by Cyril H. Brooks
The EFMA-IFMA executives’ retreat came up with suggestions about cooperating with Roman Catholics in Bible translations. What’s a missionary’s reaction on the field when he’s invited to share in a joint Protestant-Catholic project?
The EFMA-IFMA executives’ retreat came up with suggestions about cooperating with Roman Catholics in Bible translations. What’s a missionary’s reaction on the field when he’s invited to share in a joint Protestant-Catholic project? What follows is an attempt to be objective, to weigh the pros and cons of joint translations, from the standpoint of a field missionary in the Philippines, Cyril Brooks of Christian Missions in Many Lands. You may agree or disagree with him, but we urge that field decisions be made in the light of his considerations. If there are other facts to be weighed, send then along to share with EMQ readers.
"A Mighty Fortress is Our God." To be singing Luther’s great Reformation hymn is not unusual. What was unusual about it was that more than a dozen Roman Catholic priests joined with some seventy Protestant workers in singing this great hymn of the faith. This was in one of the devotional periods at the Translators’ Institute of the United Bible Societies which convened in Baguio, Philippines, during May, 1968. For four weeks, at the invitation of the Bible Societies, missionary and national representatives from some twenty-seven mission groups met together with a common interest in the translation of the Scriptures. These eighty or so men and women are currently engaged in translation projects in thirty-four languages in Asia and the South Pacific. A similar institute was held five years previously here in the Philippines, but this was the first time that Roman Catholic priests participated, and there were fourteen of them present. Before evaluating this new phase of ecumenicity, it might be well to give some description of the institute as a background.
The institute met on the beautiful grounds of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, located in the lovely mountain pity of Baguio with its cool invigorating climate. The delegates stayed in the dormitories and ate together in the dining room since the seminary was not then in session. Each morning there were four lectures, preceded by a fifteen-minute devotional conducted by different delegates. The lectures dealt with biblical backgrounds and methods and techniques of translation. In biblical backgrounds we studied political forms in the Old Testament; historical setting of Old Testament books; their relation to the New Testament. On the whole the presentations were theologically conservative. Of course, the purpose was primarily to help in translation rather than for exposition.
Translation techniques were taught very ably by Dr. Eugene Nida and Dr. William Wonderly. In recent years much study has been made of methods of translation. Translation is not as simple as some think. A good translation is not simply a word-for-word transfer-languages are far too complex for that! In the afternoon the delegates divided into groups. Some who attended previous seminars had studies on more advanced language problems. Others who are or who will be translating the Old Testament had lessons in Hebrew. Delegates working on the main Philippine languages conducted workshops in these languages. Most of these committees had been revamped with the inclusion of Roman Catholic nationals, so this was an opportunity to get accustomed to working together on some selected passages.
The evening sessions were of a lighter nature. Some evenings slides of Bible lands were shown to give a better idea of the biblical settings. Other evenings we learned about the cultural setting of countries represented by the delegates, chiefly through folk dances and songs. Since some of the lectures gave study assignments, there was not much free time even though an hour was set aside for recreation. Afternoon showers quite often interrupted even that.
At the beginning of the institute one of the missionaries wished to do a little research. He handed out a hundred questions to the delegates from the Philippines. Through the answers given he drew up a graph showing both the individual and average standings as to general biblical knowledge and also theological leanings. Some of the delegates evidently held liberal theological views, but the graph showed that the average leaned decidedly toward the conservative position. Looking over the list of all the Protestant delegates, we note those from faith missions were in the majority. Also, some from the denominational missions were evidently of similar persuasion in their personal beliefs. It was an interesting experience to meet and mingle with such a varied group-my roommate was a Roman Catholic priest with the Cebuano committee. Taken at face value, things they said in the devotions and in personal conversations indicated that most of these priests were sincerely devoted to this work of translating the Scriptures, and some of them seemed to know the Lord personally.
Today in many mission fields questions are being raised regarding the inclusion of Roman Catholics in Bible translations undertaken by the Bible Societies. I will attempt to evaluate this from three aspects: first, what should be our attitude toward working with Roman Catholics on translation projects; second, what are the advantages or disadvantages of such joint translations; third, what will be the attitude of the reading public to such joint translations when they are published? These are matters to which I have given considerable thought and prayer, but I am not convinced that I have the best or final answer. This is my personal evaluation at present. It would be helpful to hear from others who are faced with the same situation or who are similarly involved.
WORKING ON TRANSLATION PROJECTS
First then, what should be our attitude toward working with Roman Catholics in translation of the Scriptures. This is a new situation in missions. A few years ago it was unthinkable. In practice the Roman Catholic Church was then opposed to Bible reading by the laity and showed little desire to provide any vernacular translations. Only in a few isolated instances were such available. Still less were they willing to work with Bible Societies that had been condemned by earlier popes. Within recent years there has developed a new attitude toward the Scriptures. This was given further impetus by the liberal position of Pope John, the Second Vatican Council, and Rome’s interest in the ecumenical movement. So now Roman Catholic priests are permitted and even encouraged to work with Protestants in Bible translations.
