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NRSV New Revised Standard Version

I intend to post reviews, from time to time, of different study bibles. Prior to commencing that series, I think it helpful if I write a little on the translation I would recommend if you do not read Hebrew and Greek. Iย  recommend the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), with the extra comment that, those not agile in the original biblical languages need to keep one eye on the footnotes provided.

History

William Tyndale’s New Testament translation of 1525 and the King James Bible set a standard of biblical English leading to a “Revised Version” in the late nineteenth century. This led to the “American Standard Version (ASV – 1901)” of which the “Revised Standard Version (RSV)” was the authorised revision. This last work was completely revised by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches as well as Jewish representation to form the NRSV (1989).

The NRSV was able to take advantage of scholarly developments since the RSV including the availablility ofย  the Dead Sea Scrolls and other manuscript discoveries.

Translation principles

Linguistically the NRSV stands intentionally in the Tyndale-King James tradition. The Hebrew text is primarily the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia with reference to the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Septuagint. The Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical texts are from the Septuagint with reference to the Vulgate. The New Testament is a translation of the Novum Testamentum Graece 27th edition. The principle of translation is formal equivalence (as much as possible “word for word” rather than dynamic equivalence – “idea for idea”). Where the original clearly is intended to refer to both genders the translation has attempted to do this as smoothly as possible, clearly noting this in the footnotes. God retains the masculine pronoun. No attempt is made to alter masculine concepts of God such as “Lord” etc. In fact the Divine Tetragrammaton is translated as “LORD”. The archaic second person familiar forms (“thee”, “thou”), often confused as actually being polite forms, have been standardised to “you”, “your” etc. Many translations betray their theological presuppositions in soteriology (theories of salvation) or in hiding apparent biblical inconsistencies. NRSV can be trusted not to do that.

There is an edition following the Protestant canon, another including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books; there is a Catholic Edition containing the First Testament books in the order of the Vulgate, and an anglicized edition which alters the text slightly to fit to British spelling and grammar. Other translations have been assiduous in marketing their product with a large variety of different presentations (teenage bibles, women’s bibles, men’s bibles, 12 step bibles, etc). NRSV has been notably weak in the variety of options available. Thankfully that is slowly improving.

The Episcopal Church and many Anglican provinces have approved the NRSV for worship. Common Worship (CofE) uses it as a standard. It is approved for Roman Catholic use and is the primary translation used in Catechism of the Catholic Church (the other being the RSV).

Conclusion

If you are looking for one translation and you are not confident in the biblical languages, the New Revised Standard Version is the one I would recommend.

Resources

Please remember this site has a collection of the best free, online resources to enhance your study of the scriptures. Beyond this website there is also:

The NRSV online

The NRSV online (an alternative site)

Search the NRSV online

Concise Concordance to NRSV online

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18 Responses to NRSV New Revised Standard Version

  1. I have a copy of this. The Green Bible edition with foreword by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. I have been using it for about 3 months and like it. One of the churches I attend uses the Good News Bible and one the New Intenational Version.
    I find the NRSV clear and readable. The Good News is a little dated and the NIV is a bit American. The King James has fallen out of use but it is still good for the flow of language but difficult to study with.
    Fred Gray from Glasgow in Scotland.

  2. First off, I love the graphic.

    Regarding the NRSV, I also recommend that translation as “unsurpassed” (more here). I believe that it has lots of flaws (more in my latest book), but also that when the NRSV gets things wrong, the other versions usually do, too.

    -Joel

  3. “It is approved for Roman Catholic use and is the primary translation used in Catechism of the Catholic Church” – Here in the states the USCCB uses the New American Bible exclusively.

    How do you think the NASB matches up to the NRSV? Having a bit of comfort with the Greek I have found NASB to have formal equivalence in both words, sentence structure and consistency of translation choices. However the NRSV often accomplishes this while also being an easier to read English translation.

  4. While the NRSV is a readable translation, some of its shortcomings should be recognized. The primary issue with the NRSV is that the editorial committee (*NOT* the translators) exceeded their mandate and made many changes that were not appropriate (including numerous incorrect gender translations the original translators did not recommend). This caused some of the NRSV translators to distance themselves from the translation. One NRSV translator noted:

    “Some hint of the far more intensive reworking carried out by this small committee … can be seen in Dentan’s account of non-scholarly consideration that colored their work … the editorial committee made thousands of changes, some quite substantive, to the translation of the Old Testament made by the full committee, and when members of the full committee became aware of the extent of these changes, many were outraged, feeling that much of their own work on the translation over the years had been irresponsibly gutted.”

