‘I didn’t have an ounce of faith that a revision to the Romanian Bible was possible,” says Emanuel Contac, grinning.
He is recalling his first visit to Tyndale House, in 2012, to write a history of the Romanian Cornilescu Bible. Used by half a million people in Romania, as well as a Romanian diaspora numbering in the tens of thousands, the Cornilescu is the favourite Bible version among Romanian Evangelicals and Protestants, and is much loved. But it is also almost 100 years old, and the language has never been revised. Not only is the vocabulary dated, but it isn’t even all translated from the original Greek and Hebrew — significant portions are second-hand translations from a French edition.
Unbeknown to Contac, the British and Foreign Bible Society (BFBS), which has printed the Cornilescu since 1924, had taken his words to heart. In 2015, on behalf of BFBS, the Romanian Bible Society approached him and asked him to assemble a panel of scholars to review the text for a new edition.
During his PhD research at the University of Bucharest, Contac had spent time looking at how key words were translated across 30 Bible versions, and had written a brief history of Romanian Bible translations. He also teaches New Testament Greek at Bible school, making him the natural person to lead the revision project.
The BFBS wanted a group that was representative of the major denominations then using the Cornilescu translation. By April of 2015, Contac had firm commitments from nine scholars from across the denominational spectrum. “We’ve never had a panel like this since the Romanian Bible began being translated. We never had a committee of various scholars from different backgrounds working together. We also created a pastoral committee, which was there to make the connection between the scholarly world and the world of the Church. They would read the text from the perspective of the person in the pew, as people who don’t know Greek and Hebrew.”
In English prose syntax isn’t very flexible, but in Romanian we can keep some of the word plays from the Greek, as well as matching the vocabulary as closely as possible to the original languages.
“For example, the Greek term dikaiosunē is translated in English as ‘righteousness’. In the Romanian Bible version it’s translated as ‘unblemished’, so it defines this characteristic in the negative, by what it’s not. But righteousness is a positive term and ‘unblemished’ doesn’t do it justice, so we decided to go back and translate it with a positive Romanian term (dreptate).”
Daniel Suciu, a Romanian pastor whose congregation uses the Cornilescu version, sums up the response to the revised New Testament. “I really appreciate that the text follows closely the text in the original Greek. It not only corrects the old version but adds new nuances. For example, in 2 Corinthians 2:17, ‘For we do not corrupt the Word of God’ has become ‘For we do not peddle the Word of God’. In 1 Corinthians 13:5, we read that love ‘does not keep a record of evils’ instead of ‘does not think evil’.
“But I like that the revisers have preserved the style of the old version, by avoiding words with an exaggerated contemporary flavour. When you read, there is an added sense of precision, but you get the same flavour of the old version.”
Now that the New Testaments are rolling off the presses, the revision team has turned its attention to the Old Testament. “The whole Old Testament has now been revised at least once by the first reviser and more than 70% has been revised by the second reviser,” says Contac. “Next the literary reviser will read the text, and I will work on Isaiah, and proof-read the New Testament again in preparation for the new edition.”
Contac will again be coming to Tyndale House to work on this next phase of the project. “Being the supervisor of the team, I’m required to make sure I have read every single verse,” he says. It is detailed and painstaking work, but now he has the air of a man who has more than just an ounce of faith.
Dr Emanuel Contac teaches Greek and Hermeneutics at the Pentecostal Theological Institute of Bucharest