From: Theology’s Impact on Translation: KJV to NRSV Return to Home
By Roland H. Worth, Jr. © 2013
“Modernism” in the
RSV and NRSV New Testament?--
Word Choices and Substitutions
Just as the ASV and ERV were indicted on charges of Modernism because they substituted different words for the long established “proper” KJV ones, the Revised Standard was likewise attacked on the same grounds. Because the RSV retains a bad reputation among many religious conservatives and because, until recent years at least, it remained a widely used and endorsed translation, we will go into much more detail than we did in regard to the ASV.
Another factor contributing to the longer length of this chapter is the simple fact that the RSV seems to have far more such disputed substitutions than the ASV. To consider an adequate cross-section necessitates the additional space. If the reader will bear with me, I believe that his or her time will be well spent.
The New Revised Standard was virtually brand new when this study was originally written but two decades later it has become the widespread replacement. By comparing the RSV and the NRSV (as I did in the original manuscript) we will find that they reflect basically the same thought patterns as to the propriety of language substitution. Hence if a criticism of the RSV be valid on this matter it applies equally well to the NRSV as it retains the same contested wordings. Hence though the original and direct target of our sources is the RSV, the criticisms have obvious application to both.
In 1955 William C. Taylor published The New Bible—Pro and Con (N. 1). It contains a powerful thirty page chapter denouncing the RSV for diluting, distorting, and even removing important Bible truths by altering the wording found previously, especially in the KJV. Not all the changes are explicitly or implicitly attributed to infidelity, but even the former best fit our present context for discussion: Taylor himself discusses them within the framework of “proving” the impact of unbelief upon the RSV.
We will examine ten cases. Each involves not the matter of a single verse being “mistranslated,” but of far more pervasive alleged error (if error it turns out to be) . . . of significant words being repeatedly altered. Hence these ten samples are numerous enough to provide an excellent cross section to test the accusation of an ongoing pattern of “Liberal” manipulation of the text.
1. Removal of Capitalization
in Reference to Deity
“ ‘No doctrine of the
Christian faith has been affected by the revision,’ says Professor F. C. Grant.
. . . That is a matter of opinion. To my mind, many of the most vital
doctrines have been fearfully affected,” insists
His first example involves literally hundreds upon hundreds of cases: “To write ‘son’ and ‘spirit’ instead of ‘Son’ and ‘Spirit’ affects doctrinal teaching, in the passages where this occurs, as to two persons of the Trinity, just as would the change of ‘Our Father’ to ‘our father’!” (N. 3).
This must represent a case where the RSV (partially) reversed itself since scanning through my copies of the RSV and NRSV, I note “Son” and “Spirit” capitalized in a number of texts. Even so this would be our best place to consider the three related issues involving capitalization.
First, there is the matter of capitalizing “he” (and such related terms as “you”) when used of the Father. The NASB and NKJV routinely do so. The NIV joins the RSV and NRSV in omitting such capitalization.
Second, there is the matter of capitalizing such pronouns as “he” and “you” when used of Jesus. The NASB and NKJV do so; the NIV and NRSV follow the RSV in omitting it.
Third, there is the matter of capitalizing such pronouns when found in Old Testament references to the Messiah. The NASB and NKJV follow the custom. The NIV, RSV, and NRSV do not.
To this author the principle of using capitalization in all three situations would be ideal. Instead of having to trace back the antecedent of the pronoun, you immediately know (depending upon the context) that the reference is to God or Christ or the Holy Spirit. At the least it makes the text more user friendly. (Time not spend on figuring out who the “he” is, is that much more time to ponder the message of the text itself.)
In the Old Testament it helps one to easily see which passages either are or may be prophetic references to the coming Christ Jesus. Such capitalization has been attacked on the grounds of its assumption that the Torah and prophets should be interpreted “neutrally,” not as explicitly Christocentric. For this hideous “crime” we readily plead guilty
If the New Testament claim that the Old Testament predicted the coming of Jesus has historic roots at all, then the Old Testament did exactly that and to refuse to recognize it is not “neutrality” but the conscious and knowing rejection of what the New Testament has to say? The irony is that even the unbeliever should be able to capitalize a number of texts—not upon the basis that he himself regards it as prophetic, but on the basis that he knows that many ancients or moderns do. It becomes a visual pointer to texts interpreted as prophetic, whether the critic accepts that evaluation personally.
