Monday, February 23, 2015

OBOY: Why I Prefer the NRSV

An important part of the "One Year, One Bible" initiative was choosing to stick with a particular translation for an entire year.  From my perspective, I wanted a translation that was both literary and formal enough for study, while also being useful for prayerful reading of scripture, as well as for teaching.  The obvious candidates were the RSV, NABRE, and NRSV.  Having been already quite familiar and comfortable with all three of these translations, it ultimately came down to a few factors and, to be honest, just going with my gut.  In the end, I chose the NRSV, which I haven't regretted in any way.  (The NABRE was a fairly close second.)

The first factor is that all of my favorite bible editions are in the NRSV translation.  This list includes the NOAB '91, Cambridge NRSV Reference Bible, and my new Oxford Compact in calfskin.  (Stay tuned for a post on the new compact later this week.)  All come in genuine to semi-premium leather and are made with the highest quality binding and materials.  In my opinion, none of the other "contenders" can match the NRSV in this regard.  I might also mention two other NRSV's that I own, the often overlooked NOAB 4th edition which is also beautifully made as well as the mid-90's Oxford reader's Bible.

Secondly, the vast majority of academic study materials I own, including commentaries, dictionaries, concordances, and interlinears, are keyed to the NRSV.  Neither the NABRE or RSV-CE have anywhere near the same in print today.

Thirdly, any Bible that I was going to choose must, in some way, reflect current scholarship and textual discoveries.  For example, if a translation does not acknowledge and utilize in some way the Dead Sea Scrolls, either in the translation itself or the textual notes, I think it is seriously lacking.  I know some will argue with me on this one.

Fourth, textual notes are a must for serious study.  Not only do they instruct the reader of other possible or more literal renderings, they can bring relief to a particular rendering you may disagree with.  There are a handful of places in the NRSV that I would have preferred a more traditional rendering.  Fortunately, more often than not, the textual note is honest enough to include that more traditional rendering.  I read somewhere that the NRSV committee chair, the late Bruce Metzger, commented that the textual notes were integral to the text itself.  No wonder that all editions of the NRSV must be printed with the textual notes.  Even the Saint John's Bible had to abide by this requirement.

Fifth, the issue of inclusive language played a role as well.  Over the past five years, mostly due to teaching high school students, I have recognized the necessity of inclusive language. I have had discussions in the classroom over what a translation means when it says "men" as opposed to human or something like it.  The English language has changed and the students I teach simply do not use the term "man" in an inclusive sense, as it once was.  To be honest, I don't use it in that sense either nor do I really remember a time when I did.  Now with that being said, I think there are a couple places where the NRSV went a tad bit too far in their use of inclusive language.  Daniel 7:13 is a clear example.  That rendering is only redeemed by the presence of a textual note with the literal translation of the Aramaic.  It must also be said, since I see this sometimes stated otherwise on the interwebs: The NRSV does not use vertical inclusive language, which means in relation to God.  The most recent, Catholic translation that did was the revised '91 NAB Psalms.  Fortunately, the NABRE Psalms are a great improvement over the '91 Psalms.

Sixth, the Saint John's Bible utilizes the NRSV.  

Seventh, another imporant reason is that the NRSV is an ecumenical translation.  As stated in Dei Verbum #22: "And should the opportunity arise and the Church authorities approve, if these translations are produced in cooperation with the separated brethren as well, all Christians will be able to use them."  This has become a more important issue for me over the years as well.

Finally, of all the translations out there, I simply enjoy reading from the NRSV more than the others.  This is all a personal preference to be sure, but it is something I have experienced for the better part of five years.  For a long time I avoided the NRSV due to what other people had said and written about it, but through spending a considerable amount of time reading and studying from the NRSV, I have found it to be both readable and reliable.  I keep going back to it.

So, those are the main reasons why I prefer the NRSV.  The other two translations are, of course, fine translations.  My comments in no way are meant to minimize the qualities that the other two possess.  To be honest, I wouldn't be surprised if I change my mind once the NABRE NT finally comes out.  However, I have some time before that happens.  Until then, the NRSV will be my translation of choice.  


Jason Engel said...

Awesome :)

Russ said...

Legend has it that somone once asked Billy Graham what translation of the bible to use and he reportedly said, "The one you read." Good luck in your reading, Tim.

Erica McCrea said...

Ive been comparing passages in the NRSV and RSV for a while; though I'm not a fan of gender-inclusive texts, I think they go over better with people than those which use the masculine plural, he, him, man etc.

I also just really like the updated modern phrasing and elimination of thee and thou. I guess after reading so much Shakespeare for my major it's just refreshing to read something a little closer to everyday language. I think that's why I like the NRSV—the reading level is still up there and the language is still similar to more traditional translations, but it's a much smoother read. A good compromise between contemporary and traditional language, I think.

David said...

I too have been giving the NRSV a chance this year. I was able to find a NOAB 4th edition at a reasonable price. I find the translation to be very readable for long stretches, and the notes to be mostly helpful, though sometimes a bit overdone, or pushing a particular angle too much. I wish that some of the translation footnotes would've been the actual renderings in the translation proper, but at least they give you the other options.

I'm seriously tempted to get an NRSV in a more reader friendly single column format, like the HarperCollins NRSV-CE Standard Bible in Navy Blue, though I wish they had it in a leather bound or even imitation leather bound volume, instead of hardcover, simply for weight reasons. Still, it would be my first single column bible, a format I've been itching to try, with a translation that lends itself to it.

Michael Demers said...

Tim, how do you think NRSV psalms compare with the NABRE and the Revised Grail?

Timothy said...


In comparison to the NABRE, since I haven't spent as much time with the revised Grail, I'd say a couple things:
1) the NRSV is more poetic and consistent in using translating particular Hebrew words.

2) The NABRE does a better job of moderating the inclusive language. If you want to study a translation that shows the scars of the inclusive language wars, a whole paper could be written on the history of the NAB Psalter.

3) NRSV contains much better textual notes to show other possible renderings, which is particularly helpful in the Psalms.

Michael Demers said...

Thank you very much, Timothy.