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Confessions of the Church

July 2, 2012

Pittsburgh

On Monday, the 220th GA Committee on Confessions of the Church of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) received the report of the Special Committee on the Heidelberg Catechism. Five members of the special committee, including newly elected GA moderator the Rev. Neal D. Presa, reported to the Assembly committee. Joining Presa were ruling elder Sylvia Dooling, the Rev. David Stubbs, the Rev. Shelly Barrick Parsons and ruling elder Dawn DeVries.

The special committee was formed by the 218th General Assembly (2008) to clarity five questions of problematic translation to the catechism in The Book of Confessions, adopted by the General Assembly in 1962.

As the special committee began its work, it became clear to them that there were many more translation problems—52 in all—in the 1962 translation. They also learned that the Reformed Church in America (RCA) and the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRC) were working together on a new translation of the catechism. At the 219th General Assembly, the special committee requested and received permission to work in collaboration with the RCA and the CRC on their translation work, which led to a joint new translation of the entire catechism.

In speaking about the new translation, Stubbs said that the special committee’s goal was to “be transparent to the German as far as possible, but also accessible” to the contemporary reader. They sought accuracy, a heartfelt translation and the opportunity to produce an outstanding English translation. According to Stubbs, the special committee “wanted anyone wanting to memorize the catechism to have something truly wonderful to memorize.”

Commissioner Lance Allen (Los Ranchos Presbytery) raised questions about the term “homosexual perversion,” which is found in the 1962 translation. DeVries explained that the “specific phrase was never in either the original German or Latin texts.” She continued, “The word homosexual is anachronistic and didn’t exist in 16th-century German. The issue the catechism authors are concerned about is chastity, which applies to everyone.”

Following the report of the special committee, the Assembly committee conducted open hearings during which people spoke for and against the recommendation to approve the catechism.

Commissioner Rebecca Pritchard (Los Ranchos Presbytery) spoke in favor of the new translation, referring to the confessions as a collection of family photographs with the current translation being a distorted image and the new translation bringing the photo into clarity.

Speaking for disapproval, commissioner Sue Cyre (James Presbytery) requested that a separate review committee be formed to study the new translation over the next two years. “This would give the church time to study it before bringing it to a vote,” she said.

Following open hearings and further discussion, the committee approved recommending to the Assembly the new translation of the Heidelberg Catechism, along with accompanying scriptural references.

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