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My Work for the New Revised Standard Version Committee

QUESTION:

If my memory serves me, you (as a graduate student?) were involved in the development of the NRSV Bible version in 1989. Could you describe your work please?

RESPONSE:

Yes, that’s right.  The New Revised Standard Version Committee was appointed by the U.S. National Council of Churches to produce a revision of the famous Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the Bible, which had come out in 1952.  Since the time when the RSV had been produced (mainly in the 1940s), many important developments had happened in the scholarship of the Bible.

  • New discoveries had been made and partially published, especially: the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Scrolls contained a number of different kinds of writings, produced by Jews living at the turn of the Christian era, including a large number of copies of the Hebrew Bible, in Hebrew, as it was known in that day.  These are very important for determining the oldest form of the Hebrew text of the Bible for some of its books.
  • The English language had changed in important ways. That may seem strange, since we are talking only about a few decades, but changes had indeed occurred. For one thing, some of the language of the RSV seemed stilted and antiquated.  For another thing, a major movement had transpired in the use of inclusive language, where the words “man” and “men” and the pronoun “he” were now taken to refer to males, not to females as well,, so that if one wanted to refer to both men and women, other terms had to be used.
  • There had been an intense amount of research into the meaning of many, many passages in the entire Bible that helped scholars better understand what they were saying, and therefore how they ought to be translated.

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Lost in Translation
Was Cephas Peter? The Rest of the Argument

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    clipper9422@yahoo.com  December 16, 2016

    In your opinion, did the importance given to inclusive language in the NRSV change the meaning of what the original authors intended and auditors understood — even though inclusive language is justified by morality and fairness?

    Was an important consideration in the NRSV translation to produce something that was, say, “stately” or “elevated” enough in tone to be used in worship – consistent with many other criteria? If so do you think this results in some significant distortions – even if, overall, the NRSV is an excellent product? Are there any translations that are perhaps less polished but that may convey a somewhat better sense of the author’s meanings?

    I’ve read that the Greek prose of the gospels is not at a particularly high level. Didn’t Nietzsche say something to the effect that if God wrote the NT he didn’t know very much Greek?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 18, 2016

      1. I’ll post on that! 2. Yes, the use in contexts of worship was important. And yes, I think it’s excellent. 3. Ha! That’s a good one.

  2. Avatar
    Jason  December 16, 2016

    How much of what was adjusted for gender inclusiveness do you think would have been in line with the intents of the original authors given the wide divergence in the rolls of women between the Bedouin beginnings of the OT and their near equality in the late apocalyptic era?

  3. Avatar
    llamensdor  December 16, 2016

    No doubt the RSV and the NRSV are more “accurate” than the KJV. But the KJV is great literature and the other versions are not. I also tend to believe that while the KJV is less accurate it is closer in its overall vision of the bible.

    • Avatar
      HawksJ  December 18, 2016

      ‘I also tend to believe that while the KJV is less accurate it is closer in its overall vision of the bible.’

      ‘Closer’ to what, precisely?

  4. Avatar
    mjt  December 16, 2016

    There is a Greek scholar named Ann Nyland, and she claims (if I understand correctly) that modern translations are wrong in a lot of cases, because they don’t take into account much of the volumes of Greek (non biblical) manuscripts that were released in the 70s. (And a lot of translations are written by theologians with doctrinal commitments.) Do you think this is accurate, and are the scholar translating the NSRV better equipped in some fashion than those who translate for other versions?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 18, 2016

      The modern Bible translators, of course, know this Greek literature very well — all tools of the trade. Whether they utilize them enough or not is another question.

  5. Avatar
    AdamHeckathorn  December 16, 2016

    Very interesting.

  6. Avatar
    J.J.  December 16, 2016

    Of course, now you’ve got to tell the story of Bruce Metzger, the NRSV, and שכר.

