Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity
“NRISEV Update” first appeared in the November 2003 issue of Touchstone.
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Christopher Bailey presents: The Preface to the New Revised International Standard English Version
In April of 1947, the Standing Committee on Biblical Affairs issued an invitation to a number of other Committees to meet for the purpose of considering the basis on which a body might be formed to establish the parameters for issuing a call to a number of religious bodies to address the question of the process to adopt for beginning to assemble a Commission to meet the long-felt need for an up-to-date translation of the Holy Bible into English.
By the beginning of 1948, the various Committees invited had agreed on a location for their meeting, and within less than two years a document had been drafted that specified the principles on which invitations were to be issued. It was decided to issue invitations to religious bodies representing major English-speaking denominations on both sides of the Atlantic. (The idea of inviting representatives from Australia had been considered, but without a suitable research budget the Committees were unable to establish with certainty that English was spoken in Australia.)
Most of the years 1950 and 1951 were taken up with the work of the Addressing and Stamping Subcommittee. By November of 1951, the invitations had been issued, and the gratifying response from 4 of the 68 religious bodies invited was taken by the Committees as confirmation that the need for such a project as this was deeply felt throughout the English-speaking world.
In the end, the Commission was made up of equal numbers of representatives from the Anglican, Presbyterian, Baptist, and Roman Catholic bodies, which responded to the Committee’s invitations. It is our understanding that the successors to the Lutheran bodies invited are still debating whether to accept the invitation, but that a decision is confidently expected at the next general synod.
The Commission having been thus constituted, the Facilities Search Committee was instructed to find a U-shaped room, so arranged that the Baptist representatives could see the Presbyterian representatives, and the Presbyterians could see the Anglicans, and the Anglicans could see the Roman Catholics; but the Baptists could not see the Anglicans or the Roman Catholics, and the Roman Catholics could not see the Presbyterians or the Baptists; furthermore, the Anglicans could not see the Baptists, though all other representatives would be visible to them; and the Presbyterians could not see the Roman Catholics, though again their view of the other representatives would be unobstructed.
After a long search, the Facilities Search Committee was able to find two rooms that met the requirements both of size and of shape. The first was the Wolsey Room of the Chapter House at Mincester Abbey, and accordingly, the weekly meetings of the Commission have been held there almost without interruption since the summer of 1955. For three consecutive weeks in 1978, the Wolsey Room was unavailable owing to fumigation, so for those three weeks the Commission met at its alternate site, the Whoopee Room of the Casino Monte Carlo.
By a compromise agreement suggested by the Anglican representatives, the members of the Committee involved in the translation of the Apocrypha were not allowed on the Abbey grounds, but were graciously permitted to meet in an open parking lot just down the street.
From the start, it was agreed that the translation should proceed according to the principles of sound critical scholarship. At first, the work went quickly. By 1971, the New Testament Committee had nearly completed a translation of Matthew 1:1. Unfortunately, it was found that, in the intervening time, the principles of sound critical scholarship had entirely changed; the work, therefore, had to be begun afresh. Nevertheless, the Commission was undaunted, and no small setbacks were allowed to interrupt the course of weekly meetings that constituted the very life’s blood of the Commission itself.
In 1986, the Commission accepted the challenge of inclusive language as one of the fundamental principles of its new translation, and the work had to be once more begun afresh. Paying due regard to tradition, however, the Commission held fast to the terms of its own charter, which stipulates that the members must be males of European ancestry whose names do not sound suspiciously foreign.
Through the years, the Commission has lost many of its valued members to the inevitable processes of mortality. It is a tribute to the dedication of these deceased scholars that some of them continued to attend meetings for weeks after their demise before any change in their behavior was noticed. We take this opportunity to give thanks for the efforts of those who have passed on before us, knowing that without their work, our great undertaking would not have come so far.
And so, after more than half a century of effort, we present to you the fruit of our incessant labors: viz., this preface. It is our earnest prayer that it will be received with approbation by sincere lovers of prefaces throughout the English-speaking world. Furthermore, we can promise that, in future editions, this preface will close with a suitably meaningful and appropriate quotation from Scripture, which will be added as soon as one of the Committees has completed the translation of an entire verse.
Christopher Bailey , a Lutheran, writes about everything from Arthurian mythology to wireless networking. He spent a decade on the Upward Path in corporate America, but now must be counted among the backsliders.
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