Thanks to reader Jason for this guest post.
My preferred translation of the Bible is the NRSV (the REB/NEB are a close second and the NIV’84 comes in third). But, because the NRSV is not as commercially successful as many of the evangelical translations (NIV, ESV, NKJV, etc etc), it is difficult to find beautiful editions. Most publishers stopped publishing nice leather NRSV Bibles in the late ‘90s, and the leather-bound NRSV Bibles published today almost always use the Anglicized text, which was released in ’95.
So, I happily bought up a number of fine leather Anglicized NRSV Bibles under the assumption, as advertised, that the only difference between the update and the original was spelling and punctuation (and, as I learned later, tweaks to how Brits spell out numbers that differs from the American format). Indeed, in the “Preface to the NRSV Anglicized Edition” that is printed in each such Bible, you will find this critical text:
“All those participating in the process of ‘anglicization’ accepted that no attempt could be made to alter the basic translation in any way; their responsibility was simply to render words that might otherwise be uncertain or awkward into the best generally acceptable equivalent in British usage, whilst at the same time adjusting appropriate points of spelling, grammar, and punctuation.”
Hold on…. There’s more there in that sentence than spelling and punctuation. There’s grammar, as well as this vague notion of rendering “uncertain or awkward” words into something more “acceptable”.
The next paragraph in that document outlines how spelling and grammar were modified to conform to British norms, but then the following paragraph goes into more detail about how some words might be altered completely if the American idiom did not match common British understanding. They use the example of replacing “sea” with “lake” when referring to the Sea of Galilee and explain why. Well, it was a logical explanation, but it’s just one example. What else did they change?
But then we reach the killer sentence: “Many smaller alterations have been made,…” Adding to that vague statement is the complete lack of any resource anywhere that outlines, in full, every change made.
For the longest time, this did not bother me. I didn’t really care that much, and for the most part I tended to only focus on the typical marketing info that only indicated the spelling and punctuation differences. That is, until the day I saw my first significant difference in the text. It may seem like a small thing, but it really shocked me when I came across a passage in the OT in the Anglicized edition that had re-rendered “slave girl” (US version) into “serving maid” (UK version). That’s not documented anywhere, and I don’t see how that alteration is necessary in any way. “Slave girl” is quite clear. Maybe it is too blunt for a British audience, but that is the more accurate translation.
After that discovery, I started to pay very close attention to the words in my Anglicized NRSV Bibles. Maybe I shouldn’t have, ignorance is bliss after all. But I found a major change in a critical passage that makes it possible to dramatically change the meaning. Romans 3:21 in the US edition reads as follows:
"But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets,”
While the UK edition renders that line as:
"But now, irrespective of law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets,”
And that one change, “irrespective” instead of “apart from” ruined the Anglicized NRSV for me. Maybe - BIG maybe - the two phrases are functionally equivalent between the two versions of English, yet when I read “apart from law” I think of something that is separate from the law, while “irrespective of law” has a negative connotation of disrespect, without regard, heedless, without consideration. To me, that’s a major alteration.
Then I undertook a very careful line-by-line comparison, limited to Romans and 1 & 2 Corinthians (not much free time with 3 kids and a full-time job and a couple volunteer positions). I found dozens of spelling differences, about as many instances where various prepositions are added without affecting meaning. But I also found what I consider to be significant words changes that, like Romans 3:21, alter meaning: Romans 11:18, 1 Corinthians 1:10 and 10:24 and 15:8 are less serious, 2 Corinthians 11:32 also bothered me. I can only guess how many other such changes are present elsewhere in the Anglicized NRSV.
How can I trust the Anglicized NRSV when there is the potential for an unknown number of major textual changes that some editor might have chosen to sneak in when this revision took place? It does not bother me at all that the REB and the NIV and many other translations render this passage slightly differently, and yet it really disturbs me that this translation is still marketed as and claims to be the NRSV when it is not.
I still love the NRSV and still reach for it first when it comes to my daily reading and study. I still recommend the NRSV to friends and family when they ask my opinion. Now, though, I always make the distinction between the original NRSV and the Anglicized edition; I simply can't trust the Anglicized NRSV and no longer read from it.