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.

Lunchroom chat and a Woman’s Bible

Last year I mentioned a few conversations I have had at work over lunch. When the chat dies down, I will sometimes just turn to a colleague and ask her what Bible(s) she has used. Since I work in a public school with a staff from a mixed background, Catholic, Jewish, atheist, Buddhist, this can be interesting. So far, I have had some in depth conversations about the Good News Bible, and the King James Version, the only two which seem to be widely recognized.

Today I asked a colleague whom I knew to be an evangelical,

“What Bible do you use in your house church?”

“Oh, we all use something different – I don’t know, well, you know, NRV and The Word.”

I nodded sympathetically and waited.

“By Eugene Peterson.”

“Oh yeah, the Message.”

“Yeah, that’s it. I have a Woman’s Bible, maybe NRV, hmmm, NIV? It has all these little boxes, devotions, for women and all that. Oh, I love it.”

“Not the TNIV?”

“How would I recognize that?”

“Well, if it had brothers and sisters in it.”

“Oh, no, I don’t mind something not being gender inclusive. You know the best Bible for the sheer poetry is the King James Bible. Yes, that is the best.”

And I would have to agree. The King James version offers not only poetry but in places a more literal translation. I still stubbornly hold to the idea that the literal and non-interpretive style of the KJV serves women well. Other literal Bibles are also good for women. I was also familiar with the Young’s literal translation. Maybe it is my familiarity with these translations that makes me so uneasy at some of the Bibles I start out to review here. I am simply taken by surprise!

Here is the question – which modern Bibles are closest to a traditional and literal interpretation for the following verses? I have provided the KJV, Young’s literal version, the Emphasized Bible, Luther Bible, and Latin Vulgate for comparison. Is it just me, or are Bibles in this century more selectively interpretive in these verses.

Rom. 16:1


servant KJV
ministrant YLT
minister EB
im Dienste Luther
in ministerio Latin

Rom. 16:2


succourer KJV
leader YLT
defender EB
Beistand Luther
astitit Latin

Rom. 16:7

ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις

of note among the apostles KJV
Junias – of note among the apostles YLT
Junias – of note among the Apostle EB
Junias – berühmte Apostel Luther
nobiles in Apostolis Latin

1 Cor. 11:10

ἐξουσίαν ἔχειν ἐπὶ τῆς κεφαλῆς

have power on her head KJV
[a token of] authority upon the head YLT
to have permission EB
eine Macht auf dem Haupt haben Luther
potestatem habere supra caput Latin

1 Tim. 2:12


to usurp authority KJV
rule YLT
have authority over a man EB
daß sie des Mannes Herr sei Luther
dominari Latin

I don’t think readers realize that when I noticed that the NET notes didn’t mention “leader” for προστάτις, I was genuinely surprised because we used the Young’s Literal Translation as a reference Bible when I was young. Some may talk about my having a “preferred” interpretation but I am displaying legitimate concern when a traditional and literal understanding is not even referenced in notes.

But I want to ask which modern Bible would be a candidate for the most traditional and literal translation with regards to these verses? Which ones are the farthest removed from tradition? I have only checked a handful so far. Believe it or not!


I’m going to score these Bibles out of 4, counting Rom. 16: 1 and 2 together. If we look at the accepted text base and lexicons which are contemporary with these Bibles, they would all score 3 out of 4 for being literal.

Young’s Literal Translation – 2 1/2 out of 4,
Emphasized Bible – 2 out of 4,
King James Version – 3 out 4,
Luther – 2 out of 4,
Vulgate – 3 out of 4

ESV 2001 – 1 out of 4

Rom. 16:1 – servant
Rom. 16:2 – patron
Rom.16:7 – well known to
1 Cor. 11:10 – a symbol of authority on her head
1 Tim. 2:12 – exercise authority

TNIV 2001 – 4 out of 4

Rom. 16:1 – deacon
Rom. 16:2 – benefactor
Rom.16:7 – outstanding among
1 Cor. 11:10 – have authority over her own head
1 Tim. 2:12 – assume authority

HCSB 1999 – 2 out of 4

Rom. 16:1 – servant
Rom. 16:2 – benefactor
Rom.16:7 – outstanding among
1 Cor. 11:10 – [a symbol of] authority on her head
1 Tim. 2:12 – have authority

NET – 1996 – 2005, 0 out of 4

Rom. 16:1 – servant
Rom. 16:2 – great help
Rom.16:7 – well known to
1 Cor. 11:10 – symbol of authority on her head
1 Tim. 2:12 – exercise authority

NLT 1996 – 2 out of 4

Rom. 16:1 – deacon
Rom. 16:2 – helpful
Rom.16:7 – respected among
1 Cor. 11:10 – wear a covering on her head to show she is under authority
1 Tim. 2:12 – have authority

CEV 1995 – 3 out of 4

Rom. 16:1 – leader
Rom. 16:2 – respected leader
Rom.16:7 – Junias (male) highly respected by
1 Cor. 11:10 – sign of her authority
1 Tim. 2:12 – tell men what to do

NRSV – 1989, 2 out of 4

Rom. 16:1 – deacon
Rom. 16:2 – benefactor
Rom. 16:7 – prominent among
1 Cor. 11:10 – symbol of authority on her head
1 Tim. 2:12 – have authority over a man

NIV – 1978 – 1984, 0 out of 4

Rom. 16:1 – servant
Rom. 16:2 – great help
Rom. 16:7 – Junias among the apostles
1 Cor. 11:10 – symbol of authority on her head
1 Tim. 2:12 – have authority over a man

NASB – 1960 – 1995, 0 out of 4

Rom. 16:1 – servant
Rom. 16:2 – helper
Rom. 16:7 – Junias among the apostles
1 Cor. 11:10 – symbol of authority on her head
1 Tim. 2:12 – exercise authority over a man

RSV 1 out of 4

Rom. 16:1 – deaconess
Rom. 16:2 – helper
Rom. 16:7 – Junias among the apostles
1 Cor. 11:10 – veil on her head
1 Tim. 2:12 – have authority

ISV – 2003 – 1 out of 4

Rom. 16:1 – servant
Rom. 16:2 – has assisted
Rom. 16:7 – Junias among the apostles
1 Cor. 11:10 – authority over her own head
1 Tim. 2:12 – have authority


Rom. 16:1 – in the ministry
Rom. 16:2 – has assisted
Rom. 16:7 – Junias among the apostles
1 Cor. 11:10 – a power over her head
1 Tim. 2:12 – use authority over the man

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

NRSV (New Revised Standard Version)

From NRSV: To the Reader:
“As for the style of English adopted for the present revision, among the mandates given to the Committee in 1980 by the Division of Education and Ministry of the National Council of Churches of Christ (which now holds the copyright of the RSV Bible) was the directive to continue in the tradition of the King James Bible, but to introduce such changes as are warranted on the basis of accuracy, clarity, euphony, and current English usage. Within the constraints set by the original texts and by the mandates of the Division, the Committee has followed the maxim, “As literal as possible, as free as necessary.” As a consequence, the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) remains essentially a literal translation. Paraphrastic renderings have been adopted only sparingly, and then chiefly to compensate for a deficiency in the English language—the lack of a common gender third person singular pronoun.”

NRSV website