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Major Scribal Corruptions in the New Revised Standard Version

In my previous posts I have indicated that the King James Version includes verses in some places that are almost certainly not “original” – that is, passages that were not written by the original authors but were added by later scribes.  I chose three of the most outstanding and famous examples: the explicit reference to the Trinity in 1 John 5:7-8; the story of the woman taken in adultery in John 7:53-8:11; and Jesus’ resurrection appearance in the longer ending of Mark’s Gospel, Mark 16:9-20. The thread actually began somewhere else, with my discussing not the King James Bible but the New Revised Standard Version, which is my preferred translation.  One might ask: how are these three passages presented in the NRSV?   Since virtually all scholars agree the passages were not original to the New Testament, are they printed there? As it turns out, the three passages are handled differently.   The first, the affirmation of the doctrine of the Trinity (1 John 5:7-8), is not in any of our most ancient manuscripts at all.  It [...]

Some Arduous Tasks for the New Revised Standard Version

I had several duties as the research assistant to the translation committee of the New Revised Standard Version in 1987-88,.  Probably the most difficult involved trying to make sure that there was a consistency in the translation, from one biblical book, passage, and verse to another.   How does one determine if a translation is internally consistent?  It’s not easy.  I had to work through the entire translation, and whenever I came across a key term in the Hebrew or Greek that had been rendered into English in one way in one passage, I had to check whether it was rendered similarly in other passages where the same word occurred. The translators were absolutely not bound and determined to translate the same Hebrew (or Greek) word the same way every time it appeared in the Bible.  In some contexts a word will be better translated one way, in others another.  But they at least had to be aware of the fact that the term appears in various passages and they had to be cognizant of how [...]

2020-04-03T02:44:02-04:00December 27th, 2016|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

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 [...]

2020-04-03T02:44:09-04:00December 26th, 2016|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Problems with Inclusive Language Bible Translation

From the marvels of the universe (yesterday’s post) to the use of inclusive language in Bible translations (today’s post) – easy!   All in one step. The Psalm I quoted yesterday presents a problem to Bible translators who want to render the text to include both men and women.   Here is what Psalm 8 says in the (non-inclusive-language) King James, as quoted yesterday: 3 When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; 4 What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? 5 For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. 6 Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: When the New Revised Standard Version came out in 1989, it altered the translation by making it more inclusive, as follows: 3When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars [...]

2020-04-03T02:44:22-04:00December 23rd, 2016|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Reflections and Ruminations|

Problems with Inclusive Language Translations

The policy of the NRSV translation committee on inclusive language was sensible, in my view.    It involved a three-pronged approach. Any passage that was referring to both men and women was to be rendered inclusively, even if the original language (Hebrew or Greek) used masculine terms (“men,” “man,” “brothers,” “he” etc.). Any passage that was explicitly referring only to men, or only to women, was to be left as referring only to men or to women. All references to the Deity that in the original used masculine terms were to be left masculine. Here I will say a few things about each of these policies, in reverse order.  First, the deity.  No one on the committee thought that the deity actually has male genitalia or other sexual distinctions.  But ... THE REST OF THIS POST IS FOR MEMBERS ONLY.  If you don't belong yet, JOIN!  It costs less than a coffee at Starbucks a month, and every penny goes to help the needy.  You get a good deal, they get a good deal, the world [...]

2020-04-03T02:44:32-04:00December 20th, 2016|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Inclusive Language in Bible Translations

One of the most difficult issues that the New Revised Standard Version translation committee had to address involved the use of inclusive language.  Part of the problem was that this issue was not a generally recognized issue (by the wider reading public) when the translators began their work, but was very much an issue when they were already finished with a large chunk of it.  The translators were mainly senior scholars who had acquired their linguistic skills before virtually anyone in the academy knew (or at least said) that there even was a problem with inclusivity, and so they themselves were learning how to communicate in the new idiom.  And it took a while before they figured out how exactly to handle it. I myself was first introduced to the problem when I entered graduate school, and like a lot of people from my generation (especially, but not only, us males) at first I thought it was a fairly ridiculous much ado about nothing and that writing inclusively simply threatened to destroy the beauty of [...]

