NRSV acceptance

This post is about acceptance of the NRSV. This topic was begun by comments on the preceding BBB post. Those comments have been moved to this post. You are welcome to add further comments, but be aware that comments on this topic can easily break our blog guidelines, especially any comments which make blanket negative statements about the NRSV or any other translation. Comments which break our blog guidelines may be deleted without further notice. So, please review the blog guidelines before posting any comment. Following are comments in this topic thread so far:

Posted May 13, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Permalink | Edit

And this is why I am surprised by the change in Phil. 2 to imply that Christ could not aspire to equality with God. I feel that in Phil. 2, John 1:18, in 2 Tim 2:2 and so on, the intended meaning of the translation chosen by the ESV is so different from the traditional translations that there is no continuity with previous generations.

The continuity cannot be in form only, but also in meaning.

Posted May 13, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Permalink | Edit

It is my desire for a translation which binds the community both past and present which leads me to the following views. I abhor boycotts which carve Christendom in little pieces, I dislike translations which have the policy of favouring male reprsentation over literalness, and I have a personal preferance for the NRSV and NIV 2011.

John Hobbins

Posted May 13, 2011 at 3:43 pm | Permalink | Edit


You say:

“The continuity cannot be in form only, but also in meaning.”

That’s an excellent point, Though I don’t find all or even most of your proposed examples of innovation in ESV convincing, I would love to see ESV revised to be less innovative here and there, along with adopting a different attitude to syntax.

The translations you prefer, NRSV and NIV, are however more innovative than ESV, generally speaking.

An enormous bone of contention is of course Isa 7:14, with RSV and NRSV on one side (innovative), and KJV, NAB (Catholic), NIV (evangelical), and ESV (also evangelical) – conservative – on the other.

What I need to do, obviously, is collect my posts in which I show where NRSV and NIV innovate without sufficient grounds. I may also look at the proposed examples in which ESV is accused of innovating in some detail.

Posted May 14, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Permalink | Edit

Is it really just Is. 7 which prevents the NRSV from being accepted. That is something it shares with the RSV. On the other hand, the ESV enables one to preach an eternally subordinate Christ.

Posted May 14, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Permalink | Edit

Suzanne asked:

Is it really just Is. 7 which prevents the NRSV from being accepted?

No, the inclusive language of the NRSV causes the same rejection of it by the same segment of people who rejected the TNIV.

Probably there is also rejection of the NRSV by many of the same segment since it doesn’t christologize the Old Testament as they prefer translations to do.

Posted May 14, 2011 at 3:38 pm | Permalink | Edit

Wayne, surely there are other reasons people reject NRSV. One is some very questionable textual decisions especially in the OT. Another is that the language, although less unnatural than RSV and ESV, sometimes sounds very stilted, because it mostly follows the form of the original language far too closely for the taste of many of us.

John Hobbins

Posted May 14, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Permalink | Edit


NRSV has oome in for criticism among Catholics and evangelicals for a host of reasons. Isa 7:15 is one problem among many. Other examples: its relegation of the Masoretic Text to a footnote in numerous passages; its departure from traditional diction; its approach to masculine generic pronouns (i.e., it makes little or no use of them, but pluralizes instead, even when that does violence to the global meaning of the source text). Just examples. Here is some discussion:

NRSV has also come in for criticism from progressives. I document this here:

I have heard NRSV described as heretical because it translates, at 1 Peter 3:1, “Wives, in the same way, accept the authority of your husbands.” IMO ESV is preferable to both NIV and NRSV in this verse.

As for your objection to ESV, I agree with Stackhouse on that; I quote:

For my part, feminist/egalitarian that I am, I think the complementarians get the better of this sort of argument. The Father is always pictured in the Bible in the supreme position and never “rotates off” that position for another member of the Trinity. The Son always is pictured as deferring to the Father, and the Spirit is sent by the Father in the name of the Son, and delights in drawing attention to the Son, not to himself.

Still, I agree with your main point, which I take to be the following: it is possible to defend a lot of teachings from the Bible that are indefensible on a global, canonical reading of the Bible.

I put it that way because every translation, not just ESV, is capable of being used to defend positions you or I might disagree with for whatever reason.

Finally, I wish to point out that NRSV as found in the HarperCollins Study Bible is the translation I use in the university classroom. Furthermore, I am fine with using it in the pulpit, though I prefer to preach from ESV or RSV.

UPDATE: May 15, evening: I have just flown back home after a good visit with our youngest daughter and her family. I see that comments on this post have taken on the character of personal attacks.  Therefore, further comments are closed on this post.  I will also try to discern which comments were personal attacks and delete them.  I’m too tired from my travels and too tired of dealing with comments that become so negative, so please don’t email me if you disagree with what I deleted or did not delete. I have a full week ahead with work and two visits to doctors to help my wife, who continues to get sicker. One of the visits will require another plane flight late in the week.

I will make a backup of all the comments before I delete them. If you need a copy of a comment, you can email me for it, but I’ve got a full week and really don’t want to deal with the personal stuff. If you wish to respond further to someone on this topic, please do it via private e-mail. If personal attacks continue on other posts, we will have to put the entire blog on Moderated status. As always, we welcome disagreements (and agreements!) on this blog, but we do not welcome negativism, personal attacks, off-topic comments, etc. We really don’t want to become legalistic about our blog guidelines. And we believe that allowing for Comments *can* benefit all of us. But if we attack each other, instead of simply engaging as objectively as possible on the issues, we all lose. We have a variety of personal preferences when it comes to Bible translations. Let’s not get so intense about sharing our personal preferences that we put down the preferences of others. I am guilty of this, also. And I am learning from my mistakes.

64 thoughts on “NRSV acceptance

  1. Craig Abernethy says:

    About the NRSV: I take my pocket-sized Greek Testament to the Eucharist every Sunday morning, just to see how much variance there is between our (Episcopal-RCL) Lectionary, which uses the NRSV, and the Greek. While I cannot cite explicit verses, and I am sure that inclusive language was embraced by the translators with the best of intentions, on some Sundays, it is astonishing to what lengths the NRSV goes to avoid translating, and therefore including, masculine singular pronouns in the NT text. In a future post, I will try to provide some concrete examples. Anyway, this experience has led me to a new appreciation of the old RSV, with its maroon binding, and its close translation, from where I sit anyway, of the Greek. I am not the only person that thinks the RSV represents a close reading of the original. In seminary, our Hebrew Prof, a prominent feminist, told us, “If you really can’t understand [the Hebrew of] a particular verse, just look it up in the RSV.”

  2. joseph says:

    if it’s good enuff for James Middleton at the royal wedding, it’s good enuff for me. ;P

  3. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    Still, I agree with your main point, which I take to be the following: it is possible to defend a lot of teachings from the Bible that are indefensible on a global, canonical reading of the Bible.

    I put it that way because every translation, not just ESV, is capable of being used to defend positions you or I might disagree with for whatever reason.

    I agree, but it is also worth noting that innovations to the text are sometimes motivated by a certain underlying impetus by the committee or culture, etc. In the case of the NRSV, there was a preference for a translation that was considered more scholarly and did not simply rely on the Masoretic text, or on Tyndale. One can hardly argue that using “wind” in Gen. 2 is less literal. Often the NRSV errs on the side of a more literal choice.

