Book Reviews

 

A new Bible translation and new light on old liturgy

THE BIBLE – ENGLISH STANDARD VERSION

Harper Collins, various editions

Unlikely though it may seem, I have for some time now been seriously thinking that the English-speaking world needed a new Bible translation. I grew up in that world where translations of the Bible into ‘modern’ English created a genuine stir of excitement. Unofficially, the King James Version was still the ‘real’ Bible, but Phillips, Moffat and others showed that there was an appetite for translations that would make the Bible sound as though it had been written directly to the present generation, rather than belonging to the Church of a bygone age.

However, after my own conversion my growing collection of translations was testimony to the fact that something was not quite right. Shortly before I was converted, my friends in the Christian Union at university gave me a New English Bible. It was a welcome gift, even though it was not a very well disguised hint, but even I could tell that here was the Bible, the whole Bible, and something just a little bit more than the Bible. The English was too smooth, and the textual ‘emendations’ too cocksure, to feel like the ‘Bible alone’. And although I still think the NEB translation of Job is profoundly moving, this and the two further NEBs I received at ordination remain my least used versions. To them were soon added, however, a Living Bible – fun, and sometimes unintentionally funny – and a Good News Bible which like many Evangelicals of my generation I hailed as the real answer to our needs.

Gradually, however, the limitations of the GNB became clear even to someone of my level of theological sophistication. The last straw was when Good News for Modern Man became Today’s English Version under the early pressures of political correctness. About this time, however, the New International Version arrived on the scene, to become the ‘translation of choice’ in many churches.

Yet, as people committed to preaching and teaching Scripture soon found, the NIV is also something of a paraphrase, inclined to take the odd liberty with the text and with, once again, an irritating tendency to allow good English style to ‘improve’ the underlying Greek and Hebrew. Indeed, despite the widespread use of the NIV, my own preferred translation remained the older Revised Standard Version (which I first bought as the Common Bible with Apocrypha) not least because whenever I did my own translating into English what I got looked much more like the RSV than anything else. The big drawback to the RSV, however, was an unjustified use of thees and thous in addressing the deity – unjustified because it reflected no equivalent tendency in the original languages. This doubtless helped explain its eventual disappearance even from preaching strongholds like St Helen’s, Bishopsgate (that and people like me walking off with copies accidentally).

For the last several years, therefore, I have tended to find myself preaching from the NIV but reading from the RSV. And as a speaker I have often recommended that people get themselves a copy of the old AV as a check against whatever modern translation they are using. For the fact is that a translation does not last four hundred years and become globally accepted by being bad. Most of the weaknesses of the AV are due to age, not inadequacy. And as anyone who reads the translators’ preface knows, these were sophisticated people doing as good a job academically as they knew how at the time.

Now, however, we have a new English translation which may well do for the next generation of Bible readers what the AV did for its own. The English Standard Version is described as an ‘essentially literal’ translation, and this marks the important difference between the philosophy behind the ESV and other English translations. The ESV is more readable than ‘strictly literal’ translations like the New American Standard Bible. Indeed, readers of the old RSV will find the ESV style very familiar, not least because the translators used the RSV as the basis for their work. However, the ESV has deliberately stuck with the usage of the Greek and Hebrew texts, even where this makes it more difficult (or rather, less easy) for the reader in English. The frequent repetitions of words in Greek and Hebrew are retained, and variety is not simply introduced on stylistic grounds as it is in English. The ESV has also allowed technical terms to remain, such as justification and propitiation. Of course this requires more learning on the part of the reader, but it also allows the reader to engage with the theology of the writers.

One area of particular difference is that of ‘gendered language’. The ESV has used words like ‘anyone’ or ‘people’ where older translations might have used terms like ‘any man’ or ‘men’ to mean ‘human beings without distinction’. But the ESV has retained the generic ‘he’, uses ‘man’ in contrast to God, and also sticks with gendered language such as ‘brothers’ and ‘sons’ where this reflects the Greek or Hebrew usage. Those who are annoyed, or just plain bemused, by the Common Worship Psalter’s new version of Psalm 8.5, ‘What are mortals, that you should be mindful of them; mere human beings, that you should seek them out?’ will be suitably satisfied with ESV’s ‘What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him’.

Indeed, this example illustrates that one of the key features of the new ESV is its lack of newness. We are on familiar, if re-examined and reworked, ground here and that is one of its attractions. If I have one criticism, it is that the current edition tries to pack in just a little too much, with extensive centre-column cross references as well as footnotes. The pages are too fussy and the text is sometimes hard to follow as a result. But if the ESV takes off there will doubtless be many alternatives in the future, and at least we have been spared a ‘red letter’ edition! Those who would like to read more about the ESV can go to a website, www.gnpcb.org, where more information is available along with samples. My verdict – buy it, use it, encourage it.