  7. talmoore
    talmoore  December 17, 2016

    When I studied the TaNaKh way back in my youth, I was shocked to see the footnote “Meaning of the Hebrew uncertain” on almost every other page. Sometimes where were entire verses the meaning if which was noted as “uncertain”. I many cases the meaning had to be deduced from the LXX translation. This means, of course, one would have to trust the translators of the LXX had the right meaning, and, as anyone who has studied the LXX knows, the LXX translation is pretty far from reliable. In other words, there are entire verses within the Hebrew Bible of which scholars can only make their best guess as to what they truly mean.

  8. Avatar
    dragonfly  December 17, 2016

    Off topic, which NT authors believed in a place of eternal torment as punishment in the afterlife?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 18, 2016

      That’s what I’m trying to figure out for my next book!!

      • Avatar
        dragonfly  December 19, 2016

        I guess I jumped the gun. By the time of the gospels did “gehenna” mean something other than the valley of the son of hinnom to Greek speaking Christians?

        • Bart
          Bart  December 19, 2016

          They probably meant it metaphorically to refer to the place of eternal burning and waste.

  9. Avatar
    The Agnostic Christian  December 17, 2016

    Do you believe the time, energy and resorces spent on something like another Bible translation (and only a revision at that) is truly well spent?

    So much theological wrangling about matters even experts had no clue on…

    I’m not talking bout the purely academic side of things, but as a fellow agnostic-atheist do you think along more translations is helping or hurting the current religious climate around the world?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 18, 2016

      I frankly don’t see the need for more translations. They have become cash cows…

  10. Avatar
    clipper9422@yahoo.com  December 17, 2016

    Going back a couple weeks, if Jesus thought of himself as the Messiah, would that in itself strongly suggest that he also thought he was or would be King of the Jews? Admittedly Jesus did not think of himself as the kind of King the Messiah was supposed to be, eg, overthrowing the Romans. But, as the Messiah, if he didn’t think of himself as a priest or cosmic judge, wouldn’t he necessarily have had to think of himself as some kind of King?

    It’s much easier (for me) to accept that Jesus thought of himself as the Messiah than as the King of the Jews. But if they could mean close to the same thing, then the King of the Jews identity is easier to accept. And it’s easier to accept that Judas betrayed Jesus’s self-understanding as the future King of the Jews.

    • Avatar
      clipper9422@yahoo.com  December 18, 2016

      I reread your posts on this topic. I feel like I’m just getting your point. It’s almost as if Jesus’s close followers thought he was the Messiah because he told them in private he was going to be King of the Jews — rather than they thought he was going to be King of the Jews because he was the Messiah. At least in this context, Messiah and King of the Jews are almost equivalent – though keeping in mind that Jesus was not going to be the kind of Messiah/King who would, for example, overthrow the Romans.

      It seems very clear that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet. But to think of himself as the Messiah, he had to modify the current understanding of what the Messiah would be like. Since Jesus wasn’t a cosmic judge or great priest, he must have thought he was going to be a king – but only after God and the “Son of Man” had completely overthrown evil rather than Jesus being the one to lead the charge.

      Now I’m thinking that the “Son of Man” sounds more like the kind of Messiah the Jews were expecting rather than the kind of king Jesus expected to be. Why would Jesus think he needed to be the Messiah if the Son of Man was coming soon? I suppose it was because Jesus didn’t expect the Son of Man to be a king. So why didn’t Jesus teach two Messiahs – or two people who each would do half of what the Messiah would do?

      • Bart
        Bart  December 18, 2016

        I don’t think one can generalize about what “the Jews” expected (any more than we can generalize about what “the Christians” today think). But my view is that Jesus predicted that a cosmic judge of the earth, the Son of Man, was soon to arrive and as part of his act of judgment would install him, Jesus, as king of the new kingdom.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 18, 2016

      Yes, my view is that he thought he was the future king.

      • Avatar
        dankoh  December 21, 2016

        I’m curious where you get that view from, that Jesus thought he was the future king. And if so, was it king of the Jews or king of something else, since Matt. 19:28 and Luke 22:30 seem to be vague on this point. (It would also suggest that Jesus though of himself, at least in some quotes, as the son of man.)

        • Bart
          Bart  December 22, 2016

          It’s a good question, but too long for a comment-response. I devoted considerable attention to the issue in my book Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium.

