Thanks to HarperCollins, the NRSV is gaining ground

The October sales figures by CBA are out. What surprised me was the appearance of the NRSV. This is the first time that I’ve seen it on the list. It is a pleasant surprise because this is a great translation that has been underrated by evangelicals for a long time. Since this indicates bibles purchased at CBA bookstores, it indicates that evangelicals are starting to pick up this great translation and discovering its merits and virtues. Well, after almost 20 years being published, it is finally being recognized and noticed by evangelicals. And maybe all of my fellow biblioblogger friends out in blogosphere-land who like the NRSV are contributing to this recognition in our own small ways too.

But I think this climb in the sales rankings is largely attributed to HarperCollins’ excellent marketing of its new hardcover edition, the XL edition, and the Go-Anywhere edition. I now see much more of these HarperCollins NRSVs on the bookshelves of Christian bookstores, like the one near my house. Previous to HarperCollins’ getting on board to market the NRSV, I saw very few NRSVs in Christian bookstores. It goes to show that marketing can make a huge difference in how a translation is perceived by potential bible readers. So kudos to HarperCollins and the NRSV, which is one of my favourite translations. It deserves to be read by more people and recognized for its high quality translation. Thank you Harper Collins.

[ Hat tip to: Stan McCullers and Iyov ]

Translations sold based on Dollar Sales:

1. New International Version, various publishers
2. New Living Translation, Tyndale
3. King James Version, various publishers
4. New King James Version, various publishers
5. Holman Christian Standard Bible, B&H Publishing Group
6. New American Standard Bible update, various publishers
7. English Standard Version, Crossway
8. New Revised Standard Version, various publishers
9. The Message, Eugene Peterson, NavPress
10. New International Readers Version, Zondervan

Translations sold based on Unit Sales:

1. New International Version, various publishers
2. New Living Translation, Tyndale
3. New King James Version, various publishers
4. King James Version, various publishers
5. English Standard Version, Crossway
6. Holman Christian Standard Bible, B&H Publishing Group
7. Reina Valera 1960 (Spanish), various publishers
8. New American Standard Bible update, various publishers
9. New Revised Standard Version, various publishers
10. New International Readers Version, Zondervan

What are the most authoritative translations?

ElShaddai Edwards and I have been conversing about the REB/NEB over at his blog at He is Sufficient. Our conversation has become an interesting conversation regarding the authority of bible translations.

ElShaddai said to me: “Thank you for using “authoritative” instead of “accurate”. It’s an interesting distinction and one that I’ve been thinking of exploring rather than needlessly continuing the translation philosophy wars.”

Then I responded by saying: “Yes, I do like the use of “authoritative” when I’m not talking about the formal-dynamic equivalency issues. This is a totally different issue when it comes to translations.”

I think the most authoritative translation today is still the NIV. Here’s my order of ranking:

1. NIV authority based on popular usage in all genres of publications, and usage in evangelical churches today
2. NKJV (authority based on popular usage in evangelical churches today)
3. KJV (authority based on popular usage in evangelical churches today)
4. NLT (authority based on huge growth in general popularity)
5. NRSV (authority based on usage in academic journals, reference books, and usage in mainline churches)
6. NAB(authority based on usage in Roman Catholic churches in the USA)
7. NASB (authority based on usage in Christian magazines and by pastors)
8. ESV (authority based on usage by pastors)
9. TNIV (authority based on usage in books)
10. Message (authority based on usage by pastors)

How often a translation is quoted by teachers, pastors and Christian publications of any sort (books, news magazines, ministry publications, academic journals, websites, etc.) are very important factors when we are considering whether a translation is authoritative, or not authoritative.

The authority of a translation is also dependent upon how accurate it is, and it is also less dependent upon whether it is a formal or dynamic translation. However, these factors are less important and are not the primary reasons for authority. In my opinion, the most important factor to what determines the authority of a translation is how often it is quoted.

You may disagree with my order of rankings and my reasons for them. Note that this ranking has nothing to do with which translation I think should be authoritative; rather, they are what I think are authoritative at this current moment in time.

Why did I pick the NIV as the most authoritative? Because it is still the most widely read and quoted translation today. Being the most read and quoted translation gives the NIV that authority.
Note that my rankings are unrelated to the CBA sales ranking because sales is only an indication of how popular a translation is at the current moment in time; however, it does not indicate how often it is quoted by authoritative figures and publications.