John Richardson is Senior Assistant Minister of Henham, Elsenham and Ugley.

A HISTORY OF EARLY ROMAN LITURGY

GG Willis

Henry Bradshaw Society, 168pp, hbk

1 870252 06 3, £25

THE ROYAL PATRONAGE OF LITURGY IN FRANKISH GAUL

Yitzak Hen

Henry Bradshaw Society, 180pp, hbk

1 870252 15 2, £35

PAPAL CEREMONIAL AT ROME IN THE TWELFTH CENTURY

Susan Twyman

Henry Bradshaw Society, 251pp, hbk

1 870252 16 0, £40

Most people will not have heard of the Henry Bradshaw Society; those who have will associate it rightly with the publication of out-of-the-way liturgical texts in Latin. But more recently the Society has been producing ‘Subsidia’ volumes, which, while not exactly in Daily Mirror English, are perfectly accessible to the educated cleric or laic, and a fair bit more interesting than their somewhat fusty titles might lead one to expect.

Geoffrey Willis was one of a generation of profoundly erudite Anglican liturgical scholars who were not ‘extreme’ Romanizers but who came to love the old Roman Sacramentaries because of their intrinsic literary and theological worth. (Dix wrote, ‘The evidence of the scientific study of liturgy inclines more and more to show that the old Roman Sacramentaries have preserved into modern use an incomparably larger body of genuinely primitive – and by this I mean not merely pre-Nicene but second and even first century – Christian liturgical material (if only we know how to look for it) than any other extant liturgical documents.’) This book, to which Michael Moreton contributes an elegant memoir, is a posthumous publication in which Willis sums up the results of a lifetime’s close and devoted attention to the primary texts.

What a shame it is that Common Worship, when it needs new material such as post-communions, never mines these ancient sources, which were usually good enough for Cranmer. Instead (because, one suspects, Anglican liturgical committees may not be awash with members who swim easily in the waters of dead languages) smooth and confident men craft new pieces of middle-class English verbosity with last year’s sell-by date on them. If Rome really does get its act together and sponsors a new and decent translation of the current Roman Missal, it will be an unbeatable liturgy.

Hen disputes the consensus that Charlemagne was a liturgical dictator determined to use police methods to impose the Roman Rite on the whole of his empire. He shows that the old system of gradual, organic liturgical evolution continued undisturbed. Indeed, it was not until the invention of printing that liturgical ‘authority’ became a possible concept with the Missal of St Pius V, and even that admirable pope allowed the continuance of rites more than two hundred years old. It was left to the Tudors to use the death penalty to force adherence to every comma of a printed book. Even the episcopal magnificos of medieval England, such as Grandisson of Exeter, had merely codified and imposed regulations on their cathedrals. It is unfortunate, if it is true, that one or two of our sillier diocesans want to revive the headmasterly policies of Dr Fisher and his ‘all must do what sir decrees the law of public worship requires’.

Twyman’s book sounds like an irrelevant wallow in long-dead popish minutiae, but it isn’t. It is a fascinating sweep through a phenomenon that accompanied the decline of the Roman Empire: the appropriation of imperial rituals and symbolism by those who desired to be seen as inheriting the imperial mantle – popes, Franks, Byzantines. Her pages abound with exquisite details. Did you know that popes used to be preceded through the streets by someone carrying a towel, in case the Holy Father needed to spit? How different social mores were in the days before Lord Chesterfield’s anally retentive Whiggery! It’s a lovely picture: the streets of Rome lined with incense-waggling minor clerics as the expectorating pontiff performs his solemn Adventus.

Did you know that Eastern Emperors – none other than Justin and Justinian – performed proskynesis (ritual prostration) before visiting popes? (Is this what Cardinal Ratzinger meant when he suggested that a reunited East would not need to submit to more of a Papacy than existed in the first millennium? Crafty one, Cardinal Jo!) Did you know that the Jewish community took a formal, ritual part in solemn papal entries, and were given a ‘considerably greater payment’ than the other scholae? That they sang formal praises of the pope and had his special protection? Is the politically correct narrative of Christian anti-Semitism and pogroms the whole truth?

John Hunwicke is a priest ministering in Devon.

