I am so very happy to share the news that Friday night, the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) gave final approval to the new translation of the Heidelberg Catechism!
In 2008 I was called to participate in a national committee to resolve five translation problems in the version used by the PC(USA) since 1967. As we began our work we became aware of two important facts.
First, there were many more problems in the old translation than we were assigned to correct.
Second, two other historic Reformed denominations (the Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church of North America) were already well into the process of translating the Heidelberg Catechism afresh.
Their committee was eager to work with us, and graciously received and incorporated a large number of suggested changes to their draft translation. And by the way, their own draft work had already corrected all five of the issues the Presbyterian committee was charged with correcting.
We reported to the 2010 GA with a request for a new mandate, allowing us to consider a complete new translation.
This allowed us to consider bringing the Joint CRC/RCA translation to the church.
Actually, our mandate from 2008 also charged us with restoring the Scripture citations accompanying the 1563 original versions of the Catechism. This part was, at least for me, a labor of love. I had seen a great many people encounter our old translation, which included not a single citation of Scripture, for the first time. Frequently they would encounter an unfamiliar idea and say “Where did they get that? I don’t believe that.” There was no way to tell that the authors actually had extensive biblical references for people to study alongside almost every question!
So what we brought to the Church in 2012 was the CRC/RCA translation, including our suggested revisions, along with an extensive set of biblical citations, to the 2012 GA where it received its first approval.
Then it went to the presbyteries for their votes. It fairly quickly received the necessary affirmative votes of 2/3 of the presbyteries.
Now, with the approval of the 2014 GA, this fine new translation, with Scripture citations that guide the reader to the biblical texts underlying every assertion, becomes part of the PC(USA) Book of Confessions — “Part 1” of our Constitution, the theological standards intended to guide our shared life in Christ.
Thank you for reading my many reflections on the Catechism. I have no intention of stopping. It is a great conversation partner, written by fluent speakers of Christianity. It can help us, in our post-Christian culture, learn Christianity as a second language.
I would love to hear any of your thoughts on this venerable document in the comments!