Thursday, April 16, 2009

A choice is made..for now..

...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.


Esteban Vázquez said...

In my experience, the NRSV is a lot like childhood: we're all born into it, but then we outgrow it. ;-) Seriously, though, I think you've made a sensible choice. For me it's been the REB for quite sometime, but then I haven't been able to get a copy of this yet!

jogomu said...

(Whew) now that you are on board, don't forget about augmenting potentially unfortunate renderings at :)

I don't think you'll be sorry about the NRSV... my "solution" to this whole problem was to learn to read the Nova Vulgata... which I am still doing... but I can't just stop reading the Bible until I finish learning Latin (and is a person ever finished?), and it doesn't do me much good to point at Latin verses in an attempt to spread the Gospel to English speakers... not to mention the suspicion a non-Catholic might have towards it.

I have two kinds of Bible reading now:

(1) The kind where I meticulously pour over sections of Scripture in parallel Bibles in order to come up with more notes for the NRSV

(2) Everything else, from the NRSV...

Meg said...

Hi Timothy,

I held back from commenting on the previous post - I think you know that I'm a big fan of reading lots of English translations, because that is as close as you can get to understanding the meaning of the Hebrew text.

But now that you have chosen one (and a good one too!), may I offer a bit of advice? Don't fall in love with it. Don't memorize it. English is NOT God's language -- memorizing Scripture in translation -- even in Latin! -- is like falling in love with a photograph. It's 2 dimensional.

If you memorize Psalm 23 and walk through the "darkest valley" remember that this can also be fairly translated "the valley of the shadow of death".

In Genesis 1:2, "a wind from God" sweeps over the face of the water, but that is also correctly translated as the breath of God, the spirit of God, or a mighty wind.

The human author was inspired to convey ALL those meanings when he chose the words he wrote.

Somehow, we have to be able to find all those meanings in translation -- so many translations (or a heavily annotated translation) is always going to be the closest we can come to God's word.

I'm beginning to think that the only bad translation is a single translation. More will always be better.

Timothy said...


Thanks for your thoughts. I am certainly going to refer to other translations, particularly when doing study and any future class work. Heck, I have purchased so many different versions that it might be a sin not too! :)

But I am looking to stay committed to one translation for daily use, in multiple settings. I think the NRSV will serve me well in this regard.

jogomu said...


"(or a heavily annotated translation)"

That's my goal, with a NRSV base...

I would never memorize Is 62:5 the way the NRSV renders it, preferring the footnote instead. If I was reading that passage in a group setting, I would read the footnote.

So having the NRSV as the base doesn't necessarily speak to how a particular passage will be committed to memory. (I chose Is 62:5 because the note is already there in the NRSV... but this thought applies to additional notes as well.)


jogomu said...

Really here is what it comes down to for me... how do I get the benefit of a parallel Bible without having to compare all the sections that are approximately identical in meaning, and without the bulk? (I'm not even aware of a complete parallel Bible with 4+ translations in it, due to bulk.)

Notes appear to be the answer... so the base text should be the text that requires the fewest additional notes to achieve the goal. If candidates are deemed equal in this regard (although I think the NRSV has an edge) then other factors could kick into play, such as acceptance for ecumenical dialogue, binding options, etc.

I'd love to see everyone annotating the NRSV since I've set up a Wiki for it, and it doesn't seem trivial to create the same sort of thing for application to an arbitrary base text (I can envision how it would be done, but the user experience would not be... trivial).

Let us compose ourselves to a spirit of collaborating on "heavy annotation"...... :)

Timothy said...


Thanks for stopping by. I plan on being more involved in the wiki NRSV notes site in the coming weeks. I just have a few more final exams to take care of in the next week.

Joe M said...

Good to hear Timothy,

From reading your blog for the past 6 months I knew that you would end up picking the NRSV.

I recently just did the same thing about 4 months ago; I also choose the NRSV as my primary Bible and for a lot of the same reasons that you did.

Just wondering, what NRSV did you go with, do you have an ISBN? I can’t find it with cross-reference notes in it. I’m currently reading one published by the Canadian Bible Society and also the Harper Collins Study Bible.

Timothy said...


Thanks for reading!

The one I use is this one:

It can also be found used at sometimes.

Also, there once was a hardback in print as well:

Theophrastus said...

Congratulations on picking the NRSV. Among various contemporary single-volume English translations, it is the closest thing we have to a critical Bible. Those copious translation notes will prove useful to highlight points of dispute in text criticism and translation. The wide variety of tools and study texts keyed to the NRSV will prove invaluable.

As you explore the Septuagint, you will also be pleased to note that the NETS translation is keyed to use NRSV language.

Although the NAB had limited Protestant participation (as far as I know, no Jews nor Orthodox were invited to contribute), I have not seen the NAB used widely outside the Catholic community. Also, I almost never see it used outside the US; has any English-speaking Bishop's conference other than USCCB adopted a lectionary based on the NAB?

My main criticism of the NAB is that it is wildly uneven in style. This variation in style is particularly noticeable in the footnotes and in the translation of the Hebrew Bible.

Finally, please note that the two NRSV reference editions you cite are quite different. The Oxford edition has far more cross references than the Cambridge edition.

Timothy said...


Yes, I recently did pick up the NETS (LXX) from Oxford, which is a very nice volume. I would say that it certainly helped in my deciding to go with the NRSV.

As for the NAB, you are right about it being uneven. The OT was translated in the 50's-60's, the NT was revised in '86, and the Psalms in '91. There is no consistancy in translation method, with the NT being fairly formal, while the OT leans more dynamic. Same goes for use of inclusive language. It is not used in the original OT, moderately in the NT, and pervasive in the revised '91 psalms. It really is a mess.

As far as use in Mass outside the USA, I think the majority of english speaking countries use some form of the Jerusalem Bible. Also, the Antilles Bishops Conference approved use of the RSV-2CE. And the NRSV, in some form, was approved for Canada.