Felix Culpa on the the OSB, Pars Quarta

A short few days after my evocative mention of the much-missed author of the best “Orthodox blog” in existence, the estimable Felix Culpa, we have gladly witnessed his return to the blogosphere (and with a vengeancewitness his seven posts in a short two days!). In his most recent post, he has taken up again his serial review of the lamentable Orthodox Study Bible, this time focusing on its shoddy treatment of Genesis 49:10, which is regarded as one of the pivotal Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament by both the Fathers and the Liturgy. As always, his post makes for required reading.

For my part, I expect to celebrate the return of Felix Culpa to the blogosphere by posting in the near future my long overdue treatment of the OSB’s fallacious (mis)translation of λειτουργέω and λειτουργία, which I introduced in an earlier post.

Pre-Revolutionary Russian Orthodox Church Shows Militant Americanists How It’s Done

In a recent comment, Peter Kirk mentioned that the Tolkovaya Bibliya, a remarkable Orthodox study edition of the Holy Scriptures produced in Russia on the eve of the Bolshevik Revolution, was reprinted by the Institute for Bible Translation as gift of the Nordic countries (Denmark, Norway, and the Faroe Islands) to the Russian people on the 1,000-year anniversary of Christianity in Russia (1988).
Upon hearing this, the indefatigable Kevin Edgecomb undertook exhaustive (Google) research that turned up a website on which image files of the entire work are available and may be accessed for free. Moreover, PDFs of the New Testament and selected Old Testament books are available here. I’m delighted that the whole thing is available online for all to see.
Now Peter and I seldom agree, but perhaps here is right when he suggests that Orthodox in North America would do better to translate something like this into English, instead of sending to Russia more questionable resources in English.

Neufeld on the Orthodox Study Bible

Henry Neufeld of Participatory Bible Study recently received a review copy of the complete Orthodox Study Bible, and has published a couple of posts thus far in which he addresses two troubling aspects of that volume:

Isaiah 64 in the Orthodox Study Bible
Inane Comments in the Orthodox Study Bible

In the first post, Henry calls our attention to the awkward English often found in the OSB text by drawing specific examples from Isaiah 64. As he rightly notes there, “[i]t would seem like a few minutes checking with ordinary speakers of English would suggest some alternative” to any number of less than smooth renderings in the OSB, but it is one of the many failures of that project that it did not subject its translation drafts to very many levels of stylistic review and correction. (The contrast at this point with other translation projects is striking; more about this later.)

In the second post, Henry picks up on a lamentable flaw already criticized over a decade ago by Archimandrite Ephrem Lash in his review of the NT edition, and which regretfully also occurs in the complete OSB. Father Ephrem writes:

” [….] The notes to the New Testament are on the whole straightforward and some readers will find them a help in understanding many of the words and ideas in the text. Most of them though are dull and many of them jejune in the extreme. As a friend put it to me, they remind one of the notes to some school editions of Shakespeare. ‘King Lear plans to divide his kingdom between his daughters’, or ‘Hamlet wonders if it would be a good idea to commit suicide.’ In this book we find similar notes all too often, such as that on Luke 16:11: ‘True riches signify spiritual treasures’, or that on Luke 16:25 ‘This conversation is not between God and the rich man, but between Abraham and the rich man.’ The level is that of a not very bright Sunday School class. Critical questions are avoided by simply not being discussed at all. This is unsatisfactory, since many readers will be seeking help on just these questions. What should have been provided is an article setting out clearly how an Orthodox reader of the Bible should approach these problems. The solution adopted here is a further instance of what I call the attitude of the double-headed Byzantine ostrich.

” [….] In general, what Orthodox readers need is to be helped to enter into the spiritual teaching of the Gospel, which is about theology, in the true sense, about the great mystery of the coming of God incarnate into human history, about the response of the sinner to the loving invitation of Christ. They will hardly be helped to any of this by being told that Luke 24:13-35 is ‘a delightful account of a resurrection appearance of Christ’, which sounds more like a description of the visit of the Bishop to the parish sale of work.”

