A Bible That They Approve
“BRITAIN, U.S. Begin Printing Common Bible.” “400-Year Gap Bridged at Yale. Dean Weigle’s 40-Year Effort Gives 2 Faiths Common Bible.” “New Bible May End Controversy Among Faiths.” Such were some of the headings in the public press that greeted the publication of The Revised Standard Version Common Bible issued in Britain on January 21 and in the United States on April 2, 1973.
Its preface says that leading Protestant and Roman Catholic scholars collaborated in producing this Bible. Also, that it has been approved by leading prelates of American Protestantism, of the Church of England, of the Roman Catholic Church and of the Greek Orthodox Church. It is said to be the first Bible since the Reformation that is acceptable to all branches of Christendom.
How did this Common Bible come to be produced? It is based on the Revised Standard Version (RSV) first published in its complete form in 1952. The RSV was approved by and gained favor among Protestants far and wide but apparently no thought was given to its being used by Roman Catholics. It had many good points because of the progress made in Bible scholarship. However, it took a major backward step from its immediate predecessor, the American Standard Version (ASV), in that it eliminated the distinctive and unique name Jehovah, the name of God, which is found almost 7,000 times in the ASV.
Then in 1966, doubtless due to the great popularity of the RSV, Roman Catholic scholars prepared an edition of RSV suitable for Roman Catholics. It incorporated the distinctive features found in Roman Catholic Bibles. For example, in it the apocryphal books of the Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Baruch, Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees and additions to the books of Esther and Daniel were distributed throughout the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). None of these had appeared in either the ASV or the RSV.
Also, dubious or spurious sections, such as Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53–8:11, were made a part of the regular text instead of appearing as footnotes. And, further, this Roman Catholic version used the term “brethren” (to convey the idea of spiritual relationship) instead of “brothers” when referring to the half brothers of Jesus, since Roman Catholics insist that Mary the mother of Jesus remained ever virgin. Clearly this was a Bible translation that was approved for Catholics but that would not be acceptable to many Protestants.
In an effort to get a RSV that would suit both Protestants and Roman Catholics, their scholars got together and produced the RSV Common Bible. The result is said to be that “all churches have official authority to use in church the one RSV Common Bible.” And it is said that Pope Paul marveled that the notes almost invariably present “a single and identical interpretation, which can honestly be accepted by representatives of all the confessions that have taken part in this work.”
Concerning this Common Bible, The National Observer, April 14, 1973, asked, “The Revised Standard Version Common Bible New Edition: An Inspired Compromise?” And it does appear that to get a Bible approved by all, serious compromises were indeed made.
For one thing, agreement was reached by including what Protestants call the Apocrypha and what Roman Catholics call the Deuterocanonical books (meaning later canonical books), but grouping them together between the Hebrew and the Christian Greek Scriptures. By terming them “The Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical Books” both Protestant and Catholics seem to have been satisfied. However, concerning these books, none other than Roman Catholic Jerome, the translator of the Vulgate, stated: “All apocryphal books should be avoided; . . . they are not the works of the authors by whose names they are distinguished, . . . they contain much that is faulty, . . . it is a task requiring great prudence to find gold in the midst of clay.”
Since the Greek Catholic Church recognizes as canonical not only these Apocryphal books but also 1 Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh, these were added after the other Apocrypha with the explanation: “The following books of the Apocrypha . . . are not regarded as authoritative by the Roman Catholic Church and therefore are not included among the Deuterocanonical books. 1 Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh are included in the Greek Canon of Scripture.” For some reason, not clear, 2 Esdras also appears in this section.
The dubious passage of Mark 16:9-20 has been restored to the regular text but with a blank space and a footnote explaining that “Some of the most ancient authorities bring the book to a close at the end of Mr 16 verse 8.” And similarly John 7:53–8:11 has been restored to the text, with a footnote that states: “The most ancient authorities omit Joh 7:53–8:11.” In a number of briefer instances a similar policy has been pursued. Verses that were omitted in the text in RSV, but appeared in footnotes, are now found in the text with footnotes stating that some authorities leave these out. Thus, unless the reader is careful, he will be regarding all these dubious portions as part of the inspired text of the Bible. Clearly, the Protestants yielded more than the Catholics in these matters.
It seems that in one minor instance the Protestant scholars did hold their own. And what was that? In referring to the half brothers of Jesus as “brothers” instead of “brethren.”
The RSV Common Bible is hailed as a step toward the uniting of the various branches of Christendom, and as the first Bible in four hundred years acceptable to both Protestants and Catholics. But is there any reason for concluding that this “new Bible May End Controversy Among Faiths,” as one newspaper put it? By no means! Did not the hundreds of different Protestant sects for centuries all use the King James Version? Did that cause them to be united? Then how can the mere fact that the Common Bible is approved by the various branches of Christendom serve to unite them? In fact, the book editor of the Jesuit weekly America acknowledged that it is not to be expected that the Common Bible will resolve differences among various faiths.
Of what good is agreeing on a common Bible when it is not accepted as the authority in faith and practice? Today many clergymen deny the Bible accounts of creation as well as that of the Flood and they question the miracles mentioned in the Bible. Moreover, they hold to teachings not stated in the Bible. Thus in a recent issue of the Roman Catholic weekly Our Sunday Visitor appeared a reader’s question: “I find it difficult to accept a doctrine that is not clearly taught in the Bible. How do you feel about this?” In reply Msgr. John V. Sheridan stated: “I understand what you mean. . . . a lot of our very elementary Christian doctrines are not explicitly expressed or defined in the Bible.”
It is indeed fine that interest in the Bible continues to result in new translations. But that the Common Bible may ‘end all controversy among faiths’ is a vain hope. In fact, the interest in publishing Bibles calls to mind the words recorded regarding the way ancient religious leaders felt about the prophet Ezekiel: “You are to them . . . like one with a pretty voice and playing a stringed instrument well. And they will certainly hear your words, but there are none doing them.”—Ezek. 33:32.