...and hopefully for a long time. Well, perhaps until another translation with great potential appears! :) (See, I can always leave the door open just a little!)
Seriously, though, I mentioned in the previous post about struggling with using multiple translations for various uses each day. For example, in any given day I may use the RSV for seminary work, while referring to the NRSV for personal reading, while also hearing the NAB at Mass and reading a different version of the NAB in the Liturgy of the Hours which I pray everyday. That's a lot of translations in my mind. Indeed, I think too many!
I contrast that with the contacts I have made over the past few years in ministry work with Catholics, as well as Protestants, who use just one Bible translation. As a matter of fact, they may only have one edition from which they read. Their Bible, which has clearly been read and loved over many years, is an obvious witness to the relationship which they have developed with the Word. I was reminded of this recently while watching the Catholic program "The Choices We Face" which is produced by Renewal Ministries out of Ann Arbor, Michigan. On the program, Debbie Herbeck, whom I have had the pleasure of talking with on a number of occasions and whom I also invited to speak at last years Young Adult Scripture Conference in Detroit, talks about her conversion to Christianity. One of the great witnesses of Christianity that she encountered was a Catholic girl on her floor at the University of Michigan who had truly devoured her Bible. Through the comments, questions, and prayers that were written in her friends Bible, Debbie was able to encounter someone who was truly in dialogue with the Lord. What a wonderful witness!
Isn't that what I am being called to do as well? I am always amazed at how many comments I get, from Christians and non-Christians, who will come up to me at a place like Panera or Starbucks and ask me a question after seeing that I have a Bible (or 2 or 3) on the table. It reminds me of that often quoted line, attributed to St. Francis, which says: "Preach the Gospel always, when necessary use words." There is certainly some real truth to that quote, which brings me back to the question of having a primary Bible that truly becomes my "companion" Bible. I think it is time to witness, like that college girl at UM, with a well-read primary Bible of my own.
The question then becomes which is the best version to use as my primary Bible? Ah, that perpetually frustrating question that in some ways has no answer. Let it be said that I do not have a firm grasp of Greek or Hebrew. (Although I do know a bit of Latin.) I recognize that knowing the original languages is ideal, but that will have to wait a few years until I can take one of those intensive summer Greek courses.
So, then, what are the choices? Well, as a Catholic it comes down to a few options: NAB, RSV-CE, NRSV-CE, NJB, or DR. Without getting into a full critique of each of these translations, let me just point out a few of my own criteria in determining which translation to go with:
1) I do not want archaic language in my primary Bible. I do not speak with archaic language, nor do I want to see it in the Bible I am going to read every day.
2) I want a translation that can be accepted in both the academic setting, i.e. seminary, as well as in ministry work, like leading Bible studies and prayer groups. It also should be Church approved.
3) I want a translation that can be found in an edition which has the basic essentials which should found in any Bible edition which are IMHO: cross-references, textual notes, and maps. It is also important to have this edition be made of premium leather, not bonded leather which seems to just fall apart over time.
4) I want a translation that has other support materials, like concordances, interlinears, dictionaries, etc..., that are made for it.
5) Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I want a translation that I enjoy reading. One that keeps me engaged with the text, no matter if I am reading the Gospel of Mark or 2 Samuel or Leviticus. Well, Leviticus might be stretching it a bit..... :)
In a perfect world, the NAB would be the choice. It fits a number of the criteria, but since it always seems to be in a state of flux, I just cannot committ to the NAB. I have tried to make the NAB my primary Bible on a couple of occasions, primarily because of the fact that most Catholics use it, but it just never seems to work for me.
My choice is the NRSV. It meets all of the criteria that I established above, and I have an edition of the NRSV which I really like. Is the NRSV perfect? By no means! I do have problems with some of the inclusive language choices, not so much in the "brothers and sisters" renderings, but in the "Son of Man" renderings in Daniel, Ezekiel, Psalms, and Hebrews. However, this is somewhat mediated by the fact that there are textual notes at the bottom of each page that indicate such changes. There are some other minor things that bug me, but that is OK. I think part of the process of choosing a translation as a primary Bible is to accept the odd renderings which you may not like. I also like the maxim which the NRSV Committee follows: "As literal as possible, as free as necessary". That seems to me to be the best way to go. Of course, people could argue how that maxim was followed in the NRSV, but overall I think that is the best way to translate the Sacred Text.
Over the next few weeks, I hope to provide some additional insights as to why I am deciding to go with the NRSV. In particular, I may begin a series of posts which highlight the various study tools that are keyed into the NRSV translation.