It is no doubt true that the quality of the notes has improved when compared to those found in the New Testament edition, and that patristic quotations appear more readily in them (though, as the much-missed Felix Culpa has pointed out, these are largely useless, since no bibliographical reference whatever is given for citations). So, again, the annotation system in the complete OSB is demonstrably better than that of the OSB-NT, but that is an embarrassing standard for comparison: surely it doesn’t take much effort to outdo the latter! It is much to be regretted that when held to other standards, many of the notes in the new OSB remain “jejune in the extreme.”

In any event, I look forward to Henry’s future observations on the OSB as he continues to work his way through lectionary texts using that volume.

Lexical Semantics, Exegetical Fallacies, and the OSB (Or, "Woe Is Me, I Don’t Have BibleWorks!")

Some years ago, a well-meaning Orthodox priest, evidently concerned that no English translation of the Church’s text of the New Testament is available for liturgical use, sent out a communication in which he asked all recipients to reply with suggested corrections and changes, textual and translational, to the New Testament of the King James Version. Now, I think that an Orthodox recension of the KJV NT would be a splendid idea; some of this has already been done in the Epistle and Gospel lectionaries published by the Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, but there certainly is room for a more thorough revision. Given my interest in such a project, I decided to pay close attention to the discussionbut I’m afraid that I was not prepared for the horrors that this proposed exchange would uncover.

Before I go any further, I should explain that I am greatly afflicted by horrible, recurrent nightmares that involve clergy penciling into their Bibles inane changes to the translation on no other grounds than a shoddy knowledge of the Biblical languages and a dilettante’s love for pop philology. (Incidentally, the geniuses over at Language Log have a wonderful word for transgressions such as this: “incorrection,” that is, “a correction that is itself incorrect.”) And as you might imagine, once the floodgates of proposed corrections were opened and people started discussing the changes they routinely make, all my blood-curdling nightmares started to come true.

One of the more grievous proposals was the following:

Romans 15:15-16: “…because of the grace that is given to me by God, that I should be a liturgist of Christ Jesus in the nations…” (KJV: …because of the grace that is given to me of God, that I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles…”)

Unable to restrain myself, I wrote (lightly abridged and edited):

It is precisely because of such dreadful examples of pop philology that I become very nervous whenever I hear about amateurish “corrections” of established Biblical translations.

To “translate” λειτουργὸν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ as “liturgist of Jesus Christ” is a crass example of semantic anachronism, and in fact methodologically indistinguishable from rendering δύναμις […] θεοῦ as “the dynamite of God” (cfr. Romans 1:16), or ἱλαρὸν […] δότην as “hilarious giver” (cfr. II Corinthians 9:7)1. I suppose that while we’re at it, we might as well “translate” ἡ προσφορὰ τῶν ἐθνῶν in Romans 15:16 as “the prosphora of the nations”!

A λειτουργός is one who performs a public service or work, that is, a “public servant” or “minister.” (I should also like to note that λειτουργία is just this public service or work, and not, as pop philological myth would have it, “the work of the people.”) Thus, the KJV does not need to be corrected at this point (except, perhaps, for changing the definite article to the indefinite), but it could stand to be corrected in what follows immediately: ἱερουργοῦντα τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τοῦ θεοῦ should probably be rendered “ministering as a priest the Gospel of God” (cfr. NASB), or as the more idiomatic rendering of the RSV/NRSV/ESV has it, “[…] to be a minister of [Jesus Christ] to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the Gospel of God.”

The above was met with much approval by other theretofore silent and equally horrified observers, but it wasn’t too long before the anonymous soul responsible for this astonishing incorrection attempted to justify it:

“I will not argue with him that I am making some eisogetic [sic] interpolations into the Greek based on my own theological presupposition; however, I would also argue that the protestant translations do the same thing. […] [W]e as Orthodox make the claim that we have the whole truth, including our exegesis of the sacred text. Why did the Apostle not just use diaconea? [sic] Why use the word liturgy? [sic] It seems that we can say without shame that this is because of the worship setting of the early church does anyone really want to argue that Paul is not a liturgist? […] Our exegesis is the closest to the truth, so why can we not say liturgist, or anything else that aids our understanding of the sacramental depth of the sacred texts?”

