kind of arbitrarily. We should do a whole litany in one language and a whole reading in one language, or one part of the service in one language and another part in another language. But I’ve been in churches where even in litanies they would do each petition in a different language. Well, that’s just designed to drive people crazy. You don’t know what’s going to come next. You don’t know if you’re going to understand it. You don’t know what it is, and it just makes you frustrated and unhappy.
We’ve got to think about the people who are coming to church and are listening, and that goes also for the translation of the liturgical texts, the basic Divine Liturgy, the basic vespers, matins should be pretty much the same all the time in a given church—a given parish, a given institution, a seminary, a monastery—so that people could be used to it and not be wondering what’s going to happen next but to pay attention to the content. Then you can always preach about differences. Then you can always go home and study different translations or something to see what’s there. But I would think that in church you want to have the clearest, the most understandable, the most fluent, the most rhetorically beautiful, the most flowing language that you can possibly have.
Here I’ll just state an opinion of mine. All my life, when I worked at the seminary and my parishes, I was always in a church that used thee and thou in the liturgical texts, but since I’ve been here at the monastery, they use you. The bishop here prefers you. Once I started using you, I must say that I prefer it now. It just seems more direct, more real, less stilted, less like a museum. But I know that there are differences of opinion on that.
But the point that I would want to make now that I would be very strongly convinced of: there shouldn’t be lots of changes in church. There should be certain translations that become familiar, you become used to them, you know what to expect, you can say the Creed, you can say Our Father, you can sing the Beatitudes, you can sing psalms, you can memorize psalms, and you pretty much are familiar with them and you know what they are. I think that’s an important point.
Now I would like to make a couple comments on the English translations that do exist, because I said in my original recommendation about Bible reading that there were some translations of the Bible that I just think were not very good. They’re just not very good because they’re just not good translations, and they can distort the meaning of the text. Here I would say that every single translation in some sense betrays the theological and doctrinal positions of the translators. A Roman Catholic translation, the text will sound pretty Catholic, because of the way it’s done and so on. I think the same can be true of those done primarily by Protestants. That’s why ecumenical texts are probably better, because at least the people there try to agree on what is said and how it should be said.
The examples that I used already were that I remembered the old Douay-Rheims translation of the New Testament by Roman Catholics. Every time the text said “sin,” the translator wrote “guilt”! Then it spoke about inheriting guilt and all this kind of thing. Well, that’s simply wrong theologically. Sin is sin and guilt is guilt, and they don’t mean the same thing at all. They do not, and it’s very important if it says “sin,” you’ve got to say “sin.” Then again, if it says “sins” in plural, you’ve got to put it in plural, not in singular. Sometimes it says “the sin of the world,” but in the 51st Psalm, the Septuagint text says “in sins”—plural—“has my mother conceived me,” not “in sin,” as if there’s some kind of generic sin that we’re all conceived in.
In fact, one fellow visited a monastery recently and said, “Would you say, Father, that it’s true that sin is the origin and sins are the fruit?” I said, “No, I don’t think that’s the truth. I don’t think there is a sin that is just pervasively there somehow that comes, I don’t know, upon is. I believe there are sins. If I am conceived by my parents, I’m conceived in the sins of my parents and in the sins of the actual situation. It doesn’t simply mean the sin of Adam or something; it means the actual sins. And it doesn’t mean that the act was a sin, either. For example, which would betray definitely a theological position, would be the Bible that I like the least right now, which is kind of popular, but I really think that it’s very bad. I would not recommend it to anybody, and that would be the New Revised Standard Version. There’s just too many liberties and too many theological positions taken in this translation that makes it just, I would say, that those who follow ancient Christianity, Eastern Orthodox, just ought to stay away from.
I know people don’t do that. I’ve seen Orthodox theological books where the scriptural texts are from the New Revised Standard Version. I’m even surprised at the people that I see using it. I don’t see how they can do it. Well, that’s my problem. I mean, I’m advertising this around the world. But I think in this English language, Old Testament particularly, and the New as well, the New Revised Standard is not good. I would just like to give a couple of examples here. It says this; in the Septuagint and in church and even in the RSV, the regular, old RSV, the 51st Psalm which we use a lot in church, 50 (51) Psalm would say something like this:
Against thee only have I sinned and done that which is evil in thy sight. For thou art justified in your words and you will overcome when you are judged. I was brought forth in sins, in iniquities, and in sins did my mother conceive me. I was brought forth in iniquities, and in sins did my mother conceive me.
