It is now time to begin comparing and contrasting the RSV and NRSV. This will be done in four parts: 1) A four part look at the translations themselves; 2) A survey of the different editions that each translation currently comes in; 3) An analysis of the support materials available for each translation; 4) Miscellaneous considerations.
For this post, I will briefly examine the original texts behind each translation. (I have used Philip W. Comfort's Essential Guide to Bible Versions for textual info in this post.)
For the Old Testament, the RSV followed pretty closely to the Masoretic Text. The Old Testament was translated during a time when Dead Sea Scroll understanding was still in its infancy. However, the RSV translators were able to use some of the newest discoveries from Qumran. In particular, the "Isaiah Scroll" provided some alternate renderings to the MT.
The New Testament translators relied on the 17th edition of the Nestle text published in 1941. They did, however, feel free to deviate from the Nestle text and at times followed a more eclectic method. The newly discovered Chester Beatty Papyri was utilized in some cases. The RSV translation committee completed an additional revision of the New Testament in 1971, but this is not included in the RSV-CE.
The translators provided textual notes at the bottom of each page, indicating when there was some ambiguity in the translation or a possible alternate rendering. For its time, the RSV was the most modern English Bible translation, utilizing the most up-to-date manuscript discoveries.
Bruce Metzger, chair of the RSV revision committee, indicated in the preface to the NRSV that one of the main reasons for the NRSV was the discovery of older textual manuscripts. In particular, the continued discovery of more scrolls in Qumran shed greater light on even more books of the Old Testament. While the translators based their translation on the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (1977; ed. sec. emendata, 1983), it departed often when the Qumran scrolls suggested doing so. Therefore, the Old Testament translators followed an eclectic text. The book that saw the most deviation from the Masoretic Text was 1 and 2 Samuel. In particular, the first few chapters of 1 Samuel relied heavily on the Dead Sea Scroll discoveries. It should be noted that the translators also used,more than in the RSV, early Greek, Latin, and Syriac texts.
For the New Testament, translators followed the text of Nestle-Aland 26th edition/UBS 3rd edition, of which Bruce Metzger was a leading member. Translators decided to go with a number of new renderings, like the adoption of "Jesus Barabbas" as the rebel in in Matthew 27:16.
The textual notes for the NRSV are even better than in the RSV. The only Bible that rivals the NRSV is the NET Bible. Having these notes, including literal renderings not used in the main text, add considerably to the value and usefulness of the NRSV. It also displays a sense of honesty from the translators in that they are not trying to "hide anything" in a particular translation.
I am always in favor of using the most up-to-date textual discoveries. In that sense, I am not a Douay-Rheims-only (cousin of the KJV-only contingent) adherent. I believe that the Lord has given us a brain in order that we may use it to discover the most accurate renderings of the Holy Scriptures. Therefore, I think, particularly in the Old Testament, an eclectic text is the best. It is quite clear, then, that the NRSV has a clear advantage over the RSV in regards to textual basis.