Thursday, April 23, 2009

More on my choice of the NRSV

Well, with the STB comprehensive exam and my final two graduate classes completed, I now have a lot more time to devote to this blog. Thanks to all of you who have stopped by to check it out from time to time! I always appreciate the feedback. One of my hopes has always been to provide a site where Catholics, and non-Catholics, could talk about the various Bible issues that come up. There doesn't seem to be many Catholic blogs solely devoted to Biblical issues, which I hope will change in the future. So perhaps I can fill in the need until something better comes along.

So, in my last post I explained why I chose the NRSV as my day-to-day Bible. I hope to now provide a few more reasons as to why I made that choice. Before I begin, let me restate that I don't think the NRSV is vastly superior to the other options that I had to choose from, namely the NAB, RSV, NJB, or DR. I tried to follow a basic criteria which was based on my needs for day-to-day use, including ministry work, study, and personal prayer. After evaluating the translation options, it seemed pretty clear that the NRSV was the best choice. Let me explain a few more reasons why:
1) Use in ministry work: I tend to lead on average two young adult/campus Bible studies per week. What this means is that I come into contact with Catholic and Protestant young adults/students who often have different translations. In off-campus Bible studies, which are attended mostly by Catholics, I tend to come into contact with the NAB and RSV-CE. No real surprise there, but it is interesting to note that the two translations are usually evenly represented. When I am doing on-campus Bible study, which is attended by mostly Protestant students although there are always one or two Catholics, the NIV is clearly the translation I come into contact the most. From time to time, however, someone will come to the Bible study with an NASB or ESV. Therefore, I have spent the last few years using different translations at these different Bible studies in order to see which one was the most useful in these settings as a whole. The NRSV was easily the best option. The fact that it is an ecumenical Bible translation, which includes all the Catholic and Orthodox OT, is a major plus. The NRSV is also formal enough to be used to help clarify a particular verse or word during a meeting, if the need arises. The NRSV also contains many textual notes, which is also a major advantage when in a study with different translations being used. I have also found that its translation philosophy is close enough to the RSV and NAB NT, which really helps during the off-campus Bible studies.
2) Future: One of the other things I looked at when deciding which translation to go with was to consider the big picture and see whether or not a particular translation would be around in twenty years. This is, of course, a very difficult task. But with the available options, there again wasn't much of a choice. The NAB would seem to be the best option. In many ways I wanted it to be the NAB, since it is the official translation of the American Church. The fact is, however, that it seems to always be in a state of flux, with new revisions projected to be released, and the uncertainty of Vatican approval always an issue. I think the NAB NT is quite good, but the OT is uneven, soon to be revised, and '91 revised Psalms are not particularly good. I am just unwilling to make a commitment to a translation that seems so uncertain about what it wants to be. The RSV-CE, or really the RSV-2CE, would have been the other choice. However, the RSV-CE, even in its "updating" by Ignatius Press, remains a fifty plus year old translation. Its longevity into the future, in my mind, is uncertain. Plus, there are very few editions or genuine leather covers available. Of course a completed Ignatius Study Bible would help, but its final publication is still unknown. That leaves the NRSV, which has been getting a boost in publishing by HarperCollins, which has even been developing Catholic-specific editions. Also, there are others who publish the NRSV, like Oxford or Cambridge or Hendrikson, who do provide editions of the NRSV with the Deuterocanonical books. Let me also mention that I have noticed more Catholic works, particularly in Bible study, which use the NRSV as the base text. So, at least in my mind, the NRSV has a brighter future.
3) Resources:The NRSV clearly has more resources keyed to it than the NAB or RSV-CE combined. The vast majority of the scholarly books I own, both Catholic and Protestant, refer to the NRSV. (I have even found more spiritual books using the NRSV as well.) I also have a concordance, multiple Bible dictionaries, two interlinears, and other study Bibles that use the NRSV. Even some of the RSV resources can easily be used with the NRSV. So there really is not doubt that the NRSV is superior to the others in this area.
I hope to begin showing some of those resources over the next few weeks.


Raphael said...

In other posts, I noticed you raved about the NJB. Is the reason you didn't pick that version because a third version may be coming out soon?

Regarding your statement about the NRSV OT, I'm not familiar with the Orthodox OT. Are there books in the Orthodox OT that are not in the Catholic OT, or was your statement that the Catholic and Orthodox have the same OT, which is different from the protestant?

I agree with your thoughts on the NAB. That's why I said in the comments of a previous post that the bishops need to commission a complete revision of the NAB. The current version of the NT that is used in liturgy, with just a couple reversions ("gates of hell", "gain the whole world but loses one's soul", etc)should become the standard, and a new revision of the OT (including psalms) should be made that matches the NT's style. Then, I think, the NAB may just become the "best" English Bible translation.

rolf said...