    [bible-researcher.com]

    Also, “Although the NRSV was used in the American edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the NRSV was rejected for liturgical use by the Holy See owing to inclusive language in some unacceptable places.”

    [wikipedia.org]

    Given these issues, some feel that while the NRSV is suitable for public or casual reading, it is not suitable for serious study as a primary translation (assuming the original languages cannot be referenced).

    • Thank you for your contribution, John. Amongst the “thousands” of unacceptable alterations, it would be helpful if you gave at least a single example that we could look at.

      The English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church was famously delayed as the Vatican (the “Holy See”) ordered it to be reworked from inclusive into “exclusive” language in which humans are referred to as “man” and “he”. Again: an example of “some unacceptable places” is needed.

      I regularly find people feel a certain translation is the one for them, but as this suggests, they do it on the basis of their feelings – not on scholarly examination of accuracy of translation.

    • I don’t know what you mean by “stripped out of the post”, John. Your URL of the front page of the sites you are citing come through fine. There is no reason I can think of why the full URL would not come through similarly.

  5. Here are a few examples off the top of my head, but there are many more.

    Like I said, the NRSV is a very readable translation and is good for public and casual use. Its weakness is when one cannot read the original languages and the English translation must be relied upon to accuratley reflect the wording of the original texts. The NRSV is a good dynamic translation, but it is not a very good literal translation.

    Of course, this could get into the whole dynamic versus literal debate. But I believe people should own multiple translations–both dynamic and literal. It’s just that the NRSV should not be confused with a literal translation which attempts to accurately reflect the original wording as much as possible while still rendering readable English. The NRSV fails in this regard mostly in instances related to gender.

    In the examples below I have used the ESV for contrast since it is currently the most popular literal translation (in the U.S.). And I can assure you that “feeling” has nothing to do with my thoughts on translations. I base their usefuleness on their purpose. In that regard, the NRSV is not the best option as a sole translation for literal study.

    Isa 7:17
    ——–

    The LORD will bring on you and on your people and on
    your ancestral house such days . . . (Isa 7.17 NRSV)

    The LORD will bring upon you and upon your people and
    upon your fatherโ€™s house such days . . . (Isa 7.17 ESV)

    The Hebrew word is “father”. Even the TNIV and NET use “father”. In this context it means “ancestral”, but that’s not the literal Hebrew.

    Ps 8:4
    ——

    What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
    mortals that you care for them? (Ps 8.4 NRSV)

    What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son
    of man that you care for him? (Ps 8.4 ESV)

    The dynamic translations use some form of “humans” in this verse. But the Hebrew is literally “son of man”. The literal translations render it as “son of man”.

    Mat 18:15-21
    ————

    If another member of the church sins against you, go
    and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.
    If the member listens to you, you have regained that
    one. (Matt 18:15 NRSV)

    If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his
    fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to
    you, you have gained your brother. (Matt 18:15 ESV)

    “The gender-neutral language of both TNIV and NRSV presents problems in this passage for reasons that may not have occurred to the translators, but which become obvious when we think about the practical application. The difficulty is, no respectable man in ancient times would have considered seeking a private interview with a woman concerning a personal grievance.” From http://bible-researcher.com/tniv.html

    • Thanks John for this specific list to look at

      Isa 7:17
      The Hebrew word is “‘ab” which, as you say, sometimes means “father” and at other times, as you acknowledge in this case, it means “ancestor(s)” (in the Bible approximately a ratio of 2:1). ESV just gets silly in constantly translating “‘ab” as “father” eg. 1 Kings 15:24 “Asa slept with his fathers and was buried with his fathers in the city of David his father” (ummm – for those not Biblically agile, David was not Asa’s father; nor did Asa have several fathers ๐Ÿ™‚ )

      Ps 8:4 NRSV is perfectly clear in the footnote

      Mat 18:15-21 NRSV is perfectly clear in the footnote

      [As to what you call the “practical application” rather than the integrity of the translation (which as I have highlighted includes the footnotes) are you suggesting that to practically apply this passage today no respectable man should considered seeking a private interview with a woman concerning a personal grievance?]

      I would be interested in your source of the statistic that the ESV is currently the most popular literal translation (in the U.S.), rather than the NRSV. I have some comments on the ESV here.

