Our Three (Updated) Confessions

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At its combined session of Synods last June the RCA and the CRC approved a joint new edition of the three historic Reformed confessions, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dort.

Today, I’m pleased to announce that they are available from the Beliefs page on CRCNA.org. Here are the direct links:

Note that all are available as web pages and as printer-friendly PDFs. Print versions will also be available. For more on that and the backstory to all of this, read on...

Background

While the CRC and the RCA both hold these confessions as standards for doctrine, they have never had a common text. The CRC produced a series of excellent new translations in the 1970’s and 1980’s based on the original languages. The RCA also produced a new translation in the 1980’s which was distinctive in that it eliminated almost all male references to God. That translation, however, never gained widespread useage in the RCA.

Faith Alive, which is the publishing agency of the CRC, and also the official resource provider of the RCA, had several reasons for desiring a common translation. One precipitating factor was the planned publication of a bi-denominational hymnal in 2013 (now Lift Up Your Hearts). It was assumed at the time that the hymnal might contain the confessions as does the CRC’s Psalter Hymnal. As it turned out, the hymnal will not contain the confessions, but they will be published in a separate book. Market research demonstrated that most churches did not use the confessions as published in the hymnal, but printed portions for worship in bulletins or Power Point. In addition, the desire to have a wider variety of hymns competed for limited hymnal space with the confessions. More importantly, Faith Alive also publishes curricula for both denominations for youth and adults for both denominations, and common edition would very useful for that reason alone.

Beginning in 2008, Faith Alive brought together a small group of CRC and RCA theologians chaired by Editor in Chief Rev. Leonard J. Vander Zee. The committee consisted of Dr. Todd Billings, of Western Theological Seminary, Dr. Eugene Heideman, retired RCA theologian, and Dr. Lyle Bierma, of Calvin Theological Seminary. Each has had long experience in studying and teaching the confessions. The group decided that a completely new translation from the original languages was not necessary, but worked instead from the translations of both denominations, always comparing these with the original language versions.

The editorial committee placed its draft of the new edition before the CRC in 2010 and received comments and suggestions. The CRC Synod of 2010 also gave overall approval to major changes such as the use of the NRSV and the protocol for language related to God. After studying a large number of comments and suggestions, the committee made some substantial changes, and placed the confessions before Synod 2011 for final approval.

Changes

While, overall, the new edition is quite similar to the present excellent CRC versions , and the committee specifically sought to preserve the wording of a number of widely known portions, the careful reader will notice differences. These changes came about in part from the following considerations:

  1. The committee decided that the new editions would conform to the protocol of gender language for human beings and for God that are editorial policy for Faith Alive. For example, the use of the generic “man” for human beings was changed to more gender inclusive language. Also, while we use the pronoun for God, it was used more sparingly (not repeated often in a sentence for example) than the present translation. The reason for this later decision was that it is that the use of the personal pronoun is important to preserve the personal character of God, using it heavily tended toward the idea that God is male by nature. 
  2. Another consideration was one that is also often a factor in Bible translations. Should we seek to achieve a translation as closer to the original text, or one that attempts to give what is believed to be the equivalent of the original text in modern English (sometimes called “dynamic equivalence”)? The committee opted for the former, while the present CRC translations tended toward the latter. An example of this is the present CRC’s translation of the wrath of God as the anger of God. The committee felt that wrath better expresses the original language, and expresses the idea that God’s “wrath” is qualitatively different from human “anger.” Another interesting example is that the original language version refers often to the “Holy Supper” rather than the Lord’ s Supper. Retaining the original helps today’s reader to understand the high regard for the sacrament in the 16th century. [if you want to show side by side comparisons that bring out some of the differences I suggest Q and A 28, 44, 52, 61, 86, 90]
  3. It was also decided that the new edition would use the New Revised Standard Version in biblical quotations. This version, approved by both denominations, tends to stay closer to the original Greek and Hebrew than the fine NIV, which tends more toward dynamic equivalence, and thus also fit better with the original language of the confessions themselves. 

An Ecumenical Heidelberg Catechism

The Heidelberg is without a doubt the most widely used and deeply loved of the three confessions, and the committee took special care to preserve its more well-known wordings. Early in the process we were contacted by a translation committee of the Presbyterian Church (USA) which had also been commissioned to produce a new translation of the Heidelberg. When they saw our draft, they immediately decided to join our translation effort. So, the new edition of the Heidelberg is now truly ecumenical in being approved by three major Reformed denominations.

Faith Alive with Congregational Ministry Publishing of the PC(USA) is also producing a book on the Heidelberg by widely known theologian an popular writer Craig Barnes. This book and a video will be the centerpiece of an all-church study guide to reacquaint churches with the Heidelberg in 2013, the 450th anniversary of the Catechism.

Book of Confessions

While the new edition is now available on the CRCNA and RCA web sites, Faith Alive will publish a complete Book of Creeds and Confessions for both denominations in 2012. It will contain the three confessions, plus the CRC “Contemporary Testimony: Our World Belongs to God,” the RCA “Our Song of Hope,” the Behar Confession, and the Ecumenical Creeds. Publication is delayed until the CRC decides on the status of the Belhar Confession at its Synod in 2012.

Confessions for Today

This new edition comes at an important time in the life of the CRC and RCA. In the last several years there has been an unprecedented increase in cooperative ventures at many levels and areas of ministry. At the same time, a renewed interest in the confessions is evident in both denominations, and across the spectrum of Reformed churches. Seminaries of both denominations report new interest in studying the confessions among their students. As we confront new issues in the 21st century we need the wisdom, insight, and guidance of the confessions as never before. It is hoped that this new edition will serve to guide and bless the churches for decades to come.

As recommended by the CRC Synod, 2011, the older edition of rhe confessions will be available on the CRCNA web site, and print verisions will be sold from Faith Alive as long as supplies last.  

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Is there a spot to observe the parallel translations, ie. the present version, and the proposed version, with the changes highlilghted  in different font or color?