Let me just take a quick look here and see what the old RSV says for that particular psalm. This is what it says:
I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned and done that which is evil in thy sight. So that thou art justified in thy sentence and blameless in thy judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin (singular) did my mother conceive me.
Now maybe in Hebrew it’s singular, but there’s a whole question about how [the] Hebrew language uses singulars and plurals in these ways. In any case, it says “in sin,” and many people think that’s the sin of Adam, or some people think the sin was the sexual intercourse. The old RSV is not good here, and clearly the Septuagint is plural. En amartiais: it’s plural. In sins did my mother conceive me. In Slavonic: vo gresyeh, definitely plural: in sins, rody mya maty moya, has my mother conceived me.
I think it’s really important that it would be plural there, theologically, and not “sin.” But listen to what the New Revised Standard Version says. It says this:
For I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight. So that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.
Now, I don’t think it means blameless when you pass judgment; it said, “You are justified in your words and you overcome when you are judged.” In other words, if we would dare to judge God, he will always be victorious. We cannot judge God. We like to judge God, but we can’t. Now you get to the sentence. Listen to this.
Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner, when my mother conceived me.
That is completely and totally unacceptable, both as a translation and as a theological doctrine. It’s just not true. No one can be born guilty, and no one can be born a sinner when their mother conceived them. I was not a sinner when my mother conceived me, and I was not born guilty, and neither were you. So to say I was conceived in iniquities and in sins did my mother conceive me means that the situation was sinful, that there were sins abounding, and I was born into that situation. It has nothing to do with my being guilty about it.
Then this leads to another biblical text, and you can see how these things are interconnected. In the letter to the Romans, there’s a very important text about the so-called original sin. In Romans 5:12, it says (I’m reading now the old RSV):
Therefore, as sin came into the world from one man, and death through sin, so death spread to all men, because all men sinned.
In the Douay version, it said—I don’t have it with me, but I remember—it says, because it translates from the Latin, and in Latin it literally says, In quo omnes petraverunt, which makes that text read:
Therefore, as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, so death spread to all men in whom all men sinned.
It spread to all in whom all sinned. Now, the in whom probably meant Adam or it meant death, that we all have sinned in Adam. If we take the King James Version of that very same text, this is how it reads in the King James.
Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, so death passed upon all men for that all have sinned.
Now what does that mean, “for that all have sinned”? It’s hard to even understand the English grammar there. But one thing’s for sure: When the Roman Catholics took it an interpreted it that all men have sinned in Adam and built a doctrine of the original sin on it, it was incorrect. It sounds like we all are in sin. Therefore, the New RSV can say, “I was guilty when I was conceived, and a sinner in my mother’s womb.” That’s simply just unacceptable. It’s just not true.
I mentioned last time another reading which is just not true. This time it’s from the old RSV, which shows that that also is not without error. You have in the Thessalonian letter, where it speaks about God punishing the sinners, and in that particular letter of the Thessalonians—it’s the second letter—it says that the sinners shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of God, and the exclusion is not in the original Greek New Testament text! The punishment is from the presence of the face of God, not from being excluded from God. Now that shows, again, a theological or a doctrinal bias.
There’s a conviction in the translator that hell is exclusion from God, so you put exclusion in the biblical text. Like the Living Bible called the Old Testament rigorously demanding and with merciless judgment. That’s just not true. So translations can twist things and turn things. Sometimes in the text you have verbs that are made nouns and nouns that are made verbs. For example, in the letter to the Hebrews, it says that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the exact image of the Father’s Person and the radiance of the Father’s glory. The old RSV and the new RSV, they write: He radiates the glory of the Father and expresses the Father’s Person. Well, they’re nouns, not verbs.
So you have troubles with these translations, and you’re going to have troubles with all of them. But the main trouble that I have with the New Revised Standard—and this is why I would not recommend it—is not only because of what I just read in Psalm 51, that you would go to church and actually hear a reader get up in the middle of the church and be reading the 51st Psalm, which is read at matins—it’s read at the Divine Liturgy, it’s read at the third hour, it’s read at compline—and have a reader get up there and say to the whole congregation, “Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me”! That would simply be spreading untruth, just untruth.
But the bigger problem, or an equally big problem, with the New Revised Standard is the desire to get rid of unacceptable sexist language. Basically, practically, from the Scriptures, in the Scriptures of the New Revised Standard, the expression “Son of man” is very often simply not translated as “Son of man.” Then when the text uses the term “man” where it means a masculine person, the author simply changed it so that it would not simply mean a masculine person, but it would just mean human beings generally, and very often even put them in the plural.