    In the case of the ESV, the innovations are often in the direction of emphasizing hierarchy in the godhead in places where it was lacking, ie John 1:18 and Phil. 2:8. It is simply a reinterpretation of the intended meaning of Phil 2, in that Christ became a servant since he was NOT equal to God, rather than that he emptied himself of his position, which WAS equal to God. This is a shift in theology as significant as that found in Is. 7. However, in this case, “a young woman” is possibly an innovation in the direction of accuracy, or literalness.

    In addition, the ESV has innovated in its decision to translate anthropos as “people” in places where the editors think that it refers to men and women, and as “men” whereever editors think that it probably does not refer to women, because there is a context of teaching or authority.

    The reason why this does not have an initial impact is because this resembles the KJV. However, these verses containing “men” and not “people” are now available for pulpit use in reinforcing the subordinate role of women.

    One could say that both the NRSV and the ESV have innovated in the direction of their own gender policy. I prefer the NRSV, since it accords with all the Liddell Scott lexicons, in affirming that anthropos, and in fact, also, aner, and adelphos and pater, were all words which were used to refer to both genders in Greek, in ways in which the English masculine specifics cannot. This is my bias as a classics scholar, that the English word “men” and “brothers” does not have the same usage as the Greek words anthropos, and adelphos. Since neither translation are perfect, I prefer the one that accords with the scholarship I was raised with.

  4. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    I was very pleased to hear the NRSV read at the royal wedding. I would hope that from now on, there will be an awareness among listeners than male specific Bibles are outliers, and deliberately masculine in ways not supported by scholarhip.

  5. John Hobbins says:

    I would have been more pleased to hear KJV at the royal wedding, and I am not alone.

    NRSV’s recasting of passage after passage in order to bring it into conformity with a felt need among liberal Protestants – liberal Protestantism being the driving force behind the translation (Anglicans may be excused if they are unaware of this; it is nonetheless uncontroversial) – to have explicitly inclusive gender reference wherever possible is one reason NRSV has met with disfavor in a variety of non-liberal Protestant circles.

    I have noticed that, though I pastor in a context in which my pews are full of both liberal and evangelical Protestants, I have yet to hear one complaint from anyone, male or female, on account of the fact that a “male specific” translation as Suzanne calls it is read. ESV, NIV 1984, and now RSV are the default translations of the last three parishes I have served, respectively.

    It is inaccurate to speak of these translations as outliers or as less scholarly than NRSV. Rather, those who use RSV, NIV 1984 and ESV feel no need to accommodate the demand of some to do without the generic use of terms like “he” and “man.” I too happen to be comfortable with the generic use of both. I also note that most of the students at the state university I teach at are also comfortable with it.

    NRSV is a scholarly translation, but that doesn’t make ESV or the Psalter of any other Bible that begins with “Blessed is the man” or the like (see most recently, Robert Alter) less scholarly. Just an example.

    Finally, the idea that ESV Philippians 2:6 innovates does not ring true to anyone who knows how this verse is translated in RSV, NIV 1984, NASB, and so on.

    For the sake of readers who may not have access to RSV Philippians 2:5-8, I reproduce it below, line by line, with ESV following:

    RSV: Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
    ESV: Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,

    RSV: who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
    ESV: who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,

    RSV: but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
    ESV: but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

    RSV: And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
    ESV: And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

    It is false to accuse ESV of innovating in Philippians 2 in terms of Trinitarian theology. There is no parallel to the Isa 7:14 controversy. No wonder then that ESV is widely accepted by so many. In my experience, those who do not accept it have been catechized in that sense even before they pick it up and read it.

    To put it another way, some critics of TNIV made exaggerated claims. That is no reason to return the favor.

    Thank goodness preferences in Bible translation do not necessarily correlate with stances we take, or refuse to take, in this or that culture war.

    Perhaps it’s time to build bridges rather than burn them.

    There I stand. I can no other.

  6. John Hobbins says:


    You say:

    In seminary, our Hebrew Prof, a prominent feminist, told us, “If you really can’t understand [the Hebrew of] a particular verse, just look it up in the RSV.”

    End quote.

    That can now be modified to read “ESV.” It does a more consistent job of the same, relative to RSV.

    IMO NRSV is unfortunate in the sense you note. On the other hand, when I preach from RSV, ESV, or NIV 1984, it is natural for me in explication to be explicitly inclusive in my language now and then, in counterpoint to the translation that has been read (in that moment, not the moment of preaching, with all standing reverently).

    The Bible is in more than one way a “male specific” text. It is also a text that thought of slavery as evil, but nonetheless permitted it and regulated it. It is also a text that accepts a hierarchical understanding of marriage. I heard a claim recently that in Greco-Roman antiquity, it was the rule for the groom to be in his thirties and the bride in her teens. No wonder, then, one might say. Regardless, we have to get used to the fact that the Bible reflects the cultural matrices in which it was produced. In the long run, it is counter-productive to play the fact down.

  7. Theophrastus says:

    Ah, another post on BBB, and another round of comments (from the same familiar cast) on that old saw: which English translation is best?

    What a delightfully medieval topic; BBB’s own homage to rule 4 of the Index Librorum Prohibitorum restricting translations of Scripture.

    One can only remember Milton’s words:

    [A] lordly imprimatur… [T]he word of command was still set down in Latin… [It] will not easily find servile letters enow to spell such a dictatory presumption Englished.

    But I suppose even if BBB cannot actually ban a translation, at least they can try to imply it should not be accepted. Here the focus of BBB is turned towards NRSV — a translation that is completely dominant in the academy and even occasionally cracks into the (rather unscientific) Christian Bookseller bestseller list of Bibles (like it did this month).

    My own opinions on the topic are well enough known; so I will not repeat them here, but only will correct a few errors in the text above.


    An enormous bone of contention is of course Isa 7:14, with RSV and NRSV on one side (innovative), and KJV, NAB (Catholic), NIV (evangelical), and ESV (also evangelical) – conservative – on the other.

    It is hard to see how how a view on this passage can be called innovative, since Justin Martyr argued these point with Trypho in the second century and the arguments largely remain the same today (although we now have more ancient Greek translations of Isaiah, with a greater variety of terms used.)

    However, it is not the case the NAB favors the “virgin” terminology — indeed, the 2011 version of the NAB uses “young woman” and includes an explanatory footnote. The 1984 translation did include “virgin,” but with a footnote acknowledging the alternative translation.

    Further, this sentence somewhat misrepresents the case. Most contemporary translations include translators notes which the publisher requires to be printed with the translation (except in special cases, such as audio Bibles.) The RSV, NRSV, NIV2011, TNIV, NAB2011, and NAB1984 all note both meanings: “young woman” and “virgin”. The KJV does not include any note, but a scholarly version of the KJV, such as the forthcoming Norton Critical Edition, does include a note.