To this I responded:

Simply because we cannot arbitrarily assign to a well-attested word whatever meaning suits our fancy. Again, the attempt to “translate” λειτουργός as “liturgist” is a textbook case of a lexical fallacy called “semantic anachronism,” in which an ancient word is defined by a later word etymologically derived from it. (The reverse error, called the “root fallacy,” defines a modern word by the ancient word from which it is etymologically derived: thus, the “real meaning” of the English word “nice” would be “fool,” because this is meaning of the Latin nescius.)

Of course, one would be hard pressed to deny that St Paul was a “liturgist” (that is, one who leads a liturgy), particularly in view of passages such as Acts 20:7-12; but that he was such does not depend on any rendering of λειτουργός (and much less on an incorrect one!). Further, that behind this lexical fallacy lies a logical one is clear from a question like, “Why would [St. Paul] use the word liturgy?” Evidently St Paul, who was not an English speaker, didn’t “use the [English] word liturgy” at all in the passage in question; he used the Greek word λειτουργός. To assume that this is the same as “liturgist” simply begs the question.

In any case, to make “eisegetical interpolations” of any kind into the Scriptural text is doubtless inappropriate, for as someone else has already noted, it is the words of Scripture that “spin” us, and not us them. This kind manipulation often has the purpose to pack some theological or homiletical punch into the text, as though a sensible translation of the Scriptures were lacking in riches to impart to either area. Unfortunately, these (pseudo-)exegetical “nuggets,” based as they are in a fallacious understanding of lexical semantics and translation theory, ultimately distort the text and its meaning.

And that was the end of that particular discussion. Fast forward, however, to 2008 and the release of the complete Orthodox Study Bible. Soon after I received my copy (thanks, once again, to Kevin Edgecomb‘s kindness), I was thumbing through the book when my innocent eyes fell upon this horrendous sight:

“See to it that the tribe of Levi is not numbered, nor take a census of them among the children of Israel; but you shall appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of testimony, over all its furnishings, and over all things that belong to it; they shall carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings; they shall minister liturgically [Gk. λειτουργήσουσιν] in the tabernacle and camp around it” (Numbers 1:49-50, emphasis and parenthesis mine).

A note further elaborates:

“The Levites were ordained to minister liturgically, for divine worship is liturgical in nature; this liturgical nature is mentioned about forty-five times throughout Numbers. The word liturgy means ‘the work of the people.’ In Israel, this included the Levites and the twelve tribes, that is, all ‘the children of Israel’ (v. 49), with the Levites having their special liturgical service in the tabernacle.

“The worship of the Church is also liturgical in nature and includes both clergy and laity. The apostles were ministering liturgically in Acts 13:2 when the Holy Spirit spoke to them. The same word is used here as in the Book of Numbers. This same word is also used numerous times in Hebrews to describe the liturgical worship of the Church as the fulfillment of Israel’s liturgical worship (Heb. 1:7, 14; 8:2, 6; 9:21; 10:11).”

Excuse me while I go bang my head against the wall.

Anyway, tipped off by this unfortunate discovery, I started to compile a list of all the instances in which the OSB fallaciously translates λειτουργέω and λειτουργία, but given that my copy of Hatch and Redpath’s LXX Concordance has been long stowed in a cold storage unit in Michigan, the project has been progressing at a painfully slow pace. It finally occurred to me that some of you have fancy computer gadgets that work at breakneck speeds to alleviate the toils of certain philological endeavors, and that, if asked, someone might be moved to coöperate by providing me with a list of all instances of these two words in Rahlf’s Septuaginta. So, is anyone able to do so? You help would be greatly appreciated! [UPDATE: Mike Aubrey has kindly provided a full list that he produced by searching Logos; Manuel Rojas double checked these results against those from a BibleWorks search and found one additional instance of the verb. Many thanks to both of them for their help!]


With the exception of the one taken from Romans 15:16, all examples of semantic anachronism and the root fallacy are taken from D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), pages 28-35.

