version journey ends with NRSV

Yesterday Diana Butler Bass told her story of using various Bible versions since she was a child: RSV, NASB, NIV. During her doctoral studies she began using the NRSV. She tells why she likes it and has been using it as her primary Bible version for nearly twenty years.

Read her interesting piece to learn more.

HT: Anonymous

24 thoughts on “version journey ends with NRSV

  1. Ted Gossard says:

    Very interesting. I myself have been tempted to opt for the NRSV for my own reasons. One similar reason is that I think in some cases the NRSV is clearly getting more at what the manuscripts are saying, over the NIV. I do wonder to what extent the TNIV, my Bible now (I had opted to the NLT for awhile prior to the release of the TNIV) corrects such possible deficiences. I know it does make some improvements (from my perspective) in Romans 8.

    I still am much concerned with language in a translation and that stops me short of changing to the NRSV, though I must say that in many places it isn’t bad that way. And certainly no translation is without its flaws. Though I must say that if for a good reason (ecclesial) I had to switch to the NRSV, that would be okay by me.

    Interesting and good thoughts, Diana. Thanks, Wayne.

  2. Ted Gossard says:

    May I add this, carefully, I hope.

    I am most confident that theologically Diana has good reasons and is light years ahead of me in understanding this.

    But I do want to put a little question mark on what comes across to me as such a severe reprimand against the NIV. It certainly has its limitations, and the TNIV has made some important improvements, I believe. But I still believe that the NIV is accurate enough for people who would read it only, for them to have the full counsel of God. For more careful study, especially for people not privy to original languages, an NRSV or the like is great, besides.

    Just my thought for whatever it might be worth.

  3. Ted Gossard says:

    What I mean as to the full counsel of God is to get the Story of God completely across to them, the essence of it. I’m sure all this would have some debating points unless I’m off track beyond what I think. 🙂

    But no translation is perfect.

  4. Suzanne McCarthy says:


    Diane’s little piece is an advert for the NRSV. Too bad it has to make the NIV/TNIV look bad. But there are several places where a very odd interpretation in the NIV has been improved in the TNIV.

  5. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    Personally I don’t prefer the TNIV over the NRSV; they each have their positive points.

  6. anonymous says:

    I have not seen evidence that her brief essay is an advertisement (in the sense that Episcopal Life was paid to run it) but it certainly is linked with the NRSV, and the Episcopal Church, as a member of the National Council of Churches, has a stake in the success of the NRSV.

    However, unlike a number of other (paid or unpaid) endorsements from authors I have seen quoted here and in the sister blog tnivtruth, Diana Butler Bass’s gives the reasons for her assessment and also explicitly discloses in her essay her relationship with the NRSV’s publisher, and thus can be critically analyzed, unlike purely conclusatory quotes such as this:

    “Of the making of translations there is no end,” but sometimes more is better, and in the case of the TNIV we finally do have a much better translation than any of the other ones out there on the market. This translation is fresh, very readable, faithful to the original language texts, and just perfect for men and women to use for everything ranging from preaching to teaching to Bible study to devotions. Jargon and antique language are left behind but eloquence and quotability are not. This translation is both memorable and memorizable. As a New Testament scholar I cannot commend this translation highly enough. It passes everything else out there in the fast lane.

    or this

    Taking advantage of recent advances in biblical scholarship, linguistics and archaeology, Today’s New International Version translates the original languages of the Bible into contemporary, very readable, English. Focusing on the meaning of the original text, rather than merely its form, the TNIV is gender accurate, scholarly precise and verbally relevant in today’s changing world. It has now become my devotional Bible and I highly recommend it to all my students.

    Thus, if one wishes to judge translations by their (paid or unpaid) “endorsements” I believe that the NRSV wins this round handily on the basis of full disclosure, critique-able analysis. and respect for the reader’s intelligence.

  7. Suzanne McCarthy says:


    I may have skimmed the article too briefly, but my recollection is that she makes her judgement on one example, the formatting of the text.

    In the TNIV, this is corrected and the heading occurs at verse 21. So the very point which she critiques in the NIV does not carry over into the TNIV.