    But here, the ESV made a remarkable move. Not only did it change the RSV translation, it eliminated the RSV’s footnote as well, so there is no indication that the ESV departs from the Hebrew, or that there is any controversy over the interpretation of this verse. If anyone wonders why the ESV is not taken seriously in the academy, they only need consider this example — the ESV actually purged the scholarship of the RSV here, effectively claiming that there was only one correct interpretation of the verse. Woe to the teacher who attempts to explain dual prophecy (unless she maintains that Hezekiah was also conceived supernaturally by supernal sperm) let alone present the plain Hebrew meaning of this verse.


    NRSV has oome in for criticism among Catholics and evangelicals for a host of reasons. Isa 7:15 is one problem among many.

    Now, it may be that individual Catholics have a variety of opinions on the NRSV, but the Catholic Church is an exemplar where it makes sense to speak of an “institutional view.” And the institutional Catholic view on the NRSV is clear enough: the translation has been approved by the US and Canadian Bishops’ Conferences; the NRSV is used as in the official English Catechism of the Catholic Church; the NRSV is the basis of the lectionary in Canada, and it is the basis of the new proposed lectionary for England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand.

    Further, the NRSV’s translation of Isaiah 7:14 can be compared to most most post-war official Catholic English translations. The current NAB, NRSV-CE, RSV-CE, GNB-CE, JB, and NJB all avoid the term “virgin” in the main text of Isaiah 7:14, saving it for the discussion in the notes.


    Some (by no means all) Evagelicals oppose the RSV and NRSV for an uglier reason. They complain about Harry Orlinsky’s (the “hostile infidel Jew”) membership on the RSV and NRSV translation committees; or about Catholic members of the NRSV translation committee.

    It is interesting to note that their main conservative Evangelical counterparts (the NASB and ESV) both played it safe by restricting membership to Protestant men. (The main US Catholic translation does not share this prejudice — the New American Bible translators include Jews, Protestants, Catholics, and unaffiliated members.)

  8. Wayne Leman says:

    What a delightfully medieval topic; BBB’s own homage to rule 4 of the Index Librorum Prohibitorum restricting translations of Scripture.

    Another bow to democracy. Commenters started discussing the NRSV on the previous blog. Since it was off-topic, I created a post for the comments to be on-topic.

    BBB, as a blog, takes no position on the NRSV nor any other English translation. Our job as BBB bloggers is to try to help others understand how translations can be improved.

    There are pluses and minuses for every English Bible translation. It’s a good exercise to learn how each can be improved.

    In the interest of full disclosure, my wife and I attend a church whose pew Bible is the NRSV.

  9. EricW says:

    OT, but since you’re talking about the NRSV, how come the NRSV inserts a second LORD (i.e., YHWH) in Numbers 10:10? It reads:

    10 Also on your days of rejoicing, at your appointed festivals, and at the beginnings of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings and over your sacrifices of well-being; they shall serve as a reminder on your behalf before the LORD your God: I am the LORD your God.

    But the Hebrew only says “לִפְנֵ֣י אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶ֔ם אֲנִ֖י יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם׃…”

    I looked it up in the Göttingen LXX and the Qumran DSS texts (no DSS for this verse, unfortunately).

    The Göttingen LXX doesn’t have this extra “Lord” (kurios), but the Göttingen LXX Apparatus I shows some mss. that have “kurios” here instead of “theou”, and apparently there is a Latin reading that has “before the Lord God” as follows:

    ἔναντι τοῦ θεοῦ] εναντι κυριου 799 Latcod 100 Ambr Sat II 107 Armte; coram domino deo Sa12 = Mmss Sam; om τοῦ 72

    Is this just carelessness on the part of the NRSV, or is there a textual basis for translating a second YHWH here?

    The RSV, NIV (2011), NASB (1995), ESV, and HCSB only have one “LORD” here. The same with Fox, Alter, Friedman, and Kaplan (The Living Torah) in their Torah translations, as well as the JPS Tanakh.

    However, the New Living Translation does the same thing as the NRSV – i.e., it has two “LORD”s in this verse.

  10. John Hobbins says:


    You clearly enjoy this game as much as the next person. You protest way too much.

    It would be easy to turn the tables on criticism after criticism you level, against evangelicals in general and a class of evangelicals in particular.

    But I won’t, since the tenor of your critique speaks for itself. It will be rejected out of hand by everyone except those possessed in advance by the same conclusions you bring to the table.

    As for your unsupported and unsupportable claims to the effect that such and such a translation is unscientific, I will leave them unanswered, so as not to be forced to call your own traditionalism into question. Out of respect for the Jewish tradition you espouse, I won’t respond in kind.

    Instead, I will thank you for pointing out that NAB 2011 has chosen to break ranks with the traditional Catholic choice in favor of retaining “virgin” in Isa 7:14. I didn’t know that. A sad day for traditional Catholics. Perhaps it will be one more reason to re-embrace the Latin Mass; those who have ears to hear can still hear:

    Ecce, virgo concipiet et pariet filium et vocabit nomen eius Emmanuel.

    As for evangelicals, almost all of them hear Isa 7:14 preached in a version which has “virgin”: KJV, NKJV, NIV, ESV, and so on. Would that English-speaking Catholic bishops had the chutzpah to insist on the same.

    I also agree with you that NRSV is the appropriate translation to use in academic settings. But why? It’s simple, really.

    NRSV contains error after error in translation that can be corrected by recourse to the Hebrew and appeal, if precedent is desired, to NJPSV, ESV, and/or Alter. But that is beside the point. NRSV reflects both the strengths and weaknesses of what passes for faithful translation among a majority of academics today. Nothing more. Nothing less.

  11. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    I commented in order to defend the NRSV, since it was spoken of pejoratively in the previous thread and nobody else responded to that.

    I also seem to remember reading the following in a link in this post. John wrote,

    “NRSV’s greater commitment to the sense the biblical texts presumably had apart from the meaning they acquired once contextualized in Judaism and Christianity makes it a better choice as a Bible for profane use, as the base text, for example, in an introduction to biblical literature course at a state university.”

    Regarding the innovations in Phil. 2 and Is. 7, neither are original innovations. They both appear in the RSV. However, the NRSV has corrected Phil. 2 back to the meaning that it had in the KJV, and the ESV has not. The ESV has corrected Is. 7 back to the meaning of the KJV, and the NRSV has not.

    I still prefer a translation which has a scholarly defense in theologically charged passages.

    Regardless of whether Christ is eternally subordinate or not, the KJV said that he “thought it not robbery to be equal to God” and this has passed into my auditory memory. The RSV and ESV suggest that he could not grasp at equality with God, because he was in some sense eternally unequal to God. This is the teaching now current in some circles. Px Augustine, may he not roll in the grave. As Dr. Burk wrote,

    “First, this verse affirms that Christ has ontological equality with the Father with respect to his deity. That’s what “existing in the form of God” means. Second, the verse affirms that in his pre-incarnate state Christ did not try to obtain (or “grasp for”) another kind of equality which he did not have in his pre-existent state.”

    From this we derive the notion that it is right and proper to treat others as ontologically equal and otherwise unequal.

    I prefer the NRSV overall. Naturally any Bible can be used to teach inequality, but some are better suited to that purpose than others.

  12. John Hobbins says:


    MT Numbers 10:10 is obviously defective. Anyone familiar with the diction of the Torah is in a position to admit this.

