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.

Text-Critical 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

Philological Revisions

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 4:24

Preface 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.

Conclusion

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.

22 thoughts on “NRSV Updated Edition Release Date and Sampler”

  1. Ah so they are using “person first” language regarding disabilities, and using a rather liberal definition of disability. I guess being possessed by a demon is a kind of disability in a sense. 😉

    Person first means ie “a person who has autism” vs “an autistic person”, etc. The intent is to emphasize that a person is not defined by their autism (or epilepsy, etc). The condition (autism, epilepsy, etc) might even be cured someday.

    There has been some pushback against mandating exclusive use of person first language by some in the disabled community of late however. It can seem a bit condescending. One would not hesitate to call someone “a tall person”, or “intelligent”, and would not resort to circumlocutions like “a person of height.” Yet, one is not defined by one’s height or intelligence. Were one to shrink or decline in intelligence with old age, one would still be the same person.

    So why avoid saying “autistic”? Is it such a terrible thing? Is it like calling someone “cancerous” (which would be horrible), instead of “has cancer”? Is autism like cancer?

    Of course not! Autism brings strengths, and challenges. No it does not define who you are, but it is part of one’s identity, like intelligence or height. There’s nothing wrong with saying “has autism” or “autistic”, but if you bend over backwards to avoid saying the latter could signal that you think autism is horrible – and it’s not.

    At least that’s the thinking of many but by no means all in the autism self-advocates community. I understand that many (but not all) blind people similarly have little use for person first language. “Blind person” is fine with them.

    I say this as father of two boys with autism / autistic boys. In practice I usually do use person first language to avoid offending anyone, and because person first language is de rigueur amongst the doctors and clinicians we work with so I’ve become habituated to it. But, the times might be a’ changin’ regarding “person first” language.

    This was a long winded way of saying the NRSV-UE might be behind the eight ball on this one. They’re trying to keep up with the young kids, but they’re a few years behind. Ah gettin’ old – happens to the best of us. 😉

  2. Re the examples, “[person] possessed by a demon” may work better than “demoniac” – not because it will offend all the demoniac readers of the NRSV-UE (demoniacs are not big bible readers typically 😉 ), but because readers may not be familiar with the term “demoniac”.

    “Afflicted with paralysis” does seem a little awkward OTOH.

    It does seem that they are doubling down on the political correctness in this update. It all depends on how far they take it though.

  3. Aa i suspected it will become even more pointlessly politically correct.

    I wonder how far this ‘inclusive language’ nonsense is going to be pushed in the future. Recently, the word ‘mother’ has come to be regarded as ‘biased’ and the ‘gender neutral term’ ‘ birthing person’s has come to be preferred. I suppose in a few years, we will read a New Testament translation where Jesus is informed ‘ your birthing person’ is here to see you’

    All this inclusive language is completely ahistorical and distorts the context of the scriptures.

  4. But I’m a sucker because I will totally download the e-book the first day it is available…

  5. I’m confused by this type of change.

    Textual notes that offer interpretive hints, such as the John 12.5
    comment about the modern equivalent of three hundred denarii,
    were deleted.

    NRSV note: Three hundred denarii would be nearly a year’s wages for a laborer
    NRSVue note: —

    Why would they delete these? Are they saying they made a mistake about the worth of a denarius?

    1. I was also curious about that. Some translations (including the NJB if memory serves) offer a US dollar equivalent in the notes, which strikes me as speculative (and subject to change with inflation, etc). But the NRSV’s note doesn’t fall prey to that problem. “A year’s wages for a laborer” is intuitive without giving an amount that is too specific.

      1. I have been using the NJB for lectio divina recently and that translation sticks with denarius/denarii etc. The NAB, including its lectionary iteration gives equivalents like 10 months wages, as could be heard in the Gospel reading of the feeding of the 5,000 last Sunday.

    2. My guess about the omission of the note re: 300 denarii ~ a year’s wages, is that a year’s wages in the 21st century means vastly different things in different areas, such that the note is, if not altogether useless, not particularly precise

  6. I don’t have an issue with most of these changes (some I think are good, most neutral). The one that strikes me as most odd is the change from “servant-girl” to “female servant”. To me these are exactly the same thing, and neither one is offensive, but “female servant” sounds clunky and clinical to me, whereas “servant girl” sounds more familiar and colloquial. I think “servant girl” would fit better in most places from a readability standpoint.

