Thursday, September 26, 2013

Semi-Regular Weekly Poll: NRSV Study Bibles

Which is the best NRSV Study Bible?

  • New Oxford Annotated (1991)
  • New Oxford Annotated (3rd + 4th)
  • HarperCollins Study Bible
  • New Interpreters Study Bible
  • The Discipleship Study Bible
  • Life with God Bible
  • Access Bible
  • Cambridge Annotated
  • Other


More polls: Free poll


Jonny said...

Are any of the Bibles listed approved by the Catholic Church?

Timothy said...

None of them are. The translation is, of course, but many of the ones listed are academic.

Jason Engel said...

I always recommend using more than one if possible. I'm not sure it counts as a "study" Bible, but the one I really REALLY enjoy using is the 5-volume New Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, which uses the NRSV in the latest edition of this set.

Robert said...

I don't use the NRSV. I'm not a politically correct liberal!. I use the RSV or DR.

Jonny said...

I have always liked the RSV, and it is about as dynamic (vs. literal) a translation that I like to read on a regular basis. This is one of the greatest qualities of the RSV, the balance between being literal and readable. This is, as Scott Hahn asserts, a major reason for its choice for the basis of the RSV-2CE Study Bible.

The NRSV did a good job of making the text more readable, but at the expense of the RSV’s greatest asset. I would rather look up a word in the dictionary, or look up a concept in the Catechism, than to have a translation that “waters it down.” I have never felt the gender language was appropriate, being used to, as a Protestant, translations old and new, that translate the text accurately without changing words or rearranging sentences to avoid using the masculine forms. Now that there are official Church guidelines that denounce this explicitly (Liturgiam Authenticam), it seems even more inappropriate.

Part of my sentiment is probably due to the negative connotations the NRSV had for me as a Protestant. After visiting many Christian groups, I saw basically encountered two camps in regard to the NRSV. There were those with ulterior motives, who wanted to push all kinds of false doctrine, from women’s ordination and homosexuality to the breakdown of God’s design for marriage and denying the inspiration of Scripture. The other group condemned the NRSV as being a false translation.

The edition of the RSV I have been leaning towards as of late is the RSV-2CE. This translation is definitely an improvement over the original, and approved for liturgical use. It was providential that I did a review of the original recently on this blog; it was kind of a tribute to the Bible I have been using for the past several years for all the parish ministries I have been involved in. Within two weeks following that post, I received the breviary from Africa, using the Revised Grail Psalms. Wow, I thought, this is better, more accurate, and the direction in which the Church is moving. It was not long after that I began using the RSV-2CE, for the same reason.

Jonny said...

I know the precise destination of the Church is to have ONE official, proper translation that is approved for all functions: liturgical, catechetical, and private study. That will be a revamped NABRE with the Revised Grail Psalms. Even when that day comes, I think the Ignatius RSV will still be very useful for small group studies and private devotion: not only for the translation itself, but also its great apologetic notes.

The other great thing about the RSV-2CE is that it sits, as a translation (specifically in word choices), right between the old translations and the newer ones. That means the reference materials keyed for DR and KJV, as well as the NABRE and NRSV, are very compatible with the RSV-2CE. I would recommend using the RSV-2CE in conjunction with various Bible commentaries, especially the Catechism, first of all! The RSV-2CE is, hands down, the best Catholic edition from the “King James” family. It doesn’t have tons of cross references, but more than most other editions (which have none.) The paper, margins, and type make it very readable, and it makes a great, all around “everyday Bible.” If I do want to cross reference a secular academic study Bible when reading the RSV-2CE, one I often turn to is the Norton Critical Edition of the KJV. If I want to look deeper into a passage, I want to look at a more literal translation, not one that is simplified! The RSV is often more precise in rendering technical terms, but the KJV is rendered more literally to the Greek and Hebrew idiom. The Norton Bible takes note of these things and offers a lot of current scholarship as well. The other study Bible I often turn to is the Haydock edition of the DRC to see the traditional and ancient interpretations of the Scriptures, and also many times the most literal rendering of them, albeit translated through the Latin!

So what I am trying to say is that I see my family, the Domestic Church, and the prayer and devotions done there as an integral part of the Body of Christ, the Catholic Church. I primarily want to use translations and study helps that best reflect the Church’s divine plan of the Liturgy (both ordinary and extra-ordinary forms.) Any study materials that go beyond this are used rarely, and on a secondary basis.

hoshie said...

I have used the NRSV as my primary version the last 20 years. (These days I use the ESV.) The Access Bible is my favorite study Bible of those listed here.

