GA NEWS: Committee approves changes to 1962 Heidelberg translation

SAN JOSE, June 23, 2008 ˜ After nearly seven hours of conversation, occasional confusion and spirited debate, a sharply divided Committee on Theological Issues and Institutions approved Overture 13-06 from Newark Presbytery, voting by a margin of 33 to 26 (with two abstentions) to ask the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to make five changes to the 1962 translation of the Heidelberg Catechism which since 1967 has been used in The Book of Confessions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

While four of the proposed changes were met with little debate or discussion, most of the committee‚s deliberations focused on proposed changes to Question 87 of the Heidelberg Catechism, which contains a reference to homosexual perversion that is not found in the original

German text or in any subsequent translation in any language published prior to 1962 (the Spanish Language translation of the Heidelberg Catechism used by the PC(USA) makes reference to sex between men but makes no mention of sex between women). It is the only reference to homosexuality in the Book of Order.

Few participants in the Monday (June 23) debate raised questions about the literal accuracy of the changes proposed by the overture. Jack Rogers, Moderator of the 213th General Assembly, who has written extensively on the confessions, pointed out that even the translators of the Heidelberg version used by the PC(USA) admitted inserting their bias while translating the catechism. Instead, committee members wrestled with whether or not the Heidelberg Catechism, as it is published in The Book of Confessions, is a faithful expression of „who and what [the PC(USA)] is, what it believes, and what it resolves to do (Book of Order, G-2.0100) .

Those speaking against the motion did so appealing to the churchs longstanding condemnation of homosexuality and a sense that the Heidelberg version currently used in The Book of Confessions is biblically faithful, as it exchanges the original text in Question 87 with a direct quote from 1 Cor. 6:9-10. It‚s Scripture, declared Assembly observer Kermit Oppriecht, associate pastor of Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Wichita, KS. How much more faithful can you get?

For those who supported the overture, it was a question of historical accuracy and of faithfulness to gays and lesbians within the Presbyterian family.  We must rely on accurate translations of the confessions because most of our pastors are not trained in German or Latin, John Vest, who is an associate pastor at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, told the committee.  It is an affront to our Reformed heritage to have so faulty a translation in our confessions.

Not all of the debate was academic, however. The Book of Confessions‚ current translation uses the words homosexual perversion, elder commissioner George Betz reminded the committee. We‚re talking about fellow brothers and sisters in the church. We have to keep this in mind.