13-06 On Correcting Translation Problems of the Heidelberg Catechism.
Source: Presbytery Event:218th General Assembly (2008)
Committee:
[13-06] Theological Issues and Institutions
Sponsor:
Newark Presbytery
Topic:Unassigned Type:General Assembly Full Consideration
http://pc-biz.org/Explorer.aspx?id=1699
Assembly Action
On this Item, the General Assembly, acted as follows:
Approve
Electronic Vote - Plenary
Affirmative: 436
Negative: 280
Abstaining: 11
Final Text:

Committee Recommendation
On this Item, the Theological Issues and Institutions Committee, acted as follows:
Approve
[Counted Vote - Committee]
Affirmative:33
Negative:26
Abstaining:2
Minority Report
On this Item, the Theological Issues and Institutions Committee, acted as follows:
Other
[Not Applicable]
Affirmative:0[**This action has not been verified for accuracy by committee leadership.]
Negative:0
Abstaining:0
Final Text:
In response to the recommendations in Items 13-04, 13-05, 13-06, and 13-10, that the 218th General Assembly approve the following resolution:

The confessions constitute a living tradition that expresses the church’s beliefs. The current translation of the Heidelberg Catechism, as adopted in The Book of Confessions, faithfully and clearly declares to the members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and to the world who and what we are, what we believe, and what we resolve to do (G-2.0100a).


Rationale

Similar attempts to change the Heidelberg Catechism have already been disapproved by the 209th and 210th General Assemblies (1997) and (1998). This minority report stands with these previous General Assemblies.

The historical and theological issues of debate today are identical to those of previous General Assemblies. No new information has been given that would compel us to amend The Book of Confessions. According to the General Assembly Council comment on this item of business, the issue at hand in considering these proposals is " . . whether a different translation of the Heidelberg Catechism would better declare to its members and to the world who and what it is, what it believes, and what it resolves to do" [taken from G-2.0100a of the Book of Order].

Accordingly, the proper question here is not primarily about whether or not the PC(USA)’s Heidelberg Catechism could be a closer word-for-word translation of the German or Latin texts of the 16th century. Instead, the question is whether the proposed changes would better tell our members and the world who we are, what we believe, and what we resolve to do. We believe the answer is clear—our beloved and hurting church does not need either (1) the confusion these changes could cause, or (2) the pain and divisiveness this process would inflict on the church and its members. 

These proposed changes to the Heidelberg Catechism, particularly to 4.087, which would delete a reference to homosexual practice, would create confusion rather than clarity and would deepen dissension at a very delicate moment in the life of our denomination. This proposed change would essentially delete a portion of Scripture (1 Corinthians 6:9-10) in order to replace it with a translation of a German paraphrase from 450 years ago.

These proposals would launch the church into years of committee meetings, General Assembly actions, and debate and votes in presbyteries—all of which would, almost certainly, result in greater hurt and division within the church. All of this is based on the assertion that we need to change 66 words in the catechism, while prestigious scholars have issued letters to this General Assembly on both sides of the issue. Rather than launch a new controversy, this minority report would instead leave in place the version of the Heidelberg Catechism adopted as part of The Book of Confessions by the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. in 1967 and as readopted by the reunited church in the 80’s, and as reaffirmed by General Assemblies in 1997 and 1998.

 

Steve Aeschbacher, Presbytery of Seattle

 

 

Seung Won Yu, Presbytery of Atlantic-Korean
James Hatch, Presbytery of Tampa Bay
Bob Monroe, Presbytery of New Hope
Robert Charles, Presbytery of Mid-Kentucky
Gary Mathews, Presbytery of Eastern Oklahoma
Ben Ray, Presbytery of Southern Kansas
Ron Urzua, Presbytery of Santa Barbara
Ann Felten, Presbytery of Trinity
Todd Mulford, Presbytery of South Louisiana
Lawrence Ruby, Presbytery of Pittsburgh
John Sheldon, Presbytery of West Jersey
Wesley Owens, Presbytery of St. Augustine
Steven Frank, Presbytery of Wyoming
Robert Leach, Presbytery of Wabash Valley
Nancy Cormack-Hughes, Presbytery of Utah
Brody Luebkeman, Presbytery of San Francisco
Amy Florence, Presbytery of Indian Nations
Jonathan J. Tony, Presbytery of Chicago
Sue Erickson, Presbytery of Alaska
 
 

Assembly committee moderator’s statement:

In accordance with Standing Rule E.7.h.(1), I affirm that the position expressed as recommendation for action by the assembly in this minority report was presented to the whole committee during its consideration of the matter.

Douglas Brouwer

 


Recommendation

The Presbytery of Newark overtures the 218th General Assembly (2008) to correct translation problems in five responses of the Heidelberg Catechism as found in The Book of Confessions and to add the original Scripture texts of the German Heidelberg Catechism. The following changes are proposed:

1.   Amend the answer to 4.019 as follows: [Text to be deleted is shown with a strike-through; text to be added or inserted is shown as italic.]

“A. From the holy gospel, which God himself revealed in the beginning in the Garden of Eden, afterward proclaimed through the holy patriarchs and prophets and foreshadowed through the sacrifices and other rites of the Old Covenant ceremonies of the law, and, finally, fulfilled through his own well-beloved Son.”

2.   Amend the answer to 4.033 as follows: [Text to be deleted is shown with a strike-through; text to be added or inserted is shown as italic.]