2020-04-03T02:44:40-04:00December 19th, 2016|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Lost in Translation

In my last post I began to talk about my involvement with the translation committee for the New Revised Standard Version.  My Doktorvater, Bruce Metzger, was the chair of the committee and he asked me, during my graduate studies, to be one of the scribes for the Old Testament subcommittee.  In that capacity I recorded all the votes that were taken by the translators for revisions of the text of the Revised Standard Version, in whichever subsection of the committee I was assigned to.  Normally the subsection would have, maybe, five scholars on it.  They would debate how to modify the text of the RSV, verse by verse, word by word; they would then take a vote by show of hands; and I would record their decision. This was an eye-opening experience for me.  Bible translation (or the translation of any foreign-language work, for that matter) is an inordinately complicated procedure.  It is impossible to replicate the exact meaning of one language in another, since the nuances of words vary from one language to another.  [...]

2020-04-03T02:44:47-04:00December 18th, 2016|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

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 [...]

My Translation of the NT?

QUESTION: Do you have any plans to publish your own "best" version of the NT in English? From reading several of your books, it does seem as though you probably already have a translation sitting in a drawer somewhere. I have not been able to find scholarly reconstruction that was produced in the last three and a half decades. Most of the newer "translations" are theologically motivated and sound more like modern slang. Have any of your colleagues/ students produced a readable version you would recommend? (Thousands of footnotes do not make for a readable text!) I would very much like to see your translation/interpretation sitting on a bookshelf. RESPONSE: No, as it turns out, I have never written out a full translation of the New Testament.   For several reasons.  First, there are a number of excellent translations already available that have been done by some of the best NT scholars on the planet.  My translation would be different, but not necessarily better.  Of course, I would think that where mine differed it would be [...]

Problems with the NRSV (Part 4)

I will give just one other textual disagreement that I have with the translators of the NRSV: by “textual” disagreement I mean a disagreement over what the original Greek text of a passage was that should have been translated. For this second example I’ll stick with Luke, and again with the Passion narrative. The full passage of Jesus’ prayer in the garden in Luke 24:39-46 reads as follows in the NRSV: FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log in as a Member. Click here for membership options. If you don't belong yet, JOIN!!  39 He came out and went, as was his custom, to the mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him.  40 When he reached the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.”  Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.”  [[ 43 Then an angel from heaven appeared to [...]

Problems with the NRSV (Part 3)

Translators of the Bible have a terrifically complicated and difficult (and usually thankless) task. I always knew that, of course, with my head – ever since taking Greek back in college. But I did not relate to the problems emotionally until I started publishing translations of my own. It’s HARD. My first translation project was a two-volume edition of the Apostolic Fathers for the Loeb Classical Library (published by Harvard University Press). It was at that point that I realized that what translators do is not at all what the rest of us do who can teach the ancient languages and read Greek and assign Greek translation exercises to classes of graduate students. When you are with a class of students, you can sit around the table, discuss the various options about how a text can be translated, talk about the pro’s and con’s of various English renditions, make a few suggestions for how to provide nuance to a rendering, explicate the fuller meaning of the Greek by paraphrasing a phrase or a clause in [...]

Problems with the NRSV (Part 2)

In my last post I mentioned John 3:22 as a verse that is mistranslated in the NRSV, leading to problems; but the problems of interpretation are not that enormous there – the translators simply removed an internal inconsistency by the way they mistranslated the verse. This second problem, the subject of this post, is more severe. A mistranslation has completely altered the meaning of a passage; it is the result of a very good motive – to make the translation gender-inclusive. But motive has led to a very bad result in this case. The policy of the NRSV was to render gender neutral statements in a gender neutral way.   If a passage refers to humans in general, then it does not make sense to translate it as referring only to “men” (or only to “women” for that matter).  And so instead of “man” the translators chose to use “person” or “human” or – if the mortality of people is the issue – “mortals” or … whatever; instead of “men” they used “people,” “humans,” etc.   That’s [...]

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 [...]

Problems with Other Translations

I have indicated that my preferred translation is the NRSV. Everyone, of course, has their favorite. My judgment is that among main-line, serious biblical scholars, the NRSV is far and away the preferred translation. But it is not so among general readers. I believe the King James Bible (the KJV) (or its slight revision: The New King James) and the New International Version (NIV) are better sellers among the population at large. So let me say a few words about these two. (Some readers of this blog will want to write to me to ask what I think of their own preferred translation: the Jerusalem Bible; the New English Version; the New American Standard Bible; etc etc. Most of the time I tell them that it’s fine. It just isn’t the one that I think is the best) First: The King James. Published in 1611, the KJV (or “Authorized Version” as it was called, since it was a translation “authorized” by the head of the Anglican Church – guess who? King James of England), is [...]