  6. I just attempted to post a reply, but it doesn’t look like it went through. Here it goes again.

    I believe we agree on a couple of points:

    1. The NRSV is a good translation.

    2. Reading the footnotes of the NRSV is highly recommended.

    In respect to footnotes, the NRSV definitely stands above the TNIV which neutered the text and then made no mention of it in the footnotes.

    I believe we will have to agree to disagree as to whether the NRSV is the best literal translation when used exclusively. I could respond to your responses and provide a hundred more examples as I’m sure you could respond to my responses and provide a hundred more examples.

    The only comment I will make regarding the examples is that, as you mentioned, the literal translation was often referenced in the footnotes. Why? Why was the literal translation not used in the text? Other translations use it and are still readable.

    I believe it is because the goal of the NRSV (at least the editorial committee) was to produce a *text* (not footnotes) that was explicitly inclusive regardless of the literal translation. That is fine. There should be a translation like that and one could argue that it is best for public reading. But that makes the *text* (not footnotes) less suitable for studying the historical and sociological context of the Biblical authors. They lived in a very patriarchal society.

    I do not judge a text solely based on its purpose without regard to its “integrity”. The integrity of the text is the most important aspect. But I don’t judge the CEV and the NASB by the same standard. They are translations created for very different purposes.

    As to whether I would apply the text of Matthew as “no respectable man should consider seeking a private interview with a woman concerning a personal grievance”, I can only say I must have seriously misused my words if that is the meaning they provide. I believe the *text* of the NRSV renders the appropriate principles for modern readers. But, one must go to the footnotes to understand what the author actually said as well as the historical context in which he said it. Incidentley, it should be noted that yes, there are modern cultures where a Christian man should still not seek a private interview with a woman–Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, etc. That is, if he wishes her to continue breathing. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I should clarify my statement on the best selling literal translation. 1. I was not including the KJV and NKJV since those are based on the best texts of the 16th century rather than the best modern texts which every other translation uses. They are in a category of their own. 2. The sells are reported from Christian Bookstores. In the U.S., those numbers are considered a good reflection of overall sells. http://www.cbaonline.org/nm/documents/BSLs/Bible_Translations.pdf

    I believe the NRSV is a good readable translation. It is dynamic in some areas where I would prefer it to be more literal. The footnotes do alleviate some of the problem in that regard. However, it is still not the translation I would recommend for someone who wanted the wording of the *text* that best reflects the wording of the original manuscripts. And while I am not Catholic, it does appear the Catholic Church has some issues with the dynamic aspects of the translation as well. So I’m not standing completely alone on an island here–I think I see the Pope over there next to some palm trees. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Thanks John for your thoughtful contribution

      1) “I believe it is because the goal of the NRSV (at least the editorial committee) was to produce a *text* (not footnotes) that was explicitly inclusive regardless of the literal translation. That is fine. There should be a translation like that and one could argue that it is best for public reading.”

      Some might wish your comment to be true; others will realise that unfortunately it is not. At some points the strong KJV tradition behind NRSV triumphs. Eg. Gen 2:7 etc the Hebrew “‘adam” can mean people, human, person, humankind, “earth/soil-creature” but in NRSV is a male. The “‘adam” is only referred to as an “ish” (male) at Gen 2:23 after the creation of the female by altering the “‘adam”. Yes you can follow this in the NRSV footnotes – but only just.

      One of the purposes of the body of the text of a biblical translation is to be able to be read aloud and as comprehensible as possible in doing so – something my response about the ESV 1 Kings 15:24 has already clarified it is not. We might agree then that NRSV is the best English translation as you say “for public reading”.

      2) “But that makes the *text* (not footnotes) less suitable for studying the historical and sociological context of the Biblical authors. They lived in a very patriarchal society.”

      Here I will have to absolutely disagree. Firstly the “text” of the NRSV is composed of the body and footnotes. You cannot purchase the NRSV without the footnotes. Together they form the work of the translators. When you read aloud, you read from the body of the text. When you study, as I have said in my post, the footnotes would be the first thing you would note in your study.

      Preachers, I maintain, should be agile in the Biblical languages, including tools (of which I provide many on this site), and in the historical and sociological context you underscore. They can work deeply into the text that has just been read aloud.

