Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Saint John's Bible and the NRSV

In Fr. Michael Patella's book Word and Image: The Hermeneutics of The Saint John's Bible, the author devotes an entire chapter to discussing the reasoning behind choosing the NRSV as the English translation for the monumental Saint John's Bible project.  Below are a few short selections that I am sure you will find interesting:

"The factors entering into the choice of using the NRSV in The Saint John's Bible were very convincing from the start.  The NRSV is gender inclusive with strong and enduring English vocabulary and idioms, and it is a lineal descendant of the Revised Standard Version (RSV) (29)."


"Criticisms of the choice of the NRSV for The Saint John's Bible, however, emerged from various quarters.  Such reproof of revisions and translations of the Bible is nothing new, and in light of history, for someone to refer to the NRSV as 'last year's edition of the politically correct handbook' is not all that bad*.  The interesting point, however, is that one could very easily call the King James Version a politically correct handbook, especially when compared to the Geneva Bible and all its notes (30)."

*Fr. Richard John Neuhaus


"One of the goals of The Saint John's Bible is to further appreciation of the Word of God among Christians and people of goodwill everywhere.  The committee that prepared the NRSV was composed of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews from the start.  The Greek New Testament, which provided the text for the NT English, has been compiled by an international group of scholars, both Protestant and Catholic, one of whom was the former rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute*.  Both the pedigree of the NRSV and the story of its formation have won the respect of scholars' and bishops' conferences throughout the English-speaking world.  No other Bible could suffice as the text to write an illuminated Bible for the third millennium (47)."

*Carlo Cardinal Martini

10 comments:

Pomeranian Catholic said...

Yeah...they'll all be kicking themselves when nobody even knows about the NRSV ten years from now. A better choice for an ecumenical Bible would have been the NIV. Second to the KJV, it is the most popular and widely used English version.

Most Christians are conservatives and globally do not like inclusive language. The NRSV only resonates with the minority, more liberal quarters.

Jason Engel said...

The NIV was ruled out because few - if any - editions of it include the Apocrypha, and no edition of it is in the Catholic order. While the KJV occasionally has editions with the Apocrypha, again none of them are in the Catholic order. Plus the language is, IMHO, uselessly archaic. The ESV did not exist at the time, so never a consideration, and once again the lack of an ESV edition even today in the Catholic order would have excluded it.

All other Bible translations in English in the late 90s when this project started were too sectarian, and did not meet the goal of using a translation with the broadest level of appeal across denominational lines (the REB would have been the closest runner-up, but despite the dozen major denominations including Catholics that produced the REB it, too, does not come in a Catholic edition). The NRSV was then and remains still the only translation in English that meets the stated goals of the Benedictine abbey that commissioned it.

Finally, I would on this matter trust the judgment of a group of highly educated monks, priests, nuns, and academic theologians who have fully dedicated their entire lives to Christianity and who spent 2-5 years praying over and debating this issue before choosing the Catholic edition of the NRSV, over any one else's opinion, mine included. I know not one of them is "kicking themselves" over the decision to use the NRSV.

CarlHernz said...

There is actually some question to the oft-repeated claim on the Internet that the NIV is the "most popular and widely used" Bible version in English.

The truth is that the NIV ranks number 1 on the CBA bestseller Bible list. The CBA is the Christian Business Association which does not monitor the publication of Catholic, Orthodox, and Jewish Bibles, neither does it report on actual use or international circulation.

Having worked for the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee I have networked greatly among Protestant churches. Among those that use the NIV I noticed stockpiles of it among some of these groups. These churches buy large amounts to give away for free and for the use to replace their pew Bibles (which are also free for people to take). These large piles don't move much according to these church members, but this does not stop the ordering of the NIV. So the CBA numbers may not mean much in the face of this stockpile practice.

And having been a Jehovah's Witness in my youth for over a decade, knocking on doors for hours everyday, the most owned and used Bibles that I noticed were the NAB. The reason? There are more Catholics than any other religious group in the US and the NAB has been the bestselling Bible among them for decades since its release. Among Protestants the KJV still reigns supreme. Being in contact with some Witnesses from my past, the NAB is still found in more households than the NIV in the United States. The CBA doesn't take the NAB or the NABRE into account, or at least it hasn't in the past.

Biblical Catholic said...

I don't know when exactly it was last updated, but the last sales estimate I saw is that the NIV has sold 215 million copies since 1978.....I find it hard to believe that any of its modern competitors can top that number. By comparison, the RSV has sold only around 150 million, despite being in print for 26 years longer.

No doubt it is true that many or even most of those copies go unread, and many of them are hoarded by churches and whatnot.....and many of those copies are bought by a person who buys multiple copies for his own use.....but there's nothing special about the NIV in that regard.....

As far as Bibles that are bought in large number but never actually read are concerned, surely the KJV tops that list.....