Hey Tim, congratulations on getting 'a little' more free time. Yea I have been going around and around with this idea of using one translation a maority of the time. And as I posted before, most of the ministries that I am involved in use the NAB, so I am leaning in that direction. I am hoping for a few improvements with the revised OT coming out; undue the rearranging of Bible verses (especially in the Prophets)and add more in depth commentary notes in the OT. But I also assume that they will add inclusive language which I am not really happy about. I will give the new version a chance when it comes out, it is after all the offical translation of the American Catholic Church.

Timothy said...


There are a couple reasons I didn't go with the NJB:

1) Upcoming revision

2) Not many available edition in USA of NJB (The large one that I like is really massive!)

3) I can count maybe two people who have ever come to one of my campus or young adult Bible studies who uses the NJB. So, in that sense, I am not sure how useful it would be to me.

I still like the NJB a lot, particularly all the study notes and cross-references, not to mention the page format.

Timothy said...


I agree with everything you said and actually pray that the USCCB would do a thorough revision of the OT, including the Psalms. If they followed the inclusive language model that they used for the NT I think it would be OK, but if they revise it in the fashion of the '91 Psalms, then it might be quite bad.

Raphael said...

Here's a prayer I composed and pray everyday. Feel free to use it and share it with others.

"Our Lord Jesus Christ, one with the Father and the Holy Sprit, through the intercession of St Jerome, we ask you to inspire and assist the American Bishops to develope a revision of the NAB that is a faithful literal translation of both the original language texts and Latin Vulgate, yet is also reverent and lyrical, with the footnotes and commentary faithful to Catholic doctrine. Please inspire the NAB editors and translators to give us an authoritive and faithful English translation of Scripture. St Jerome, pray for us. Amen."

PaulW said...


I think you've made a great choice in going with the NRSV. I have used the NRSV since the age of 18 as my main Bible. The NRSV was a revelation for me, for I found a translation that was so precise (contra NIV) and readable (contra NKJV).

One of the benefits of sticking with one translation for so long is that you get to know it so well that you come to know its limitations and srengths. Often I disagree with a translational decision in the NRSV, but there will always be a good reason why it has chosen one option over others.

jogomu said...

Supposing that the NAB is fixed up, it still has the disadvantage of being untrusted by non-Catholics. Since many (most?) Catholics who are "deep in Scripture" have significant dialogue with Protestants, I take this to be a huge disadvantage. The RSV would have to be my second choice after the NRSV, with that in mind.

I would value the NRSV marked up to conform to Liturgiam Authenticam (i.e. the Nova Vulgata) more than I would value a fresh translation with that goal... and I hope to make those notes a reality someday!

Theophrastus said...

I very much doubt that a 3rd edition of the Jerusalem Bible will appear in English within the next decade, and I would be mildly surprised if it appeared within the next twenty. The currently planned project, The Bible in Its Traditions is currently working on about 200 verses only in a "demonstration volume". The leadership of the project continues to have shake-ups, and the full French edition is far away. We would then need to see if an English edition was of needed.

The problem is that the goals of this project are so ambitious that it is certain to fall short.

Timothy said...

Paul W,
I agree with you regarding the NRSV's translation choices. In addition, it is also a very readable text!

While I did mention that the NAB would be ideal, like you, I don't think it will ever be what it should be. So, at least in my mind, it is time to move on.

The NJB project is very ambitious as you said. But like many other Catholic translations, like the NAB, we just don't seem to get updated on it very often!

Loretta said...

I am considering buying Nelson's Complete Book of Bible Maps and Charts. Do you know of a comparable Catholic study guide. I am a geography idiot. I would like to know where the places mentioned in the bible were then and what they are called now.

Timothy said...


I am unaware of a comparable Catholic study guide. However, my favorite Bible atlas is the Holman Bible Atlas: A Complete Guide to the Expansive Geography of Biblical History. I use it all the time. Perhaps someone else might be able to make a suggestion.

If you are interested in the Holman one, you can get it at for under $20:

Theophrastus said...

I recommend the free program Bible Mapper. You'll need to get a key (for free) from the program's author, but it is a fantastic program. This is the program that was used to generate all the maps in the ESV Study Bible, and if you ask me, the maps were the only good thing about that book!

If you want an atlas you can hold, here are my top choices (in descending order of preference):

(1) The Sacred Bridge(2) The Carta Bible Atlas(3) Oxford Bible Atlas(4) Carta's New Century Bible Handbook and Atlas of the Bible(5) HarperCollins Atlas of Bible HistoryI also own the Hammond Bible Atlas but I cannot recommend it.

If nothing else from this comment, I hope you try out the Bible Mapper program. I'm sure you will be delighted by it.