      I have far too many English translations of the Bible on my shelves. For those who seek or can afford only one English translation, the NRSV stands in the great tradition of English translations, can be understood when read aloud, used for personal prayer and devotion, and, with an eye on the footnotes and on original languages and the tools I provide, is a reliable translation for study. There is no other English translation that I know that fulfils all these and other requirements.

      Thank you for the statistics on USA Bible-purchasing trends. Fascinating.

  7. This looks to be a very promising series of reviews if you can keep it up. Already I’m distinguishing between kinds of translation, `dynamic’ (may retain a specific underlying idea but prefers an inclusive reading of the primary text) and word-for-word.

    I’d love to know how it’s considered in the next millenium with the long-zoom of history.

  8. This has been an informative discourse. I appreciate you taking the time to articulate your position.

    I have only one final thought and I’m sure our opinions will differ. ๐Ÿ™‚ But I look forward to reading your position.

    If someone wanted to memorize an English translation that best represented the wording of the original texts, a translation that has moved the literal rendering to the footnotes may not be the best solution. As we have discussed, verses like Matt 8:15-21 in the NRSV have been altered for the sake of inclusive language while the literal translation can be found in the footnotes. If someone were to memorize the text without memorizing the footnotes (which I don’t believe many people do), they would have memorized the meaning of the text, but not the original wording–as best as it could be translated into English.

    When someone recalls those types of verses from memory, they will have the meaning but not the literal wording. The wording could provide the benefit of further elucidating the text. The orignal wording cannot be reconstructed using only the memorized dynamic text. However, the meaning can be derived from the memorized literal translation. This line of thought is only applicable when someone must rely solely on their memory without access to other reference materials.

    But that’s just my opinion. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Just in case anyone was wondering, personally, I prefer the Good News Translation and the New Living Translation for daily reading (both being inclusive texts). When I am studying and looking to literal translations, I will use the RSV, NASB, NRSV, ESV, and Young’s. When I am reading simply for the enjoyment of the language, I will read the KJV or NRSV and on occassion the NJB and REB. For memorization I prefer the ESV.

    I enjoy your blog immensely. I only started reading it a few months ago, but it has become one of those blogs where every article is a must-read. For a non-liturgical Protestant seeking more liturgical worship, your blog has been a wonderful find. Thank you for providing this excellent resource.

    • One of the things I feel sad about, John, is the IMO unnecessary proliferation of English translations – as I have written elsewhere on this site, “I question whom it profits, whom it glorifies; I question the motivation and the slanting; a handful of different translations following different methodology and for different purposes might be justified, but in English we are well beyond handsandfeetful!” Natural memorisation through regularly hearing and reading the scriptures does not happen in our English-speaking Christian culture. So, as you suggest, it requires some strong intentionality. I have been praying the psalms for four decades, but I encounter them in RSV, NRSV, Grail, Inclusive Grail, Coverdale, NZ Anglican Psalter, CofE Common Worship psalter, TEC BCP psalter, etc. There are some I can pray “by heart” – but sadly, not enough IMO.

      The agreed international, ecumenical English version of the Lord’s Prayer has “save us from the time of trial”. I can pray the Greek original “by heart” and we both know that “save us from the time of trial” is neither what you call “literal” nor does it necessarily express the Greek well. But I am committed to it. As I pray the Lord’s Prayer in English I know, without really thinking about it, that within me the Greek is bubbling underneath.
      There is always a compromise in choice of translation, but my point about how I pray the Lord’s Prayer is that I think someone who has the intentionality to memorise the NRSV text could, in those very few cases where it might be really significant (you mention Matt 8, I mentioned Gen 2, we could possibly add Ps 1,…) this person IMO would be of the type who could cope with having the footnote bubbling away “underneath”.

      I am moved by your last paragraph. Thank you. I produce all this voluntarily in my “spare” time and it is encouraging when it is expressed to be of such value. Thank you.

    • Thanks, Joel, for highlighting translation complexity. There’s the old joke: what do you call someone who speaks 3 languages: trilingual. What do you call someone who speaks 2 languages: bilingual. What do you call someone who speaks 1 language?…. English!

      Unless someone speaks more than one language fluently they often do not realise how language translation works and think it’s just a matter of lining up whatever the words translate as. The totally uncontroversial Maori Lord’s Prayer, when translated into English is “Our Parent in heaven…”

      Translation is complex. Those who think it can be done simply, like a computer: online translators are improving, but I remember the time when “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” using an online translator became “the whiskey is fine but the meat has gone off” ๐Ÿ™‚

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