Prolegomenon to a Bible Review: On the Necessity of Seriously and Critically Engaging Matters of Text and Translation

It has been my experience that, when faced with the discussion of issues of Biblical text and translation, not a few Orthodox Christians in North American contexts protest that all such considerations are ultimately petty and irrelevant, since all one really needs in order to approach the Scriptures in an Orthodox manner (say they) is a set of explicitly Orthodox annotations to be used alongside any translation of the Bible. Why invest all this time and attention in such matters, then?

The answer is quite simple, really.

The Bible belongs to the Church, and it is from her that we receive both its letter (i.e., our ecclesiastical text) and its interpretation (i.e., patristic and liturgical exegesis). Our holy and God-bearing fathers, meditating on those words of Scripture, have seen Christ at every turn. This is the interpretation of Holy Scripture embodied in our prayers, our Services, and indeed our whole Faith. But how can we, the faithful, see Christ in every page of Scripture guided by our holy fathers, if we’re not looking at the same page as they? Yet if our Bibles fail to give us the Church’s text of the Scriptures, we will in fact be looking at a different page, and we’ll see Christ a little (and at times even a lot!) less clearly than our holy fathers did. Gems that, according to them, reveal Christ to us, will have disappeared.

The same is true if our translation is substandard. Think of it as trying to admire a rough diamond as though it were already polished. A questionable or incompetent translation can hide Christ in the pages of Scripture from us; it can darken the image that should shine clearly, and in the worst cases, it can obliterate it entirely.

While a good annotated edition can be helpful in many ways, one must be careful to always remember that the notes are not the inspired Scriptural text; that is, we don’t seek to see Christ in the notes, but in the Biblical text. We must not mistake the means for the end! Consider this: neither the Epistle Book nor the Gospel Book used liturgically in Church have explanatory notes. There such notes become superfluous, because the Scriptural texts are in their true context: that of true worship, and the true faith, “given once for all to the saints” (St Jude 3). This context alone enables us to see Christ clearly in every word of Holy Scripture. Thus, good annotations may be a very helpful aid to our reading, but they cannot substitute for the Scriptural text itself. And again, to the extent that the translation in front of us fails to accurately render the ecclesiastical text of the Scriptures, to that extent it departs from the letter and interpretation that the Church has given us, thus preventing us from accessing that authentic Orthodox approach to Scriptures in which we seek to be immersed.

So, why then must we engage with the utmost care matters of text and translation? So that, when we open the Scriptures, we may have before us all that our fathers and mothers in Christ saw, that they may teach us; and so that we may the see splendor of Christ clearly, and not through darkness. After all, Scriptural reading has little do to with private interpretation, and everything to do with reading in communion with those who, now triumphant, have have gone to their rest before us.

[For another discussion of this subject, see my earlier post, On Translating the Church’s (and No Other) Bible. For previous posts on patristic and liturgical exegesis, see here, here and here.]

Yet More Comments on the Complete OSB

Those keeping track of the many reviews of the complete Orthodox Study Bible that have appeared online in recent weeks might also wish to take note of the following posts:

1) Our good friend Kevin Edgecomb has produced another review piece entitled Orthodox Study Bible redux, in which he ably discusses a number of errors and problems with the OSB that he did not address in his first review post.

Also, alerted by a mischievous miscreant regarding a particularly egregious misprint in the OSB, Kevin gives us a short relation of some quirky Bibles in the history of English Bible printing, and suggests at the end of this entertaining post what, in light of the long tradition of English Bible misprints, might become the name for the first edition of the OSB: The ‘Slop’ Bible.

2) Felix Culpa (i.e., Father Anonymous) over at Ora et Labora has written a dazzling first installment of his projected multi-part review of the OSB (Orthodox Study Bible: My Turn, I) in which he dissects, unflinchingly and with a steady hand, the dust cover of this new volume. As is well known, I worry a great deal about the worldview deficiencies of projects such the OSB and of “American Orthodoxy” (whatever that means) in general, so I welcome commentary focusing exclusively on this issue which I believe should be treated separately from any translational, textual or editorial deficiencies that may exist in this volume. I’m eagerly looking forward to the rest of the installments! [UPDATE: The second installment, dealing with the nature of the OSB notes, is now available.]