    The long-standing practice, before a translation like NRSV became fashionable, was to translate MT warts and all. The advantage of sticking with the hebraica veritas (to redeploy the terminology of Jerome) is that one maintains faith with the history of interpretation on which it is based. This is not a minor detail, for Jews and non-Jews alike, if one believes as I do that the relationship between the two faiths needs to be deepened, not frayed.

    There is a place for translations like NRSV: in the academy. IMO that so many English-speaking Catholics have adopted it for liturgical purposes is impossible to justify on first principles.

    Finally, there is no sense in trying to coax Jews – or Reformed Christians, whose love for the hebraica veritas has deep roots – away from the MT: where would one ever stop?

    We know a great deal now about the history of the text of the Hebrew Bible, for example, that the text of Jeremiah preserved in the LXX and in fragments from Qumran, a fifth shorter than MT, in all probability reflects a first edition of said book. The idea however that we should therefore set the “second edition” aside is preposterous. That would be just as foolish as removing the pericope of the adulterer from the gospel of John. That cannot be justified on first principles either.

    One of the great strengths of ESV relative to NRSV is ESV’s adherence to the traditional Jewish text.

    If someone retorts that to stick with MT is unscientific – per Theophrastus (a great paradox) – I would re-retort that to do so is a category mistake – a misapplication of science to the life of a religious community.

  13. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    In preferring the NRSV version of Phil. 2 and in preferring the gender inclusive, I stand by my preference for a translation which accords with all the scholarship I have become familiar with in the university and in the church. I am not sacrificing scholarship for gender inclusion in any case that I am aware of.

    The choice is simple – one can translate a Greek noun which clearly referred to people generically as either “people” or “men.” It is not that complicated. And when it comes to pronouns, one can either use a pronoun which refers to a single man, or to a group. There is often no gender reference in Greek because the Greek typically does not require a pronoun. Where there is a pronoun, it is grammatically motivated and does not refer to the biological gender of the referent but to the grammatical gender of the antecedent. Hence the Holy Spirit is both neuter and masculine, although clearly the word used in Aramaic was feminine and had feminine rhetorical connotations.

    I predict that just as people now accept Bibles which lack “thou” for God, people will soon accept a Bible which contains the phrase “brothers and sisters” as one which is more representative of God’s word to the church today. It is both more scholarly and more suitable for fostering community. We need to move away from the teaching which bifurcates God’s word by gender and says that men imitate Christ and women imitate the church.

  14. EricW says:

    John Hobbins:

    While the NRSV may depart from the Masoretic Text on many occasions, on what textual basis does it seem to do so in Numbers 10:10, and why does the New Living Translation seem to follow suit? Especially since no other translation that I looked at does, nor can I find reason in the LXX for there to be a second instance of YHWH in the verse.

    Is there really a text out there somewhere that supports the NRSV and NLT translation of Numbers 10:10? If so, I’d appreciate your help with this. If it were just the NRSV, I’d suspect it’s a translation error, but since the NLT also does it, I wonder what text has two YHWHs here?

  15. John Hobbins says:


    Thank you for stepping back from your earlier remarks and being forthright about your reasons for preferring NRSV. You set an example for us all. I respect your reasons for preferring NRSV over all other translations, though I don’t share them.

    I imagine that you are willing to respect my reasons for preferring ESV, which I have laid out in detail, even if those reasons don’t speak to you.

    Here is why I don’t buy the scholarly defense argument. I have no difficulty in maintaining that “virgin” for almah in Isa 7:14 is an over-translation. But if one wants to read from a *Christian* Bible, one can make a very good case for retaining that over-translation at Isa 7:14, given the key role the verse plays in the New Testament and later Christian tradition.

    In the same way, it rips me up that there are translations that, by formatting devices, make passages like the long ending of Mark and the pericope of the adulterer scripture of a lesser god. Of course I hold to the usual text-critical conclusions. But I don’t accept the curious notion that the shekinah up and left once the transmission process began.

    It would be wise to have a carefully worded footnote in such cases that explains the facts. Such footnotes are hard to come by. Don’t get me started on the kind of footnotes one finds in RSV and NRSV. For all but the trained scholar, they turn out to be worse than no footnote at all.

  16. John Hobbins says:


    I don’t know the answer to the questions you are asking. I can only guess. But I’m not sure it matters very much.

    NRSV and NLT, even without a single primary witness in support, can still be said to properly reconstruct the original text. But that’s the issue. Should a Bible intended for the synagogue or the church reflect an eclectic text, by definition a reconstruction? Should it correct at least the obvious errors, such as the one in MT Numbers 10:10, with or without the support of an ancient witness?

    Bishops and rabbis and the scholars they listen to, or refuse to listen to, are all over the map on such questions.

  17. EricW says:

    John Hobbins:

    Okay, I think I see what you’re saying – i.e., Numbers 10:10 as we have it in the MT is incorrect. Your first remark in your earlier post:

    “MT Numbers 10:10 is obviously defective. Anyone familiar with the diction of the Torah is in a position to admit this.”

    was not sarcasm, but scholarly observation.

    I did a quick search of אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶ֔ם and see that it’s in a huge majority of instances preceded by יהוה. (A couple exceptions are Leviticus 22:25 and 23:14 – there’s also an omission of יהוה in Genesis 43:23, but that was before God had revealed His name to Moses in Exodus.)

    1 Sam 10:19 omits it, too, in a place where one perhaps would expect it. A few places in the Prophets do, too. But in 162 occurrences of אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶ֔ם, almost all of which refer to יהוה, there are probably less than 10 that omit יהוה before אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶ֔ם. So I guess that supports the NRSV and NLT translation. My Hebrew is below elementary, and I can’t really read the apparatus in BHS without great difficulty, if at all, but for Numbers 10:10 it says:

    || b nonn Mss (then a squiggly “m” which means “Pentateuchi textus Hebraeo-Samaritanus secundum A. von Gall, Der hebräische Pentateuch der Samaritaner 1914-1918” + יהוה ||

    So I guess this means that this second יהוה is present here in the Samaritan Pentateuch? Yes?

  18. John Hobbins says:

    I realize now that I failed to link to two posts in which I offer, in painstaking detail, examples in which ESV is to be preferred to NRSV. It is not possible, I believe, to work through the following posts without coming to the conclusion that ESV is a thoroughly competent translation, on a par with NRSV.

    All in response to a reckless challenge thrown out by CD-Host, a colorful internet personality if there ever was one. I wonder what rock CD climbed under. Oh I forgot. He fell for Amanda Knox, and has yet to recover.

  19. John Hobbins says:


    You’re doing pretty well for someone who doesn’t know much Hebrew.

    From a text-critical point of view, I would maintain that isolated attestations of the Tetragrammaton in the Greek and Samaritan transmission streams – exactly where one would expect it to occur in Nb 10:10 – are more likely than not to be correct corrections of scribes (who were not as dumb as someone like Ehrman likes to make them seem) rather than actual witnesses to an archetype in which the T had not dropped out.

    Yes, MT Nb 10:10 is obviously defective. I love the fact that the biblical text has defects of this kind, Preserve them in translation for use in synagogue and church, rather than correct them.

