The New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition: A Translation in Transition
"Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." -Philippians 2: 5-11
I often mention on this blog how much I appreciate the NRSV. Though I have ranked the NRSV #3, I still feel it is a fantastic Bible. In many ways, there isn't much separating the top 3 in this subjective ranking of mine. The NRSV is easily the most ecumenical and scholarly translation in a Catholic edition. Yet, from my own experiences, its use among most Catholics falls far behind the top 2. Therefore, where does the NRSV fit among the main Catholic Bible translations in English?
Translation Philosophy 4/5
I have devoted a number of posts on this blog over the past few years looking at the translation philosophy of the NRSV, most notably here and here. (Please consult those posts for further details.) The NRSV, like the RSV, remains a literal/formal translation. That is why it is still the basis for a number of scholarly study Bibles on the market and is used in many scholarly works. The stated goal of the NRSV translators was to be "as literal as possible, as free as necessary." It certainly achieves that goal. The NRSV, not surprisingly, follows in the heritage of the RSV and KJV. This means that there is a familiarity for the reader who was brought up on either the RSV and KJV. While this often means that the NRSV follows a more literal/formal translation philosophy, there are places, specifically with its use of inclusive language, where the NRSV is "as free as necessary."
The NRSV is truly the first translation to be thorough and consistent in its use of inclusive language. While this is not an issue for the majority of instances, since the textual notes are clear when inclusive language is used for the most part, there are places where this can be distracting. For example, Matthew 10:38 says, "and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me." Which cross? Christ's or our own? The Greek behind it refers to our own. One other major issue with the NRSV's use of inclusive language is that, even with the textual note, translating "one like a son of man" in Daniel 7 as "one like a human being" does not help the average Christian reader who is trying to understand this significant Christological title. The use of inclusive language in Bible translations is still a hot topic for both Protestants and Catholics. For Catholics, on one end of the spectrum is the NRSV, which thoroughly employs inclusive language, while on the other end is the RSV-CE, which even goes beyond the original RSV in avoiding inclusive language (see here) and is proud to advertise as such.
The NRSV is a very smooth read due to it being a modern translation which was published as a single unit, unlike the NAB. Also, since it follows in the heritage of the KJV, there is a sense of familiarity for the most part when one reads through it. Henry Hansbrough, editor of the NJB and author of the book The Story of the Bible states that in the NRSV, "The story-telling of the Old Testament is often scintillating." I find that to be quite true. In addition, archaic language has been eliminated from this revision of the old RSV.
Available Formats 3.5/5
This was somewhat hard to rate, simply because the NRSV is all over the place. While it is true that the NRSV comes in some unique editions, most notably from HarperOne, there are no Catholic editions that contain cross-references. This is something that HarperOne has said they will be addressing at some point in the near future, but we will see. Many of their formats are very unique, in particular the quasi-single column NRSV Catholic Standard Edition which is very attractive and innovative. They also publish a true thinline in the NRSV, which may be a first for any Catholic edition. Of course, the NRSV has also been published by Oxford and Cambridge, along with a few others in a study Bible format.
There clearly is a future for the NRSV, though it may be for those outside the USA. The Canadian bishops within the past few years received approval, finally, from Rome over an adapted form of the NRSV for the Lectionary. Rumors are that other English-speaking bishops conferences, like the UK and Wales, are doing the same. One could see in ten years or so the majority of English-speaking dioceses using some adapted form of the NRSV for Mass, while the USA (and a few others) using the NAB(RE) in some form. That being said, trying to predict what translation is going to be used in the liturgy in ten years may be a foolish endeavor.
As mentioned earlier, the NRSV is still going to remain popular in the scholarly world, most notably in its inclusion in study Bibles. Oxford recently published its fourth edition of the New Oxford Annotated Bible, and there are a number of others that utilize the NRSV. It would be interesting to see if in the future there would be a Catholic study Bible that utilized the NRSV. At this point, the only true Catholic study Bibles use either the RSV-2CE or NAB(RE) Bibles. There are also a plethora of study aids, like concordances, commentaries, interlinears, and dictionaries, that are keyed to the NRSV. That will probably not change for the near term.
There is a lot to like about the NRSV. I did not use the NRSV, at all, up until about four years ago due to the "problems" people told me about it. However, four years ago, I stopped by a local bookstore during the Christmas season and decided to purchase the NRSV Go-Anywhere Bible from HarperOne. I really enjoyed reading many of the renderings in that NRSV edition that I purchased, particularly in the Old Testament. Fast forward to today, I am now quite comfortable with the NRSV and refer to it often. While it is not my #1 Bible, it is still a solid translation, and one that may continue to grow in popularity among Catholics. Only time will tell.