An editorial in the March-April issue of the Record, published by the Philippine Bible Society, has this to say: "There are, however, bystanders who shake their heads and wag their tongues in disapproval. They regard this long-lost fellowship with foreboding suspicion and icy indifference. From the Roman Catholic side of the fence, it is a phobia for anything associated with Protestantism. Only Bibles with the imprimatur of the Roman Catholic hierarchy and sold in Catholic book stores are acceptable to them. On the Protestant side, there is a morbid fear of eventual Catholic domination. As far as they are concerned, it is absolutely pointless for the Society to allow Roman Catholic participation in any of its program."
The question facing us is whether we should participate with them in this particular project. I do not approve of the ecumenical movement as a whole, because of its liberalistic tendencies, its compromise of biblical truth and its willingness to embrace all shades of belief and even unbelief. However, will it be any compromise on our part to be associated with Roman Catholics or Seventh Day Adventists in Bible translation? Ought we to isolate ourselves so that we have no part at all in this? Such questions were before me when I was invited (without expense to myself) to attend the Translators’ Institute. At present my part in the new translation of the Tagalog New Testament is that of consultant. This means that I do not meet with the committee, but do have the opportunity of going over their work and offering my criticisms and suggestions. I might want to revise my attitude if it involved meeting regularly with the committee. No doubt some will criticize my stand, but it was not without considerable thought and prayer that I accepted the invitation.
As I had anticipated, I learned much in those four weeks at the institute that will help me in my work. It was an opportunity to get acquainted with the men on the Tagalog committee as well as with those of the Bible Society involved in translation programs. On the other hand, their acquaintance with me would enable them to better evaluate any criticisms and suggestions. While sitting in with the Tagalog committee at the institute, I got the impression that the Protestants were a bit wary lest the priest introduce any of his church’s views. However, they did seem to be working well together.
If we spurn the invitation and opportunity to make our views known while the translation is in progress, we shall not be in any good position to criticize it after its publication. Ought we not to make our voices heard while they can be heeded? I feel we should take this present opportunity on behalf of the evangelical constituency, because we can thus keep in touch with and perhaps influence current developments. The Bible Society does not wish to take sides between liberals and conservatives, but desires to provide Scriptures in various languages for all the people. In the institute there was frequent emphasis made that translations must be faithful to what is found in the original languages; that nothing must be made explicit in the receptor language which is not explicit or at least clearly implicit in the source language. Surely we who base our stand so decidedly on the Scriptures should contribute our share toward faithful translations when given the opportunity to do so.
Personally, I do not think I am compromising my position as to the truth. Rather I view it as an opportunity to witness to my faith in the inspired Word of God and to my love for it. However, each translator, whether missionary or national, will have to make his own personal decision whether such cooperation involves any compromise, or if it involves a fellowship in which he cannot participate. In some languages, particularly of small tribal peoples, this issue will never arise. I might also point out that this does not involve any participation in the church activities or missionary efforts of others.
Secondly, let us consider the value of joint translations, both pro and con. Some who are not familiar with conditions on the mission field may wonder why it is necessary to have a translation acceptable to both Protestants and Roman Catholics. In English and in some other languages that are widely spoken there are many different versions so that the reader can choose which he prefers. Some are issued with the imprimatur of the Roman Catholic hierarchy while others are more widely used by non-Catholics. However, in many languages on the mission field, the only version available is that published by the Bible Societies. The number of those who read these languages is often so limited, and those who are able to purchase Scriptures are so few, that it would be impractical to publish different versions. In many cases the Scriptures published by the Bible Societies have to be subsidized to bring the prices in line with the capability of the purchasers.
Among the advantages of a joint translation are these: It will do much to dispel the idea that there are two different Bibles-Roman Catholic and Protestant. This has been a very common idea in countries that are predominantly Roman Catholic. This in turn will help to lessen the prejudice that many Roman Catholics have against the Bible as being a "Protestant book." This will not only facilitate dealing with Roman Catholics but can be used to stimulate them to read the Bible for themselves. One of the most effective ways to convince a Roman Catholic of the errors of teaching and practice in his church is to get him to read the Bible. Roman Catholics would much more readily purchase Scriptures that they know are approved by their church. I quote again from the above-mentioned editorial: "May all our Christian friends bear in mind that the Society is strictly concerned with the production, distribution and education on the wise use of the Bible without note or comment. In translating the Bible, the Society endeavors to be faithful only to the original intent of the text rather than to any pet theological mold . . . . It does not allow any dictation from any quarter. The privileges it extends are uniformly for one and all who would want to avail of them."