Now, happily, the New Revised Standard in the New Testament, where it says “Son of man,” they do have “Son of man” where they really can’t change it, where Jesus uses it, like: “When the Son of man comes in his glory.” Well, you can’t say, “When they come” or “When humanity comes”; or “the sign of the Son of man.” So you have “the Son of man” in the New Testament, and thanks be to God, that is retained, because that is what the text says.
However, it’s very important to know that “the Son of man” was used in the Old Testament in ways that the ancient Church and the Orthodox Church considers to be referring to Jesus Christ, not just to humanity in general. One of the easiest examples to use on that would be Psalm 80 in the Hebrew numbering (Psalm 79 in the Septuagint numbering). That’s a text that’s used in Orthodox liturgy. It’s the text—I will read it from the Revised Standard Version, and this is what it says in the Revised Standard Version, Psalm 80. It begins:
Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, thou who leadest Joseph like a flock, thou who art enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth. Restore us, O God, let thy face shine that we may be saved…
And so on. Then you have this line that’s used in the Liturgy.
Look down from heaven, Lord, and behold, and have regard for this vine, the stock which thy right hand has planted.
It’s at the Divine Liturgy in the Eastern Orthodox Church, at the “Holy God,” the Trisagion. The bishop comes out with his candles—the dikiri, trikiri—looks at the people, and says, “Lord, Lord, look down from heaven and behold, and visit this vineyard which thine own right hand has planted, and establish it.” Now, that’s very nice and that’s very good, and there’s no problem with that text at all, in what I just read.
Now, if you go to the New Revised Standard Version, this is what it will say:
Turn again, O God of hosts. Look down from heaven and see. Have regard for this vine, the stock that your right hand planted.
So? That’s good. There’s no problem there. However, when we hear a psalm, we’re supposed to think of the whole psalm, not just the verse that’s thrown to us in the liturgy. When we hear a prokeimenon, an alleluia verse, a line like this in the liturgy, it should bring to our recollection the entire psalm. If we hear the entire psalm and we continue reading in that text, this is how it would read when you hear the whole thing.
Look down from heaven and behold. Have regard for this vine, the stock which thy right hand hast planted.
That’s the Revised Standard Version, the old one. Then there’s a note which says: “(Hebrew) which thy right hand has planted and upon the Son whom thou hast reared for thyself.” Now, if you take that particular text and go to the Septuagint, what you have in the Septuagint are these words:
Look down from heaven and behold and visit this vineyard, which your right hand planted, and perfect it. And visit the Son of man—Son of man!—whom you strengthened for yourself.
In Lazarus Moore’s translation of the Septuagint, it said, “which you have made strong for yourself.” So you have a text that’s left out. It’s left out of the RSV even though it says it’s in the Hebrew. It’s not in the New RSV at all. And this is the reference to the Son of man whom you have strengthened for yourself, or reared for yourself.” The ancient Christians and the Orthodox Church say that refers to Jesus. That’s a direct reference to Jesus. And then it even continues. I’m reading the old RSV.
They have burned it with fire; they have cut it down. May they perish at the rebuke of thy countenance.
“Countenance” and “face” is the same word. Sometimes you get person, sometimes you have presence; sometimes you have countenance, and sometimes you have face. In the Septuagint, it’s always the same word: prosopon. It could be translated differently, but it would be nice if it were always the same English word, too, so you could know that it’s the same word. Then it says:
But let thy hand be upon (and the old RSV says) the man of thy right hand, the Son of man whom thou hast made strong for thyself. Then we will never turn back from thee. Give us life, and we will call on thy name.
That’s what the old Revised Standard has. The Septuagint puts it this way:
Look down from heaven and behold, and visit this vineyard which your right hand planted, and perfect it. And visit the Son of man whom you have strengthened for yourself. The vineyard was set on fire and uprooted, but they shall perish at the rebuke of your face. Let your hand be upon the man of your right hand and upon the Son of man whom you strengthened for yourself. Then we will not turn away from you; you will give us life, and we will call upon your name. O Lord God of hosts, convert us and reveal your face, and we shall be saved.
