Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Textual Basis: RSV-2CE, NRSV, ESV

Well, here comes another in my series of comparisons between the NRSV and ESV. This time, however, I decided to add the RSV-2CE to the mix. The three editions that I will be comparing are seen in the picture on the left. They are the 1) Ignatius RSV-2CE, 2) Cambridge NRSV w/ Apocrypha Reference Edition, 3) ESV w/ Apocrypha. In this post, I wanted to examine the textual basis behind each of these translations.
The RSV-2CE is only a slight updating of the original RSV-CE by way of the original RSV. A list of the changes can be found here. Most of the changes have to do with the elimination of archaic language. Along with this, they did adopt a few alternate renderings as found in the RSV notes, most notably in Is. 7:14 as well as some suggested changes recommended by the Vatican. Fr. Joseph Fessio SJ, editor at Ignatius Press, commented on this blog last year about the process by which the changes were made in consultation with the Vatican. There was no attempt to use inclusive language in this update.
While it may be tempting to look at the RSV-2CE as being similar to the work done by the ESV, it must be pointed out that the changes are very few compared to the ESV. In addition, the RSV-2CE's textual basis is still the one used by translators of the original RSV OT and NT. According to Philip Comfort's Essential Guide to Bible Translations: "The Old Testament translators generally followed the Masoretic Text. At the same time, they introduced a few different renderings bases on the famous Dead Seas Scroll of Isaiah (166)." Thus, only the initial findings of the Dead Sea Scrolls were used for the OT. The Deuterocanonical/Apocrypha books were not changed from the original RSV.
As for the New Testament, the RSV-2CE retains the textual basis behind the original RSV NT, which used primarily the seventeenth edition of the Nestle text (1941). None of the modifications done in the 1971 edition of the RSV NT are found in the RSV-2CE. (It should be noted that there is a strange phenomenon in the RSV-CE compact editions published by Oxford in recent years. It seems that some of the 1971 modifications were added to the original RSV-CE text. Again, some of these changes can be found here.)
Bruce Metzger (1914-2007), 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 from 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. The translators of the Deuterocanonical/Apocrypha books made use of a number of texts, including findings from Qumran. This information can be found here.
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 NRSV was one of the first major translations, following the lead of the NJB, to introduce gender-inclusive language. In many ways it is the standard, although there are some places, particularly in OT references to the "Son of Man" and in Heb. 2, where the traditional rendering would have been more helpful.
ESV w/Apocrpyha:
The ESV OT is based on the Masoretic text found in the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (2nd ed., 1983). Unlike the NRSV, the ESV tries to remain committed to the MT. This is particularly striking in 1 Samuel. The ESV Translation Committee states: "The currently renewed respect among Old Testament scholars for the Masoretic text is reflected in the ESV's attempt, wherever possible, to translate difficult Hebrew passages as they stand in the Masoretic text rather than resorting to emendations or to finding alternative reading in the ancient versions (ESV preface xi)." Of course, there are some places where they have followed the LXX for theological reasons, most notably Is. 7:14. For the Apocrypha, the translation team drew heavily on the RSV Expanded Apocrypha published in 1977. According to the Preface to the Apocrypha, the Gottingen LXX served as the textual basis for all the Apocrypha (Deuterocanonical) books, except for 4 Maccabees (Rahlfs's LXX) and 2 Esdras (1983 Vulgate by German Bible Society).
The NT follows the Nestle-Aland 27th and the UBS 4th corrected editions. In many ways, it reads much the same as the 1971 RSV NT. It has been reported that the changes between the RSV and ESV only constitute somewhere between 5-10%.
The translation team decided to use a modest amount of inclusive language in the ESV. Although not always being consistent throughout the translation, the ESV's use of gender-neutral language is far less than the NRSV and the NJB.
In my opinion, the biggest decision that one has to make when evaluating the textual basis behind these three versions is in regards to the Old Testament. The RSV-2CE and ESV tend to stick much closer to the MT, while the NRSV is more willing to use an eclectic text. It is interesting to note that while the NRSV will make use of the LXX, most prominently, to correct uncertain MT renderings, the RSV-2CE and ESV will use the LXX at times for theological reasons. So, do you like sticking close to the MT or do you prefer an eclectic text which is not afraid to use the LXX, Qumran, Old Latin, and Syriac texts more frequently?
I prefer using an eclectic text to translate the OT. With all of the textual discoveries that have been made since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, many uncertain renderings can be solved, rather than leaving them ambiguous. I am also sympathetic to the LXX. Some books that I have recently read have reiterated the importance of the LXX in relation to the MT. Thus, any translation that is willing to appeal to the LXX or Qumran more liberally is superior in my book.


Michael said...

Unfortunately, Old Testament textual criticism is not particularly well developed right now, so any 'eclectic' Old Testament text will likely be severely afflicted by the theological biases of the translators.

Old Testament textual criticism is a discipline still in its infancy and has yet to develop into a serious discipline in its own right.

This is a resource I bet you would be interested in:

The Encyclopedia of New Testament Textual Criticism


Here is what it has to say about the textual criticism of the Old Testament:


Timothy said...


Thank you for the link. I hope to look it over in more detail later.

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