Father has also posted a helpful round up of some OSB reviews so far. To the comments and reviews he has already listed we might add the following: those by David Bryan, Benedict Seraphim (both his Initial Superficial Impression and his Further Reflections), and a commenter over at Orthodoxie. [UPDATE: Kevin Burt also offers some very thoughtful, and generally positive, observations in his post A layman’s thoughts on the Orthodox Study Bible.]

Finally, I should like to take this opportunity to express my thanks to Kevin Edgecomb, who has kindly offered to send along a copy of the OSB for examination and review. My own plan since learning of the publication of the OSB has been to do a point-by-point examination using Father Ephrem Lash’s review as an “evaluation guide,” if you will, for the new volume. To borrow Felix Culpa‘s words, I believe that “Fr Ephrem’s review can be used as a standard to measure the success of the 2008 version of the OSB. Were the editors able to incorporate constructive criticism, or were they not?” With thanks to Kevin for making it possible, I expect to start on that project in the near future, after the volume arrives hereperhaps after Pascha.

A (Nearly) Definitive Review of the Orthodox Study Bible

Our good friend Kevin Edgecomb offers a very insightful review of the complete Orthodox Study Bible in which he addresses important issues of translation, content and binding. If you’re looking for an honest look at this new volume untainted by the euphoria that the appearance of this new publication has caused in some circles, look no further. I know that Kevin has touched on issues that are of great interest to me personally, and surely others will also find his comments to be a necessary, balancing contribution to their final assessment of the complete OSB.

More Comments on the Complete OSB

Reviews and comments on the complete Orthodox Study Bible, released less than two weeks ago, continue to filter out in various corners of the Internet:

  • Rick Mansfield offers some comments on the OSB by Theron Mathis, who was responsible for the books of I and II Kingdoms (I and II Samuel).
  • David Bryan has also offered his initial thoughts on the OSB; you can read them here.

Again, I do not yet have access to a copy, but I hope to obtain one and make my own comments available in the not-too-distant future.

An Initial Impression on the Complete OSB

The complete Orthodox Study Bible has started to ship at long last, and T. R. Valentine (an Orthodox layman whose articles on history, theology, and the ecclesiastical canon and text of Scripture I have always found both challenging and helpful) has made available his first impressions on the long-awaited volume. Since his remarks are likely to be of interest to readers of this blog, I reprint them here in their entirety by the kind permission of the author.

Orthodox Study Bible — initial impressions

I received my copy Saturday.

IMO, it is very good the books of the OT were arranged in canonical order (as done by the Greeks). But I wish they had rearranged the NT in the canonical order (as done by the Greeks) at the same time. Oh well.

I really dislike the ugly font used in the running header — zeroes are wider than the capital letter O; ones look like a capital I. The font used for the text has far too high an x-height: lower case letters are about 3/4 the size of capital letters instead of 1/2. But I can live with ugly. The content is far more important.

I was checking to see if ἐκκλησία was translated as ‘church’. To my delight, it was rendered ‘church’ in Psalm 21 (vv. 23, 26); Psalm 25 (vv. 5, 12); Psalms 34:18; 39:10; 67:27; and 88:6. I wish they had maintained that rendering for the remainder of the psalms, but for some reason did not in Psalm 106:32 and Psalm 149:1.

The word ἐκκλησία was also translated as ‘church’ in Job 30:28, Proverbs 5:14, and Lamentations 1:10. I really wish they had also used ‘church’ in the 23rd chapter of Deuteronomy (vv. 2, 3, 4, and 9) and Joel 2:16, but, alas, they did not.

When I was checking to see the rendering of ἐκκλησία in the four books of Kingdoms, I ran into a problem finding the verses. So I started digging into verse numbering.

What a mess!

The standard numbering of the books of the Old Testament [is], like it or not, based on the Masoretic text.

The ΖΩΗ (ZOE) text I have adapts to this by skipping verse numbers where the Church’s text does not have the equivalent of the Masoretic. Thus, in 1 Kingdoms, the ΖΩΗ (ZOE) text numbers the first eleven verses of chapter 17 which basically parallel the Masoretic text, then skips numbers 12 through 31, numbers verses 32 through 40 which parallel the Masoretic text, skips verse 41, numbers verses 42 through 49 which parallel the Masoretic text, skips verse 50, numbers verses 51 through 54, and omits numbers 55 through 58. (Note: the ΖΩΗ (ZOE) text includes the omitted verses from the Masoretic text in footnotes rendered in a distinct font.)