Which translations do you think are the most authoritative today? Share you order of translation ranking and state your reasons.

Update: ElShaddai at He is Sufficient has also posted on this topic of authority of bible translations.

Brand new: NRSV Discipleship Study Bible by WJK Press


If you frequent the New Epistles blog, you know that I feel the NRSV is one of the best formal equivalent translations today, along with the ESV. In 2008, Westminster John Knox Press (WJKP) has now come out with the NRSV Discipleship Study Bible with Apocrypha. It is supposed to be the first NRSV study bible published in five years. This study bible tries to tie together an understanding of the biblical texts and life application. This is unique for an NRSV bible, and mainline Christians who are attracted to the NRSV translation may find this a novelty.

WJK Press is not known as a bible publisher, and to my knowledge, this is the only bible currently being published by WJK Press so kudos to WJKP. According to WJK’s description:

The annotations in this study Bible give particular emphasis to discerning scriptural guidance for living together in community. Such living encompasses but is not limited to personal piety. The biblical text has an inescapable social dimension and this study Bible demonstrates attentiveness to the public and communal meanings and implications of the biblical text, including the social justice and social witness dimensions of Scripture.

The Discipleship Study Bible will provide:

• a focus on discipleship that is based on the scholarship and inclusive language of the NRSV.
• a concentration on social justice – acts of Christian care and concern for all God’s people and God’s entire world.
• a concentration on personal piety – Christian acts of personal response to Scripture.

The Discipleship Study Bible will include:

• the complete text of the NRSV, including the Aprocrypha
• extensive introduction and annotations for each biblical book, including the Apocrypha, from a group of distinguished biblical scholars.
• essential historical, sociocultural, literary, and theological issues valuable in understanding each biblical book.
• annotations for each biblical book that address the whole range of the Christian life — spiritual and social, personal and communal.
• a concise chronology of events and literature in and surrounding Ancient Israel and Early Christianity.
• a concise concordance.
• color maps.

Most NRSV study bibles out there try to concentrate on the biblical text from a critical perspective. This one is different because it comments on Christian living and personal piety. It will definitely not be anywhere close to being similar to a combination of a Life Application Study Bible and an NRSV HarperCollins SB or NOAB. However, it does bring to the reader’s attention some of the social justice issues familiar to liberal mainline churches, e.g., socio-political, economic and environmental. With the study notes, its page count comes in at 2198 pages, which is quite considerable.

Most conservative readers may likely not go for this type of study bible but if you are a mainline or evangelical who is concerned about some of these social issues, it would certainly be a bible worth looking at. For personal piety and Christian living, not many bibles out there can beat the Life Application Study Bible; however, the NRSV Discipleship Study Bible may have the corner on social justice issues.

Romans 6:17 – TNIV vs HCSB vs ESV vs NRSV

Here’s a comparison of Romans 6:17 between four major translations. I was studying this for my sermon preparation and found this interesting difference.

Romans 6:17

TNIV:
But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance.

HCSB:
But thank God that, although you used to be slaves of sin, you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching you were entrusted to,

ESV:
But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed,

NRSV:
But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted,

v. 17: the rendering in the HCSB and NRSV seems to most accurately render the definition of παρεδοθητε (paredothēte, entrusted). The word paredothēte conveys the idea that this teaching has been entrusted to the receiver, or given over or delivered to someone else’s hands. Both HCSB and NRSV rendering of “entrusted” accurately expresses this idea that something is handed over or delivered to another’s hands. The idea expressed in the ESV is still accurate but might be misinterpreted as to whom, and from whom, this pattern of teaching has been committed to. TNIV’s rendering of “claimed your allegiance” can also be misinterpreted to mean that the receiver of this teaching is the one who has actively committed oneself over to Paul’s teaching. This may be true but it is not what the text is necessarily saying. I prefer the NIV’s rendering of “entrusted.”

Also, ESV’s rendering of “standard of teaching” is a little different from the others. The Greek word τυπον (tupon, pattern or model) expresses the idea of the use of an example or a model that has a mark or impression and can be used as an exemplar. I prefer HCSB and TNIV’s use of “pattern”, and NRSV’s use of “form” is also good.