RUNCIE: on reflection

Edited by Stephen Platten

Canterbury, 150pp, pbk

1 85311 470 7, £12.99

‘He’s not sure of his ground,’ said my friend Terry. I was new to General Synod and was watching the Archbishop of Canterbury answering questions on the first evening. ‘What do you mean?’ I asked. ‘Have you noticed that whenever Runcie isn’t sure of his replies he always lets his shoe swing from the toe of his foot!’ And so it was! It was because he took great pride in meticulous preparation of his material for public speaking that Bob Runcie didn’t like it (nor do any of us) if he found himself on uncertain ground.

This collection of essays, subtitled, ‘An Archbishop Remembered’, very much catches the flavour of its subject. The Archbishop comes across as someone very conscious that when he opened his mouth it was not plain Bob Runcie who was being listened to but the Archbishop of Canterbury. That is why he used a wide range of script writers to prepare his material, although as many of the contributors to this volume point out, the finished sermon, article or speech was always his own.

Stephen Platten, the editor of this book, has carefully marshalled his material into three sections. The first, following an excellent introduction on Runcie the scholar and the solider by Platten himself and a very affectionate piece by Graham James, concentrates on Runcie and the society the Church addressed during his archbishopric. The second, on his interests and skills. The third contains an appraisal by Andrew Brown the journalist and the text of the sermon given by Richard Chartres at Runcie’s memorial service in Westminster Abbey.

I personally found the first and third sections more stimulating that the second, but in reading the book at one go, as I did on the train to London, you are left with a picture of a man very conscious of his role as archbishop, but his warmth, personal kindness and compassion (the story of his daily letters to a woman dying of cancer is mentioned by several contributors) together with his careful preparation and execution of his duties, are testified to over and over again, as are his uncertainties and dislike of black and white solutions to complex situations.

I thoroughly commend this book to anyone who wants to glimpse the spirit of Bob Runcie and the difficult times in which he served as 102nd Archbishop of Canterbury.

George Nairn-Briggs is the Dean of Wakefield.

THE BISHOPS

Trevor Beeson

SCM, 250pp, hbk

0 334 02867 1, £19.95

This book offers potted biographies of past bishops, 48 in all, stretching from the time of the Reform Bill of 1832 to the end of the twentieth century, all of whom have died. I rationed myself to one bishop a day, pondering on his life and work throughout that day – I learnt much, not simply about him but about the Church of England as a whole, lamenting how little richness there is in the present house of bishops, and wondering what that says as we embark on the twenty first century.

For instance, where are our scholars, our men of vision, where are the evangelists, the pastors, the prince bishops, and above all where are the colourful characters who made Members of Parliament and the general public sit up and take notice? Like them or loathe them, they had something about them that made people discuss their faith and issues of theology. One fears that as the CofE has become more democratic and liberal it has also become duller and less interesting. One can of course say it is not the fault of the present occupiers of the episcopal bench, that the poor dears have got so bogged down with committees, administration, press conferences and photo shoots that they have not got time to develop their own persona, but where is the strong man amongst them who will stand up and say ‘No, this isn’t the way to run the Church’ and do his own thing?

The more I thought about it the more angry I became and we cannot just blame the occupiers of Number 10 for the present state of affairs; we all must make our voices heard through synods and so on, that enough is enough and that the Church needs men of vision and learning, and yes stirrer-uppers! We need them more than ever in multi-culture Britain if the voice of the Christian Church is going to be heard.

The book made me think that if I were writing its sequel in 100 years time who out of the present episcopal bench would I include, and sad to say only one name sprang readily to mind, but I’m pleased that he is of our integrity – Bishop John of Fulham. The only difficulty would be in which section to include him, pastor, church reformer, visionary, pioneer or odd man out? The choice is yours. PT

PROPHETS & PRIESTS

The Hidden Face of the Birth Control Movement

Ann Farmer

Saint Austin Press, 196pp, pbk

1 901157 62 8, £9.95

On a warm afternoon in late June, the House of Commons Health Select Committee heard evidence from five women officials from the Ministry of Health. They heard that sex education had failed to prevent sexually transmitted disease, and that now a national sexual health and HIV strategy has been devised. Promiscuity has its victims and those suffering from disease have turned to the NHS for treatment. This autumn the Ministry will report on its Action Plan, whose preparation has cost £5.5m.

So this book is timely in that Ann Farmer gives a well researched history of a subject intimately connected with promiscuity – birth control. The story begins with Malthus, an Anglican parson, whose Principle of Population was published in 1798 and gloomily predicted population outstripping the supply of food. He favoured abstinence rather than birth control, even though he came to the subject through his father who had been influenced by Condorcet, a rational enthusiast. M de Condorcet, who died in 1794, was a member of the Jacobin Club (supporting the French Revolution) and a believer in the rights of man, the equality of women and the necessity of birth control.