    In the same way, I prefer a translation which translates the defective Hebrew text rather than supply numbers for Saul’s age at accession and years of reign, however reasonable those numbers might be:

    ESV 1 Sam 13:1: Saul was … years old when he began to reign, and he reigned … and twoyears over Israel.

    Thankfully, NRSV also refrains from reconstruction in this instance.

    On the wrong side of this example, IMHO, are the Vulgate, KJV – both, nonetheless, probably based themselves on a Jewish tradition – not to mention NASB, NET, and HCSB.

    Of course, this is another example in which a footnote that patiently lays out the facts – including the witnesses of Josephus and the NT – would be very welcome.

  20. Theophrastus says:

    As for your unsupported and unsupportable claims to the effect that such and such a translation is unscientific

    Now I am quite curious John — where in my comment did you read that?

  21. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    All in response to a reckless challenge thrown out by CD-Host, a colorful internet personality if there ever was one. I wonder what rock CD climbed under. Oh I forgot. He fell for Amanda Knox, and has yet to recover.

    I wonder where the moderators have gone. I am just as upset when I read about others held up for derision as when it happens to me. If this is a forum which accepts the ad hominem, I am out.

  22. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    Regarding Phil. 2 – if we should not tinker with Is. 7, then likewise for Phil. 2. And if we want to foster continuity with tradition, we can do it without writing women out of the Bible, as we can see in the royal wedding. The use of the NRSV did not invalidate the arcane nature of the event.

  23. Peter Kirk says:

    John, the KJV might have been appropriate for a royal wedding held in Wisconsin. But the wedding was here in England, and so it was necessary to use a reading (and would have been better to use an entire order of service) which was properly understood by the congregation, many of whom are not regular churchgoers, not to mention of course the billions watching worldwide. The KJV version of the chosen reading, starting “I beseech you therefore, brethren”, would have been misunderstood by most who listened as addressed to males only. The NRSV version so well read by James Middleton, starting “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters”, accurately conveyed the apostle’s intention in Romans 12 of addressing everyone, male and female. So whoever was responsible did well to choose NRSV.

    And then:

    You say:

    In seminary, our Hebrew Prof, a prominent feminist, told us, “If you really can’t understand [the Hebrew of] a particular verse, just look it up in the RSV.”

    End quote.

    That can now be modified to read “ESV.” It does a more consistent job of the same, relative to RSV.

    I suppose your “now” refers to the time when the correct rendering of Hebrew ‘alma was “modified” from “young woman” to “virgin”? Unless there was some such change in the Hebrew your statement here is self-contradictory.

  24. John Hobbins says:


    Sorry if I misunderstood. I honestly thought that was the drift of your comments. I read them in light of things you have said in the past, without giving due allowance to a possible change of mind on your part.


    I wrote what I did about CD with CD firmly in mind. Based on what I know about him from past conversations, he would not take offense at what I said, anymore than Wayne did, when I called him “the late Wayne Leman.” The form of speech I adopted is a type of captatio benevolentiae,

    As for your “do not tinker” rule, I am sympathetic, though I don’t think it can be applied woodenly. It is a good general rule, nothing more.

    An example: why not keep “he emptied himself” in Philippians 2, in line with the language of kenosis as used in English-speaking theology, rather than replace it with “he made himself nothing,” as NIV and ESV have done?

    In this instance, I find myself in agreement with RSV, NASB, HCSB, and NRSV, and in disagreement with KJV (problematic at this point) and NIV and ESV (unnecessarily innovative).

    On the other hand, relative to KJV, ESV and NRSV both tinker in this instance. If you are going to throw ESV out on that basis, you will have to throw out NRSV as well.


    I have no fundamental objection to the fact that NRSV was used at the royal wedding.

    On the other hand, I disagree with you that people misunderstand “male-specific” language found in KJV and in fact in all Bibles to one extent or another. I once had an English professor who loved KJV and who could declaim it perfectly as a liturgist. I don’t remember anyone misunderstanding – except the inattentive – because she read from KJV. Most people, I’m convinced, can handle generic masculines on the fly, as well as generalize male-specific formulations of other types.

    There are no easy answers in translation to the question of rendering “male-specific” language in everything from the Ten Commandments to the book of Proverbs to forms of address in the NT.

    An example: Prov 1:8. Almost all translations retain its male-specific language. For a host of reasons, I prefer KJV in this instance:

    My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother.

    My children know all about the law of their mother. They benefit greatly from it.

    They also know about their mother’s teaching, as ESV and NRSV and RSV before them translated. But that’s not the same thing.

    But how defensible is it to translate “my child” rather than “my son” – so NRSV, against NJPSV, NIV, ESV, and on and on? With my daughters in mind, is NRSV an improvement?

    I don’t think so. I find NRSV’s translation choice in this instance remarkably flat-footed. “My son” is appropriate in Proverbs – read on, through the chapter and the entire book. The unisexing of the text by NRSV, however well-intentioned, is I think counter-productive.

    It is much better to translate literally, and expect people to make the effort, if they are daughters rather than sons, to refashion by analogy *the entire passage* to apply to them. It is best that this takes place at the level of interpretation, not translation.

    I know my daughters are up to it. I’m convinced most daughters are.

    In the same way, most people have no trouble understanding that Romans 12:1 applies to them, regardless of whether the terminology used is “brethren” (KJV and NASB), “brothers” (ESV and HCSB), or “brothers and sisters” (NRSV and now NIV).

  25. John Hobbins says:


    Isaiah 7:14 is a particularly difficult case. You are right that in this instance RSV reflects the Hebrew better than NAB (until yesterday), NIV, and ESV. That doesn’t change the fact that ESV strives and succeeds in being more faithful to the diction of the hebraica veritas than RSV and NRSV on countless occasions.

  26. Peter Kirk says:

    John, I am sure that when you were a student of English you and your fellow students correctly understood what your professor read, which was correctly targeted for her audience. But the congregation at the Royal Wedding included more English majors in the British army officer sense than English majors in the American student sense. Many of those present were rather ordinary British people who had somehow attained celebrity status. Quite a lot were not mother tongue speakers of English. I know from work with ordinary British people and with foreign learners of English that many of both groups misunderstand “brethren”. Your anecdotal evidence concerning the understanding of American university students, a group poorly represented in Westminster Abbey, is completely irrelevant to my point. And your attempt to generalise from that minority group to “Most people” is entirely invalid.

    Translation of Hebrew ben in Proverbs 1-9 is a completely different matter because it is clear that at least large parts of this section, those about avoiding adulterous women, are written specifically to a male audience. First one needs to determine the original audience and do one’s exegesis properly, and only then can one discuss the separate issue of whether male specific or a gender generic words should be used in the translation.

  27. Wayne Leman says:

    Suzanne lamented:

    <iI wonder where the moderators have gone.

    This one was asleep. I just pulled my netbook out of my backpack to see how BBB commenters have been behaving themselves. I have 7 minutes before heading to church with our daughter and our family, then the airport to fly back home. I’m hoping that other moderators here can take care of the problem.

    We definitely do not want anyone being put down on this blog. It’s against the BBB guidelines. Wish I cculd do more now, but must head toward the car.


  28. Wayne Leman says:

    Suzanne, I can’t find a comment by CD-Host, but I do read a response to him by John H. Maybe another moderator took care of the problem. I hope so. Have a good day.

