Thursday, August 11, 2011

My Top 5 Catholic Bibles #3

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.

Readability 4/5
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.

Miscellaneous 3.5/5
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.

Conclusion 15/20
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.


Anonymous said...

"The NRSV is easily the most ecumenical and scholarly translation in a Catholic edition."

I don't think this is an accurate statement. For example, unlike the RSV, the NRSV is not accepted by the Orthodox churches.

Furthermore, a large number of scholars are rejecting the NRSV in favor of translations such as the RSV, the ESV or other traditions such as the NIV.

All told, the RSV is approved and used (at least historically) by a broader cross-section of the Christian body, including Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox, and is therefore more "ecumenical".


Timothy said...


The NRSV committee had greater participation from a larger spectrum of Christian churches than the RSV. That is what I am basing my comment on.

Diakonos said...

My favorite passage in NRSV translation is the one you use to open this post. I love the choice of "exploited" in reference to Jesus' kenosis. Never heard or thought of that word-option before and it opened up new horizons of application and devotion for me.

Jonny said...

Hi Tim:

A couple of questions for you:

First, regarding your statement:
"The NRSV is truly the first translation to be thorough and consistent in its use of inclusive language."
I do see how the NRSV bends over backwards to eliminate masculine pronouns and the word "man", but why in passages such as this...

Mark 8.38:Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

... is the word "man" retained? Isn't "humanity" the appropriate gender neutral word that would be consistent with the rest of the translation? Doesn't using the word "Man" here seem to imply a individual human male parent? Very confusing to me...

Second, I have heard that the New Jerusalem Bible was rejected for liturgical use because of inclusive language. Why, then would the NRSV be approved for the lectionary when it has even more? Perhaps the "non-inclusive" standard is now only regarding the Psalms?

Ted said...

My biggest problem with the NRSV's inclusive language is that they do not indicate when they have changed singular nouns and pronouns to plural ones. Why can't they footnote these changes?

Timothy said...


Yes, I quoted that passage because of the use of "exploited" as well as the inclusive language. I think it gives a good sample of the entire translation.

Timothy said...


They do mention it in the introduction by Metzger. I would also imagine that there would be too many instances to keep track?

Timothy said...


As for the NJB, I honesty am not 100% sure as to how that process of getting into the Lectionary went and what were the main reasons why it was rejected. Perhaps another reader would have more accurate info than I can give.

The 'Son of Man' instances in the NT, since it is an essential Christological title and has been used in Christian theology for 2000 years. The NRSV uses the traditional term in the Gospels, but not in Hebrews 2, which quotes the OT.

The recent CEB decided to use 'the Human One' throughout the Old and New Testaments. Some have liked it while others think it is too much of a departure. I personally want the traditional title in both Testaments, but in either case there should be a consistency.

Leonardo said...


in order to follow and understand the comments here, can someone explain what is "inclusive language" in the Bible texts.

Timothy said...


From the always reliable wikipedia:
"Gender-neutral language, gender-inclusive language, inclusive language or gender neutrality is linguistic prescriptivism that aims to eliminate (or neutralize) reference to gender in terms that describe people. "

So instead of using the term "man" to represent both genders, some will use "humanity' or "people" etc....

Leonardo said...



I am reading the Bible and this blog is helping me to keep my motivation alive.

Timothy said...


Keep reading the Holy Scriptures brother! And don't get too bogged down in translations, if you have a Catholic edition which you like just stick with it.

Anonymous said...

Hey, this is my first post! I love your blog. It's been a great help while reading/researching Catholic Bibles. I really like the NRSV, but I sometimes feel guilty reading the translation since I don't have a Catholic version. I have a new hardcover Harper Collins Study Bible - 1994, which I picked up, surprisingly so, at a Catholic bookstore on the clearance shelf for $15. I also have the NOAB 4th edition. I like how it reads and I appreciate the footnotes. I try to read it with other Catholic materials close by...e.g. CCC, other study bibles, etc. I'm not too surprised that it's your #3 translation. When you announced that you were revisiting your top 5 list, I figured this was the translation that would either move up a spot, or down.


Keith said...

@JoeBeau. I like the NRSV as well. It took me awhile to get one of these since I read so much of the inclusive language, but really for inspirational reading and when you are looking for a ecumenical translation, this is one of the best. For ease of reading I like my NRSV Catholic Edition Gift Bible. It doesn't have any frills but for reading alone its great. I'd like to see a Catholic Study version of the translation some time as well


Matt said...

I agree with Timothy that the inclusive language is distracting. There are constant "Gk says He" notes at the bottom of the page. While I appreciate their honesty in the matter, they are admitting to changing the text over and over. For all I know, the Holy Ghost meant to say "He".

Other than the inclusive language I don't mind the translation. There are, btw, others that do the inclusive language better and more subtly such as the NJB.

Anonymous said...

I do not have the HarperCollins Study Bible, but found this link you can browse inside and have a look:
I am wondering when the lectionary here in UK is going to be updated to NRSV? I believe it will not have inclusive language. Does anyone have any updates?

Timothy said...


Thanks for the link. I know there is more info somewhere about the NRSV lectionary, perhaps someone has a link. Most likely the adapted form will have some modest horizontal inclusive language, but certainly no vertical.

Timothy said...


I agree with what you are saying, although I am not sure if it is an issue of inclusive language, rather than keeping the reader aware of which 'he' the author is talking about. I am aware of a few cases in the RSV which make this change.