The Heidelberg Catechism was written in Heidelberg at the request of Elector Frederick III, ruler of the most influential German province, the Palatinate, from 1559 to 1576. This pious Christian prince commissioned Zacharius Ursinus, twenty-eight years of age and professor of theology at the Heidelberg University, and Caspar Olevianus, twenty-six years old and Frederickâ€Ÿs court preacher, to prepare a catechism for instructing the youth and for guiding pastors and teachers. Frederick obtained the advice and cooperation of the entire theological faculty in the preparation of the Catechism. The Heidelberg Catechism was adopted by a Synod in Heidelberg and published in German with a preface by Frederick III, dated January 19, 1563. A second and third German edition, each with some small additions, as well as a Latin translation were published in Heidelberg in the same year. The Catechism was soon divided into fifty-two sections so that a section of the Catechism could be explained to the churches in preaching each Sunday of the year.
The great Synod of Dort (1618-1619) approved the Heidelberg Catechism, and it soon became the most ecumenical of the Reformed catechisms and confessions. The Catechism has been translated into all the European and many Asiatic and African languages and is the most widely used and most warmly praised catechism of the Reformation period.
The new translation of the Heidelberg Catechism here presented was prepared by a committee appointed in 1968 by the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church. The final text of the new translation was adopted by the Synod of 1975. Synod requested the committee to produce “a modern and accurate translation... which will serve as the official text of the Heidelberg Catechism and as a guide for catechism preaching.” Except in two instances, explained in footnotes to questions 57 and 80, the translation follows the first German edition of the Catechism.
In keeping with synodical instructions, biblical passages are quoted from the Revised Standard Version. This has occasioned some problems since the biblical quotations in the German edition derive from a text based on the developing Textus Receptus in the sixteenth century which contains some additions not found in the Greek text underlying the Revised Standard Version. These additions are indicated in the text of the Catechism with accompanying footnotes in questions 4, 71, 77 and 119.
The Christian Reformed Church publishes this new translation of the Heidelberg Catechism with the hope that it will be widely used and help promote the kingdom of Jesus Christ.