For the most part the Roman Catholic priests assigned to translation work will be those with considerable scholarship and knowledge of the original languages. Undoubtedly translation of the Bible calls for such learning, but what will be its real advantage in this cased We cannot help wondering how much these men will be influenced by their training and theological views. None of us can altogether evade the influence of our religious background in this work. During the institute some questions were very much on my mind. Was there a danger of overemphasising scholarship with a consequent minimizing of the need for the guidance of the Holy Spirit? Was there a danger of becoming so engrossed with the human element, the writers and their backgrounds, that we lose sight of divine inspiration? Certainly scholarship and learning is needed, but unspiritual, unsanctified wisdom may become a hindrance rather than a help. Just as holy men of God were guided by the Holy Spirit in writing the Scriptures, so in the translating of those same Scriptures there is need for spiritual men who are subject to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Another factor that comes to my mind in the current trend to translate into everyday language that can be easily understood by the average reader, is there any danger of losing some of the rich content of the original languages? Is there any danger of oversimplification? Translation committees face this repeatedly, regardless of who compose these committees. Before we can translate we need to endeavor to find out what the biblical writer meant by the words he used. This calls for spiritual discernment as well as knowledge of the language used originally.
RECEPTION OF JOINT TRANSLATIONS
Thirdly, what will be the attitude of the reading public toward joint translations? The United Bible Societies have stated that any edition prepared jointly by Roman Catholics and Protestants would normally bear the imprint of the Bible Society and the imprimatur oï¿½ the appropriate Roman Catholic ecclesiastical authority. This latter would of course make such editions acceptable to the Roman Catholics. It would not likely become any hindrance to non-Catholics. Many English speaking Protestants now make use of such Catholic versions as Confraternity and Knox. Some years ago, a Tagalog translation of the New Testament by a priest appeared. Many Christian workers purchased this because they found it effective in dealing with Roman Catholics.
There are some Christians who are so familiar with the older versions that they are suspicious of any new version in modern language. They forget that the King James version was in up-to-date English four hundred years ago; that the original New Testament was written in the common language of that day. So when these joint translations are published there will probably be some who will detect what they suppose is a sinister Roman Catholic influence. Such suspicions are not likely to be well-founded. For one thing, on most committees Protestants will out-number Roman Catholics. Another factor will be the careful supervision of experienced men in the Bible Society.
The principal difference between Roman Catholic and Protestant versions of the Bible has to do with what is recognized as being canonical. Protestants reject the Apocrypha as not being part of the canon of Scripture. Roman Catholics call these books "deutero-canonical" and accept them with the Old Testament. The imprimatur of the Roman Catholic authorities would not be placed upon editions that did not include these. The Bible Societies propose to place these books in a separate section between the Old and New Testaments. This section would also include "deutero-canonical" parts of ‘some books such as Esther and Daniel. It is not clear whether they would publish some editions without this section.
Regarding Bibles in Philippine languages, it will be some years before this matter has to be faced. At present; work is progressing on new translations of the New Testament. It will be quite some time before the Old Testament is finished. In recent years great changes have taken place in the attitude of Roman Catholics toward Protestants and the Bible. In the doctrines of Rome no change of any consequence is to be expected-in these basics that Church will not altar its stand. However, their interest in the ecumenical movement has resulted in a different treatment of Protestants. In place of opposition and persecution there is now a willingness to cooperate in many ways. Possibly it is realized that "separated brethren" can more easily be brought back in their fold by friendliness than by fighting. Even though we do disagree with the current ecumenicity, ought we not to take advantage of the new techniques to spread the Gospel among those who formerly were prejudiced against it by the attitude of their Church? True it is that Rome’s teachings about purgatory, the Mass, and the Virgin Mary have not changed. But there is a new climate, a fresh spirit of inquiry so that many are willing to listen to a positive presentation of the Gospel. Surely we can take advantage of the ecumenical spirit without lending our support to it. Otherwise we are in danger of missing a great opportunity to reach Roman Catholics for Christ.
Also among Roman Catholics there is a new interest in the Bible. A priest ordered a hundred or more sets of the correspondence course, "What the Bible Teaches," from the Bible School of the Air for use in his classes on religion in a Catholic academy. Later he sent in the names and grades of many of these students who had completed the course. The priests who attended the Translators’ Institute were there with the consent of their bishops, and in many cases were relieved from parish duties to engage in this translation work. This new interest in the Bible could have widespread results in a way that the Roman hierarchy does not realize.
"The entrance of thy Word giveth light." The light of the Word of God can dispel the darkness that now exists among most members of the Roman Catholic Church. Bible reading by these people could bring about another Reformation, especially at this time when many are not happy about other matters, such as celibacy of the priests and birth control. Ought we not to do all we can to encourage the reading of the Bible by Roman Catholics? New, meaningful translations that are acceptable to them can contribute toward this. It would seem that Pope Paul sees the trend of these liberalizing influences in his Church and is trying to restrain them. These are days of great opportunity and we need wisdom from God to make the most effective use of the opportunity.
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