J.I. Packer on the sacred language of the Book of Common Prayer

Discussion in 'Faith, Devotion & Formation' started by Stalwart, Aug 11, 2020.

  1. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    J.I. Packer has passed away a month ago in July. In his memory, this meme has gone around the web, and I feel it is too remarkable to pass up. Sets all the reasons why we love the hieratic and sacred language of the traditional Book of Common Prayer, better than I could.


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    The Revd Dr. J.I. Packer on the language of the Book of Common Prayer:

    "Some people feel the BCP is outdated and irrelevant. I don't think the BCP's sixteenth century ceremonial style of speech is as much of a problem as is sometimes suggested. All that is needed is to sit people down and explain the language to them.

    If you want to know why it should be ceremonial - why ceremonial language is regularly used when you are making an address to a person of distinction such as royalty - well, we are addressing royalty when we're praying to our God. The idea that our Heavenly Father and our crucified and risen Lord are just good buddies is demeaning. It is inappropriate.

    The whole BCP is couched in this dignified ceremonial idiom, as are the hymns we sing, and I think this should be treated as making for reverence, rather than treated as some sort of problem."
    .
     
  2. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    A thought occurred to me. Did people begin using ceremonial language when praying to God because they'd been using such language when addressing their earthly king? Or did they begin using ceremonial language when addressing the king because they'd been doing so when praying to God? Or did both practices arise more or less contemporaneously?

    I wonder if we will ever know the answer.

    Anyway, I agree with Packer that God deserves our reverence and should inspire awe. Although we are told that we may come "boldly to the throne of grace" in prayer, some have taken this along with God being our Father and have gotten the false idea that He prefers to be addressed in an irreverent, overly-familiar way. I have always detested when (on rare occasions, fortunately) I've heard someone address God as "daddy". :sick: I don't think that God always "stands on ceremony" necessarily, but speaking or acting presumptuously is poor behavior toward one who has done so, so much for us.
     
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  3. Botolph

    Botolph Well-Known Member

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    It is worth remembering that the English of the 1661/2 Book of Common Prayer was not the street-speak of the day, but rather more formal and probably even dated in its own initial setting. Number of modern efforts at liturgy have lost something of the formality of worship. Our worship needs to embrace a dialogue between the Transcendence of God and the Immanence of God. BCP achieved this in an enduring way (and indeed an endearing way).

    I have been reflecting of late about the common threads of the diverse spectrum of what passes for Anglican Liturgy, and I am inclined to think that one of the great standout characteristics of Anglican Liturgy is Dignity. Sadly on looking at what is being channelled through the infernet in these days of Covid Lockdown, I suspect some of the brethren have either missed that point, or failed in transmitting it to a new medium, or as I suspect don't think that it matters.

    In former days we would zoom of to Bible Study, now we just zoom Bible Study.
     
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  4. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    I think it's a pity that the panel which produced Common Worship seems to have had more translation scholars and clerics than poets and thespians who would have had a better grasp of pace, metre and sonorous phraseology which marinate in the memory and stimulate responsive gratitude to God for his unfathomable Grace, even after the service is over.

    I would suggest also it is a mistake to aim at reaching those with a limited vocabulary at the expense of communicating the higher level nuanced meaning that a broader vocabulary can convey. A family church service should be an opportunity for increasing a congregation's knowledge of language, the means of communication, not just an exercise in being understood by the least educated member in the congregation.
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    Last edited: Aug 12, 2020
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  5. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    Having read some of the stuff from that period, it doesn't seem that the BCP language came from an earthly pattern of pre-existing address to kings. I tend to side with Botolph that it was purposefully outdated already by the time it was published, so that people wouldn't have the temptation of 'keeping it up to date', and it would just be what it was, the hieratic direct address to God himself.
     
  6. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    It is neither grovellingly obsequious nor impertinantly familiar as are some of the comporaneous ways of addressing God nowadays.
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  7. Lowly Layman

    Lowly Layman Well-Known Member

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    I agree that the language of the historic BCPs is poetic and beautiful...but do we flirt with contradicting Article XXIV (Of Speaking in the Congregation in such a Tongue as the people understandeth) in pushing to retain such "ceremonial" language? When I've brought this up before, I was admonished to research the archaisms so that I could better understand the language used in worship. But wasn't that the same argument that the Roman party used against translating from latin to the vulgar languages,which is exactly what the Article intends to do away with?
     
  8. tstor

    tstor Member

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    I would say there is a difference between expanding one's vocabulary within a native tongue and learning a new (dead) language altogether.
     