“A. Because Christ alone is God’s own eternal Son natural son, whereas we are accepted adopted for his sake as children of God by grace.”

3.   Amend the answer to 4.055 as follows: [Text to be deleted is shown with a strike-through; text to be added or inserted is shown as italic.]

“A. First, that believers one and all, as partakers of the Lord Christ, and all his treasures and gifts, shall share in one fellowship. Second, that each one ought to know that he is obliged to use his gifts freely willingly and with joy for the benefit and welfare of other members.”

4.   Amend the answer to 4.074 as follows: [Text to be deleted is shown with a strike-through; text to be added or inserted is shown as italic.]

“A. Yes, because they, as well as their parents, are included in the covenant and belong to the people of God. Since both redemption from sin through the blood of Christ and the gift of faith from the Holy Spirit are promised to these children no less than to their parents, infants are also by baptism, as a sign of the covenant, to be incorporated into the Christian church and distinguished from the children of unbelievers. This was done in the Old Covenant Testament by circumcision. In the New Covenant Testament baptism has been instituted to take its place.”

5.   Amend the answer to 4.087 as follows: [Text to be deleted is shown with a strike-through; text to be added or inserted is shown as italic.]

“A. Certainly not! Scripture says, ‘Surely you know that the unjust will never come into possession of the kingdom of God. Make no mistake: no fornicator or idolater, none who are guilty either of adultery or of homosexual perversion, no thieves or grabbers or drunkards or slanderers or swindlers, will possess the kingdom of God.’ Certainly not; for as Scripture says no unchaste person, idolater, adulterer, thief, greedy person, drunkard, slanderer, robber, or anyone like that shall inherit the kingdom of god.

Rationale

Concerns have been raised regarding five answers in the present translation of the Heidelberg Catechism in The Book of Confessions. We believe these four responses can be amended in a way that makes them both more accurate and faithful to the original text of the catechism. We believe this will satisfy concerns that have been raised by the Presbytery of Pittsburgh and others without the need of a major redoing of the present translation. As the original German text included Scripture texts, we ask that those also be included in The Book of Confessions.

Drawing on the German and Latin original texts of the Heidelberg Catechism, we propose the above changes.

Financial Implication

Note: See Item 13-04

(2008): $0; (2009): $28,050; (2010): $3,050 [Per Capita- OGA]

Comment
Comment on Item 13-06—From the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA).
That should the 218th General Assembly (2008) determine that it is wise and timely to create a special committee (G-18.0201b) to consider whether to recommend approval of the Belhar Confession and a new translation of the Heidelberg Confession, the COGA urges the 218th General Assembly (2008) to utilize one special committee to undertake the required study of both potential confessional documents.

None of these requests require the process of creating an entirely new confession, nor the drafting of new language amending a current confession. The requested study of Belhar would focus on whether it should be included in The Book of Confessions as it has been by a number of our Reformed ecumenical partners. Items 13-04, 13-05, and 13-06 ask the PC(USA) to approve a different translation of the Heidelberg Confession, and again do not request any significant redrafting of the confessionitself.

Further, the COGA concurs with the Advisory Committee on the Constitution that the use of one special committee would be entirely constitutional. The COGA also believes it wise to consider these two proposed changes to The Book of Confessions jointly and concurrently, as each proposal would each affect both the content and tone of our current The Book of Confessions. Finally, the COGA notes that the tasks required are different in kind than creating an entirely new text, which the PC(USA) last undertook in creating and approving A Brief Statement of Faith following reunion. The cost saving of one, rather than two committees would be substantial. (See financial implication.)

Comment on Item 13-06—From the General Assembly Council.
Items 13-04, 13-05, and 13-06 seek to restore the Heidelberg Catechism to its “historic form” by substituting a more recent translation for the translation currently in The Book of Confessions. 

Section G-2.0100a describes the role of our confessions in the life of the Presbyterian Church:

a.            The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) states its faith and bears witness to God’s grace in Jesus Christ in the creeds and confessions in The Book of Confessions. In these confessional statements the church declares to its members and to the world

who and what it is,
what it believes,
what it resolves to do.

The verbs in this section are all present tense. The confessions, rooted in particular historical contexts, declare our contemporary church’s identity, belief, and action. Thus the confessions are more than historical documents. While they grow out of particular contexts and speak to them, they have been adopted into The Book of Confessions because the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) recognizes that they are authoritative for the church’s current faith and life.

The confessions are not static documents, but living witnesses to our theological tradition. Therefore, the constitutional form of each confession is that which is printed in The Book of Confessions, not the texts in their original forms and in their original languages. The clearest example of this is the Westminster Confession, amended over time by both northern and southern streams of the church. Nevertheless, Presbyterians have a long history of appreciation for historical and textual scholarship. Questions about translations are appropriate in determining the church’s confessional stance.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has the right to determine its confessional stance and can consider amendments to The Book of Confessions, guided by “The Assessment of Proposed Amendments to The Book of Confessions” (BOC, xxxi-xxxvi) and following the process outlined in the Book of Order (G-18.0200).

However, because the confessions constitute a living tradition that expresses the church’s beliefs, the decision to amend The Book of Confessions is a normative decision, not simply a historical decision. The primary purpose of the confessions is not to enshrine a historical perspective, but to shape the ongoing faith and life of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Therefore, the question before the General Assembly is whether a different translation of the Heidelberg Catechism would better declare to its members and the world who and what it is, what it believes, and what it resolves to do.