In all fairness it should be noted that capitalization of Deity references is a modern phenomena. The New Testament Greek manuscripts were written in either all capital letters or all lower case letters. The pronouns referring to God, Christ, and Spirit were not, therefore, distinguished in the text. On the other hand, we live in a society that does use capitalization. Should that reality not be reflected in our translations?
We would not think of condemning the manuscripts as exhibiting a lack of respect for God and His Son, however. So we should be very cautious about condemning modern translations that elect to follow that same course. The flip side of that coin, however, has to be: Does any one really believe preserving that earlier pattern has the least to do with the modern translators’ decision on the matter? And if it doesn’t reflect a conscious desire to follow that pattern, what Bible respecting motive can we come up with to explain the lapse?
2. Banishing of the Word
Two verbs are several times, and in great key Scriptures translated
“convert” and “be converted” in the New Testament—but not in the RSV. In it
the translators utterly banished the word “convert,” though by a strange
inconsistency, they preserve “conversion” once (Acts 15:3). . . .
“Turn” states a physical act. It might, in the process of time, be given
great moral revolutionary meaning. But it has not that meaning now, in itself.
Here is a word that has been at the very forefront of conversion theology and
evangelism. Now that is banished. We are given what very much looks like an
In the KJV we find forms of the word “convert: a total of ten times in the New Testament: “converted” (seven times) and “convert,” “converteth” and “conversion” (once each). In the RSV / NRSV and our three comparative conservatives translations it is rendered this way:
(1) Matthew 13:15: “turn,” RSV / NKJV / NIV / NRSV; “return,” NASB.
(2) Matthew 18:3: “turn,” RSV; “change,” NIV / NRSV; “converted,” NKJV / NASB.
(3) Mark : “turn,” NKJV / NIV; “turn again,” RSV / NRSV; “return,” NASB.
(4) Luke 22:32: “turned again,” RSV / NASB; “turned back,” NRSV; “returned,” NKJV / NIV.
(5) John 22:40: “turn,” RSV / NKJV / NIV / NRSV; “be converted,” NASB.
(6) Acts 3:19: “turn again,” RSV; “turn to God,” NIV; “return,” NASB; “be converted,” NKJV; “repent,” NRSV.
(7) Acts 15:3: “conversion,” RSV / NKJV / NASB / NRSV; ‘been converted,” NIV.
(8) Acts 28:27: “turn,” NKJV / NIV / NRSV; “turn for me,” RSV; “return,” NASB.
(9) James 5:19: “bring[s] him back,” RSV / NIV; “brought back,” NRSV; “turns him back,” NKJV / NASB.
(10)James 5:20: “brings back,” RSV / NRSV; “turns,” NASB / NKJV / NIV.
The three conservative translations use forms of “convert” more commonly than the RSV and NRSV yet also readily use the terms preferred by the RSV and NIV: “turn,” “turn again,” etc. I find it utterly fascinating that Young’s Literal Translation—held as the virtual gold standard of literalism among many I have read—avoids using any form of “convert” in any of these passages.
I would add, however, that since the “turn(ing)” under discussion involves a reorientation of one’s priorities and goals and making the decision to serve God—typically with the overtone of “serving Him once again” or “serving Him as you should have in the first place”—the word hardly does justice standing alone. “Morally turn,” “morally reform,” “change your lifestyle,” etc. would surely convey the intention far better than “turn” standing alone—though “return” at least begins to get the flavor.
“Convert” at least had the virtue of conveying the radical reformative overtones inherent in the “turning” in one simple word rather than requiring the addition of several others. Of course this is at least partly neutralized by the fact that “convert” traditionally carries the idea of “turning to God (or Christ) for the first time” while the texts typically have in mind the idea of beginning to do so again.
3. Omission of the Word
Nine times we read in our King James Version of the “remission of sins.”
But the word is banished from the New Bible. No converting experience for man;
no remission from God. “Remission of sins,” for our translators, is taboo. . . .
There is a vast difference between the forgiveness of sins and the
remission of sins, in many cases. . . . [Remission means] to cancel the whole
record and all its effects from consideration by divine justice, just as if the sins
had never existed. . . . It solves the sin problem in its judicial and external
aspects. The modernist does not believe in those aspects. So he shuts out of his
new Bible the remission of sins.