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  9. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    I don’t think the Article’s intent was to say, that “speaking in the people’s language” means that all text has to be flat, peasant-level and pedestrian.

    Just see the language of the King James Bible to find another example of highly poetic and ceremonial language.
     
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  10. Botolph

    Botolph Well-Known Member

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    I love the story of the bright new priest in his first appointment on the first Sunday arrives at the chancel and says:

    Gooday, great to be here with you worshipping our amazing God​

    and the congregation responded

    and also with you.
     
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  11. Lowly Layman

    Lowly Layman Well-Known Member

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    I love the KJV as much as anybody. I read it every night. But we're in the soul saving business not the poetry business, lol. I would hate to see people locked out of a meaningful interaction with the Church's prayer life or God's Word merelybecause they don't read Shakespearean English. We are almost five centuries removed from the publication BCP 1549, which set the stylistic and syntactic standard for the BCPs that followed. Much as I loveit, I must concede that the language has changed. Words have changed. Meanings of words have changed. I would never wish to put a barrier between a seeker and his salvation. Especially one built simply on aesthetics. JMO
     
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  12. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    Of course, but that’s how we we do it, by showing them that life is fuller and richer when you are in the Church and in a relationship with God. There has to be an aesthetic component to the Christian life, where it’s not just true, or good, but beautiful.


    What do you say to someone who wants to go to the church wearing a T-shirt with their belly sticking out?

    You let them know that it’s generally unacceptable. That’s what.

    And yet there will be plenty of schismatic churches who’ll be happy to take him instead and never once rebuke him. Does that mean we should stop? Not at all. We should stand on the side of beauty, and he will eventually learn that the true church has not only truth and goodness, but also beauty. False churches who appeal to sloth and laziness will come and go, but the true church which has all the riches within her stores endures.

    Obviously I don’t think that more plain worship can never take place, but it’s the basic framework that is important to establish.
     
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  13. tstor

    tstor Member

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    Just to hone this statement a bit, the aesthetic component should be to God's glory. Getting lost in the smells and bells can be detrimental. Mainting beauty in the Church is done for God's glory, not necessarily for the sensual pleasure of the believer.

    All good stuff! I would just add that worship should be "plain" in the sense that it abides in Scripture. The special sauce, if you will, comes from the working of God in the Church. There are plenty of beautiful churches in the world with extravagant services, but a lack of sound doctrine makes it all idolatrous. Such churches are a mirage for those stumbling through the spiritual desert.
     
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  14. Ananias

    Ananias Well-Known Member Anglican

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    I agree (wholeheartedly, in fact) but still I feel a pang that modern Bibles no longer have the sonority or cadences of the KJV. I like the modern ESV precisely because it retains at least a bit of the Elizabethan English majesty...but it is precisely this character of the ESV that many people (especially people who speak English as a second language) find difficult about it. I know that looser translations like the NIV are popular, but I also find these translations to be a bit...flat. Not inaccurate (I actually quite like the NIV as a reading Bible) but not poetic. You can read the ESV out loud; you can preach it. It's still got that old-time ring.

    As far as the BCP goes, one of the reasons I like the ACNA 2019 BCP so much (apart from the fact that they use the ESV as the base translation) is that they use the Coverdale Psalter. I've always loved the Miles Coverdale version of the Psalter better than any other rendition in English.
     
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  15. Moses

    Moses Member

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    As soon as the KJV was published, people were complaining that it wasn't contemporary language. And it wasn't, because the KJV translators:

    1. Remained extremely faithful to the original languages, keeping things like the vocative case (Our Father, who art in heaven), singular vs. plural verbs (praise ye the Lord), and precise terms instead of more common words (thy speech bewrayeth thee).

    2. Tried to make sure it sounded good when read aloud. Compare Nisi Dominus in the KJV and the Douay Rheims for an easy example. The DR translators didn't need to make it sound good since they didn't have any plans to actually use it in a church service.

    The language takes a little bit of getting used to, but it's worth it. Even a good contemporary translation is going to use a bunch of terms that aren't part of everyday speech, so trying to make the services 100% easily understandable the very first time they're heard is a fruitless effort.

    In the Orthodox Church in the US, every jurisdiction (sometimes it seems like every parish) translates everything differently, and you can't change parishes without having to re-memorize all the prayers. We can't even agree on a common translation of the Lord's prayer and the creed. The BCP/KJV tradition you guys have is really something special.
     