Search for a formal translation: NASB vs ESV vs NRSV — a conclusion

After blogging on this series on the three formal equivalent translations, I cannot say there is a clear #1 winner because it all depends on what a person wants in a translation. This may be a post-modern approach but I do respect each person’s preference. All three translations are very good but I do not want to minimize any of their strengths so I cannot prescribe a “best translation”. I believe it is a subjective and personal decision because each person wants something different in a translation.

The NASB is definitely the most literal, the NRSV is the least literal of the three literal translations, and the ESV is somewhere in-between. If one wants the most literal word-for-word precision (in alignment with the Greek) and do not mind the choppiness in reading, plus a conservative theological outlook, then the NASB is best. If you want a fairly high degree of literalness but without the awkward choppiness of the NASB, and a conservative evangelical theological outlook, then the ESV is the best. If you want a fairly literal translation and even greater readability than the ESV, plus gender-neutral language, then the NRSV is best. So here is my individual conclusion to each of the three excellent translations.

NASB
What surprised me is that there have been several times when the NASB has superfluously added a word or two to the text where it does not exist in the original language. But then, the NRSV does this too. The amount of meticulous translation work done on the NASB is incredible. From a detailed perspective, it is definitely the most literal in the majority of cases; and overall, from a broader perspective, it is still the most literal of the three. It is excellent for careful exegetical bible studies. The NASB has a stellar reputation for very good reasons. It is literal yet accurate. The literalness in the NASB is in itself, its own strength, and at the same time, it is also its own weakness. Literalness makes it less readable, but nevertheless, it is still readable to the average person. This is why it has been the formal equivalent translation of choice for conservatives/evangelicals who have a high view of scripture and who do a lot of exegetical bible studies. It has been underestimated by mainline and secular academic settings in the past, and this is too bad. In my opinion, it deserves greater respect than what it has received. In conservative-evangelical seminaries, the NASB is still highly regarded.

ESV
The ESV seems to be the leanest in terms of wordiness—that is, it seems to use fewer words than the NASB and NRSV to say the same thing. Even though it is less wordy, it amazes me that it is also more readable than the NASB. In future revisions, if they could get rid of its inverted negatives, the ESV would be even more readable. The ESV is second in literalness after the NASB. This makes it excellent for indepth exegetical bible studies. Another strength of the ESV is that it is the most up-to-date in scholarship. Like the NRSV when it first came out, ESV translators also made distinctly unique decisions regarding the rendering of certain passages. This is why it is useful to consult different translations (however, it may be difficult to know why the translators rendered certain words the way they did). The ESV is a scholarly translation and will become known as such. I predict that it will gain a greater respectability from mainline/secular academia than the NASB ever did. Since its translators are conservative/evangelical, like the NASB, it will inevitably become the pride of evangelicals.

NRSV
The NRSV is not as literal as the NASB and is slightly less literal than the ESV; but yet, it is very accurate. Accuracy and literalness should not be equated as the same thing. The language of the NRSV is also a strength because it makes it more readable than the NASB, and even the ESV. The NRSV translators made choices to go with slightly different rendering from the traditional ones and that may be due to a more liberal Christian worldview or just a different way of handling the original text. I think the difference in worldview is less of a factor than the way the text is handled. The translators of the NRSV did a lot of work in making improvements over the RSV, even more so than what the ESV translators have done with the RSV, in my opinion. The NRSV is greatly enhanced in its readability over the RSV, and has increased in accuracy too.

In my past, the two translations I usually consult the most are the NASB and NRSV but this should not be seen as a slight to the ESV. I have only done so because I became accustomed to pulling the NASB and NRSV off the shelf first but this should not reflect my opinion of any of the three. I have recently started to consult the ESV much more often because I have discovered its excellence. All three translations are very good, and they are each unique in their own ways. So my search for a formal equivalent translation will continue on sometime into the future.

Formal equivalence comparison #4: NASB vs ESV vs NRSV – Acts 2

The comparison between formal translations of the Tyndale tradition continues with Acts chapter 2. This is the last of this comparison series between the NASB, ESV and NRSV.


Acts 2:22-23

ESV:
v.22: Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—
v.23: this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.

NRSV:
v.22: “You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know—
v.23: this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law.

