Friday, April 27, 2007

The Straw That Broke the Camel's Back:
Why I Switched to the NRSV

Beyond the fact that most noteworthy scholars today use the NRSV, I've got my own reasons too. Here's one:

Everyone has their theological pet-peeves. One of mine is paedo-baptism. I guess you can say that I'm just a good presbyterian working out his covenant theology to its rightful (logical) conclusion.

So, when I was counseling a diaconate candidate out of my NIV--a candiate who was struggling with paedo-baptism--and turned to Acts 16 where Paul baptizes the Philippian jailer's entire household (oikos) based on his belief, and saw that the NIV took the liberty of changing the pronoun to a plural (his to their faith, pepisteukos), and also found that there weren't any text-critical issues to speak of, well, that was "the straw that broke the camel's back." I picked up my leather-bound NRSV and put it in my backpack and took the NIV and buried it on my shelf. (Even though the NIV's proper place is in the trash, I cannot, for the life of me, chuck a Bible.)


David said...

The NRSV is such a superb translation in so many ways - yet, it also is distorted by an egalitarian agenda. Rather than translating what the text says, the NRSV uses a very free paraphrase so that no-one might think that the Bible treats men differently than women.

For example, in 1 Timothy 2:2 the NRSV "translates" the passage as "married only once" rather than the "husband of one wife". This is a fairly significant change in what the text actually says.

This desire to root out masculine terms shows up in truly odd places: For example, the NRSV translates James 2:21 as "Abraham our ancestor" rather than "Abraham our father". Technically, it is quite possible to translate the greek word for father as "ancestor" but to do so is to miss that Abraham was viewed relationally as part of the Jewish family (i.e. covenantally) rather than simply as someone who lived a long time ago.

Given the choice between the NIV and the NRSV, I think you have rightly concluded that the NRSV is a better translation. Yet, it is not without problems - particularly since it magnifies the egalitarian push that is already so much a part of our culture.


Matthew Paul Buccheri said...


I agree with you: all translations have their unique problems. I guess I traded one problem for another--and I rather deal the the NRSV's rather than the NIV's.

David said...

(Different David):

Two things:
1. Regarding "gender equality": I think at root is the notion that we need to make the bible speak to us in our cultural terms; why can't we accept that the bible may be rooted in a patriarchal world of thought we find unpalatable?

2. I use the ESV, but here's my shibboleth passage, in which the NIV passes and the ESV/NRSV fail: is tsedeqah translated as "righteousness" in Isaiah 56.1? Any other translation (I believe) unacceptably obscures Paul's allusion to it in Romans 1.16.