    I asked my wife how she felt about it and she seemed to feel the same way, so I don’t think I am being a misogynist saying that…

    1. One thing that makes me lean toward the new “female servant” terminology is the age connotation of “girl.” When I hear “servant-girl,” I envision a child (or teenager) who is a servant. If the underlying Greek term could be used for maid-servants of various ages, then I think “female servant” is more accurate. The NRSV-UE preface focuses on the possible derogatory nature of “girl”, but the implication is that “girl” was being used in the NRSV to refer to a servant who could be an adult woman.

      1. The bigger question is whether terms like ‘female servant’ would have been used by people living at the time. The answer is obviously ‘no’. They would have said ‘servant girl’

        i am constantly being told by advocates of dynamic translation thatt accuracy means ”accurately portraying the time in which the text was written and the impact it would have had on its original readers’, but by this standard, inclusive language has absolutely no place. No one at the time was in the least bit concerned about being ‘sensitive’ or inclusive. When the Bible uses masculine language, there is a very good chance that it was done deliberately to exclude women. If so, this fact should be preserved for the sake of accuracy.

        Inclusive language isn’t translation, it is projection and cultural imperialism. We are imposing our own biases on to the text. It is interpretation.

        99% of what is done to translations to make the language more inclusive would be better in a footnote, after a long passage in which exclusively masculine language is used, there could be a footnote that says something like ‘in context, this passage appears to apply universally to both men and women’ and ta da modern concerns about inclusion would addressed without distorting the translation by pretending the ancient authors were modern egalitarians.

      2. I think I would actually prefer “maidservant”, though it is a bit archaic. That would not have the connotation of youth, and would also not sound so bland and clinical.

        1. Synonyms for maidservant:
          biddy, char [British], charwoman, handmaiden (also handmaid), house girl, housekeeper, housemaid, maid, skivvy [British], wench
          [merriam-webster.com]

          I guess for an American edition we’d choose “housekeeper” or “housemaid”.

  7. How will effect the NRSVCE? I’d suspect the ‘Word on Fire’ folks will not want to see this change. They’ve already completed the New Testament with the ‘old’ NRSV.

  8. I don’t understand how ‘girl’ is a pejorative. I could understand the change in relation to age because a female servant may be an adult but calling a female child is a literal statement of fact. It seems an odd comment to make without any discernible reason for doing so. I support the change but not the reason given.

    1. The only way I can imagine “girl” being pejorative is when it is used to refer to an adult woman. I suspect that was more common a few decades ago. I remember my grandmother referring to a middle-aged cashier in a department store as a “girl” once. As a boy, I assumed it was because everyone younger than my grandmother seemed like a kid to her. But after reading this note from the NRSV translators, I wonder if it was common to refer to female servants or women in service professions as “girls”?

  9. I am certainly well aware of the criticism offered on any newer translation. (Mezger found out when the RSV was released decades ago and more recently Bill Mounce talks about it regularly with the ESV and even more recently with the NIV) I also clearly know that all translation will involve interpretation and no translation will please everyone. (traduttore, traditore) (There are certainly improvements given in the samples) However, they would do well to adjust their claim that this is the most accurate and faithful translation especially when the most common name (ha shem) in the Old Testament is not rendered correctly even once, but instead the version puts human tradition ahead of what God inspired in his Word. The NRSVue has masked and substituted God’s personal name with an entirely different word. Not once is it translated, transliterated, or transcribed which would be three options on rendering personal names in harmony with the inspired text but instead the NRSVue has because of human tradition removed the name and replaced it with a totally different word. In addition, when the inspired text has adonai (or like) along with the tetragram then this version now adds another totally different word namely “GOD” so as to avoid the problem they created if their substituted word (LORD) were consistently following by writing the “LORD Lord” in a text. This in itself should have raised a red flag that there is tampering with the Word of God going on. Ideally it would be nice if you correct this and add a form of the divine name whether transcribed or transliterated to even attempt to claim being so accurate. However, the tradition of the KJV has long influenced us and will no doubt continue for some time. While I will still use this version, (no version is perfect) certainly I will not call it one of the most faithful nor accurate and neither should we.

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