  29. Mike Sangrey says:

    Regarding moderating:

    Perhaps this comment should apply to moderating, commenting, and responding to comments.

    I also think that “not tempting people beyond what they are able” should be kept in mind.

    Now, off to a graduation ceremony where my daughter gets the title ‘Doctor’. [Big, proud, smiley goes here!]

  30. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    No, CD-host did not participate. I know that when people talk about me and I am not participating in a thread,or not allowed to participate, it seems disappointing. I don’t feel that as Christians we should say things about people that seem disparaging, especially when they are not present to defend themselves. However, perhaps in this case John did not intend to be disparaging.

    It is true that there is no way to consistently translate gender from Hebrew and Greek into English, so no translation is perfect in this regard.

  31. John Hobbins says:


    I remain convinced that most people, if the KJV of Romans 12:1 and following had been read at the wedding, would have had no difficulty understanding that the passage is addressed to all those united by brotherly love in Christ – irrespective of gender. I’m going to stick to my guns on this one, until I see non-anecdotal evidence to the contrary. But I appreciate the fact that you are willing to criticize NRSV’s tendency to unisex scripture in a case like the book of Proverbs.

  32. Gary Simmons says:

    What is the best way of framing this particular debate on priority in biblical translation?

    Most translation work starts with the intended meaning of the speaker in L1 and then transmits it to the current audience in L2. In translation work, this generally makes sense. I’d call this a synchronic approach because it works point-to-point.

    In the other corner we have a translation approach that seeks to start with L1 and the original author’s intended meaning and then transmit it to a current audience in a way that leaves it open, not just to the author’s intended meaning, but also to historically influential interpretations of the text. I would call this a diachronic approach.

    I believe these labels would be useful in dialogue, or at least more useful than “conservative” vs. “liberal”, which thankfully has not been thrown around on this thread [with reference to translation philosophy]. This way of framing the dialogue in question came to me while reading the threads John linked to yesterday.

    For John and I, the diachronic approach is to be treasured so as to maintain a connection with what Christians and Jews throughout history have read and understood the Bible to mean and to appreciate that — hopefully without obscuring the original intent of the original author in L1.

    This does involve treating the Bible differently in translation than one treats other documents, but I believe this is justifiable given that one does not usually translate documents with a concern for giving the (translators’) target audience a window into the reception history of the text, including textual variants.

    Perhaps, on the other hand, it would be better to think in quadrants: close-synchronic (Alter, for instance), close-diachronic (KJV), near-synchronic (Message), near-diachronic (NIV).

  33. Gary Simmons says:

    Correction to the last paragraph:

    Perhaps, on the other hand, it would be better to think in quadrants: close-synchronic (Alter, for instance), close-diachronic (KJV), far-synchronic (Message), far-diachronic (NIV).

  34. Theophrastus says:


    Sorry if I misunderstood. I honestly thought that was the drift of your comments. I read them in light of things you have said in the past, without giving due allowance to a possible change of mind on your part.

    I appreciate your apology. What I had written was this

    the (rather unscientific) Christian Bookseller bestseller list

    meaning, of course, that the list is not a very accurate description of total Bible sales.

    I do think the broad “Bible Wars” posts are among the weakest on BBB — and the most futile. (Posts that focus on specific verses or specific narrow topics are somewhat more interesting.) That is why I started my comment with a criticism of the genre. Maybe, out there somewhere, is someone who was convinced to switch from the NRSV to ESV by 300 words, but I’m dubious. We may as well be arguing about the best flavor of ice cream (although we wouldn’t get the personal attacks that way.)

    For that reason, I specifically avoided the topic of comparing translations, which I think I laid out in the beginning.

    I the turned to fixing some errors that had been mentioned above:

    (1) Mentioning the NRSV’s dominance in the academy (not just at “state colleges”, but more generally at research universities).
    (2) Pointing out the 2011 NAB’s translation of Isaiah 7:14
    (3) Pointing out the role of footnotes of English tranlations of Isaiah 7:14
    (4) Pointing out that the ESV removed the RSV’s footnote here.
    (5) Pointing out that institutionally, the NRSV has taken on an increasing role in official English language worship.
    (6) Pointing out that a small number of (not all) Evangelicals opposed the RSV and NRSV because of religious affiliations of translators
    (7) Pointing out that the NASB and ESV, apparently in response, used all male Protestant translators.

    I also took some care in my post not to refer to any individual, either directly or indirectly.

    Thank you again for your apology, John.

  35. EricW says:

    John Hobbins:

    Thanks to your comments I picked up a nearly-pristine copy (ppb) of Alter’s PSALMS at our local used bookstore today for $9 plus tax. 🙂

  36. John Hobbins says:


    The diachronic/synchronic distinction is a helpful one. If that is taken into account along with the close translation for close reading versus thought-for-thought continuum (with translations like KJV, ESV, and Alter in the same corner), it is possible to offer an illuminating taxonomy of existing translations.

  37. Theophrastus says:

    I’m sorry John, are you saying that NASB or ESV used non-Protestant or non-male translators?

    Or are you implying that they searched for such translators but there were no qualified female or non-Protestant translators?

  38. John Hobbins says:


    In the end, of course, you will want to learn Hebrew. If you master the language, it will allow you to pick out shortcomings in even the best translations.

    I think highly of KJV, on which RSV, NRSV, and ESV are based. I also think highly of Alter. Nonetheless, if one takes the time to work through a passage with patience, it is not hard to best them both. For an example, go here:

  39. Theophrastus says:

    John — I sincerely believe that the composition of the committees was related to controversies over the compositions of the RSV and NRSV translation teams. At least some of the NASB and ESV supporters have strongly implied the same. A simple google search will reveal hundreds of such sites. Here is one of the more mild-mannered ones (emphasis added):

    [T]he presence of a non-Christian Jew, Harry M. Orlinsky, from the Jewish Institute of Religion in New York, on the Old Testament section of the Committee was especially troubling…. And finally, the extremely ecumenical spirit of some of the translators was another nail in the coffin of the RSV. In 1965, as a result of his work on behalf of a Catholic edition of the RSV, the head of the Committee, Luther Weigle, was named a Knight of St. Gregory by Pope Paul VI. It is because of these factors that the NASB claims to be directly related to the ASV and never even mentions the RSV.

  40. EricW says:

    John Hobbins:

    I carry my JPS Tanakh diglot and Holladay’s Concise Lexicon with me to church, and have my Logos on my iPhone as well (though neither Holladay nor HALOT can be accessed with it; not all Logos books are licensed for mobile/app/Internet viewing). I took a year of Biblical Hebrew in the mid-1990’s with Page Kelley’s book, but forgot most of it; my mistake was not taking a 2nd year.

    (FWIW, Sheri Klouda was I think a year ahead of me in Hebrew at Criswell. Now, if I had just continued with Hebrew….)