Jonny: The only Church-approved NRSV study Bible that I know of is the Catholic Youth Bible. A sample is here:

Now my question: If the NRSV-CE is so hated upon by the Vatican and others for its gender-inclusive language, how did it manage to receive the nihil obstat and imprimatur?

Jonny said...


The nihil obstat and imprimatur were not granted by the Vatican. Nor do they mean a translation is good, accurate, or even that the bishop giving the those agree with its contents. They basically mean that, in the best of some bishops knowledge, the contents therin are not blatent heresy. But keep in mind that the Conferences of Bishops do not constitute the Magesterium, and also that the NRSV translation predates Liturgiam Authenticam.

As I stated in my previous post, the Church is in the midst of reform in regards to the translation of Liturgical AND Biblical texts. Reform is a good thing! In this instance it is taking what was already good and refining it to better reflect God's image: in Spirit, and in Truth.

Timothy said...

That being said, the NRSV is the English translation used, along eight RSV, in the Catechism of the Catholic Chrurch.

Theophrastus said...

I did not see this post as an invitation for a general free-for-all "what do you think about the NRSV"? Rather, I saw it as an opportunity to comment on a set of study Bibles.

The fact remains: the NRSV is by far the most widely used English translation at the university level, it is widely used within the Catholic Church (being used, for example, as the basis of the lectionary in Canada and New Zealand, in the English version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and in a wide variety of Catholic seminaries.)

I disagree that the NRSV "waters down" the RSV. In contrast, the NRSV fixes a large number of clear translations errors in the RSV. Its clear textual notes show the source-critical and interpretive decisions made the by the translators, and are much more extensive than those in the RSV.

I also disagree that reaction to the NRSV was limited only to, on the one hand, those advocating "women's ordination and homosexuality [and] the breakdown of God’s design for marriage and denying the inspiration of Scripture," and on the other hand those claiming "the NRSV [is] a false translation." Indeed, quite a few people managed to react to the NRSV as translation, rather than as a political advocacy document.

Indeed, I do not think one can fairly claim that Bruce Metzger advocated homosexuality and the denial of the inspiration of Scripture.

Turning now to complaint that the NRSV was a "false translation," one finds that quite a bit of contemporaneous criticism that used language such as "false translation" to characterize the NRSV centered on the fact that there were Catholics, Jews, and Eastern Orthodox scholars involved with producing the translation. The NRSV was a "false translation" because its translation committee included Catholics, who according to some NRSV critics, taught false doctrine. Conservative Protestant translations competing with the NRSV and RSV, such as the NASB, ESV, NIV, HCSB, etc., were careful to avoid allowing any non-Protestants to participate. "False translation" in this context is simply bigoted code language for "Catholic."

One can certainly criticize the NRSV on many different scores, but one hopes that criticism would involve a full reading of the NRSV and a careful analysis -- not simply broad generalities.

Turning finally to the question of Liturgiam Authenticam: it is important to remember that this document is a statement from the Congregation for Divine Worship, which has authority over the liturgy, and not over Bible translations in general. It is also important to remember that there are exactly zero English Bible translation that meets the requirements of Liturgiam Authenticam. (The RSV-CE claims to meet those requirements, but it clearly does not.) Indeed, even the standard "original language" Hebrew and Greek Bibles do not meet the textual requirements of Liturgiam Authenticam (a standard edition of the Septuagint, Rahlfs, for example, has different text for the deuterocanonicals than Nova Vulgata).

Having said all that, I advise readers to choose the translation that they find most useful for study. I think the NRSV, RSV, and NABRE are all outstanding choices; the NJB and REB also have some good features; the Douay-Rheims-Challoner and Knox Bible also shed significant light on the Vulgate tradition of translations. The NRSV has an exceptionally large number of aids, commentaries, and study editions, making it especially useful for serious study. (The Norton KJV edition mentioned by Jonny is also an excellent study edition, especially for those reading the Bible as literature.)

Theophrastus said...

For college-level study, I think that the HarperCollins makes the most sense as a study Bible; although the NOAB is a viable option. (The 1991 edition is closer in style to the venerable RSV NOAB; the later editions have more annotations but are not as elegantly edited.)

The New Interpreter's is quite good for serious self-study, it is not quite as rigorous as the HarperCollins or NOAB and tends to have a liberal-moderate bias.

The Access Bible has always struck me as potentially being good for beginners.

I don't have a very positive impression of the Discipleship or Life with God Bibles, but I have not spent much time with them.

I think the Cambridge Annotated is so lightly annotated as to be not really useful to most readers.

rolf said...