NASB:
v.22: “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know—
v.23: this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.

NET:
v.22: “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man clearly attested to you by God with powerful deeds, wonders, and miraculous signs that God performed among you through him, just as you yourselves know –
v.23: this man, who was handed over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you executed by nailing him to a cross at the hands of Gentiles.

v.22: the NRSV’s gender-inclusive rendering of ἀνήρ (anhr) has curiously become “You that are Israelites.” This is a rather loose handling of gender-inclusive language. This is not literal, nor accurate. I prefer the rendering of “people of Israel” of the TNIV and NLT.

v.23: it is interesting to see the contrast between the NASB’s use of “predetermined plan” and the ESV and NRSV’s use of “definite plan.” Is there a difference between “predetermined” and “definite”? I think so. Merriam-Webster defines the word “definite” as: “having distinct or certain limits” or “clearly expressed as to leave no doubt about the meaning.” In today’s modern English, “definite” does not accurately express the intent of the writer. The rendering here should express the idea of a pre-determined plan. The word “destined” would be better than “definite.” “Predestined” may cause readers to presume the doctrine of double predestination. The TNIV uses “deliberate” and the NLT “prearranged.” I prefer the NASB’s rendering of “predetermined.”


Acts 2:25

ESV:
For David says concerning him, I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;

NRSV:
For David says concerning him, “I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;

NASB:
“For David says of Him, ‘I saw the Lord always in my presence; for he is at my right hand, so that I will not be shaken.’

NET:
‘I saw the Lord always in front of me,
for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken.

v.25: the NASB’s rendering of “in my presence” is overly interpretive and is not characteristic of its hallmark of literalness. “Before me” (ESV, NRSV) or “in front of me” (NET) is more accurate.

Acts 2:29

ESV:
Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David…

NRSV:
Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David…

NASB:
“Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David…

NKJV:
“Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David…

v.29: The NRSV’s rendering of “fellow Israelites” is inaccurate. This is a case where the NRSV has mishandled its gender-inclusive language in its rendering of ανδρες αδελφοι (andros adelphoi). The NASB’s “brethren” is also more acceptable than “fellow Israelites.” But for gender-inclusivity, TNIV’s “brothers and sisters” is better. It is interesting to note that the NKJV used “men and brethren.” The NKJV can sometimes be gender-inclusive in some places and perhaps this may be an attempt to translate ανδρες αδελφοι (andros adelphoi, men brothers) to include men and women in its rendering of brethren. Many will say that Peter is referring to male brethren, as opposed to female brethren because the Greek word andros traditionally means male. In our gender-inclusive bible-reading community, we have accepted ἀνήρ to mean both men and women. It is interesting to note that the NLT used “brothers and sisters” in v.22 but used “brothers” in v.29. I’m not sure why this is so.


Acts 2:40-41

ESV:
v.40: And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, Save yourselves from this crooked generation.

v.41: So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

NRSV:
v.40: And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”

v.41: So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.

NASB:
v.40: And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!”

v.41: So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.

NET:
v.40: With many other words he testified and exhorted them saying, “Save yourselves from this perverse generation!”

v.41: So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand people were added.

v.40: The NRSV’s rendering of “arguments” is supposed to add clarification but it has a different meaning from “words” (ESV, NASB). But do we know for certain that it was with arguments that Peter was speaking, or could it have been just plain speech? Can one testify with just words or plain speech without making an argument? It seems to me that “argument” might be overly interpretive. The gospel does not necessarily have to present a rationalistic argument in order to testify or bring witness to the living Christ. The gospel is powerful because it is Holy Spirit who brings witness to Christ—not necessarily a rationalistic argument as our philosophical humanistic culture would suggest. This might be difficult concept for us today since it is popular to believe in a rationalistic Christian worldview.


v.41: The NRSV uses “welcomed his message” rather than “received his word” (ESV, NASB), or “accepted his message (T/NIV, NET). The original intent was to express a welcoming response to the word of God. “Received his word” does not necessarily express a willingness to receive the word or message. “Accepted his message” might be slightly better; and “gladly received his word” (NKJV) is interpretive but better still. “Believed what Peter said” (NLT) is overly interpretive because it connotes that it was a matter of receiving by believing. I prefer the NRSV’s rendering of “welcomed his message” may be closer to the original intent but even the use of “message” is interpretive because the Greek uses λογον (logon). We can safely assume that the word is inclusive of a message. I would prefer “welcomed his word” because this is literal yet accurately expresses the intent of the writer.