When there are verses present in the Church’s text that are not in the Masoretic text, the ΖΩΗ (ZOE) edition numbers verses with added letters. Thus, in Chapter 2 of 3 Kingdoms, it numbers the first 35 verses which parallel the Masoretic text, and then numbers the following verses 35α, 35β, 35γ, 35δ, … 35μ, 35ν, 35ξ. The next verse is numbered 36 as is the parallel verse in the Masoretic text.

The Brenton translation of the Septuagint basically uses the same numbering system as the ΖΩΗ (ZOE) text, but instead of appending letters it has no verse numbering (effectively making 3 Kingdoms 2:35 a great long verse!).

The Orthodox Study Bible doesn’t follow either of these methods. Instead it uses what is, IMO, the worst possible method. It numbers verses sequentially regardless of the standard numbering of verses. Thus, where the Church’s text does not have text which parallels the Masoretic text, the Orthodox Study Bible ends up with few verse numbers than other editions. For instance, 1 Kingdoms 17:32 in the ΖΩΗ (ZOE) text and the Brenton translation and 1 Samuel 17:32 in the NASB, is rendered in the OSB as 17:12! The same thing is done where there are additional verses, only this results in more verse numbers than other editions. For instance, what the ΖΩΗ (ZOE) edition counts as 35, 35α, 35β, 35γ, 35δ, … 35μ, 35ν, 35ξ, 36 is counted in the OSB as verses 35 through 49. So 3 Kingdoms 2:36 in the ΖΩΗ (ZOE) text and the Brenton translation and 1 Kings 2:36 in the NASB becomes 3 Kingdoms 2:50.

Like I said, it is a mess. Worse, there is no ‘conversion table’ that will allow a reader to find the equivalent of a verse found in any other translation/edition. Perhaps some enterprising soul(s) will create a web page with a conversion table.


In looking at 1 Kingdoms chapter 17 (the story of David and Goliath), I found two things which bothered me. The OSB has a verse 29 which parallels 1 Samuel 17:50 in the same place as it appears in the Masoretic text, but that verse DOES NOT EXIST in the Church’s text. I wonder if someone, working from the NKJV Old Testament (which was used as this project’s boilerplate), inadvertently left that verse in.

The second thing was the OSB’s note to 1 Kingdoms 17:4 — ‘Goliath is over nine feet tall.’ This would be true if one is following the Masoretic text which gives Goliath’s height as six cubits and a span (a cubit being about 18 inches makes six cubits approximately equal to nine feet), but the Church’s text — properly translated in the OSB — gives Goliath’s height as FOUR cubits and a span (which works out to about six feet plus a ‘span’, i.e. about 6’4″ instead of 9’4″)! It appears notes from the NKJV Old Testament may have been retained without checking.

The icons included in the OSB are quite good (and traditional). The Lectionary will be very useful. Of course, the patristic comments are important. The Index to Annotations looks like it will be helpful, but I haven’t had much chance to look through it.

Back to looking at the OSB.


An additional piece of information that I have learned elsewhere: although the book of 4 Maccabees was originally slated to appear in an appendix (as it does in the Greek Bible), it was not included in the end. Apparently, however, both text and annotations were produced for this book; it would be splendid if these were made available online for individual use.

I requested a review copy of the complete OSB sometime back, since previous posts and comments on the OSB on this blog continue to generate quite a bit of traffic. I do hope to receive a copy and make my own comments available in the near future, but I couldn’t neglect passing on Thomas’ initial comments.

