Thursday, December 23, 2021

First Impression of the NRSVue

In this article, I will mostly compare the New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition (NRSVue) with the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) which is the basis for the NRSVue.

I have been looking forward to the publication of the NRSVue. The earlier NRSV has been my primary translation for a lot of years. I love it. I expect the update to do nothing but get better. I think that is what has happened. In this article, I have collected a bunch of verses that are... interesting to me in the NRSV. They are the passages I have most anticipated comparing with the NRSVue.


Things that were fixed

1 Kings 8:16

NRSV: Since the day that I brought my people Israel out of Egypt, I have not chosen a city from any of the tribes of Israel in which to build a house, that my name might be there; but I chose David to be over my people Israel.

NRSVue: Since the day that I brought my people Israel out of Egypt, I have not chosen a city from any of the tribes of Israel in which to build a house, that my name might be there, nor did I choose anyone to be a ruler over my people Israel. But I have chosen Jerusalem in order that my name may be there, and I have chosen David to be over my people Israel. (italics mine)

The NRSVue greatly improves the translation of this verse by incorporating information gathered from research of the Dead Sea Scrolls and comparing the parallel passage in 2 Chronicles 6:5-6. The NRSVue alerts the reader to the variant with a footnote that reads, "Cn Compare Q ms and 2 Chr 6:5-6: MT lacks nor did . . . be there". We would read that note to say, "This is a correction derived from a comparison of the Qumran texts and 2 Chronicles 6:5-6. The Masoretic Text lacks nor did . . . be there." I do believe the NRSVue to be the first mainstream translation (I hope) to correctly correct this verse. This verse is probably a shining star example of scholarly improvements that readers will encounter in their studies with this translation.

Isaiah 3:12

My people—children are their oppressors,
and women rule over them.
O my people, your leaders mislead you,
and confuse the course of your paths.

My people—their oppressors extort them,
and creditors
rule over them.
O my people, your leaders mislead you
and confuse the course of your paths. (bold text mine)

NRSVue provides a footnote at the word "creditors" indicating the translators favored with the Greek (Septuagint) over the Hebrew. There is no note explaining the change from "children" to "oppressors." However, the change is probably closer to the original. The literal reading of the first two lines of the verse, out of the Hebrew, is something like, "My people, his oppressors, he deals severely, and women rule over them." Either "oppressors" needs to be corrected to "children" or "women" needs to be corrected to "creditors." The verse either pairs children and women (NRSV, KJV, NKJV, NABre, CSB, NASB, NIV), indicating that Israel's rulers are the least qualified to rule; or it pairs oppressors and creditors (NET, REB, CEB, NETS, LXX, and now NRSVue), indicating that the rich oppress the poor. In my humble opinion, the Septuagint (LXX) is a pretty good witness for this verse.

Isaiah 9:3

You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.

You have multiplied exultation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder. (bold text mine)

This verse is famous among Bible text scholars. At the time of the preparation of the NRSV in the 1980s, the scholarly consensus favored "exultation" over "nation;" but there were a few scholars who did not want to make the change. They pressed hard against the change—so hard that some of the other scholars backed down and, rather than push back against their colleagues, conceded to keep the RSV rendering. It was one of those moments in scholarly circles that became noteworthy because strong personalities prevailed over actual scholarship.

Incidentally, the Revised English Bible gets this verse right.

You have increased their joy
and given them great gladness
1 Corinthians 11:10

NRSV: For this reason a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of angels. (bold text mine)

NRSVue: For this reason a woman ought to have authority over her head, because of angels.

Almost all standard translations screw up this verse by adding "a symbol of" to the text. It does not exist in the Greek. Most translations assume headship in this chapter to mean authority and that Paul means a husband's authority over his wife. However, headship does not mean authority. Paul means to say that a woman has the power to make her own choice to do what she wants with her own head. There is no need to add (coff coff) clarifying... verbiage to the text.

