Many thanks to a couple of readers for sharing links with me. Friendship Press has announced that the New Revised Standard Version – Updated Edition (NRSV-UE) will be released in e-book format on November 18, 2021. Most likely, printed editions will follow in early 2022.
A sampler is also available in PDF format featuring a letter to the reader from the National Council of Churches, as well as the preface to the NRSV-UE and a selection of sample revisions. The sampler provides an excellent overview of the update process and the changes that can be expected. The changes can be classified in two broad categories: text-critical revisions and philological revisions.
For the Old Testament, the NRSV-UE’s textual basis will be the Bibilica Hebraica Quinta (a work in progress) for all books that have been released so far. The remaining books of the Old Testament will use the Biblica Hebraica Stuttgartensia as a basis. These are critical editions of the Hebrew Masoretic Text. The Quinta is intended as an update that will replace the Stuttgartensia once it is finished. According to the NRSV-UE preface, the translators have taken a measured approach to correcting the Masoretic Text based on other versions:
The vowel signs, which were added by the Masoretes, are accepted in the main, but where a more probable and convincing reading can be obtained by assuming different vowels, we adopted that reading. No notes are given in such cases because the vowel points are more recent and less reliably original than the consonants.
Departures from the consonantal text of the best manuscripts have been made only where it seems clear that errors in copying were introduced before the Masoretes standardized the Hebrew text. Most of the corrections adopted in the NRSVue are based on other ancient Hebrew manuscripts or on the ancient versions (translations into Greek, Aramaic, Syriac, and Latin), which were made prior to the time of the work of the Masoretes and which therefore may reflect earlier forms of the Hebrew text. In such instances a note specifies the manuscript, version, or versions attesting the correction and also gives a translation of the Masoretic Text.Preface to the NRSV Updated Edition, from the Society of Biblical Literature
In the New Testament, the translators referred to three separate critical editions: the UBS Greek New Testament 5th revised edition, The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition, and the Novum Testamentum Graecum: Edition Critica Maior (for the book of Acts and the Catholic Letters). Similar to the NRSV, some passages that are considered later additions to the text will be enclosed in double brackets.
The most substantial text-critical changes will be in the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical books. Here, the translators used an eclectic mix of base texts. The preface provides a wealth of detail for multiple individual books. One of the most important changes involves the book of Tobit. The NRSV used a shorter Greek manuscript tradition for its translation, but the NRSV-UE has chosen to translate from a longer Greek manuscript tradition. The book of Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus) was also a challenge, and the translators used both Greek and Hebrew versions for the translation.
Overall, the translators describe their approach to text criticism as follows:
In the NRSVue, care was taken not to push too far ahead of the existing critical editions or to turn the translation itself and its notes into a critical edition. Nevertheless, a careful reader will notice in general a more generous use of the notes for alternative readings. The editors hope that this work will serve translators in the future.Preface to the NRSV Updated Edition, from the Society of Biblical Literature
Philology refers to the study of languages and the cultural and linguistic context in which they were spoken. Philological revisions in the NRSV-UE can be classified as stemming from new understandings of ancient languages or assessments of changes in English usage (or both).
The primary example of a new understanding of an ancient word is a sacrificial term in the Old Testament (Leviticus 4:8 is one of many examples). In the NRSV, this word is translated “sin offering.” The translators have updated it to “purification offering” in line with scholarly consensus.
Revisions that stem from changes in English usage are likely to be the most controversial, since English usage is not homogeneous across all English speakers. Changes can also carry a political connotation to many readers. Here are some examples:
Leprosy vs. Defiling Skin Disease
In English, “leprosy” refers to a specific skin disease (otherwise known as Hansen’s Disease). The Old Testament’s references to skin diseases are less specific, so the NRSV-UE translates these references as “defiling skin disease” or similar equivalents.
Brothers vs. Brothers and Sisters
The Greek word adelphoi is a word that can mean either “brothers” or “brothers and sisters.” The NRSV generally translated it “brothers and sisters” with a note saying “Gk brothers” to alert readers that there is only a single Greek word that can be literally translated “brothers.” The NRSV-UE has extended the use of “brothers and sisters” throughout the text and dropped the notes. Since the Greek word does not always refer to male siblings, the translators considered the note unnecessary.
Servant-girl vs. Female Servant
The NRSV used “servant-girl” to refer to a servant who is a young woman. In modern English, the translators judged that the word “girl” is a pejorative when referring to a young woman, so they revised these references to “female servant.”
Paralytics vs. Afflicted with Paralysis
I will quote directly from the preface to the NRSV-UE here:
Terms referencing physical disabilities pose particular challenges when a translation attempts to honor both ancient realities and modern sensibilities. When context permits, NRSVue avoids translations that identify people in terms of a disability, as in Matthew 4:24Preface to the NRSV Updated Edition, from the Society of Biblical Literature
This led the translators to make several changes:
demoniacs -> people possessed by demons
epileptics -> having epilepsy
paralytics -> afflicted with paralysis
Slave vs. Enslaved
Again, from the preface to the NRSV-UE:
The language of enslavement is undergoing change as well, and careful communicators seek to highlight the fact that it is as an imposed condition, not an intrinsic aspect of a person’s being.Preface to the NRSV Updated Edition, from the Society of Biblical Literature
As a result, the translators have revised “slave” to “enslaved” in some cases.
Updated Words for Sexual Immorality
The NRSV-UE will use “prostitution” instead of “whoring” and “sexual immorality” instead of “fornication” to reflect the scholars’ view that “whoring” and “fornication” are archaic.
The preface also details a number of changes in versification, capitalizations, and notes. I appreciate Friendship Press for making this sampler available. It provides an excellent overview of what to expect in the NRSV-UE.