    I’m trying to refresh the basics with Dan Cohn-Sherbok’s little Biblical Hebrew for Beginners book. Then I hope to go through Rahel Halabe’s Biblical Hebrew the Practical Way (only volume Aleph is available at this point). The Hebrew teacher at UNT (Denton) uses Halabe in the Jewish Studies Program, and hosts a reading group at her house on Sundays in Irving, TX, and if I get up to speed with Halabe I may join the group in the Fall if she continues it (it’s not free, though). Basically it’s inductive reading and study through the Scriptures, I believe.

    Unfortunately I still spend most of my time in the Greek NT, which means less time for Hebrew. I’m attending Randall Buth’s Immersive Koinê workshop this Summer, which means another reason I’m more in the Greek than the Hebrew.

    But eventually…. 🙂

    (At least those are my plans. I’ve vowed to relearn Hebrew more times than I want to admit, only to find work or other things distracting me.)

  41. Theophrastus says:

    John —

    May I kindly request you abstain from using words such as “reprehensible” and “enormous” and “vilification.”

    The thesis that the NASB was in reaction to RSV is not my own (and that the fundamentalist reaction against the RSV was in part driven by concerns over Jewish involvement).

    It can be found in the standard history of the topic. See pages 109-112 of Peter J. Thuesen’s Oxford University Press work In Discordance with the Scripture, which won the Brewer Prize of the American Society of Church History. (You’ll recall that Professor Thuesen also won a Christianity Today book award). I would say that the burden of proof was on those who claimed otherwise.

    One is left wonder

    * if Catholics can have non-Catholics and women on their translation committees (e.g., NAB)
    * if Eastern Orthodox can have non-Orthodox and women on their translation committees (e.g., Orthodox Study Bible)
    * if moderate Evangelicals can have women on their translation committees (e.g., NIV)
    * if mainstream Protestants can have women and non-Protestants on their translation committees (e.g., CEB)

    … then why is it that the ESV could not have any non-Protestants or women on its translations committee?

    One can understand perhaps that in the 1963-1971 era of the NASB, there was a shortage of women translators.

    But what about the 2001 ESV? Why no women? Why no Catholics? Why no Orthodox? What was it about the ESV that kept the 100-man translation team from using women, or from using non-Protestants?

  42. Suzanne McCarthy says:


    I have clearly stated that my concern is to have a translation that honours diachronic issues. I am surprised that in Phil. 2 the theological implications of the ESV is in direct contradiction to the theological implications of the passage in the KJV, NRSV and NIV. This is my concern – that there be continuity in christological passages as long as this agrees with accuracy.

    I don’t know how to make it any plainer and nobody has yet shown otherwise. All that has been shown is that the ESV is the same as the RSV. That is true, but nonetheless it marks significant lack of continuity with the KJV. This is only one example.


    You write,

    “It will come as no surprise that I regard your off-topic remarks as not just off-topic, but inaccurate and irresponsible.”

    What have I said that is inaccurate? I am astonished that this statement has passed the moderator! And yet, on another post where I was blocked from posting, many innapropriate things were said about me.

    If “Susan” did not agree with my interaction with Dr. Wallace, she has the same opporunity that anyone else has to prove that what I am saying about the Junia paper is not true. Just because someone does not like what I am saying about Wallace’s paper, it does not mean that they have the right to carry on a comment focussed on my personality. Where is the scholarly comment in “you are innacurate?” What kind of comment is that anyway?

    I have interacted at length with Dr. Wallace and Dr. Packer. I would like someone to show me what I have said that is not accurate.

    I apologize only to Wayne for going off topic. This entire subject came up because someone said that the NRSV was a “hodgepodge” translation and this was allowed to stand uncontested. I took up that issue.

    Perhaps those who regard my work as inaccurate might now demonstrate the veracity of their opinion.

    Please note that in inviting others to respond in an academic way to my statements, I would also ask Wayne to edit out any comments which focus on my personality, in the manner that is usual elsewhere.

  43. Theophrastus says:

    John, thanks for your link to Moisés Silva’s biography. I note that he also served on the NLT translation team, and that translation was able to use women. Why were there no women in the 100-person ESV team?

  44. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    I would also like to make an acknowledgement that when I first blogged here, I was only familiar with the David Story by Alter, but due to Theophrastus’ many comments and contributions, I blogged further on Alter and Fox as well as the German Buber-Rozensweig translation. It was only subsequent to this that I found John Hobbins blog, and encouraged him to put his work on Hebrew poetry into html.

    I think it is worth mentioning that although Theo does not at this time maintain a blog, his contributions have been formative for many of us here.

  45. Suzanne McCarthy says:


    If I have erred in saying that you do not maintain a blog, I apologize. I am not sure whether you intend to keep posting. I have also left off frequent posting on my own blog, regrettably.

  46. Theophrastus says:

    In my list of cross-disciplinary translations, I left out Jewish translations because I cannot think of any Jewish large team English translations from the 1990s or 2000s.

    However, the flagship edition of the NJPS was published in 2004, the (Oxford) Jewish Study Bible, and it has contributions by women and non-Jews.

    So again, I ask — why did the ESV have no women translators?

  47. EricW says:

    John Hobbins:

    I have Randall’s Living Biblical Hebrew materials. I’m sorry I didn’t learn until this year that they held a similar Hebrew Immersion class in Fresno, CA, in 2010. If they have a Hebrew one in 2012, I’m planning on doing what it takes to go.

    I met Randall at ETS a few years ago, and got to have lunch with him and his family at Abu Gosh when I went to Israel in 2009. I’d LOVE to be able to go there for a couple months and be in his Summer class. He and David Biven and others….

    If I didn’t have financial obligations that keep me from retiring, I’d be living the vagabond life as a language student, even though I’m nearly 60.

    Time flies….

  48. Theophrastus says:

    Although I did not raise Bill Mounce’s name, it is funny that it is suddenly mentioned.

    He sits on the NIV translation committee, which has women translators.

    Why does the ESV have no women or non-Protestant translators.

  49. Gary Simmons says:

    I’d like to have a discussion that follows the guidelines please, folks.

    The gender-inclusive approach of the NRSV most definitely contributes to its nonacceptance in some circles, my own included. Though not without its merits, the NRSV does poorly with, for instance, Psalm 1.

    For Psalm 1 in the NIV1984, I could read it thusly:
    1) Blessed is that rare individual who stays faithful and puts his [or her] hope in God.
    2) Blessed is the One… (christological)
    3) Blessed is the man (father-to-son priestly wisdom) who stays faithful to God. He will bear fruit in proper season (i.e. when he grows big and strong) and his “leaf” will not wither… The Lord knows (takes note of) the way (progeny) of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

    Is there even a remote possibility that this was an example of father-to-son priestly wisdom that shows concern for the son growing up in the presence of the Lord, with a concern for God “knowing” the continued lineage of Abraham’s children, thus fulfilling his promises in Genesis 12?

    I honestly don’t think Psalm 1’s occasion of writing was abstract enough for us to render it in sense 1). Why not render it in the form of the NIV1984? All three interpretations are possible from its wording.

    In this text, the TNIV and NRSV both fall flat, and more than just because of blurring the singular-plural distinctions in vv. 1-2. The new NIV cleans up the sudden and difficult ending by interpreting תֹּאבֵֽד in a way that would make more sense for a Piel than a Qal. A blatantly obvious (conjectural?) emendation would be to drop the taw and treat it as a Piel participle with derek as masculine, but it’s not a necessary emendation.