1 Peter 3:5

NRSV: It was in this way long ago that the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves by accepting the authority of their husbands. (bold text mine)

NRSVue: It was in this way long ago that the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves by being subject to their husbands. (bold text mine)

"Authority" does not belong in this verse. The Greek, in a non-military context, should be understood as cooperative submission. Translations that insert language that puts husbands in authority over their wives do violence to the meaning of this verse. The Bible does not sanction a husband's authority over his wife (excepting 1 Corinthians 7:4 where the authority goes both ways).

Jude 5

NRSV: Now I desire to remind you, though you are fully informed, that the Lord, who once for all saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. (bold text mine)

NRSVue: Now I desire to remind you, though you are fully informed, once and for all, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. (bold text mine)

NRSVue changes "the Lord" to "Jesus." It provides a textual note that "Other ancient authorities read informed, that the Lord who once for all saved." This is one of those texts in which there is a lot of variation amongst the ancient witnesses. The ancient witness for "Jesus" in this verse is strong; but some variants also give "Lord" (kurios) and "God" (theos). One interesting witness says "God Christ" in that place. Even if the witnesses were evenly divided, scholars should favor "Jesus" here on the basis that it is the more difficult reading. It is most likely original to the hand of Jude. Christian scribes were more likely to make slight modifications in their copies in order to make the text clearer—than to make slight changes that make the text more difficult. It is more difficult to accept that Jesus was personally involved in the Exodus than that God was the divine power behind the Exodus. Because of the way Christian scribes made their copies, translations should generally favor the more difficult readings as more original. The English Standard Version (ESV) also made this correction of the Revised Standard Version (RSV).

I am intrigued by the relocation of "once and for all." NRSVue does not provide a footnote regarding this change. RSV does not include the phrase at all and ESV kept the RSV reading there. The witness for either location is somewhat complicated; but wherever it goes, the meaning of the verse changes. The phrase's location in NRSV does not have a lot of force but it may be conscripted to support the Calvinist doctrine of Once-Saved-Always-Saved (Preservation of the saints). Its location in the NRSVue points to the nature of the readers' knowledge. The readers already have solid knowledge that Israel was divinely saved from Egypt.

Things that should have been fixed but were not

Exodus 4:23

NRSV=NRSVue: I said to you, "Let my son go that he may serve me." But you refused to let him go; now I will kill your firstborn son."

This statement is obviously conditional. The older RSV reading is preferable:

and I say to you, "Let my son go that he may serve me"; if you refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay your firstborn son."

Leviticus 10:9 (for example)

NRSV=NRSVue: "Drink no wine or strong drink, neither you nor your sons, when you enter the tent of meeting, that you may not die; it is a statute forever throughout your generations. ..."

The rendering of "sekar" as "strong drink" in the NRSV is also famous among textual scholars. The translating committee of the NRSV strongly agreed to translate "sekar" as "beer" in every occurrence of the word; however, the editorial committe (consisting of three persons for the Old Testament: Bruce Metzger, Robert Dentan and Walter Harrelson) changed all those beers back to "strong drink" against the wishes of the whole translating committee. I am a bit bewildered that the NRSVue scholars did not go with "beer" in the update.

Numbers 21:14

NRSV=NRSVue: Wherefore it is said in the Book....

NRSV got rid of all the "wherefores" from the RSV; but this one escaped the scholars' notice. It is just an oversight on the part of the NRSV scholars. The NRSVue scholars kept the oversight.

1 Kings 4:24 "West of the Euphrates" is a bad translation. It should read "beyond the Euphrates." Correctly translating that phrase betrays the location of the writer of 1&2 Kings: Babylon. There is no alternate reading notice about "west" in a footnote. The NRSVue team obviously looked at this verse because they made another change.

NRSV: For he had dominion over all the region west of the Euphrates from Tiphsah to Gaza, over all the kings west of the Euphrates; and he had peace on all sides. (bold text mine)

NRSVue: For he had dominion over all the region west of the Euphrates, and he had peace on all sides.

There is a footnote in the NRSVue indicating that the shorter reading comes from the Greek while the Hebrew provides the longer reading. When I compare the two readings, the longer reading looks at first like a haplography where text could be easily dropped between the two instances of "west of the Euphrates." I am really interested to learn why the translators chose to exchange the longer NRSV reading with the shorter version.