The term “remission” is used in ten KJV New Testament texts.
In seven cases the RSV, NRSV, NASB, and NIV concur in preferring the English word “forgiveness;” in each of these seven cases the New King James retains the traditional “remission:” Matthew 26:28; Mark 1:4; Luke 1:77; 3:3; 24:47; Acts 10:43; Hebrews 9:22.
In Acts they divide between “forgiveness” (RSV / NASB), “be forgiven” (NIV / NRSV), and “remission” (NKJV).
In the final case (Hebrews ) the RSV, NRSV and NASB concur on “forgiveness;” the NIV modifies this to “have been forgiven,” and the NKJV retains “remission.”
Hence two out of three of the conservative translations repeatedly opt for the same rendering as the RSV and NRSV. How can this be explained on the hypothesis of the Modernism of the translators?
4. Removal of the Word
The banishment of this great gospel word is another attack on the
objective aspects of redemption. . . . The whole Bible witnesses to the objective
need and the value before God of substitution by a sin-bearing sacrifice. . . .
It may be said that “expiation,” the word used instead of what the Greek
means, has as similar idea. Maybe so. But it may take a generation or two for it
to soak in on the popular mind. And you never know what any word means to a
modernist who cares to twist it.
“Propitiation” is used three times in the KJV.
In Romans the RSV has “expiation.” The NASB and NKJV retain “propitiation” and the NIV substitutes what may make considerably more sense to the typical reader than either of these choices, “sacrifice of atonement”—a rendition also adopted by the NRSV.
In 1 John 2:2 and the RSV continues with “expiation,” the NASB and NKJV with “propitiation,” while the NIV and NRSV both prefer “atoning sacrifice.”
Vine, in his wide-used Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words defines the Greek term used in 1 John 2:2 and in accordance with the RSV usage: “signifies an expiation, a means whereby sin is covered and remitted.”
At the worst, “expiation” and “propitiation” seemingly go hand in hand: “Expiation is the result and “propitiation” the means to secure the result. “Expiation” simply conveys that the effort at “propitiation” has been fully successful and this would surely be more meaningful to the modern reader. On the other hand, if retaining the traditional emphasis be deemed most important, than the NIV’s “sacrifice of atonement” would seem the best translation.
5. Elimination of “Adoption”
“Adoption” is utilized five times in the KJV New Testament:
(1) Romans 8:15: “sonship,” RSV; “adoption,” NKJV / NRSV; “adoption as sons,” NASB; “makes you sons,” NIV.
(2) Romans 8:23: “adoption,” NKJV / NRSV; “adoption as sons,” RSV / NASB / NIV.
(3) Romans 9:4: “sonship,” RSV; “adoption,” NKJV / NRSV; “adoption as sons,” NASB / NIV.
(4) Galatians 4:5: “adoption as sons,” RSV, NASB, NKJV; “adoption as children,” NRSV; “receive the full rights of sons,” NIV.
(5) Ephesians 1:5: “be his sons,” RSV; “adopted as sons,” NIV; “adoption as sons,” NASB / NKJV; “adoption as his children,” NRSV.
In three out of five cases the “adoption” element required by the word is omitted by the RSV. Yet it is found in the other two cases and that may indicate the presence of other factors beyond the theological bias proposed by the version’s vigorous critics. Oddly enough, the NRSV—which would be ultra-unlikely to be regarded as “conservative” or “ultra-conservative” by anyone not “flying high” on illegal substances—has essentially returned to the traditional KJV rendering. If Modernist theology is the motivating factor in the RSV in this case, what theology is the motivating factor in the NRSV?
6. Substitution of Other Words
“It seems to me utterly meaningless to change Matthew 10:32 and other such passages to read ‘acknowledge’ ” (N. 8).
Seventeen times the KJV utilizes “confess” and the related forms of the word, “confessed,” “confesseth,” “confessing,” or “confession.”
In four cases all five translations retain “confess:” Romans 10:9; Philippians ; James ; and 1 John 1:9. In a fifth case (John ) there is only the minor verbal difference between “confess” (RSV / NKJV / NIV / NRSV) and “confessing” (NASB).
The RSV, NASB, NIV, and NRSV are in agreement in two passages with replacing the term with “acknowledge” (Acts 23:8) and “admit” (Acts 24:14).