    The NRSV’s “that person will be like a tree” sounds rather jarring to me; using “that person” to avoid gender reminds me of how some who subtitle anime shows translate ano (a Japanese demonstrative pronoun unmarked for gender) as “that person” in English, even though the gender of the referent is known and the context is informal chat. In other words, “that person” is not intuitive to me.

    Psalm 1 is the first biblical text I memorized in the original languages, in accordance with my hope in what it promises. While the final verb is open to a few different interpretations, footnotes would be preferable to switching to a different interpretation without footnotes, as the TNIV and the NIV2011 do.

    But then, genuinely helpful footnotes, who can find?

  50. Theophrastus says:

    Is there even a remote possibility that this was an example of father-to-son priestly wisdom that shows concern for the son growing up in the presence of the Lord, with a concern for God “knowing” the continued lineage of Abraham’s children, thus fulfilling his promises in Genesis 12?

    That sounds like a personal non-standard interpretation to me; Psalm 1 focuses on strict observance to the Torah and meditation on the Torah (see verse 2).

    You are perhaps confusing this with Psalm 2, which is addressed to the Davidic king, the NRSV hdoes keep the singular form “son” in verse 7.

    If you are looking for good footnotes, I recommend you consider an academic annotated Bible, such as the New Oxford Annotated Bible.

  51. John Hobbins says:


    Thanks for the reminder. Unpleasant as my conversation always is with ESV-haters, I don’t plan to back down. But the conversation is not suitable for this venue.

    I agree with you that NRSV and NIV at Psalm 1 leave a great deal to be desired. If one is interested in what the Hebrew says, compare instead with RSV and ESV, Alter, and NJPSV. Yes, all of these translations were produced by men, but that should not disqualify them from being judged on their merits.

  52. Theophrastus says:

    using “that person” to avoid gender reminds me of how some who subtitle anime shows translate ano (a Japanese demonstrative pronoun unmarked for gender) as “that person” in English

    ano is a demonstrative adjective (and refers more often to objects than people); you are confusing it with are which is the demonstrative pronoun.

    To refer to a person as ano (e.g., ano hito) is extremely rude and distant in Japanese, and thus “that person” would likely be an appropriate translation.

    I cannot address the question of translation of anime, because I have never watched one. However, I have written a book in Japanese.

  53. Theophrastus says:


    John, if this is in reference to me, then I reject it. I don’t hate.

    However, I believe it is valid to point out the relationship of the ESV as a counter-reaction to the openness of the NRSV and TNIV; I’m surprised that you disagree with this as a historical fact.

    However, since “you won’t back down”, may I ask you — why does the ESV have no women translators?

  54. Craig Abernethy says:

    IF I may, I wanted to make just one more comment on the NRSV acceptance discussion. I was interested to read the following, in an earlier post:

    “… NRSV … accords with all the Liddell Scott lexicons, in affirming that anthropos, and in fact, also, aner, and adelphos and pater, were all words which were used to refer to both genders in Greek …”

    and, since I was exposed to a lot of inclusive language issues at seminary, I turned to my own copy of the “middle Liddell” (“An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon”) as opposed to the “big Liddell” and the “little Liddell”), for confirmation.

    With all due respect, I think the statement quoted needs a slight correction: Liddell & Scott do write that adelphoi can mean “brother and sister,” but as for aner, the five meanings in my copy of Liddell & Scott are: “a man, as opp. to a woman; opp. to a god; opp. to a youth; a man emphatically; a man opp. to his wife, a husband.”

    For pater, the meanings are: “a father; Zeus is called pater; a respectful mode of addressing elderly persons; the father of anything, Lat. auctor; in plural, fathers, i.e., forefathers …”

    * * *

    Harry Orlinsky, alav hashalom, was mentioned in one of the posts, and I remembered seeing the name elsewhere: he was involved in the making of the JPS Tanakh, as well as the RSV and NRSV. It seems odd to me that anyone would object to the contributions of such a devoted scholar.

  55. Theophrastus says:


    regarding “aner”:

    I don’t have the smaller Liddell editions you mention. In Oxford 1996 Liddell, it says that it can mean one of the people, and points to Iliad 2:198 and Odyssey 17:35.

    regarding “pater”:

    Similarly in the Oxford 1996 Liddell, it can be a respectful form of address for an older person (Odyssey 7:28, 7:48, 8:145), an author, the capital, etc. In particular, it can also refer to God (see, Septuagint Deuteronomy 32:6).

    regarding Orlinsky:

    I agree. I am amazed that his involvement stirred so much resentment in some quarters — and still does!

  56. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    I am glad that John has retreated from accusing me of being innacurate. Now he only demands that I not critique other scholars on a blog. Is this a rule which applies to everyone or only to me?


    I have never had one person find fault with my work on Junia, other than the fact that it is not published in a peer reviewed journal. Shall we apply this standard to everyone who writes on a blog, that material not published in a peer reviewed journal is not allowable content. In fact, I interacted extensively with Al Wolter on Junia, and Mark Goodacre and Mike Heisler have both linked to my work in a positive way. Many others have asked me to publish this material, but I have a commitment right now to my family that makes this difficult at the moment.


    When the lexicon says, “opp. to a god” this means generic human beings, men and women. There are many passages where aner refers to both men and women.

    Here is one explicit example,

    ποτὲ ἀνὴρ ἀγαθὸς γίγνοιτ’ ἄν, τὴν ἀνθρώπῳ προσήκουσαν ἀρετὴν τῆς ψυχῆς ἔχων …. , εἴτε ἄρρην τις των συνοικούντων οὖσα ἡ φύσις εἴτε θήλεια, νέων ἢ γερόντων

    … in which a member of our community–be he of the male or female sex, young or old,–may become a good citizen, possessed of the excellence of soul which belongs to man. Plato’s Laws 6. 770d.

    (In this sentence, the Greek word ανθρωπος is translated as “man” generic, “the excellence of soul which belongs to man”, that is, the human, either male or female; and the word ανηρ is translated as citizen, either male or female.)

    Regarding pater, in Hebrews 11 the mother and father of Moses were called his pateres. This was one common way of referring to “parents.”

    I believe that the NRSV is more gender accurate than the ESV. That is my honest scholarly belief, it is not a posture that I take because I am a feminist. That is only what has been said about me by others.

  57. Wayne Leman says:

    UPDATE: May 15, evening, 8:30 pm Pacific Daylight Time: I have just flown back home after a good visit with our youngest daughter and her family. I see that comments on this post have taken on the character of personal attacks. Therefore, further comments are closed on this post. If you wish to respond to someone on this topic, please do it via private e-mail. If personal attacks continue on other posts, we will have to put the entire blog on moderated status.

  58. Wayne Leman says:

    Suzanne asked:

    Is this a rule which applies to everyone or only to me?

    Everyone. I wish I had had Internet access while I was flying today. I tried to access the Internet at MSP airport, but the system must have been down.

    No further comments on this thread will be allowed, due to the personal attacks that have occurred since I was last able to check the blog. No one should feel attacked on this blog. There is no need to cause someone else to feel attacked when presenting one’s own ideas.

Comments are closed.