Monday, November 23, 2009

RSV-CE vs. RSV-2CE Part 2

The next change that I am going to post on, between the RSV-CE and RSV-2CE, is the use of cup/chalice. The RSV-2CE changes on 17 occasions the standard translation of the Greek poterion from cup to chalice. The occurs in the New Testament on 16 occasions, most notably during the Last Supper. There is also one case in the Old Testament where the RSV-2CE, translating the Hebrew word kowc, goes with chalice. It is found at Psalm 116:13.

Here is an example, not from the Last Supper: "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the chalice that I am to drink?" They said to him, "We are able." He said to them you will drink my chalice, but to sit..." (Matthew 20:22-23)

So what do you think? I am not too sure that I like the change, since I don't really think it is necessary. In my honest opinion, I think the RSV-2CE revisers meant to heighten the Eucharistic tone of those passages by substituting "chalice" for the more simple "cup".


Carl Hernz said...

I used to think the exact same thing, that using the word "chalice" was a bit does one say, "uppity" so to speak?

But I just got knocked off of my high horse by some friends who dip into etymology.

As explained to me...The Hebrew and Greek words rendered as "cup" in modern versions actually mean "chalice." It is our current misunderstanding of the word "chalice" that causes the confusion.

A "chalice" was essentially a goblet, or bowl-like drinking vessel without a stem or base. Because this word became associated with the "chalice" used in Mass, and because the vessels used in Mass became such that an ornate nature of stem and base were added to this goblet, we tend to think of such a drinking vessel when the word is used in American English.

The word "cup" was in the later half of the 20th century used to portray a more humble drinking vessel, but the word "cup" means a goblet with a handle or hook, very similar to the star formations known as the Big Dipper and the Litter Dipper. Cups were originally used with buckets that were dropped into wells, and the cups were dropped into the buckets to serve water to individuals.
And whereas a cup is considered broken if it's handle is removed this is not true of a chalice since it has none.

It appears that "chalice" is becoming more popular due to this last fact which is making translators reconsider the use of "cup" for "kosi" (Hebrew), "calix" (Latin) and "calyx" (Greek). "Chalice" is also now being used again for the main reason that it is used in the new translations of the Roman Missal in English (as well as its original familiarity within churches of a liturgical nature).

Now if I got any of this wrong, my language nerd friends will let me know and I will send the correction accordingly.

Timothy said...


Thanks for the helpful comments. My one question then would be why didn't the RSV-2CE revisers translate "kowc" as "chalice" in all its uses in the Old Testament. Certainly its use in Psalm 116 makes a subtle connection with the Eucharist. It is used at least 23 more times in the OT, but the RSV-2CE goes with "cup" in those instances.

rolf said...

I like 'chalice' now, I agree with Carl, when I first heard I thought it a little too lofty. Now after reading in for three years in the RSV-2CE I like it and think the opposite, that 'cup' is a little too ordinary. As Carl pointed out, the proposed revised Liturgy for the Catholic Church has also made the switch, so we might as well get used to it.

Carl Hernz said...

I've got nothing but shrugs from my circle of etymologists as to why there was not a more uniform rendering of the word by those who did the translating. "That's a good one for them to answer," said one of them.

Another stated that the Revised Standard has never been uniform to that extent as it has always prided itself on a "free" rendition of words that if more uniformly rendered would make for better cross-referencing. "But then it would be the American Standard Version," she added. "And we already have one of those."

A footnote to the previous info: I asked why not use "goblet" instead of "chalice" as a translation. The reason was that "chalice" used to be a transliteration of the Latin and Greek words (which are themselves transliterations of the Hebrew.)

The "ch" in "chalice" used to be pronounced as a "k" in "kite" and the "ce" at the end of "chalice" used to have the sound of an "x." So the word "chalice" used to be pronounced like the Latin and Greek, as if it were written as "kalix." When the English language changed, the word was misread to sound as it does today when we prounce "chalice." As a transliteration the word "chalice" is actually an attempt not to translate the original words (kosi, calyx, calix) at all.

The word "goblet" does not come from the Latin, Greek, or Hebrew. It's etymology is 1300 AD Celtic.

And "cup" was originally a verb, derived from the Latin "cuppa" which means to drink from the hands when shaped together in a tub-like fashion to draw water to the mouth. The derived noun refers to the object invented to replace the need to use the hands in such a fashion, i.e. a chalice with a long or short handle as needed to make such drinking possible.

Timothy said...


Awesome information. It has certainly added much to this discussion.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this lesson and history of the word Chalice in the Bible. Having been given this name at birth and always referring to the cup in the Catholic Church, out shred some new light and the true background and meaning of my name. Mispronounced and disliked add a child, it is one I have loved for over 35 years now.