The Church Fathers consistently say that refers to Jesus. The vine has been trampled, but it’s been planted by God, but he has raised up the Son of man. The Son of man is exalted at his right hand, and the Son of man saves the vineyard, and the Son of man saves everything, and he is the Son of man whom God himself has strengthened. Then you think of that in terms of Ezekiel, you think of that in terms of Daniel, you think of that in terms of other texts of the Old Testament, Isaiah, and you know that the Son of man is probably the reason why that title, the Son of man, is used for Jesus in the New Testament and why Jesus uses it consistently in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John for himself.
You can go on Ancient Faith Radio and listen to my commentary about the Son of man as a title for Jesus, but the Bible, then, when it says “Son of man,” better say: Son of man. You can’t say something else; you’ve got to say: the Son of man, because that’s a reference that’s extremely important because it refers to Jesus.
Now let’s see how the New Revised Standard Version translates this text. I already mentioned that it’s perfectly okay when they say, “Look down from heaven and see; have regard for this vine, the stock that your right hand planted,” right? Then they even do put the note in: “And upon the one whom you made strong for yourself.” But they say, “the one whom you made strong for yourself.” In Hebrew and Greek, it says, “the man that you have made strong for yourself.” It doesn’t say the one; it says the man. Then it continues: “And let your hand be upon the one,” it says here in RSV; it says “man” in Hebrew in Greek. “And the one whom you made strong for yourself. Again, in Greek and in Hebrew both, it says, “the Son of man whom you have made strong for yourself.” So it’s the Son of man who is seated at the right hand; it’s the Son of man whom he made strong for himself.
Then we will never turn back from you. Give us life, and we will call on your name. Restore us, O Lord God of hosts, let your face shine, that we may be saved.
But they removed the term man and Son of man. Three times it’s there, and it’s removed. It says the one in every case. Well, it’s not the one; it’s the Son of man. It’s the Son of man, and the Son of man is a very, very, very important biblical concept. It’s so central that Jesus uses that term for himself consistently in the New Testament. But if you read this New Revised Standard in the Old Testament, you would never even know that the word “Son of man” is there—because it’s not there! It says: “the one.”
Another example from the New Revised Standard: the first psalm. The first psalm says: “Blessed is the man.” Orthodox are familiar with this; it’s sung at every Saturday vespers and at big feast days.
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers.
Well, it can sound like it’s “Blessed is the human being.” But here, in Hebrew and in Greek, the word is aner, not anthropos. It means a male human being. It literally means in English a man, not a woman, and not just a person. So it can’t say, “Blessed is the person.” It means the man.
Again, our Tradition interprets that as referring to Jesus. The only man who is blessed…
...who walks not in the counsel of the wicked nor stands in the way of sinners nor sits in the seat of scoffers, but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted…
All of this wants to say that it’s not just any old male man; it’s the One who in the Psalter, the righteous man in the Psalter, is constantly and consistently interpreted in our Church as referring to Jesus.
Now let’s listen to what the New Revised Standard says.
Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path that sinners tread or sit in the seat of scoffers, but their delight is the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water…
The whole psalm is put in the plural, not the singular, and it says they, not the man, which means this can refer to anybody. The point is: was it meant to refer to anybody? Well, ultimately it has to refer to everybody, because everybody has to live the way Jesus lived. Everybody who believes in Jesus is graced by God and the Holy Spirit to be blessed the way he is blessed. But we are blessed because of him, so these are not generic statements about humanity or human beings. The Son of man is a biblical title.
So that’s places where you cannot play with that. You cannot change those kind of things. When you try to be inclusive and so on, you can simply ruin the text. The New Revised Standard Version may be sounding nice and generally applicable and so on, but it is not a translation. It is not a rendering of what the text actually says. Sometimes the text says hard things, and sometimes the text says specific things. Sometimes the text refers to one male human being and not to humankind in general. So when you have aner, it’s got to be a male human being. When you have anthropos, then it is human beings. Certainly we can translate human beings as persons or as humanity, the human race; it’s very possible when that is what is said in Hebrew and Greek, but when that is not said, you’ve got to translate what is said.
And when it says in the old scriptural texts—Ezekiel, Daniel, the psalms—the Son of man, then it’s got to be the Son of man. When it says aner, a male human being, then you’ve got to use an English word that would refer to a male human being. And you can’t put in plural what is there in singular.
Sometimes it could be better. Instead of saying, “God loves the righteous,” you could say, “God loves the righteous people” or something. Probably the meaning would be the same. But here you’ve got to be really careful again, really careful, not only to language and grammar and syntax, but to what the words actually say, and, even more important, what they mean, to whom they refer.
