Friday, August 21, 2009

UBS process, ecumenicalism at its best

The United Bible Society publishes the most heavily used Greek text the Novum Testamentum Graece. Now like everyone else who gets involved in translation discussion I disagree with their choices, their are times I would have made gone the other way. But what I think is fantastic is how they have created a successful ecumenicalism, providing a model that is truly able to cross the divide and get a major complex religious issue resolved in a way that everyone can stand behind the final product. Roman Catholics participate in the UBS process the same as Protestants. Jehovah’s witnesses and Adventist translations are pulling from the same UBS text. And not only across denominations: from the ESV (conservative) to the NRSV (NCC) to the very liberal scholars version to even atheist translations like Price the UBS/NA is the standard. Asian and African churches are pulling from the same source. The Jewish Publication Society is a member of the UBS and the NJPS (1985) is pulling from the UBS Hebrew which means that even the Jews are part of this ecumenical unity. This is one of the great ecumenical triumphs of this century that doesn't get appreciated nearly enough.

This didn't have to happen. Had the IBS/Zondervan stuck with the MT or the TR for the NIV we could have had a very situation today where Christians wouldn't even have agreement on what the original texts say.

But more than this I’ve argued that this process is a model for ecumenicalism that actually worked and continues to work. I’m not sure why people who are interested in ecumenicalism don’t pay more attention to an area where the goals were achieved, full Christian unity. Think about that for a second, at least in one example humanity was are able to publish unified collection of books on an important topic which is authoritative to all Christiandom! We don’t have this breadth of consensus on the creeds.

What makes it work is the focus on consensus. Essentially the system looks like
  1. A scholar makes a proposal about a verse based on manuscript evidence.
  2. If that proposal gains wide acceptance as a variant in the academic community it will become a textnote in the UBS. For a new one that probably be around the NA29, but this is one going back a long time.
  3. Some translators will start to incorporate it, generally as a possible variant which will draw larger debate and discussion.
  4. If that proposal continues to draw a consensus it will become the default reading in the Greek.
  5. At that point essentially all translations will attach a note similar to the one for 1John 5:7-8 that you see in Protestant bibles. This creates awareness of the issue and builds consensus among the whole community.
  6. Some translations will start to move the older variant to an appendix which will again widen the debate. If there are strong objections the process may stop here.
  7. Most translations will move the older variant to an appendix
  8. Some translations will start to drop the appendix.
  9. The older variant will be dropped entirely across the board.
Which is to say everyone is treating everyone respectfully and consensus emerges. At every step their is a check back. The system is very conservative but is open to discussion and reason inside the system.


Suzanne McCarthy said...

What an excellent post. Thanks so much for this.

Qohelet said...

As I understand it, the Eastern Orthodox Churches (with 300 million adherents) do not use the UBS text. They rely on the Septuagint for the OT and the Byzantine/MT for the NT. Some churches even prefer the Aramaic Peshitta as the standard text for the NT.

CD-Host said...

Suzanne --

Glad you liked

Qohelet --

You do have a point with the Orthodox and the MT / Septuagint. i don't know about 300m

In general Orthodox churches the bible is still rather secondary. They haven't been hit with the Sola Scriptura movement. I think as Protestantism emerges more strongly in Eastern Europe they are going to have to address translation issues in a serious way I think at that point they will end up part of the UBS/NA process. Their current position is purely traditional.

That being said the 300m figure is very questionable it isn't even sourced on wikipedia. 225m which is coming from adherents seems semi justifiable but the real number is probably around 50m (if you are counting people who lets say attend church 2x+ / yr). said...

Heh, I read that from an orthodox site some time ago. Sorry I didn't fact-check before repeating it.

CD-Host said...

No need. Generally wikipedia is pretty good. The idea that the Orthodox site copies from wikipedia which is using a number without a reference and a reference which is (by their own admission) is far too high....

Screwy situation I don't think you were negligent at all.

The White Man said...

Ho. Ha. Has anyone actually read the Orthodox Greek text? It has 1 John 5:7-8 in it, even though it had to be back-translated from the Latin Vulgate. To make matters worse, it's even produced by the same people who produce UBS bibles. They had to make a special exception in their policy manual to do it.
And your wonderful 5-step process: has it ever been done this way in real life?

CD-Host said...

Qohelet mentioned that. The Comma Johanneum (1 John 5:7-8) is in the TR and Orthodox church is unabashed about rejecting the critical text. As for the process, yes that is how it works. A nice back and forth.