The RSV, NRSV, NASB, and NKJV are in agreement in two verses, with the NIV dissenting in both: 1 John (“confesses” versus NIV’s “acknowledges) and Revelation 3:5 (“confess” versus NIV’s “acknowledge.”
In the six remaining texts (with eight usages of the questioned term) the choice of preferred wording is not as clear cut:
(1) Matthew 10:32 (two usages): “acknowledge(s)” in RSV / NIV / NRSV; “confesses,” in NASB / NKJV.
(2) Luke 12:8 (two usages): “acknowledge(s)” in RSV / NIV/ NRSV; “confesses” in NASB / NKJV.
(3) John 9:22: “Confess,” RSV / NASB / NRSV; “confessed,” NKJV; “acknowledged,” NIV.
(4) Romans 14:11: “give praise” in NASB / RSV / NRSV (NRSV and NRSV margins: “confess”); “confess,” NKJV / NIV.
(5) Romans 15:9: “”praise” in RSV / NASB / NIV; “confess,” NKJV / NRSV.
(6) 2 John verse 7: “acknowledge,” RSV / NASB / NIV; “confess,” NKJV / NRSV.
The RSV utilizes the word “confess” only once in these eight times; the NRSV increases the usage to two out of eight. We note that the usage of alternative wording--primarily “acknowledge(d)”—is commonly supported by admittedly conservative translations. Personally I prefer to retain “confess” in most passages, but that is not the same as asserting that the alternative approaches are wrong or included out of an improper motive.
7. Elimination of “Earnest”
It is a good word and not at all obsolete. . . . An “earnest” is a partial
payment, made in advance, sealing a contract to pay the whole. . . .
In place of this meaningful doctrinal word, arbitrarily banished from the
new Bible vocabulary, we have only the word “guarantee”. . . . Something like
the theft of a jewel has been perpetuated. Its removal from the possession of the
heirs of salvation, to whom it belongs, is a sin against them and against the Holy
Spirit, whose revelation is thereby impoverished.
(1) 2 Corinthians 1:22: “guarantee,” RSV; “deposit,” NKJV; “deposit, guaranteeing what is to come,” NIV; “pledge,” NASB; “first installment,” NRSV.
(2) 2 Corinthians 5:5: “guarantee,” RSV / NKJV / NRSV; “deposit guaranteeing what is to come,” NIV; “pledge,” NASB / NRSV.
(3) Ephesians 1:14: “guarantee,” RSV / NKJV; “deposit guaranteeing,” NIV; “pledge,” NASB / NRSV.
Note carefully that not one of the conservative translations retains the demanded “earnest!” Are the New King James and New International—and perhaps even the New American Standard—all guilty of “a sin against” believers and “against the Holy Spirit, whose revelation is thereby impoverished”?
8. Eradication of the Word “Virgin”
This sore subject so centers attention on the virgin birth of our Lord that
many minor offenses, caused by prejudice against the word “virgin,” are
overlooked. Take Acts 21:9: “Philip the evangelist . . . had four unmarried
daughters, who prophesied.” Luke did not say that. He said more: they were
virgins. But the RSV translators banish the word. . . .
They keep the abstract noun “virginity” (Luke ). And they show what
they think the word means when they use it of men. There they translate it
“chaste” (Revelation 14). Well, if it means “unmarried,” plus “chaste,” isn’t that
Virgin and related word forms (such as “virginity”) are used 15 times in the KJV New Testament. In only two verses (Matthew and Luke , with two usages) are all test translations in agreement, using the word “virgin.”
In three cases in Matthew 25, the NASB, NKJV, and NIV concur together in rendering “virgins” (plural) while the RSV uses “maidens” and the NRSV “bridesmaids:” Matthew 25:1, 7, 11. (For some reason the NIV inserts virgins in verse 10 where the others do not have it and removes it from verse 11 where they do.)
In four places in the Corinthian correspondence, the NASB, NKJV, NIV, and NRSV utilize “virgin” singular or plural. In 1 Corinthians the RSV prefers “unmarried” and in 2 Corinthians 11:2 “bride.” In 1 Corinthians and 34 is chooses “girl.”
The remaining passages exhibit a greater division in their word choice in contrast to the consensus in the preceding cases:
(1) Luke 2:36: “virginity,” RSV / NKJV; “marriage,” NASB / NIV / NRSV.