John 9:3-4

NRSV=NRSVue: Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work."

The NRSV is terrible here! and the NRSVue kept the terrible reading of these verses. Knowing that Greek has no punctuation yet English does, translators should take care how they supply punctuation. The two verses should read something like

Jesus answered, "Neither this man sinned nor his parents; but so that the works of God might be displayed in him, we must work the works of him who sent me(/us)—as long as it is day. Night is coming when no one can work."

Not very many translations get John 9:3-4 right.

Galatians 3:16, 19, 29

Galatians 3:16 (NRSV=NRSVue) Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring; it does not say, "And to offsprings," as of many;[/,] but it says, "and to your offspring," that is, to one person, who is Christ.

NRSV and NRSVue should translate all occurrences of "spora" in this chapter as "seed." As in English, "seed" can mean a single seed or a large quantity of seeds. The word "seeds" generally refers to a small, countable number of seeds. Paul's argument is based upon the Septuagint translation of Genesis 22:18. Either way, Paul is playing with words in Galatians 3. He knows that "seed" can be either singular or plural. In fact, he uses the word as a plural in verse 29. So, he is stretching Genesis 22:18 to apply to Jesus since there is no Old Testament passage that directly addresses the identity of Jesus. Whether or not Paul's argument is convincing is not the point. Editorializing "seed" to "offspring" confuses Paul's point. Translations should just say "seed" and leave the interpretation to the reader. The problem is, NRSV already translated all the seeds in the Old Testament as "descendants" and "offspring." When they did that, they kind of backed themselves into a corner in Galatians 3. To their credit, the NRSVue team did not take the bait and editorialize Psalm 89:4, 29, 36 as did the ESV team.

1 Timothy 3:2

NRSV=NRSVue: Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher,... (bold text mine)

"Married only once" is overly interpretive. The problem with it is that the (literal) "husband of one wife" has to do with faithfulness to his wife rather than whether or not the candidate has been scripturally remarried. The case for faithfulness over "never remarried" is made by looking at 1 Timothy 5:9.

Let the widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband,... (ESV)

Whatever the widows list was, each candidate for the list had to be the "wife of one husband." Noting that Paul wanted to deny enrollment to younger widows, encouraging them to get married (1 Timothy 5:14), it would seem unfair if these twice-married women became widows again in their sixties and were denied enrollment in the widows list because they had been remarried when they were younger widows. Obviously, "wife of one husband" refers to how faithful the widow was when her husband was alive. That's what "husband of one wife" means in 1 Timothy 3:2.

NRSV and NRSVue probably favored the "married only once" language to show that they believe the qualification is gender inclusive. It also means "wife of one husband." "Husband of one wife" gender inclusive. If Paul meant to say "husband or wife of one wife or husband, respectively," he would just use the masculine language by directing the qualification to husbands. I offer just two (of many) examples of where similar masculine language is really gender inclusive: Luke 14:26; Exodus 20:17.

I would favor "being a faithful spouse" at 1 Timothy 3:2.

1 Peter 1:20

NRSV=NRSVue: He was destined before the foundation of the world but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake.

All of the appearances of "foundation of the world" in the New Testament are mistranslated in almost all standard translations. Foundation (katabolee) is a really difficult word to translate; so English translations from the Geneva and KJV forward followed the Latin word meaning "foundation." The word literally means to throw something down. Somewhere along the line, someone (Jerome?) decided the word means to lay a foundation. But it also means to fall. The meaning "foundation" seems to denote the point of the first day of Creation. The meaning "fall" would indicate a point in time when there was a falling—as in the generation before the worldwide flood that had a great moral fall. Instead of "foundation of the world," a better reading is "disintegration of human society."