My Preferred Bible Translation

A number of people have responded to some of my recent comments by asking what my preferred Bible translation is. I get asked the question a lot – especially since my book Misquoting Jesus, where I talk about the changes scribes made in the manuscripts they copied over the years. A number of readers were alarmed and wondered whether I should let scholars know about these problems. In every case I responded that yes, indeed, scholars – all scholars of the Bible – do know about these problems. Intimately. Inside and out. This is the kind of thing scholars work on. Nothing in the book would have come as a shock to anyone in the field. Most especially to Bible translators, who have to decide which Hebrew and Greek words to translate before even starting to think about how to put them into English. And so, as a result, every modern Bible translator knows about and deals with these problems. But back to the question: which translation do I prefer? It will probably come as [...]

Autobiographical. Metzger and Me: More on the NRSV

MORE REFLECTIONS IN RESPONSE TO THE QUESTION ABOUT MY RELATIONSHIP WITH MY MENTOR BRUCE METZGER ***************************************************************************************************************** Two rather humorous stories connected with my work as the administrative assistant for the revision of the Revised Standard Version. In that capacity I was, of course, present for the various deliberations of the committee. Among the many issues they discussed was what to call the new revision. Ultimately it stood in the tradition of the “Authorized Version” – the technical name of the King James Version. In 1881, the KJV underwent an “official” revision (i.e., authorized by the ecclesiastical authorities who owned the copyright) in the Revised Version. Its committee received a lot of flak for the changes it made. Even though it was an English revision, there were several Americans who were on the committee. As part of their terms of involvement, they agreed not to publish and American version of the translation (making changes as they saw fit and bringing spelling and punctuation into conformity with American usage) for 20 years; and so in 1901 was [...]

The NRSV Bible Translation Committee (Part 2)

A CONTINUATION OF MY POSTS OF MY RELATIONSHIP WITH BRUCE METZGER I served as one of the secretaries for the NRSV, as explained in my previous post, for a couple of years. It was not onerous work and was quite a privilege to be able to associate with some of the greatest biblical scholars and Semitic philologists of the time. I was, of course, a complete nobody. Some of the members of the committee treated me (and the other secretaries) as complete nobodies (these tended to be the less qualified and more insecure members of the committee; I won’t name names!); others treated me (and the others) in a dignified and respectful way, realizing that we were, after all, just graduate students, but knowing that we were advanced and heading into academic careers of our own. When I graduated from my PhD program I was teaching part time at Rutgers, but I did not have a full time, tenure-track position there.   It was a slightly oppressive situation, as adjunct positions at universities typically are.   I’ll [...]

Autobiographical. Metzger and Me. The NRSV Bible Translation Committee

A CONTINUATION OF MY RECOLLECTIONS OF BRUCE METZGER, MY MENTOR. When I was still a graduate student in the PhD program at Princeton Theological Seminary, Metzger invited me to serve as a secretary for the committee that was producing the new revision of the Revised Standard Version translation of the Bible. The RSV (on which the new translation was to be based) had come out in 1952, and it had caused a huge furor at the time. It was an “official” revision of the King James Bible, that was supposed to update the language (English has changed a lot since 1611), to take into consideration new manuscript discoveries (especially important for the New Testament, since the KJV was based on only a few medieval manuscripts that were not of very high quality; hundreds of better ones had since been discovered, and to incorporate the findings of modern Biblical scholarship). The RSV of 1952 was an “official” translation because it was authorized by the National Council of Churches in the U.S. But in the opinion of [...]

Which Bible Translation Do I Prefer?

QUESTION: Dr. Ehrman, most of your readers in the ancient languages that the Bible was written in, therefore must rely on translations. Clearly no one translation is conclusive, but for clarity of reading and reliable research, can you recommend some translations to us? Conversely, do you have any that readers should avoid, because of clear bias or a little too loose?   RESPONSE: When I published Misquoting Jesus, I received a lot of emails from a lot of people asking a lot of questions.  But the one question I got asked more than any other was this one (in various forms):  which translation of the Bible do I recommend?   I should have answered it in the book itself; it would have made my life oh so much easier. There are lots and lots of good translations that are available today.  The first thing to stress about them is that just about every one of them (just about!  I’m sure there are exceptions, although offhand I can’t think of any) has been done by bona [...]

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