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Finishing the Work of a Translation

I have mentioned that as a graduate student I was asked to be one of the “secretaries” for the New Revised Standard Version translation committee when they were meeting twice a year to make decisions for the new translation, recording the decisions they made for changing the older Revised Standard Version translation.  I did that for several years until they had finished their translation.  I graduated from my PhD program in 1985, and I was already, at that point, teaching at Rutgers University.

My position at Rutgers was a rather precarious one, professionally.  In the language almost universally used today, I was an “adjunct” instructor, that is, a temporary faculty member without full (or much of any) benefits and paid as part time, even though I was teaching the full load of courses (with larger classes than most of my colleagues).  Rutgers had a special title for me.  I was called a “Coadjutant Casual.”  I never did know what that meant.

At the time, my wife had decided to go back to school to finish her degree, and we had two young children.  I had to work extra jobs to make ends meet (or, at least, close to meeting), and did a variety of things, from digitizing Greek inscriptions for the Princeton Epigraphy Project out of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton to delivering the New York Times before the crack of down – doing both jobs at the same time, while teaching at Rutgers!  At the same time I was working to to crank out some publications to make me more marketable as I applied for permanent teaching positions.  I was a busy camper.

Then in 1987 my doctoral advisor, Bruce Metzger, asked me if I would be interested in taking over as the full time research assistant to the New Revised Standard Translation committee, working out of the Speer Library at Princeton Theological Seminary.  This was a 40-hour a week, full time job.  I leapt at it.  But this was not …

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Some Arduous Tasks for the New Revised Standard Version
A Reflection on Christmas: Blast from the Past



  1. Avatar
    stonecold51  December 26, 2016

    Bart I am impressed – even delivered newspapers !!!!
    As a past newspaper carrier I know how brutal that job can be

  2. Avatar
    Prizm  December 26, 2016

    I can just hear the christians around you at the time:

    “Just remember, you’re doing it for the Lord! What do you mean it’s too much work? It’s never too much when it’s for His Kingdom! You think Jesus gave up when he was going to the cross? Your suffering is light compared to Him! It may seem like a lot of work now, but your reward will be great!”

    Reminds me of being used and abused in church. “Oh, you have this ability? Praise God, we need volunteers for such and such, don’t you love doing the Lord’s work?”

  3. Avatar
    mjkhan  December 26, 2016

    As a Muslim I read in Quran that Jesus was given a book probably piecemeal just like Prophet Muhammad got Quran may be,the name of this divine book was “Injeel”This original book if was preserved today and Jesus was an educated prophet who could read and write(contrary to Moses and Muhammad).His enemies must have created so much scare on being associated with Jesus that even the street language of Palestine had to change from Aramaic to Arabic,the tribes who spoke Aramaic migrated to Syria.Today we can’t find that original” Injeel”.But when I ask some christian scholars where can I find Injeel,they tell me to read “John”.What an insult to Jesus!Also sadly we don’t see the bible scholars doing this research on what happened to “Injeel” and how it got lost?Muslims will be very happy because we believe in Jesus and his message(as it was given to him)not as practicesd and taught today.

  4. Avatar
    mathieu  December 26, 2016

    I’m a little bit confused. You say the original was in Hebrew, which means to me it was the Old Testament only. In that case, why have a New Testament scholar on the committee of 3? Also, what happened with the translation of the New Testament? Was that done separately, by a different group of people, or later by the same people? What about the rules and agreements of your group; did they follow to the New Testament group, did the NT group use different rules or did they change them as the committee of 3 did?

    You got me interested, don’t leave me hanging, please.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 27, 2016

      Sorry, I wasn’t clear. The Old Testament subcommittess (three of them) were working on the Hebrew Bible; the New Testament subcommittee (just one) was workin on the Greek New Testament. They all followed the same rules, or at least they tried to. The committee of three comprised two Old Testament and one New Testament scholar (all of them, of course, competent in the other testament as well)

      • Avatar
        SeptimusHM  November 6, 2019

        Hey Bart, sorry for responding here as I’m not sure exactly where to ask this… Anyways, I read on the NRSV Wikipedia page that the SBL is doing an update for the NRSV apparently it’s going to be called NRSV-UE (UE meaning updated edition, at least that’s the current working title) do you know anything about this?

