Quest for a common Bible could spur wider reading of Scripture

The avalanche of books spilling from publishers’ presses in our day offers bane and blessing to readers. As a force for great good or great evil or as so much inconsequential twaddle, books vie for our time and attention. No man who desires a full life can neglect them. Without books a man’s vistas are circumscribed, his knowledge limited, his élan lessened. If we choose carefully the books in which we invest our hours and dollars, the return in intellectual and spiritual dividends will immeasurably enrich our lives.

God has chosen to communicate with man by the Word of God in the form of human flesh and the Word of God in the form of a book. The Bible is unrivaled as the book that has exerted the most profound effect on history. Men of every generation have found in its inspired pages God’s eternal purpose in Jesus Christ. Of all books, only the Bible offers men meaning for life, salvation from sin, and victory over the grave as it reveals God in his holiness and love. No matter how clouded man’s understanding, how hostile the social and political scene, how foreboding the presence of evil in the world, as long as the Bible is available for men to read, the potential exists for the power of truth, righteousness, and justice to break forth and transform the affairs of men and nations.

Sensible and sensitive observers of human events are becoming more and more alarmed at the spiritual and moral sickness overtaking societies throughout the world today. But lest we be morosely discouraged by the seeming futility of the human situation, we must take note of a development that could reverse the direction of current trends. We are seeing the beginning of new, concerted efforts to encourage all men to read the Bible for themselves!

Perhaps the most important decision of Vatican II was its explicit endorsement of the reading of the Bible in the vernacular tongue by Roman Catholic laymen. This ruling has encouraged Catholics and Protestants to take preliminary steps toward scholarly cooperation to produce a common Bible based on an agreed text of the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament. This past month representatives of the United Bible Societies (Protestant) met with Catholic officials in Rome and announced that, pending approval by Pope Paul VI and the Bible Societies’ governing board, formulas would soon be recommended to overcome obstacles to the production and distribution of a common Bible for the entire Christian community.

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Since both Protestant and Catholic biblical scholars have great respect for the Masoretic text of the Old Testament, Biblica Hebraica, edited by Kittel, and the Nestle-Aland text of the Greek New Testament, prospects for agreement on original-language texts are good. The knotty problems that must be worked out concern the inclusion of the apocryphal books and the need for interpretative notes in a common Bible. If these problems can be resolved so that new vernacular translations based on sound original texts are finally placed in the hands of men the world over, who can calculate the great good that may result? The reading of the Word of God under the guidance of the Holy Spirit can miraculously change the life and thoughts of men. If a return to the Scriptures in the fifteenth century provided the foundation for the Reformation, is it not possible that a new interest in the Bible could also affect the destiny of the world in our day?

The increasing concern by Christians to make the Gospel known to contemporary man has provided impetus for many recent translations of the Bible. Organizations such as the Wycliffe Bible Translators and the United Bible Societies, not content that the Bible (or parts of it) has been translated into 1,200 languages, have pushed forward to conquer the remaining 1,000. New biblical translations or versions in English have multiplied during the past few decades. These include the Revised Standard Version, Moffatt, New English Bible, Berkeley, Phillips, Goodspeed, Williams, Living Letters, Amplified Bible, Confraternity, New American Standard, Jerusalem Bible, and Today’s English Version. The American Bible Society’s New Testament: Today’s English Version entitled Good News for Modern Man has recently met with astounding sales success. Since publication last September, this attractive paperback based on the Greek New Testament prepared by scholars under sponsorship of the United Bible Societies has sold more than 1,060,000 copies. Its brisk contemporary language, terse sectional headings, appealing line drawings, and attractive cover make the Scriptures as current as tomorrow morning’s newspaper. Christians would do well to buy and distribute this inexpensive (twenty-five cents) and exciting paperback to many people who might otherwise be reluctant to read the Bible.

Cooperative endeavors to produce a textually accurate common Bible for Protestants and Roman Catholics translated into the many vernacular languages should be strongly supported by all Christians. It is vitally important, however, that Protestants maintain the Bible Societies’ 150-year-old policy that interpretative notes and comments not be appended to the biblical text. Deviation from this principle could open the door to a distorted view of the Gospel. Care must be taken also that apocryphal books are not integrated with canonical books in a common Bible.

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The books our generation will produce, possibly including a common Bible, and the books that are our heritage can be a means by which men, under God, find the truth and wisdom they need to fulfill their purpose as human beings. But books cannot enrich our lives unless we read them—carefully, critically, continually. From the overburdened shelves that hold the Word of God and the words of men, let us choose volumes of quality that will meet our needs. Then let us read, read, read!

The Church And Its Ecumenical Calling

The European section of a study committee of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod has submitted a report to the synod on “The Nature of the Church and Its Ecumenical Calling.” The fifty-seven-page document, based upon fresh examination of the biblical material and on honest assessment of the ecumenical movement today, attempts to determine what attitude the Reformed and Presbyterian churches associated with the Reformed Ecumenical Synod should adopt toward the World Council of Churches and other ecumenical bodies. The assessment is fairly positive. The final answer on the question of alignment is “no.”

The definitions of Christian unity voiced by responsible members of the World Council are generally applauded as giving adequate expression to the tension between the unity we have as Christians and that unity toward which we work. This is regarded as a significant advance over the earliest formulations. Moreover, the much discussed “Basis” for membership in the World Council is equally praised for its trinitarian character and for its firm recognition of Christ as God and Saviour. But does the WCC take its Basis seriously? Not in the opinion of the committee members. The report concludes, “The WCC, while claiming to represent the given unity in Christ, does not unequivocally reject all that is contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, nor does it warn its member churches against the false gospel that has a legitimate place in many of these churches.”

The Reformed Ecumenical Synod through its committee has voiced a legitimate concern for biblical unity, a qualified unity that is always a unity-in-the-truth.

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