(2) 1 Corinthians 7:36: “betrothed,” RSV; “virgin,” NKJV; “virgin he is engaged to,” NIV; “virgin daughter,” NASB (“daughter” being an italicized addition); “fiancée,” NRSV.)
(3) 1 Corinthians 7:37: “betrothed,” “not to marry the virgin,” NIV; “virgin daughter,” NASB (“daughter” italicized); “virgin,” NKJV (footnote: “or virgin daughter”); “fiancée,” NRSV.
(4) Acts 21:9: “unmarried (daughters),” RSV / NIV / NRSV; “virgin (daughters),” NASB / NKJV.
(5) Revelation 14:4: “virgins,” NKJV / NRSV; “pure,” NIV; “chaste,” NASB / RSV (margin: “Greek, virgins”).
The RSV clearly has problems on this point. Terms like “girl” and “unmarried” and accurate as far as they go. But they don’t go nearly far enough, they omit the vital element of moral purity / chastity that is required by the word. The same is true of the (comparatively) better NRSV selection of terms like “bridesmaids” and “fiancée.”
Most of your Modernists at the time the RSV was first translated wanted to purge the virgin birth (of Christ)—not virginity itself! The charge that the translators were attempting to downgrade the importance of premarital sexual purity does not seem to have been lodged against the RSV by its enemies.
If the changes were being newly invoked in the late twentieth century, one might not be so charitable. By then the concepts of non-married and purity had widely been disentangled and forced wide apart. While in Biblical days and even the late 1940s / early 1950s, the societal expectation was of virginity prior to marriage, by the 1980s much of society had abandoned that goal.
In the changed world, one might well imagine translators “discretely” dropping the usage lest they sound like critics of the “new normal” and “discourage” people from wishing to be Christians. Of course there would still be the not insignificant issue: What use is being one without seeking to meet its Biblically set standards? Wouldn’t doing otherwise be somewhat like a Christian rejecting monotheism and still insisting that they “really” are a believer?
Be that as it may, I would suggest that the true explanation for the alteration probably lies in that strange sexual prudishness that Taylor himself waxes indignant about in our ninth example just bellow—a strange prudishness in which blunt language like “fornication” gets replaced by the weak-kneed vague substitutes like “immorality.”
The sexual nature of the “immorality” is omitted, even though it is inherent in the Greek word being translated. On this score, the RSV hardly stands alone; even conservative translations have been known to exhibit a similar lack of directness. Ironically, the liberal NRSV represents a definite step away from the RSV’s vagueness on such matters.
9. Omitting “Begotten” in the
Description of Jesus
as “Only Begotten”
This time the banishing has been eager. The word “begat” is so sexual.
We must not have it in our Bible, so no matter what the Bible itself says about it.
So out it goes. . . . His sonship is set off from ours, in part, by His very title,
“only begotten.” Yet, strangely, the antimessianic campaign against Psalm 2 has
left the objectionable phrase “today have I begotten you.” No earthly father ever
could say that to his child.
By my count “only begotten” is used six times in the KJV New Testament:
(1) John 1:14: “only Son,” RSV / NRSV; “only begotten,” NASB / NKJV; “one and only Son,” NIV (footnote: “Or, ‘the only Begotten.’ ”).
(2) John 1:18: “only Son,” RSV (footnote on “Son,” “other ancient authorities read ‘God’ ”); “God the only Son,” NRSV; “only begotten God,” NASB (footnote on “God:” “some later manuscripts read, ‘Son’ ”); “Only begotten Son,” NKJV (footnote: “Neutral text reads ‘only begotten God’ ”); “God the only Son,” NIV (footnote on “God:” “”Or, ‘but God the only begotten;’ ” footnote on “Son:” “Some manuscripts read ‘but the only Son’ or ‘but the only begotten Son’ ”).
(3) John 3:16: “only Son,” RSV / NRSV; “only begotten Son,” NASB / NKJV; “one and only Son,” NIV (footnote: “or, ‘his only begotten Son” ”).
(4) John 3:18: “only Son,” RSV / NRSV; “only begotten Son,” NASB / NKJV; “one and only Son,” NIV (footnote: “Or, ‘God’s only begotten Son’ ”).
(5) Hebrews 11:17 (of Abraham’s son): “only son,” RSV / NRSV; “only begotten son,” NASB / NKJV; “one and only son,” NIV.
