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Problems with the NRSV

One of the pleasures and problems that I am finding with this blog is that it is oh so easy to get side tracked from my original plan and intention.  The current series of posts was originally a response to the question of how Bruce Metzger reacted to my loss of faith.  (To anticipate the final answer: I don’t think he had much of a reaction at all!)   But instead of dealing with that question directly, I decided to use it as an opportunity to talk about my long-term relationship with Metzger; this has occupied a large number of posts.  The most recent of those had to do with my work for / with him on the New Revised Standard Version.  In response to those posts several people have asked me questions about the NRSV, and now I am dealing with/ responding to these.  But I promise: I will get back to the original question eventually!

On the NRSV, several people have wanted to know if I had problems with any of it.   And as I briefly mentioned in my earlier post – yes I do!  (Even though I do think it is the best translation available).  There are two kinds of problems that I have: some have to do with the translation itself, others have to do with the Greek reading that the translators decided to translate.  I’ll deal with the first set of problems in two posts, and second in the next two posts.

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Problems with the NRSV (Part 2)
Problems with Other Translations



  1. dallaswolf  September 1, 2012

    I use the NRSV, so this is interesting to me. Do you have any other technical/translation problems with it you can share?

  2. jimmo  September 1, 2012

    Out of curiostity, is John 3:22 a place where the text differs between MSS or is it consistant among the various MSS?

  3. ntuser  September 1, 2012

    The translation I dislike the most from the NRSV is Matthew 4:19 – “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”
    It’s awkward, and it seems like they were going out of their way to avoid any allusion the the famous “fishers of men” from the KJV in order to underline gender neutrality. The NET “fishers of people” does that fine. This way it almost sounds like Jesus and the apostles are going to open a chippery 🙂

  4. timber84  September 2, 2012

    Was there alot of disagreement among the NRSV committee members about how to translate John 3:22?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 3, 2012

      I don’t know! I didn’t sit in on the NT discussions.

  5. hwl  September 2, 2012

    I wonder why the final redactor of John failed to smooth out these literary seams. I can understand for books like Genesis which also have striking literary seams, in particular duplicate accounts of the same stories, chose to leave the seams – it was a conscious effort to retain the traditions of the different communities. This doesn’t seem to be the case with John.
    Surely some scribes who copied John over the centuries would have noticed the oddity in 3:22 and attempted their own smoothing, say by changing the word to “countryside” in the Greek?
    Is there a difference between “land of Judea” and the more parsimonious “Judea”? Technically, “land of Judea” includes the countryside. Is there any precedent in any Greek text where the author uses “land of” to convey the countryside?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 3, 2012

      My guess is that he didn’t notice them, just as authors frequently don’t notice their little inconsistencies. And these are not all that obvious: most readers have never noticed them either!

    • Pat Ferguson  September 6, 2012

      In re, Greek text uses of “‘land of’ to convey the countryside”: Mark 1:5 (η ιουδαια χωρα), and Acts 13:19 (γη χανααν), appear to be two such verses in orthodox mss. of the Gospels and Acts.

      • Bart Ehrman
        Bart Ehrman  September 6, 2012

        Yes, this demonstrates my point. The word for countryside (as in Mark 1:5) is χωρα (XWRA); γη (GH) refers to a land — as in the Land of Canaan (Acts 13:19). John 3:22 uses GH.

        • Pat Ferguson  September 8, 2012

          When I look at the Greek wording of John 3:22 in P66, P75, TR, and W&H, I see the acc. sing. fem. noun ΓΗΝ (γην, root γη) that is variously (and very broadly) defined as the earth, land, arable farmland, country, region, soil, ground, and mankind. In P74 at Acts 13:19, the word used was ΓΗ (γη), a nom. sing. fem. noun that can also be broadly defined identically to John 3:22.

          Accordingly, in my reading or these two verses, ΓΗ (γη) best refers to arable farmland; i.e., LAND that is “capable of being farmed productively” (WordWeb Dictionary). Aside from these usages of ΓΗ, I can only cite the comments of some others on how the root/word might be understood; e.g.:

          1: “land of Judea — the rural parts of that province” (JFB);

          2: “Into the land of Judea (eis tēn Ioudaian gēn) [=] Into the country districts outside of Jerusalem” (A.T. Robertson, WORD PICTURES IN THE NEW TESTAMENT; cp. περαν του ιορδανου, beyond the Jordan in John 3:26), and

          3: “The land of Judaea (τὴν Ἱουδαίαν γῆν) … Literally, the Judaean land” (Marvin R. Vincent, D.D.,
          Baldwin Professor of Sacred Literature, Union Theological Seminary, New York in VINCENT’S WORD STUDIES).

          Antiquated references, perhaps. But, considering that I’ve been retired for several years now, I can no longer afford to update my personal library (although I recently did purchase Metzger’s 3rd ed. of THE NEW TESTAMENT–IT’S BCKGROUND, GROWTH, & CONTENT to replace the autographed 1st ed. that I mistakenly donated to a local library 🙁

  6. Pat Ferguson  September 6, 2012

    Dr. Bart, you wrote: “John 3:22: ‘After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside.’ This is a mistranslation ….”.

    The consensus in various Bible versions and related commentaries I’ve consulted appears to be that “countryside” might not be a mistranslation, and that γῆ can correctly refer to the rural/country area of Judea outside Jerusalem. Also, the wording (in part) in P66 and P75 at John 3:26 (ΠΕΡΑΝ ΤΟΥ ΙΟΡΔΑΝΟΥ, or “beyond [across, over, on the other side of] the Jordan”) appears, IMHO, to clarify upon where Jesus went to/into at John 3:22 🙂

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 6, 2012

      Where does γῆ have that meaning somewhere else? (It’s a genuine question)

      • Pat Ferguson  September 8, 2012

        Kindly refer to my posting of 09-08-2012, where I gave you a genuine answer 😀

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