This concludes this comparison series on a search for a formal equivalent translation (NASB, ESV and NRSV). I will provide a conclusion in my next post.

Formal equivalence comparison #3: NASB vs ESV vs NRSV–John 19

The comparison between formal translations of the Tyndale tradition continues with the Gospel of John, chapter 18. However, I’ve included the NET bible in the table.

John 19:3

ESV:

They came up to him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews! and struck him with their hands.

NRSV:

They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and striking him on the face.

NASB:
and they began to come up to Him and say, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and to give Him slaps in the face.

NET:
They came up to him again and again and said, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they struck him repeatedly in the face.

v.3: The rendering of “slaps in the face” (NASB) or “striking him on the face” (NRSV) is may unnecessarily be assuming that Jesus was struck or slapped on the face. The ESV/RSV might be more accurate because it simply states that he was only struck with the hand. The ESV does not assume that Jesus was slapped or struck on the face. The underlying Greek in this verse uses ραπισματα (rhapisma, struck, given blows, or slapped). The definition of rhapisma means that one is given a blow, struck with the hand, or struck with the palm or flat part of one’s hand. It may also imply that one is struck with a rod or staff or a scourge. If Jesus was struck with the flat part of the hand, then one may more accurately assume that Jesus was slapped in the face. The NLT1 rendered this as “hit him with their fists.” The NET bible’s rendering used “struck him repeatedly in the face.” In this verse, I prefer the ESV’s rendering.

John 19:6

ESV:
When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, Crucify him, crucify him! Pilate said to them, Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.

NRSV:
When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.”

NASB:
So when the chief priests and the officers saw Him, they cried out saying, “Crucify, crucify!” Pilate said to them, “Take Him yourselves and crucify Him, for I find no guilt in Him.”

NET:
When the chief priests and their officers saw him, they shouted out, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said, “You take him and crucify him! Certainly I find no reason for an accusation against him!”

John 19:6

v.6a: The NRSV, RSV, ESV revise it to “crucify him” to add clarification that they referred to Jesus. The NASB is most literal with the Greek in rendering “crucify, crucify” without the “him”, as this is not in the Greek. The T/NIV and HCSB also use “crucify, crucify.”

The ESV, NASB and RSV use the word “officers” but the NRSV is more interpretive in stating that it was the (temple) police were present with the chief priests. The HCSB also render it as “temple police.” The Greek word υπηρεται (huperetes, servant) can mean servant, officers, attendants, or an aid or assistant to the minister or king. The wording of “temple police” unnecessarily conjures an image that there were temple authorities (as in jail wardens or bar bouncers) rather than servants or assistants. I cannot imagine the temple calling for the rough and tumble type of temple police. (The only time I’ve seen temple police is with televangelists with undercover guards with earpieces attached). I feel the NASB and ESV’s usage of “officers” is more correct.

John 19:7

ESV:
he has made himself the Son of God.

NRSV:
he has claimed to be the Son of God.

NASB:
He made Himself out to be the Son of God

NET:
he claimed to be the Son of God!

v.7: The ESV (and HCSB) used: “He made Himself the Son of God.” This seems to be a little tricky. The ESV is most literal. The word “claimed” is not in the Greek but was added by the NRSV and the NET (and T/NIV) to add clarity. To make oneself the Son of God may not make sense. Would someone who is already the Son of God need to make oneself into the Son of God? It seems clear that the Jews meant to say that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. This is why the most literal rendering may not always make sense. The NASB took the happy medium by maintaining the word “made/make” but added “made himself out to be the Son of God.” I prefer the NASB’s rendering of this verse because it maintains the word “make.”

John 19:12

ESV:
If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend.

NRSV:
“If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor.

NASB:
“If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar.

NET:
“If you release this man, you are no friend of Caesar!

v. 12: Why did the NRSV change the word to “emperor”? Most translations use Caesar, as this is in the Greek.

Overall, the NASB is still the most literal. The ESV places second in this but is still clear. Although all three have used additional wording to add clarification, it seems that the NRSV has taken the less literal approach in this verse, which surprised me a bit.