Birth control, as this book shows, is a subject with many ramifications. Those who came to be targeted by the latter-day Malthusians were poor women who proved reluctant guinea-pigs. It is not an edifying story, and those in the movement have not always been candid as to their real motives; the arguments for and against control have had as much to do with politics, economics, morals, medicine and even eugenics as with compassion. Both persuasion and coercion have been used to gain public funding for ‘family planning’, and the law has been changed to allow abortion when contraception fails.

Governments are philosophically utilitarian, and through such ministries as Health and Education are spreading their message in schools and colleges, acting in loco parentis. Nor is this confined within our own borders but spills out across the world, linking aid with birth control programmes. The utilitarians may be in the ascendant, but still the moral dimension needs to be addressed in a world inhabited by flawed and struggling humanity.

Charlotte Horsfield is a part-time journalist.

Making Babies

Is there a right to have children?

Mary Warnock

OUP, 120pp, pbk

0 19 280334 4, £9.99

This readable book can be read in one sitting. It gives a clear overview of the complex, contemporary ethical issues raised by the accelerating development of new reproductive technologies. The brief introduction defines the book’s purpose in addressing whether people have a right to have children and whether they can claim a right to receive help in having the children they want. This takes the debate beyond individual conscience into the realm of social morality where conflict is inevitable. In twenty-two brief sections rather than chapters Mary Warnock discusses the range of treatments available, from artificial insemination to human cloning.

It focuses on all the types that claim the right to have children, from infertile heterosexual couples to single women, homosexual couples and couples delaying their childbearing to menopausal women. The ethical questions and problems raised by various groups about certain types of assisted artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization and surrogacy are examined and those who should be disqualified from being parents because of age, sexuality or lifestyle.

This small book by the chairperson of the Committee of Enquiry in Human Fertilisation and Embryology, is an informative tour around the ethical minefield spawned by the permissive society and the controversial issues it raises. AM

 

The CS Lewis Encyclopedia

Colin Duriez

Azure, 240pp, pbk

1 902694 26 0, £14.99

There are some books – delightful in themselves – that one can never understand. For whom were they written? Or why did anyone suppose that such a collection of disparate information was appropriately gathered in one volume? This is a book written by a ‘fan’: ‘My own debt to Lewis is enormous. I cannot see myself on familiar terms with him. I should have found him formidable if I had met him. I can’t imagine calling him ‘Jack’ (the name used by his friends). Yet his vision of reality has become an integral part of the way I think, feel, perceive and imagine.’ There is nothing, of course, wrong in that. This fan, at least, has read widely and thought deeply.

At first I was irritated by a book which told me in the most pedestrian way that Adonis was a beautiful youth in Geek mythology; and (inaccurately) that ‘cabby’ was a name given to a London horse and cab driver; and that Plato was a Greek philosopher born about 427bc and much admired by Lewis. (I remember a sermon I once heard from an ex-RAF chaplain in the Anglican Church of Holy Cross, Palermo. It was mostly about Winston Churchill. We were left in no doubt, after about twenty-five minutes, that Churchill was a very great man. The sermon concluded with the insight that Jesus Christ was also a very great man – and well-thought of by Mr Churchill.)

But beyond the absurdities there are gems. The entry called ‘Myth Became Fact’ records accurately and poignantly the development of the most important exegetical insight of the twentieth century. It began on a park bench in Christ Church meadow and it has still to change the hearts and minds of those dull commentators who trek unadventurously in the ruts dug by past traffic.

This book is good too on Bultmann (though he is not allowed an entry of his own). We are told the truth: that demythologization is long past and that (feminist) re-mythologization is the order of the day. And I had forgotten that Lewis had coined the term ‘Bulverism’ to describe that most destructive of modern argumentative ploys, ‘He would say that, wouldn’t he?’

I looked up ‘Bird and Baby’ in a fit of nostalgia for ‘grained’ tongue and groove panelling and warm beer. It appears, rather grandiosely, as the ‘Eagle and Child’. And, a sign of the success of British television on American PBS, concludes: ‘Inspector Morse, in Colin Dexter’s thrillers, frequently visits the Eagle and Child.’