Furthermore, in NRSV (=NRSVue), the word "destined" is pretty bad. The Greek word here is usually translated "foreknown." I'll set aside the rationale for translating the word as "destined" in NRSV. Since "foreknown," means "known" in some contexts (Acts 26:5 and the apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon 6:13) and "knew" means "loved" in others (e.g., Matthew 7:22-23; 1 Corinthians 8:3; 2 Timothy 2:19), "foreknew" could be understood as "known" or "foreloved." A good translation would say,

He was known before the.... (c.f., ESV, NASB, NET Bible, GW, WEB, Young's Literal)

Gender Inclusiveness:

There is a handful of passages that suffer in meaning from the gender inclusiveness of the NRSV and NRSVue. In particular, when the biblical passage is intended to overtly target individuals, gender inclusiveness moves to a plural pronoun in order to keep the gender neutral. Sometimes, the pronoun "they" substitutes for "he." Today, we are almost accustomed to hear "they" as a singular pronoun referring to both a "he" and a "she." It still gives me Forest Whitaker eye. Some passages that I think suffer from the gender inclusiveness (but NRSV and NRSVue can't help it) include

Psalm 1:1

John 4:14

John 14:21, 23

Psalm 68:11 This one is quite interesting in both translations:

The Lord gives the command;
great is the company of those who bore the tidings.

This "company" is actually a "company of women." What is wrong with "women" announcing this news? Is it because whatever they were doing in their announcing is too stereotypically women's work? Whatever.


Hebrews 2:6-8 special case

NRSV: But someone has testified somewhere,
“What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
or mortals, that you care for them?
You have made them for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned them with glory and honor,
subjecting all things under their feet.”
Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them,...

This one is actually pretty good in both NRSV and NRSVue. (NRSVue says "humans" rather than "human beings"). Most translations apply the quote from Psalm 8 to Jesus. NRSV and NRSVue apply it to human beings. Nevertheless, the word "control" in verse 8 is problematic. "Control" used to mean "authority" which is the correct meaning; but with the rise of New Calvinism, "control" means "irresistible control." The theological meaning of "control" has changed and therefore the modern meaning of the word in Hebrews 2:8 is now incorrect. The revisers of the NRSVue should have altered the language to mean "resistible authority."


Some either/or passages:

Isaiah 53:10

Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him with pain.
When you make his life an offering for sin,
he shall see his offspring and shall prolong his days;
through him the will of the LORD shall prosper. (bold text mine)

"Crush" is probably not the best translation. Everybody translates it that way; but "purify" would be better than "crush."

Romans 1:4

NRSV=NRSVue: and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord....

Not capitalizing "spirit" here looks like a mistake; but it can go either way. It changes the meaning; but either meaning is acceptable.

Ephesians 5:32

NRSV=NRSVue: This is a great mystery, but I am speaking about Christ and the church.

The meaning of this verse is kind of in the gray area. Applying marriage to Christ and the church may not be the point. Paul may be applying Christ and the church to marriage. It is possible that Paul is using the unity of Christ and the church to describe the unity of husband and wife, not the other way around. The difficulty for translators is to not take sides in this gray zone. Tough call.

James 3:15

NRSV=NRSVue: Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish.

"Devilish" is not a good translation. Demonic is better; but the meaning may be the same either way. James said "daimoniodes" (demonic, influenced by an evil spirit) and not "diabolos" (devilish, slanderous). Is this verse about supernatural influence or a human character flaw? "Devilish" is easily a reference to a character flaw. "Demonic" denotes influence from a supernatural being. Demons inflict harm but they do not tempt. So, "demonic" may still refer to a character flaw but it is unusual to say it that way. To say that someone's actions are demonic may mean that those actions inflict harm upon someone else. Either/or.

Final Thoughts:

Sometimes NRSVue softens language that I think was better in the NRSV. For example,

Hosea 1:2

NRSV: When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, "Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits whoredom by forsaking the LORD."

NRSVue: When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, "Go take for yourself a wife of prostitution and have children of prostitution, for the land commits great prostitution by forsaking the LORD."

I am conflicted over whether or not NRSVue is an improvement in this example. 

I'll add that the NRSVue comes with a pretty good set of crossreferences. It may be the same set the NRSV has. The older version was rarely published with crossreferences. Or with red letters.

I am excited about the NRSVue. Before its release, NRSV was the greatest English translation ever! Further study in the NRSVue may endear me to it... or not. That sentament will take a lot of time.