On Worldview Deficiencies and the "Orthodox Study Bible"

John Hobbins recently blogged about the best Study Bibles in the market today, and listed the so-called “Orthodox Study Bible-New Testament” (OSB) as one of five confessionally-based editions recommended to those “who wish to understand the Bible from the point of view of a specific tradition.” I quickly cautioned him against regarding the OSB “as an authentic representative of the Orthodox approach to the Scriptures [….] because it betrays throughout a lack of conformity to what in our circles is often called the ‘mind of the Church’,” and naturally referred him to my hero Father Ephrem Lash’s searing review of the OSB. Iyov, whose very interesting blog I’m only starting to explore, found much to dislike in Father Ephrem’s review, and lodged his complaints in a lengthy comment. But I had several complaints of my own concerning Iyov’s “review of the review” which I registered in yet another lengthy comment (of course!). Unfortunately, I posted that comment by mistake before I had a chance to proofread it, and so it is riddled with stylistic infelicities that I did not have the chance to correct. For that reason I reprint my reply here, now fully corrected.

Needless to say, this whole discussion has been quite a fitting way to celebrate my birthday!


The key to understanding Father Ephrem’s protestations, I think, is his comment that he must again report on a missed opportunity. The “Orthodox Study Bible-New Testament” (OSB), with its impressive “overview committee” listed on the frontispiece (most of whom, however, reportedly never saw a page of the project and were unaware of belonging to any such body), sets out to 1) embody the Orthodox Christian approach to the Scriptures and 2) be a suitable edition for personal and homiletical use by the Orthodox. It accomplished neither of these things, precisely because it very much is a “piece of evangelical propaganda decked out in the trappings of Orthodoxy,” however snide one might find such a comment and its accompanying illustrations. So it is quite right that this comment sets the tone for the whole review, because it states the chief recurring theme of the whole piece: that at the root of all the problems of the OSB lies what we might call a “worldview deficiency.”

Clearly Father Ephrem has a sketchy understanding at best of the politics of American Bible publishing, but I don’t think his comments on the Orthodox use of the New King James Version (NKJV) are therefore irrelevant or superfluous. His point that NKJV New Testament needs to undergo rather thorough correction before it can properly be called an “Orthodox New Testament” is quite accurate, and since many folks (particularly Stateside) seem to consider that is such simply because it is used in this Bible, this fact really does bear noting (and repeating!). In any case, short of a complete translation, the least that should be done is to produce an Orthodox recension of a text such as the NKJV’s, much like the Roman Catholics did in producing the Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition. Of course, it is unlikely that Nelson would have agreed to this; however, this does not automatically remove the deficiencies of the NKJV for Orthodox use to which Father Ephrem refers.

(Incidentally, I fail to see how Bishop Tikhon’s pastoral judgement on this matter, which in any case was restricted to his own diocese while he was its ruling Bishop, could be weightier than Father Ephrem’s, given that His Grace lacks the latter’s extensive training in Biblical philology. But the point is moot, given that Bishop Tikhon, a careful student indeed of all matters linguistic, does not disagree with Father Ephrem at all: His Grace notes that neither the KJV nor the NKJV are “completely acceptable,” and encourages that they be used only as a temporary solution to the problem of the lack of Orthodox translations into English.)

Speaking of Bishops, that Father Ephrem does not criticize Bishop [now Metropolitan] Kallistos’ piece has little to do with any perceived need to “abate his criticism” (on account of what?), but rather this is so because Metropolitan Kallistos’ piece is truly a gem. And the “mandatory non-specific criticism” of which you speak, once again, draws our attention to the “worldview deficiencies” at the core of the OSB project, which as Father Ephrem wistfully notes, would have been significantly lessened if the principles articulated in Metropolitan Kallistos’ piece had actually been heeded.

Your impression of the OSB’s lectionary is mistaken in that this is indeed a full lectionary for every day of the year, but one clearly prepared by individuals inadequately acquainted with the interaction (both highly variable and minutely regulated) of the many cycles that converge in the order of ferial and festal readings in the lectionary. (This, again, is not surprising, given the lack of liturgical experience of the project team at the time of preparation.) But given that this is a complete lectionary, it is indeed perplexing that the 11 Gospels for Sunday Matins, which are read without fail in unbroken succession throughout the year, are nowhere given. What you call an “obvious editing error” (namely, the identification of the 4th Sunday After Pentecost as the Sunday of the Holy Fathers, which is in fact a movable commemoration not at all tied to that particular Sunday) is really not such at all, but rather betrays the actual source of this lectionary: not the service and rubrical books, but rather the annual calendar for a given year (probably the popular “St Herman Calendar,” which is of Russian provenance rubrically speaking), whose readings were reprinted wholesale into this lectionary without taking into account the variables for different years given in the rubrics. I fail to see how pointing this out is “sectarian” in nature.