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  16. Shane R

    Shane R Well-Known Member

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    When I was studying NT Greek I noticed that the main Bible committees have heavy overlap. It's really the same 30 people producing most of the mainstream Bibles. NIV and ESV and NASB are all revised by this small group of people. And they are all Critical Text based versions.
     
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  17. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    Yes, nearly all the versions introduced in the past 150 years derive from the work of Westcott and Hort. And I've read assertions that neither of them were, shall we say, strongly orthodox in their theology.
     
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  18. Ananias

    Ananias Well-Known Member Anglican

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    I think the issue is that there just aren't that many people who have the Biblical language skills, the English grammar skills, and the theological background to do this kind of work. Dan Wallace and Bill Mounce show up often because they have a specialized skill set (proficiency in textual criticism of an archaic language in a Christian context). I get that lots of non-Evangelicals are uncomfortable with the prevalence of, e.g., Dallas Theological Seminary alums working on their bible translations, but I don't think this discomfort is warranted. The translation committees for most modern translations are ecumenical and have good oversight and scholarship. I think that modern English translations of the Bible are the best they've ever been in terms of fidelity to the source manuscripts. If the language is not as beautiful as the KJV, well, unfortunately modern English is a lesser creature than Elizabethan English in many ways.

    I'm in favor of using the Critical Text (NA29/UBS5/Tyndale House) as the basis of new translations because we have discovered a lot of Greek manuscripts since the Beza revision of the textus receptus, and they are of earlier (and thus presumably more reliable) vintage. We have the Dead Sea scrolls. We have Codex Sinaiticus. There are lots of others. I'm no certainly expert in the field, but I do agree with the argument that the textus receptus is outdated and should not be used for new translations.

    It's actually something of a Golden Age if you're a Bible nerd. There are a few really awful translations, and some that are just meh, but most are pretty good. My beef these days is that publishers are making changes too often. I'd expect an updated translation every couple of decades or so, to keep up with idiomatic English and incorporate any new scholarship; instead, we have publishers tinkering with their translations every few years. And I suspect that this is being done not for reasons of textual fidelity, but to keep the money train running. The Bible-publishing industry feels more and more like a racket set up to sell gullible chumps the same book over and over again. (And, chump that I am, I buy them.)

    Another, more serious, complaint is with study bibles. I'm not fond of study bibles as a concept -- if you want to write a commentary, write a commentary. Don't mix in your suppositions and assumptions with the Divine Word. By placing the text of fallible men next to divinely-inspired text, it lends the fallible words an undue weight and authority. I also hate the Brobdingnagian dimensions of study bibles; you need a forklift to use them if the font is big enough to read. I would like to see the whole "study bible" fad fade away. But publishers keep cranking them out because that money train has to keep rolling.

    A lot of mischief gets done in study bibles that goes unremarked. Away with them.

    Just give me a good clean text edition with center-column references and useful glosses/notes at the bottom of the page. Black-letter, no red. I understand when Jesus is speaking, thank you very much; I don't need to have my eyeballs seared.
     
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  19. Moses

    Moses Member

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    It's not necessarily a safe presumption. Dr. James Snapp has done some good work on this. Long story short, in some of the ancient manuscripts the scribes left blank spaces where they knew something should be, but apparently didn't have a complete manuscript to copy. And the critical texts are made with the assumption that nothing belongs in the empty sections. It's particularly egregious in the long ending of Mark, where only a couple of manuscripts leave it out, and those manuscripts leave unusual blank columns before Luke's Gospel starts.

    I'm not the right person for a scholarly debate on this, but I think it's definitely worth looking into the methods used in textual criticism.
     
  20. Shane R

    Shane R Well-Known Member

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    I agree fully with your premise. I had to check out of the HCSB/CSB project because it saw 3 revisions in little more than a decade. I can't keep up and I can't understand the reasoning behind it. Broadman Holman was just finally getting good study resources to market for the 2nd edition when the 3rd was in production.

    Also important, I think, is the ever more rapid rate of change of the English language. It has been heavily pidginized and in some cases is on the verge of spawning a creole. Should this be a consideration in Bible translation? Or should the Bible and liturgical texts of a church reflect a more elevated register of English. Most languages have this to some degree. No one speaks High German conversationally but it is recognized as a proper way to write. Reina-Valera Spanish, at least up to the 1960 revision, is not contemporary Spanish but it is still the benchmark by which other Spanish Bibles are judged. Interestingly, most of our African bishops tend to agree and are comfortable with the 1662 BCP.