    In fact, this article compares translations of two different generations. If the NIV is still the major rival translation then this makes sense. Certainly the NIV needs to be superceded.

    In any case, I do think that it is valuable to hear the testimony of well-known authors and speakers as to why they use the translation they do. I definitely enjoyed reading it and did agree with it.

  8. anonymous says:

    The modified NIV appeared in 1984, the NRSV in 1990. Indeed, your co-bloggers have argued that a generation is 20 years. Under that definition, the NRSV is in fact in the same generation of both the TNIV and NIV, which are nearly in the same generation themselves.

    I should note that all three translations enjoy vigorous sales today, making comparisons among the fair.

  9. Ted Gossard says:

    Suzanne, Thanks. Until I get further light I’ll stick with the TNIV, though the older I get the more I like Billy Graham’s word: “The best version (of the Bible) is the one you use.”

    But I am glad for all the good (reasonably reliable) translations and the better they all are the better for all!

  10. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    I think of the NIV as coming from the 70’s, but the late 70’s, I admit. In any case, it is the ongoing popularity of the NIV that makes the comparison valid.

    As I said, I agree with her outcome, but I think there are several points of comparison.

    For example, take Ps. 2:12. The NIV has “Son” and “Anointed”. These are lower case in the TNIV. The TNIV has also made many other significant changes, 1 Cor. 7:1 and John 1:18 for example.

    It is fair, on one level, to present the NRSV as an alternative to the NIV, since that translation is still so popular. However, it is a bit hard on the translators and publishers of the NIV, because they have themselves moved on. The TNIV is their answer to the problem which Diane presents.

  11. anonymous says:

    However, it is a bit hard on the translators and publishers of the NIV, because they have themselves moved on.

    Perhaps the translators have moved on, but the publisher surely has not. Indeed, new editions of Zondervan commentaries and other editions appear to be based on the NIV rather than the TNIV (one can point to, for example, The Archaeological Study Bible). I forsee that in the coming 12 months Zondervan will issue other new commentaries and editions based on the NIV.

    Do you have any doubt at all that I am correct that Zondervan’s primary commitment is to the NIV?

    The TNIV is their answer to the problem which Diane presents.

    Note that it addresses one, but not both of her concerns.

    Re Ps 2:12, as I mentioned in another thread, the NIV, TNIV, NAB, NKJV, (and I could add ESV) do not note any ambiguity in the verse. Even solidly Evangelical translations such as the NLT2 and NASB95 include notes that the verse has multiple interpretations. I know that this was an area where the NIV has been criticized in the past, and I wonder if the the decision not to include a note here was a deliberate one.

  12. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    Note that it addresses one, but not both of her concerns.

    I have some difficulty seeing how “being subject to” is any better than “submitting.”

    Do you have any doubt at all that I am correct that Zondervan’s primary commitment is to the NIV?

    No, just wishful thinking.

  13. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    Actually there seems to be some disagreement as to whether it is a middle or passive voice. I can’t agree that the NRSV provides a technically better translation of this word.

    I think it should simply have been transliterated like “apostolos” and “prophet” and “mystery”. 😉

  14. anonymous says:

    No, the editors still put the two verses in separate paragraphs. All they did was move the section header.

    There is a world of difference of “submit” and “be subject to.” I am subject to the laws of my country, its courts, etc. I submit to no person.

    It is your decision to decide which version to use. In the case of Bass, she reports that this verse troubled her for more than a decade. It is perfectly reasonable that she made the decision based on that verse alone — which shows that a single carelessly edited passage in a Bible, such as both the NIV, can make a real difference in the lives of those who take the Bible seriously.

    This verse seriously troubled Bass. She wrote a book in 2004 called Strength for the Journey that described her harrowing experiences where she mentions this verse some dozen times or so. My favorite quote from that book:

    “You know, if you just submit to your husband, God will take away your desire for a Ph.D.”

    I must say I am rather surprised to hear you belittle the comments of a woman who has so thoroughly documented (writing an entire book!) and so sincerely states her concerns.

    This “shoot from the hip” style is one of the most unattractive aspects of this blog.

