Last year, I reported on a job listing seeking section review leaders for the update to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), which is currently being coordinated by the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) under an agreement with the National Council of Churches (NCC — the copyright holder for the NRSV). The job listing, along with the original project announcement, provided a good overview of the goals for the update. After a prolonged period of radio silence, several new pieces of information have emerged in recent months.

A few months ago, I became aware of an excellent summary on the Friendship Press website, which includes a complete listing of all the book editors, general editors, section review leaders, and coordinating staff working on the NRSV updated edition (NRSV-UE). Friendship Press was established in 1935, but its business has been limited in recent years. Its board of directors reactivated its operations in 2018, and it is now managing the update process for the NRSV on behalf of the National Council of Churches, in partnership with the Society of Biblical Literature. There is a brief history of Friendship Press on the publisher’s website.

In the last couple of weeks, I have reached out to a number of book editors, general editors, support staff, and coordinators at Friendship Press to learn more about how the update process is going and when the expected release date will be. I’m thankful to all the scholars who took the time to communicate with me.

Currently, the project is on schedule according to the timeframe set out in the press release from the National Council of Churches (available here). Here is a brief summary of that timeframe:

  • Book editors must submit all suggested changes to the NRSV text by December 31, 2019
  • The National Council of Churches will review current publication licenses and new licensing opportunities for the NRSV-UE in early 2020.
  • The editorial board must review all suggested changes and submit a final version to the National Council of Churches by December 31, 2020
  • The NCC Biblical Translation Utilization Committee will approve the updates, and files will be provided to licensees for publication.

One of the general editors estimates that the editorial committee has completed about 75% of the necessary work on reviewing the suggested changes from book editors.

On the whole, the project is expected to be a light update to the NRSV. It is not a wholesale reworking of the text. The NRSV’s approach to inclusive language will be retained. One of the book editors described his role as producing a list of suggested changes to the NRSV text, along with justifications for each change. Overall, the changes are focused on two basic areas:

  • Details where recent scholarship on text criticism or philology have arrived at an improved understanding over the 1980s when the NRSV was produced.
  • Errors or archaic expressions

A general editor, who asked to remain anonymous, generously took the time to answer some specific questions that have been on my mind about the NRSV-UE, and he agreed to share those answers with the readers of this blog. In the following Q&A, my questions are in bold and his answers are in italic.

Regarding inclusive language, the NRSV generally includes textual notes such as “Gk Brothers” where the translation reads “Brothers and sisters” or “believers,” but it often doesn’t offer any textual notes where a singular construction has been translated as plural to ensure an inclusive gender connotation. Will there be any changes to the textual notes to clarify the singular/plural connotation?

No (as far as I know), there will not be added textual notes for this.

In light of the limited nature of the review, would it be accurate to say that many study materials that are keyed to the NRSV, including commentaries and bible dictionaries, will not need to be thoroughly revised?

Correct. They should not have to be changed.

Finally, is it possible to characterize how theological concerns influence the decisions of the editors? Is the committee given freedom to pursue accuracy wherever it leads, or are there theological (or pastoral) constraints that prevent the committee from pursuing what the committee members or book editors believe is the best translation?

We have complete freedom. We translate as accurately as possible the linguistic evidence. There are no outside constraints (though there are probably internal forces or subconscious currents at work). For the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament I work with a Jewish scholar. We have never had the slightest difference based on theological or pastoral concerns.

Friendship Press currently estimates that the NRSV-UE will be released to publishers in November 2021, with final publication dates depending on each publisher’s internal schedule. It is safe to assume that editions will begin appearing for sale in 2022. Friendship Press encourages anyone who is interested in the NRSV-UE project to sign up for email updates on their website.

8 thoughts on “Progress Update on the NRSV-UE”

  1. I am very anxiously awaiting the NRSV-UE. I wonder if anyone commenting on the blog knows the details of the process for a bible to receive an imprimatur? It seems that the NRSV-UE is only a slight update to language rather than a large revision. I wonder if we can expect a Catholic edition to be released immediately? Or will we need to wait another year or so beyond 2022 for an approved Catholic edition? The RSV-2CE was released with the same imprimatur as the RSV-CE, so maybe that will be the case for the Catholic edition of the NRSV-UE? Only time will tell I guess.

  2. I wish they would add footnotes for singular pronouns converted to plurals. I often read claims by NRSV fans that all uses of inclusive language are footnoted, but that is far from true. They also don’t footnote where third person pronouns have been changed to second person.

    1. Agreed! That would help with some of the passages in the OT that have traditionally been applied to Christ, such as Psalm 1:1. A simple annotation, such as “lit: man” where the singular was pluralized would provide accuracy while allowing for inclusive language, which is a hallmark of the NRSV, a superb translation overall.

    2. It would be better for them to just completely got rid of all the ‘singular pronouns turned to plurals’ because this is the least grammatical and most awkward way to make the language more ‘inclusive’.

  3. Other translations have opted for the middle ground, using something like “the one” instead of “the man” when the meaning is inclusive. Though I find “the one” a little cold, it’s more accurate than pluralizing the singular, or switching to the third person, as the NRSV does. I foolishly hoped the NRSV revision would pull back somewhat (though didn’t expect much, as inclusive language is part of the NRSV “brand”).

    Many notable scholars contend that the NRSV is a good and accurate translation. It flows well, much less clunkily than some (i.e. the NABRE). As an example of its accuracy, in the parable of the prodigal son (Lk 15) the NRSV, like the RSV and ESV, retains the idiom “he came to himself,” rather than making it the flat, less accurate, “he came to his senses,” as the NABRE and RNJB do. The difference is significant: the former pops; the latter fizzles (and doesn’t capture the enormity of the conversion at the core of the man’s being). So, in spite of its inclusive language, the NRSV is more literal than many modern translations (another example is Gen 4:1, with “knew” literally retained as a poetical idiom that indicates sexual relations). One might hope the revision doesn’t lose this.

    I’m still partial to the even more literal but stylistically excellent ESV-CE. For instance, I appreciate that, unlike the NRSV, the ESV (and RSV) retains all the annoying “and”s in Mark, which remind me that this Gospel writer is moving the narrative along at a quick pace with a certain urgency to get the message out. (On the other hand, see John 2:4 for an example of the NRSV being more accurate than the ESV and RSV.)

  4. Forgive the tangential comment, but is there any update on the progress of the NABRE’s final revision into the One Bible to Rule Them All, liturgical/devotional/omnibus edition? The USCCB has been very forthcoming about the progress in specific areas being made on the Liturgy of the Hours, Second Edition currently under development, but much of it will also depend on the NABRE revision and there seems to be no intel out there on it. Does anyone know anything?

  5. It looks that the most relevant update is:
    Details where recent scholarship on text criticism or philology have arrived at an improved understanding over the 1980s when the NRSV was produced.
    English is my second language, and I was not aware of the different translations until I got my first English Bible.

    The NRSV was quite interesting project. I liked the idea to have people from different religions who tried to get an agreement on the most deeply way to translate it. Sadly I read that at final stage there was an editorial committee which changed many words.

    Yes, this NRSV-UE project sounds exiting as well. I already have seven different translations. When I read a passage that sounds “flat”, I take another translation and continue reading. I can say that there is a deep intention on giving a translation that resonates in us.

    Sometimes the inclusive language sounds like a broader message, but less deep. Unless someone does not feel inspired by the book, the inclusive language is already since Genesis 1:27 “male and female he created them”. So going forward our mindset should have both male and female present while reading the Bible.

    Anyway, I hope this project is completed with higher quality than NRSV.

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