Now, that the second sentence of the article “Introducing the Orthodox Church” states that “many people have heard of the Russian Orthodox Church” is an unlikely cause for Father Ephrem’s criticism. After all, the rest of that very sentence reads “or the Greek Orthodox Church,” to which Father Ephrem himself belongs, “which was born centuries earlier.” And in any case, the team that produced the OSB belongs neither to the Russian or Greek Churches, but rather to the Church of Antioch! Thus, it is very hard for me to make any sense at all of these cries of “sectarian” prejudice (particularly when Father Ephrem outright expresses his wish, towards the end of the review, that the ROCOR [Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia] should have had a role in the publication of this volume, as a counterbalance and corrective to this project’s manifold “worldview deficiencies”). Indeed, a glance to anything further than the first part of the second sentence of this article will put in evidence what Father Ephrem’s actual objections are, some of which are summarized in the review. This summary may be found immediately following the sentence where he describes this piece as “tendentious and wholly unnecessary”namely, immediately after the first sentence.

Further, there are a couple things that suggest to me that you’re looking at a different printing of the OSB than that which Father Ephrem is reviewing. In my copy of the OSB, which is indeed the very first printing, there are no mentions whatever of the Mother of God or the saints in the morning and evening prayers, just as Father Ephrem states. Further, in the list of the Seventy Apostles, there are indeed two Marks listed, one after the other, with different feastdays given. Again, your copy must come from a later printing, for not even the pagination that you give coincides with that of the book in front of me. [UPDATE: I have been able to verify with Conciliar Press that corrections and augmentations of these supplementary materials have indeed been introduced without note in several successive printings.]

The comment about the invariably bad iconography stemming from America might seem petty to those without, but it is really not such at all. There most certainly exists within what I call “militant Americanist Orthodoxy” a culture of ugly iconography, which is perfectly illustrated by the dreadful icon of the Harrowing of Hell in the OSB. This is hardly the place to address the theology of the icon, but suffice it to say that the bastardization of iconographic aesthetics is theologically problematic on many levelsall the more so when it comes about because Kentigernmungo Jones, a master of the Etch-A-Sketch, is now Orthodox and suddenly fancies himself an iconographer.

Father Ephrem is rightly troubled that, in a purportedly Orthodox Bible, the Mother of God is simply referred to as “Mary.” This is because, as Kevin Edgecomb has brilliantly noted elsewhere, the regula fidei “is truly an entire complicated mindset involving behavior, action, belief, vocabulary, and writings.” And so we return to “the main point of what we have been saying”: that this volume has serious “worldview deficiencies” and that it embodies hardly at all an Orthodox approach to the Scriptures, simply because time and again it finds itself at variance with the comprehensive regula fideiagain, what in our circles is often called “the mind of the Church.”

Fr Ephrem’s last paragraph, which causes you such wonderment, more fully develops this latter point. The acquisition of this mind, of this complex and comprehensive regula fidei, simply does not happen overnight: it is a lifelong process. And it does indeed take centuries to acquire in corporate contexts (but not of course for individuals, though this process is greatly helped if it occurs in a corporate context thoroughly integrated to the mind of the Church). That this should seem unwelcoming comes as no surprise, and yet, all are welcome to join in the unbroken stream of the Tradition to be shaped and claimed by it though of course, not all are willing to “‘leave all things and follow’ where our Fathers have lead.” This, again, is the whole point. A volume such as this, which is “the product of people who, with the very best of intentions, are going too fast too soon,” is symptomatic of a much greater ailment, and Father Ephrem’s review is as much a critique of the volume in question as it is a searing corrective to the context which produced it.

In the end, I must again caution all against referencing the “Orthodox Study Bible-New Testament” as an authentic witness to the Orthodox Christian approach to the Scriptures, because this decidedly it is not.