  15. Ted Gossard says:

    anonymous, you stealthily slipped into this blog that allows no anonymous comments!!! 🙂

    Where is this “shoot from the hip” thing you speak of? Blogs are for learning and for people giving their takes on something, without thinking they’ve arrived to “the truth”. And I’m not going to take even a scholar’s word as truth, either. We’re all called to consider all this, together.

  16. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    First –

    “Submit” derives from reading the Greek verb as a middle or reflexive voice – submit yourself.

    “Be subject” derives from reading the Greek as a passive voice – be in the state of subjection.

    The former does not suggest to the husband that he is to do anything to achieve submission in the wife. The latter may suggest to the husband that it is the state of subjection in his wife that must be attained by hook or by crook. He therefore may undertake himself to create this biblical state, the subjection of his wife.

    Second –

    “Be subject to” has the dictionary meaning of “owe obedience to”. It is one thing to be subject to the impersonal laws of a country and another altogether to be in perpetual subjection to one spouse.

    Third –

    I am an example of a woman who was not only discouraged from doing a Ph.D. but prevented from doing it, by the force of the verse as it stands in the RSV, identical to the NRSV.

    Fourth –

    For a woman to recommend a Bible on only one verse is of limited use. She may suffer worse restrictions from the interpretations allowed by the NRSV in other places.

    Eph. 5:22

    NRSV Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord.

    TNIV Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.

    1 Tim. 2:12

    NRSV I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent

    TNIV I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.

    1 Cor. 11:10

    NRSV For this reason a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.

    TNIV It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels.

    (I have omitted footnotes.)

    If I were to publish my story, the central theme would be silence, a condition I was subjected to, by various means, one that I did not break out of until recently.

    I do not wish to endorse any particular translation at this moment but if I did I would be hard pressed not to put the TNIV at the top.

    That does not mean that I did not enjoy reading her story. I did, and I assume that you actually meant to bring it to my attention more as a matter of encouragement than grief. So thank you for doing so.

  17. anonymous says:

    By “shoot from the hip” I mean someone who posts without bothering to actually read what Bass wrote.

    Ms. McCarthy’s replies mix her personal life and her dogma. I think their tone speaks for itself.

  18. anonymous says:

    I am so happy to oblige you. I notice that there is a copy available — not checked out — in the Vancouver public library. The call number is 283.092 B31s. The Central Library is located at 350 West George Street, and you can reach it on the #15 or #17 bus lines, or you can take a 10 minute walk from either Granville or Stadium Skytrain Stations. There is also underground parking off Hamilton Street. Tomorrow it is open from 10AM to 6PM.

    I fear that I find it difficult to believe you read Bass’s article, since you didn’t even know what her objections to the NIV were.

  19. anonymous says:

    I understand. It is hard to make time to go to the library — I’m impressed you found time to make seven comments in this thread alone in the last 24 hours.

  20. Ted Gossard says:

    Anonymous, I’m sorry you see it as you do. We don’t have time in life to read all the books we’d like to. I’d like to read her book, but have a bunch of wannabe reads I’ll perhaps never get to.

    Please dont’ judge the hearts of others. Only God can do that, none of us can, strictly speaking, not even our own hearts, brother (or sister).

  21. Suzanne McCarthy says:


    To clear the air a little –

    I am entirely in sympathy with Bass’s reasons for putting the NIV on the shelf.

  22. anonymous says:

    A number of comments were deleted from this thread, making the latter part of this thread unreadable.

  23. Ted Gossard says:

    Suzanne, I’m not a fan of the NIV anymore, either, as far as for my personal use. I would go to the NRSV or the NLT before I’d remain with the NIV. I now see the TNIV as a viable alternative.

    Anonymous, That’s good. This would surely all make better sense to me if all remained. Our challenges to others can come across heavy-handed, and I know that first hand on both ends.

  24. Ted Gossard says:

    Also, I may be out of place to raise my concern. I look at blogging as a communal activity. And I’m used to the culture at “Jesus Creed” where there is considerable give and take, and sometimes some challenges back and forth. But striving to do so in love.

    I was very possibly mistaken in what tone I thought I was picking up. I know this is not my blog. I just spoke as a brother in the Lord, a fellow believer.

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