(6) 1 John 4:9: “only Son,” RSV / NRSV; “only begotten Son,” NASB / NKJV; “one and only Son,” NIV (footnote: “or ‘his only begotten Son’ ”).
Here again the RSV falters: although “only” does stress uniqueness, it does not really adequately do so. In my own judgment, “only begotten”—thoughmore literal—also falls short of most effectively getting the point across to the English speaking reader. The NIV, in contrast, makes the point emphatic: “one and only Son.” Hence this seems a place where both the RSV and the KJV could be improved upon.
The NRSV faithfully reflects the translation preferences of the RSV upon this matter except in two notable cases, which move dramatically in opposite directions. 1 John 1:14, which is normally translated as a reference to the heavenly Father’s relationship to the Son (cf. NRSV footnote). In spite of this it selects to main text a dramatic “humanizing” of the reference: “ . . . We have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
Note that “father” is not capitalized and the insertion of “a” in front of father. The RSV did not make this mistake: it has “the only son” and also continues the capitalization.
The cynic would suspect that the NRSV attempts to compensate for this rendering by adopting a much stronger reference to the deityship of Jesus in verse 18 of the same chapter. The RSV presents it as saying, “No one has ever seen God; the Only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.” The RSV footnotes “God” as a substitute for “Son” in this verse. The NRSV, however, inserts this directly into the text, “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.”
If the translators really believe that is what John wrote—rather than being engaged in some vote trading to permit a “weak” verse 14, one is faced with a serious problem justifying the earlier rendering. If John so clearly makes Jesus “God the Son” in verse 18, surely in verse 14 the reference to “father” should be read in an equally explicit supernatural connection, as a reference to the heavenly Father.
10. Avoiding the Term “Seed”
There is a lot of twisting and turning in trying to find some way to
translate this seminal word of revelation and yet banish it from the translation.
“The seed of the woman,” in the proto-evangel, keeps the word (Genesis ).
From there on the mental gymnastics begin, to say it and not so say it.
Any user of the RSV must feel an utter frustration in trying to follow the unity of
messianic prophecy and its progressive revelation in the Scriptures. . . .
[Substituting other words] utterly wrecks all sense of many of these passages.
What is given as the translation is not the translation and either makes no sense or
a false sense.
Taylor rubs in this “prissiness”—a term he approvingly quotes—and contrasts it with the (relative) sexual openness present even as he wrote so many years ago. (Again, doesn’t this provide another quite adequate explanation for the translation that in no way involves Modernism?)
According to my count the word “seed” is used 32 times in the New Testament of the KJV. (We exclude those occasions where the text refers to plan / produce seed, such as in the parable of the Sower.
In five cases we find a four translation consensus. In John and the RSV, NKJV, NIV, and NRSV render the Greek by the English word “descendants.” The NASB prefers “offspring.” In both cases the NIV includes a footnote, “Or, seed.”
In Revelation the RSV, NKJV, NASB, and NIV unit on substituting “offspring” for “seed,” with the NRSV preferring “children.” In Romans the NIV holds out for “offspring,” while the four other versions prefer “descendants.” In 2 Corinthians we find only the New King James retaining “seeds,” while the other four unit in speaking of “descendants.”
At this point the consensus of four translations versus one breaks down. Note, however, that even when a clear consensus exists, the actual word “seed” (singular or plural)—whose use Taylor insists in so essential—is not the preferred term.
In Galatians (two usages) and Galatians 3:19 we find specific textual reference to the Messianic interpretation of prophecy. The three self-portrayed conservative / evangelical translations (NASB, NKJV, and NIV) retain the KJV “seed,” while the two challenges translations (RSV and NRSV) opt for “offspring.”
In five cases we find the RSV, NIV, and NRSV uniting on “children:” (1) Matthew 22:24; (2) Mark 12:19; (3) Mark 12:20; (4) Mark ; (5) Luke . In each of these the NASB and NKJV select “offspring.”
“Seed” is retained by two conservative translations in Acts (NASB / NKJV) while the RSV goes with “posterity,” the NIV with “offspring,” and the NRSV with “descendants.” In Galatians “seed” is the choice of the NKJV and NIV, while the RSV / NASB / NRSV unite on “offspring.”