So I think that the New Revised Standard Version is just too much of a paraphrase. It’s just too much of a change of language. It is not something that is helpful at all. Then you have other things in the New Revised Standard where you have the word for spirit could be breath and it could be spirit, but it could also be wind. If you use breath of God, that would be fine; it wouldn’t be so bad if you didn’t want to say spirit: maybe you want to say breath because maybe in Hebrew ruach means breath more than spirit. But the New Revised Standard Version, this is what it says:
In the beginning when God created the heaven and the earth, the earth was formless, void, and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
“A wind from God.” Now, again, to be fair, the footnote says, “While the spirit of God” or “while a mighty wind,” but they could have also said, “the breath of God.” They don’t refer to that here. But it’s very different to have the breath of God or the spirit of God than to have a wind from God. The wind from God: is God producing wind or passing wind or something? It’s terrible even to think! You can’t just do it when you have a kind of a bias against you might say traditional orthodoxy, so every time you get a chance you can choose the translation that seems to be more against what was classically believed—that’s not very good, but it does show a certain theological tendency.
Here I would just simply say, point-blank, don’t bother with the New Revised Standard Version at all, unless you’re a biblical scholar and you want to see what people are doing or you want to read how it’s said. But even if you go to the New Revised Standard Version, just as another version just kind of to be edified, I would say be extremely careful and do not ever just read it alone. Read it with the old Revised Standard or the old King James, even, but don’t read it with a paraphrase; don’t read it with Bible for Modern Man or something like that. I would say even the New International Version sometimes even betrays Evangelical tendencies and so on.
But in any case, we are folks who know English and are stuck with translations. So we’ve got to find various translations and use them, but I personally think the best is still the old Revised Standard Version with the footnotes. It’s the clearest, it’s the most theologically sound, it gives good notes, and it’s not very dangerous. But others, like paraphrases, like Living Bible or Good News, they’re not acceptable. And the New Revised is, I think, just too liberalized to the point where it just simply distorts the text.
May God help us all in all of this, but it’s a good thing to delve into. But when all is said and done, and the end result is we still thank God that the Bible is not a Quran. It is not a text dictated by God that fell from heaven, that if you don’t get the right text you’re in big, huge trouble. Thanks be to God, we’re liberated from such a curse. We have the living faith of the Church, we have the canon of faith, we have the totality of Scripture, we have Scripture scholars who can help us, we have Church Fathers and Mothers and saints who interpret. We have Greek texts, we have Hebrew texts, we have English translations.
We can use all of this for God’s glory and for our salvation—but be careful. We must be careful. Of course, the greatest care would be to read the holy Scriptures in Greek—when they’re written in Greek, and some of the Old Testament is written in Greek—to read the Hebrew that we have available to us if we can, or find people who can to tell us and share their knowledge with us; to read the Septuagint in Greek—that’s what the Church uses liturgically—read English translations of the Septuagint—there’s several of them—and just deal with it all.
But we’ve got to read it. If we are literate, we’ve got to go to church and hear it. If we go to church and hear it, it’s got to be a particular text, somebody’s got to read it well, it’s got to be a well-chosen text, well-rendered. It should be consistent, it should be familiar, and we should delve into it and make ourselves what Fr. Florovsky called a scriptural mind. But we should also be aware it’s not a Quran, and we should also be aware that we are at the mercy of human beings, and we are at the mercy of translations, even translation from Hebrew to Greek. And we are at the mercy of variant texts, whether they are of the Old Testament or of the New, whether they’re Hebrew or Greek. There are variations, and we have to face it and live with it. And we can, and it’s not a problem; it’s not a problem at all, because God Almighty will guide us, if we’re pure at heart, if we’re praying, if we’re reading with an open mind, if we want to glorify God, if we want to delve into the meaning—God Almighty himself will see that that is given to us.
But we have to use our brain, we have to use our mind, we have to use what God has given us, and what he’s given us are texts and translations of texts, and men have given this to us, too. We thank God for the work that they’ve done: lexicons, dictionaries, various translations, footnotes. We thank God for it all, but thanks be to God that our salvation does not depend on this alone. In some sense it does not depend on it at all except in the context of the entire faith of the Church as a whole, the ongoing, living tradition of preaching, teaching, worshiping, praying, and living a holy, sacred life, and following the holy people who brought all this to us and translated it for us and commented and explained it to us as well. May God’s holy name be praised, and may we keep and love his holy word, Jesus Christ himself, and the incarnation of the word in various words in various languages.