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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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