          • Avatar
            dankoh  December 22, 2016

            I have that book and will look through it again. On which point: I would argue that Jesus was not apocalyptic in the original meaning of the word, in that he did not receive visions; also, passive reporting was characteristic of apocalyptic seers, and Jesus acted. But he was apocalyptic in the eschatological sense that the word has come to mean, in which I take issue with Crossan, who it seems to me tries to have it both ways.

          • Bart
            Bart  December 23, 2016

            I think it is important to distinguish the world view “apocalypticism” from the literary genre “apocalypse.” Would could be apocalyptic (holding to the world view) without writing such a book (a book that included a seer, a heavenly translator, visions, revelations, and so on). Jesus, in my view, was apocalyptic (held the view) without being the author of an apocalypse.

  11. Avatar
    stokerslodge  December 17, 2016

    Bart, this guy at Catholic Answers gives you a mention, seems like he’s managed to reconcile all the discrepancies in the infancy narratives. What’s your verdict?

    http://www.catholic.com/blog/tim-staples/do-the-infancy-narratives-of-matthew-and-luke-contradict-each-other

    • Bart
      Bart  December 18, 2016

      I don’t have time to read his attempt, but frankly, I’ve read about 937 others and none of them ever actually works if you read the text carefully….

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  December 20, 2016

        Having been raised Catholic, I couldn’t resist checking this out. And even I could see this apologist’s claims were ridiculous. For anyone who’s interested:

        My first point: This ultra-Catholic refers to the NT authors, throughout, as “St. Matthew” and “St. Luke.” Since he’s calling them saints, he presumably doesn’t accept the consensus of scholars, that the Gospels were written anonymously.

        Second: He doesn’t express any doubts about whether Caesar had ordered a census, or see anything unreasonable about it. (He doesn’t mention its supposedly having been a census of the “whole world.”)

        Third: He claims people who find the two infancy stories irreconcilable wrongly assume the Magi are said to have arrived in Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’s birth. Bart, of course, doesn’t think any such thing. Bart acknowledges that the Magi are said to have arrived some time later (a year or two?).

        Fourth: But what this Catholic apologist is actually claiming is that the star led the Magi not to Bethlehem, but to Nazareth! A quote: “The Wise Men were ‘sent’ to Bethlehem by Herod, but the text never says that is where they ended up. We know, in fact, they would have ended up in Nazareth where Christ actually was, not Bethlehem.”

        Fifth: He argues that “St. Matthew” never actually says the family went to Nazareth *for the first time* on their return from Egypt. According to him, Joseph had wanted to stay in Judea, and was warned in a dream not to. But that doesn’t mean they couldn’t have lived in Nazareth before all this happened, and between Jesus’s birth and the flight into Egypt.

        Sixth: He claims “St. Matthew” gave more attention to some points than “St. Luke” did because “St. Matthew,” a Jew, attached greater importance to Jesus’s having fulfilled the Scriptures, and having been “called a Nazarene”!

        Seventh, the biggest whopper: He doesn’t seem to realize that if the “Holy Family” had been in *Nazareth* when Herod supposedly ordered the slaughter of children in the Bethlehem area, they wouldn’t have *needed* to flee to Egypt. I suppose he’d say, if challenged, that all those things were necessary for the fulfillment of prophecies.

        • Bart
          Bart  December 22, 2016

          Wow. OK, that’s a lot of serious reconcilin’!! (Or not so serious….)

  12. Avatar
    clipper9422@yahoo.com  December 17, 2016

    Do you accept the “Messianic Secret” thesis? If I remember correctly that comes from William Wrede concerning Mark’s gospel, ie, that Jesus was constantly telling people (and demons) to not reveal who he was or the miraculous things he’d done. I believe the purpose of the secret was to explain why so few Jews accepted Jesus as Messiah, ie, because he kept it a secret from all but a few.