I agree Theophrastus, I like the New Interpeters Study Bible for self study. The notes maybe a little less scholarly than the other two Bibles you mentioned but they are a little more 'theological' in nature and in my opinion, a little more extensive. I bought the study notes for this Bible on the 'Olive Tree' app for my ipad and merged it with the REB and now I have an 'REB Study Bible'!

Jason Engel said...

OOOOoooo..... I like your suggestion, Rolf: NISB notes with the REB translation.... I may have to do that, too :)

Jonny said...

I guess when I am speaking from personal experience; I have to be more specific!

When I was referring to Protestant and non-denominational groups rejecting the NRSV, I was not implying that as being something personal against Bruce Metzger or the Catholics who may have contributed in any way the revision.

The simple fact remains: The gender language usage in the original languages has a deeper meaning, at times both Messianic and theological. The NRSV attempted, unsuccessfully, to expunge the gender language from the Bible. It was successful, however, in devaluing its primary purpose, to proclaim and teach the Word of God. When one considers that most non-Catholic groups primarily rely on a Bible translation as their sole authority, it should be obvious to see how that is a deal-breaker.

That does not mean that the NRSV is useless. I do appreciate the information regarding the Study Bibles, but I am not sure one would do better to buy a separate commentary and use their translation of choice. The RSV-2CE may not perfectly conform to Liturgiam Authenticam, but it was approved for liturgical use after LA, and is the best option for memorization and personal devotion, perhaps until the LA-approved edition of the NABRE comes out. I am aware of the occasional textual tradition variants used by the NRSV, but I don’t think that qualifies one to say that the RSV has a large amount of errors. The seminarians I know that have been at my parish for the past few years have mostly used the RSV-CE 1st and 2nd editions at the seminary.

Sorry if I have derailed the post too far! It is obvious that people don’t understand the inclusive-language issue or the LA document, and I wanted to help. LA doesn’t call for a translation of the Nova-Vulgata, but to simply use it as a guide for translating the original languages (specific examples are cited, one of which is avoiding “inclusive language”) and making sure to include the parts that are in the Lectionary. Is it really a surprise that Bible translation reform would come through the Congregation for Divine Worship? I just wish it would have happened sooner… like in the 1940’s! But we have to take things in God’s time, and one step at a time.

Theophrastus said...

I can understand that for some readers, the use of inclusive language in the NRSV can be an issue; and I do think the RSV (despite a few errors in the translation) is a good alternative to the NRSV. Note, however, that most recent translations have (to a greater or lesser extent) adopted inclusive language, including NABRE and NJB. Inclusive language also shows up in many recent Protestant translations, including NIV-2011, NLT and even the ESV.

Jonny has an excellent point that in some cases, translation choices can hide certain meanings. But this phenomena of multiple meanings shows up in many, many different contexts -- not just in gender language. This is particularly true with the Hebrew Bible, which is written in a highly literary language that contains many puns, double meanings, and allusions. Any English translation necessarily loses many of these meanings. Some annotated Bible translations that explore this complicated word play include the Norton Bible mentioned by Jonny, or Robert Alter's translations of books of the Hebrew Bible (his translation of the Pentateuch is a great place to start.)

This is further accentuated by the rich Catholic tradition of patristic readings of the Bible. In Judaism (which arguably has analogously rich tradition of interpretation) Bibles are often published with one or more medieval commentaries, culminating a highly rich structure called a "Rabbinic Bible." (If you would like to see how these work, there are good translations of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers now available.

It is precisely because any English translation necessarily hides most of the meaning of the Bible that these NRSV study editions are so useful. Jonny is certainly correct that one can use a separate commentary instead, and that can be an excellent option for some; but for many readers, reading two books simultaneously is awkward, particularly in classroom or church settings.

There are of course, some purely Catholic study Bibles, but I think that many of these fall short:

* NABRE-based study Bibles are limited to using the NABRE notes, which are uneven.

* The Ignatius Study Bible is not yet complete, and its notes tend to be much less detailed in many places (particularly in the newly published OT books).

* The NJB with notes is an excellent choice, but it is a bit unwieldy as book, and the NJB translation is less literal than the NRSV.

* The Navarre Bible is published in many different volumes, and the strong focus on Josemaria Escriva's thought may not be to everyone's taste.

* The NOAB-RSV is an excellent choice (arguably the best English single-volume study Bible other than the Norton KJV and the many academic NRSV bibles listed above), but its notes are not as detailed as NRSV-based study Bibles. (Note that like many of the NRSV study Bibles listed above, it is addressed to an ecumenical audience rather than an explicitly Catholic audience.)

I think that much of the success of the NRSV in both secular colleges and seminaries is due to the availability of high quality NRSV study editions.