        • Bart
          Bart  November 7, 2019

          Yup, I have good friends working on the translation. It absolutely will not be a new, fresh translation. More of a mopping up exercise, changing some things that are or have become problems (the wording in places), or reflecting some of the developments in scholarship over the past 25 years.

          • Avatar
            SeptimusHM  November 7, 2019

            Ohh wow, so is that going to be your prefered english version when it comes out? I guess you would have to take a look at it first. Also, do you know when it will be published if there is a date?

          • Bart
            Bart  November 8, 2019

            Don’t know! We’ll see. And don’t know!

  5. Avatar
    rivercrowman  December 26, 2016

    Wow! As a lowly “adjunct” instructor, already with a PhD, and with two young children in your family at the time, you certainly paid your dues along your early career path. My respect for you was already high to begin with, but notched up even higher after reading that.

  6. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  December 26, 2016

    So a subcommittee could undo the work of the 30 people who worked on the translation? I’m surprised there wasn’t bloodshed.
    I don’t think anyone could accuse you of being lazy that’s for sure.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 27, 2016

      It’s important to note that these three were the chair and the associate chairs of the entire committee and were themselves deeply involved with the translation itself, working with and directing the work of the other colleagues on the committee. (They weren’t outsiders)

  7. Avatar
    HawksJ  December 27, 2016

    Fascinating stuff, Doc.

    Since you mentioned, indirectly, ‘pay’, I’ve been wondering as I’ve read this series of posts: I assume these scholars were somehow compensated for their efforts, despite it not being (again, I assume) a full-time gig. If so, how (not how much, but rather how was it structured)?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 27, 2016

      They were not paid any compensation, except for travel expenses.

      • Avatar
        HawksJ  December 27, 2016

        Really? That is shocking. What was their motivation, then?

        • Bart
          Bart  December 28, 2016

          They were serving scholarship and, for most of them, serving their broader religious community. Such people do exist!

          • Avatar
            HawksJ  December 29, 2016

            I can conceive of somebody doing that much gratis work out some sense of religious obligation, but do scholars really do that (much) strictly in ‘serving scholarship’?

          • Bart
            Bart  December 31, 2016

            Some do. Especially if it is an important and/or prestigious cause.

  8. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  December 27, 2016

    I have a bible app on my phone, but the NRSV is not one of the available translations. I tried to find an app for it, but it’s ten dollars. Bible Gateway has it online but not through their app. Do you know or anyone else know why it’s not available for mobile use unless paid for? The Bible/Bible Gateway apps are free so why would there be a charge just for this particular translation?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 28, 2016

      It is certainly free and available. Try the YouVersion app — it has many hundreds of translations available.

      • Avatar
        Pattycake1974  December 28, 2016

        Yes, that’s the app I use: YouVersion. I don’t see NRSV on there though.

        • Bart
          Bart  December 29, 2016

          Ha, you’re right! I just checked. I just assumed that with 1400 translations there, these would be among them. But alas, no. I think that must mean that the copyright owner wold not allow them to be used. Sorry!

      • Avatar
        DaveAyres  December 28, 2016

        Bart, I installed what appeared to be the YouVersion app. Of the many translations included I did not find the NRSV or even the RSV. Are there any other translations that you would recommend as a scholar?

        I should add my gratitude for the work you do in sharing knowledge about the texts. I’m pretty sure that I would have had a grand time in your classes. Learning is always pleasurable but some folks have a talent for elevating the pleasure of learning to the joy of learning. You clearly are one of those very talented people. Happy New Year to you and your family.

        • Bart
          Bart  December 29, 2016

          Ah, you’re right! I just checked: no RSV and no NRSV. I just assumed that since there are 1400+ translations on the App, these would be among them. But no, they’re not. I think that must mean that the copyright owners did not allow their use.

          Thanks for your kind words.

  9. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  December 30, 2016

    I had no clue that this process was so complicated and to some extent arbitrary.

  10. Avatar
    Jana  January 1, 2017

    Are you working on an autobiography?

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