    If that interpretation is valid, it seems to me it would be additional support for the hypothesis that Judas betrayed Jesus’s self-understanding as the (future) King of the Jews. If messiah = king (in the case of Jesus), there would more clearly be a Messiah/King secret for Judas to betray. Does that make sense?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 18, 2016

      I’m afraid you may be confusing two issues. One is “where did Mark get the idea of the messianic secret from?” Wrede’s answer: the Markan community came up with it to explain why they worshiped Jesus as messiah if people did not during his lifetime. He kept it a secret! (So the historical Jesus did not really do that; Mark’s community made up the idea that he did). The other issue is not about what a later Christian community came up with but what historically happened: why and what did the historical Judas betray. See the difference?

      • Avatar
        clipper9422@yahoo.com  December 19, 2016

        I think I see the difference.Thank you. But I’m still wondering if Wrede also saw traces of the historical Jesus in the messianic secret in Mark’s gospel – that the secret wasn’t simply a myth the Markan community came up with to explain why people didn’t worship Jesus during his lifetime.

        • Bart
          Bart  December 20, 2016

          No, he thought it was an idea of the community; it did not go back to Jesus himself.

          • Avatar
            brandon284  January 30, 2017

            Bart I know you theorize that Judas betrayed Jesus’ claims about being the Messiah and that’s what got him arrested. Does the Messianic Secret have some historical plausibility then?

          • Bart
            Bart  January 31, 2017

            Interesting point. I guess I would say yes!

  13. talmoore
    talmoore  December 17, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman, in several of the books I’ve read, I’ve heard mention that whoever The Gospel of John was probably not a native Greek speaker, that John shows signs of being written by a Greek second-language speaker, possibly of Semitic descent. Is that true? And if so, what are the clues?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 18, 2016

      I think you must be referring to the Revelation of John, not the Gospel. The evidence is the extensive use of semiticisms and apparent ignorance of some fundamentals of Greek grammar.

  14. Avatar
    James  December 17, 2016

    How much of the work on mystery Hebrew words was left? Those infamous unicorns were removed from the Bible as early as the Revised Version back in 1885. Presumably a good amount of eliminating secondary translations of Greek/Latin pre-critical guesses (and replacing them by better guesses) had been done already by the time the (N)RSV committee got together.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 18, 2016

      I don’t have a tally — but there are still a lot of words used only once (called hapax legomena) that translators have to guess at (e.g., in the book of Job)

      • talmoore
        talmoore  December 18, 2016

        The Book of Job was probably the most difficult book I’ve ever had to read in Hebrew. It’s riddled with obscure Hebrew words that I had to look up, and when I did, the meanings were more often than not “uncertain”. Oy vey.

  15. Avatar
    Wilusa  December 17, 2016

    Very interesting! I’m wondering, did the Catholics go along with this, or only Protestants? Were even all Protestant denominations involved? (I guess what I’m really asking is how many Christian denominations are in the National Council of Churches. I can’t imagine many of them agreeing on *anything*!)

    • Bart
      Bart  December 18, 2016

      I’m not sure which churches belong to the National Council, but certainly the RCC and all the mainline Protestants

  16. Avatar
    Wilusa  December 17, 2016

    OT, but this is something I should have asked a few posts back, when you discussed submitting your new book to the editors. I’m curious: *how* is a book submitted these days? I assume that years agoi, you would have had to print the whole thing and ship it in a box. Nowadays, can you just submit it over the Internet? “Post” it on the editors’ website, like we do with fan fiction?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 18, 2016

      Much easier these days: simply send it in electronically!

      • Avatar
        dankoh  December 22, 2016

        Well, it also helps to have an agent! 🙂

  17. Avatar
    Wilusa  December 17, 2016

    Just curious: Why are we no longer seeing that opportunity to correct typos in our Comments? Did you decide to drop that feature?

  18. Avatar
    Steefen  December 17, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman,
    What is the Essene Gospel of Peace and have you ever written about it (textbooks, academic books, trade paperback)?
    Thank you,
    Steefen

    • Bart
      Bart  December 18, 2016

      Nope. Apart from what I see on the Internet, I know nothing (authoritative) about it.

  19. Avatar
    Bill  December 17, 2016

    Green Flash tonight. Sorry you missed it again !!!!

  20. Avatar
    Judith  December 18, 2016

    Just sent you a Merry Christmas donation!

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