Now...one thing to keep in mind however is that ever since the publication of the 'inclusive language' edition of the NIV in 1996, it's reputation among evangelicals has been in decline, so much so that the attempted 2005 revision, 'Today's New International Version' in 2005 was a complete failure and was actually withdrawn from circulation after only 4 years, the most recent revision to the NIV is a 'stealth revision' of sorts because they decided not to change the name and the only way you can know whether a Bible you own is the new edition or not is by checking the copyright notice.....nevertheless several evangelical denominations, such as the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, have denounced the 2011 NIV.....but this doesn't seem to have affected sales....yet....I'm sure it will however...

CarlHernz said...

What is nice about the NRSV is that it is quite easy to read. Inclusive-language notwithstanding, I find that its cadence and smooth use of idiom make it a wonderful choice when I get stuck with a clumsy rendering in the NABRE (which happens a lot, speaking for myself).

It would be nice to see the type of updating that the RSV-CE 2nd edition got applied to the NRSV-CE, you know something like putting the Canadian lectionary readings (which make the changes necessary for liturgy) together into a new NRSV-CE version. That way you get the modern language, you ease up on the inclusive-language, you get all that extra cool stuff we learned from the Dead Sea Scrolls (which the RSV-CE doesn't have), and it matches the Mass readings (like "Hail, full of grace"). But alas that may be a pipedream.

All things considered, the NRSV is not too bad a choice. I just wish the bishops would take seriously the desires of the people and standardize the Bible readings to one for our faith. I can't memorize anything with the Liturgy of the Hours reading one way, the NABRE reading another, the Revised Grail reading (and spelling things) another way, the Mass readings being one way, and then something beautiful like the St. John Bible being different too. I find it heartbreaking and self-defeating.

Biblical Catholic said...

Well I don't know if anything will ever come of it but I do know that the National Council of Churches has been sending out surveys to various churches, professors, religious leaders and whatnot asking if they think a full scale revision of the NRSV is needed....

Assuming that the response to these surveys is yes and they proceed with a revision, the NRSV's days may be numbered...

That's my only real problem with using the NRSV for the St John's Bible is that the NRSV doesn't seem to me be the kind of timeless text that will still be widely read 50 or 100 years from now. I'm not sure any modern translation is, except maybe the RSV.....and even that is iffy...

The only Bibles currently in print that I think might still be in print 100 years from now are the KJV and the Douay Rheims.....and even then.....I'm not 100% sure...

That's the problem with Bible translations these days....nothing is timeless anymore, all the translations out there are very 'in the moment' so to speak....translations change so often, nothing is permanent.

I am convinced that the proliferation of translations is a large part of the reason for the decline in Biblical literacy....how can a generation possibly grow up to know the Bible where there's a dozen or more versions out there and their is so much variation between them?

Francesco said...

I am convinced that the proliferation of translations is a large part of the reason for the decline in Biblical literacy...

Eh, I'd put the invention of the television and jurisprudence separating public schools & religion before Bruce Metzger or The Message

hoshie said...

CarlHernz: I wrote the CBA recently. I asked why they don't track the NAB/RE and other Catholic translations. They told me that another group tracks Catholic bible sales.

CarlHernz said...

Thank you, hosie.

As some know I have worked in publishing and the media since the 1980s and have some connections that I've tried to tap about this.

On good authority I was told from someone in the major publishing field is that there is a difference with sales (which the CBA is talking about) and publishing numbers. They aren't the same. The CBA report was also shrugged at, to be honest. I asked why.

To quote: "Publishers don't keep track of exactly how many individual copies are sold, where they go, if they get read. Sales are a good indication of distribution, but outside of groups like the CBA and Bible Societies there's no one making accurate counts anywhere in the business of book sales. Ebooks are making it easier to know more exact figures but there's no such position as a editions-printed tabulator at publish houses. The CBA is making claims for religious reasons and not for all but their own narrow realm of interest."

Biblical Catholic said...

About the difference between 'sales' and publishing numbers...the only people who really know the sales figures are the retailers, the publishers themselves have no idea....all the publishers know is how many copies of a given book have been ordered by stores....as far as how many of the books that are ordered by stores are actually ever bought....the publishers have no idea...the only way the publishers will ever know if a given book hasn't sold is if the book stores ship them back as 'unsold' and request a refund.....this is why you see sales figures touting not 'x number of copies sold' but rather 'x number of copies IN PRINT'....the only thing the publisher knows is how many copies are in print, they have no idea how many have been sold...


The same is true, actually, with every consumer item.....when an album goes gold or platinum you probably think that means that the album has sold 500,000 or 1 million copies respectively....but it doesn't....it only means that the record company has pressed and SHIPPED that many records.....how many of them have actually been bought...they have no idea....and there actually is no independent firm or company that audits these figures to see if they are real or not...

It's actually more than a little deceptive, and it has happened more than once that a company has engaged in 'channel stuffing', which means, just print a bunch of copies of something and sending them out everywhere they can.....more than once a company has been caught sending out far more of a product than they can realistically sell just to inflate the numbers....

With Bibles all a company has to do is print a million copies and send them off to Churches free of charge (whether they asked for them or not) and then claim that it is wildly successful because they have 'more than a million copies in print'.....