I began this book wondering why Walter Hooper, the curator of Clive Staples Lewis and Co (deceased), would ever have described it as ‘one of the most useful books I know. I look for excuses to read it.’ I finished by having it at my bedside for a long time. Mr Duriez has managed a mixture of naiveté and wisdom which constantly delights and frequently informs. Buy it. It is certainly better than Walter’s ‘Companion’. GK

 

BUILD YOUR OWN BIBLE STUDY

A beginner’s guide to leading study groups

Eric Harmer

BRF, 128pp, pbk

1 84101 143 6, £5.99

From a practical, Evangelical perspective, this is full of clear, reassuring advice on how to do what its title suggests. If all teaching is based on the minister, ‘this means that many churches cannot grow beyond their leader’s abilities’. Parishes need lay-led Bible study groups. So do something about it.

A surprisingly effective chapter answers the new leader’s fear of not knowing enough, or of being ambushed by cynical questions. He lists five such objections that too many ‘professional’ Christians have long since answered, and so may no longer take seriously. 1. If God is a God of love, why is there suffering in the world? 2. How can God be fair and send people to hell? 3. Surely the Bible has been changed, like Chinese whispers? 4. Surely the Bible is out of date? 5. Don’t all religions lead to God? AS

 

EXPLORING THE NEW TESTAMENT

Volume 2: The Letters and Revelation

Howard Marshall etc

SPCK, 350pp, pbk

0 281 05434 7, [£11.99]

Serious, practical biblical criticism outside of a commentary is not easy to find. If it explains everything, it will become too long and be ignored; if it is too brief, it will be confusing and too difficult. This series may well have found the middle way. The layout, the presentation, the mix of material makes this an excellent resource for such a group as suggested by the previous book. I liked this little snippet, inserted into the notes:

St Jerome tells of John in extreme old age in Ephesus. He used to be carried into the congregation in the arms of his disciples and was unable to say anything except ‘Little children, love one another’. At last, wearied that he always spoke the same words, they asked, ‘Master, why do you always say this?’ ‘Because,’ he replied, ‘it is the Lord’s command, and if only this is done, it is enough.’ AS

 

THE MESSAGE OF NUMBERS

Raymond Brown

IVP, 308pp, pbk

0 8511 149 1, £9.99

If the title suggests some mystical numerology, this is, more soberly, the latest in The Bible Speaks Today series. The fourth book of Holy Scripture suffers from its title, just missing out on the more gripping one it might have had, The Wilderness. The preacher-commentator of this volume likens it to a small Odyssey alongside Joshua’s Iliad.

If only students and teachers had possessed such books a generation ago! It might just have made them doubt those nineteenth-century theories of its alleged composition, or the dismissal of Numbers as the Old Testament’s junk-room of unwanted jumble. If anything, the tidy mind of Raymond Brown goes to the other extreme, as we admire his neat analyses and punchy summaries more than the occasional glimpses of a raw and brutal desert world. If radicals glory in the moral agonies, evangelicals tend to smooth them out. But he shows that the narrative is told and edited with care arid sophistication. His one-liners (‘meeting with God is more important than working for God’) always arise from text.

If Aaron’s blessing, Moses’ bronze serpent or Balaam’s donkey are test cases, today’s interpreter passes with credit. He does, too, on the longest prose chapter in the Bible. We dare not marginalize a book which leads us directly to Scripture’s best-loved verse, John 3.16; this exposition will not write our sermons for us, but could challenge and enliven the preaching we attempt. When we do, we shall not lack material on communication, controversy, leadership, multi-faith celebration, or God. CMI

USING COMMON WORSHIP DAILY PRAYER

Jeremy Fletcher etc

Church House, 134pp, pbk

0 7151 2065 4, £9.95

There are times, brethren, when we can rejoice in the genius of the CofE. Did not your hearts swell with pride when you read that glorious World Cup prayer, (neatly summed up in last month’s issue) that sublime litany, ‘O Seaman make speed to save us, O Martyn make haste to help us’? Did you not give thanks for its author, the Revd Jeremy Fletcher, liturgist supreme? ‘Any prayers are worth a go,’ he was quoted as saying. This is the great man who has given us the new office book of the CofE, with a little help from his friends, and who has written this book, its official apologia.

There is a sane and sensible elaboration of the development of the Office in the life of the Church by Bishop Andrew of Ebbsfleet, but this is counterbalanced by a DIY, touchy-feely piece on candle lighting, mood music and navel gazing by a woman priest. So the bulk of the book is from our Mr Fletcher. It is informative certainly, but unintentionally banal.

‘You will do more than survive if you know what day of the week it is.’ And again, ‘This may well be the hardest thing to remember first thing in the morning or last thing at night after a busy day.’ Yes, but in the end it is to other people I turn for help with my own absent-mindedness, not to this bright and breezy, cheeky chappy of the Common Worship generation. I found life easier without this ‘practical guide’. SR

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