We have three translations in agreement but with variation in which three in the following eight cases. The NKJV / NIV / NRSV trio unit with “descendants” in
(1) Acts 7:5 versus “posterity,” RSV and “offspring” (NASB).
(2) Acts 7:6 versus, again, “posterity” (RSV) and “offspring” (NASB).
(3) Hebrews 2:16 versus “descendant” (singular)
in the NASB and “seed of” in the NKJV.
The pattern shifts to “descendants” being chosen by the RSV / NASB / NRSV in
(1) Romans versus “seed,” NKJV, and “offspring” (NIV).
(2) Romans with the identical pattern of alternatives.
(3) Romans 9:7 (where it is used twice), with “seed” retained in the NKJV in both instances, while the NIV uses both “children” and “offspring” once.
(4) Romans 9:8 where the dissenters prefer either “seed” (NKJV) or “offspring” (NIV).
(5) Hebrews 11:18: with the NKJV and NIV retaining “seed” and “offspring” respectively.
We find translations supported by only two translations (in varying patterns) in these six cases:
(1) Mark 12:21: “offspring,” NASB / NKJV; “children,” RSV / NRSV; “child,” NIV.
(2) Romans 1:3: “descendant of,” NASB / NIV; “descended from,” RSV / NRSV; “seed of,” NKJV.
(3) Luke 1:55:
“descendants,” NIV / NRSV; versus “seed” (NKJV), “posterity” (RSV), and
(4) John 7:42: “descended from,” RSV / NRSV; “offspring,” NASB; “seed,” NKJV; “come from,” NIV (with the footnote: “Greek, ‘seed.’ ”)
(5) Acts 13:23, speaking of Christ: “posterity” (RSV / NRSV) versus “offspring,” NASB, “seed,” NKJV, and “descendants,” NIV.
(6) 2 Timothy 2:8: “descended from,” RSV / NIV; “descendant of,” NASB/NRSV; “seed of,” NKJV.
(7) Hebrews 11:11: omitted, text reads simply “conceive,” RSV / NASB; “conceive seed,” NKJV; “enabled to become a father, NIV (with the footnote: “Sarah . . . enabled to bear children”); “received power of procreation,” NRSV.
Finally, there is one last passage that doesn’t seem to quite fit anywhere in particular in our lists: Romans 9:29: “children,” RSV; “posterity,” NASB; “seed,” NKJV; “descendants,” NIV; “survivors,” NRSV.
Of the three conservative translations, only the New King James Version makes any substantial effort to retain the word “seed”—and even it substitutes a different reading in some two-thirds of the cases! How then is the absence of the word “seed” such a blatant evidence of Modernism? Its presence may well be desirable in certain texts because of its traditional Messianic connotations, but its general usage would seem to serve no useful purpose.
We have dug ten “test well” to see if we can detect the pervasive “Modernism” that some find proved by the changes in rendering the RSV—and often preserved in the more recent NRSV. We have found that, over all, the RSV / NRSV renderings are within the range adopted by overtly conservative translations.
Having said that, we would be the last to overlook the inadequacies of some of the word choices. The mysterious sexual prudishness in eliminating words like “fornication” and “seed” makes even less sense in today’s sexually blunt climate than it did when the RSV was first published. In at least one case—“only” for “only begotten”—we discovered that both the RSV / NRSV and the KJV itself were inadequate.
Some NRSV-Specific Blunders
Although we have examined the agreements and disagreements between the original RSV and its successors in regard to alleged Modernist readings of the earlier work, the NRSV has also introduced some “new wrinkles” of its own into the old battle about the impact of “Liberalism” on contemporary translation. These deserve some passing attention in their own right.
1. John and the unique Sonship of Jesus
RSV: And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and
truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as the only Son from the Father.
NRSV: And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have
seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
Why would “a father’s only son” have unique “glory”? There is nothing inherent in the situation to suggest such. In contrast, the heavenly Father’s “only Son” would naturally have a unique glory. Shouldn’t the translation reflect that allusion to a heavenly father rather than a human one to accurately portray the verse’s intent?
More importantly, note that the clear reference is shifted from the heavenly Father to a human one. Is this not the intentional degrading of Jesus’ status in the eyes of the Father—and of us? He is not really “the only Son” any longer he is “a father’s only son”—perhaps that of Joseph? Certainly there is nothing in the rendering to discourage that inappropriate and inaccurate conclusion.
The NRSV’s rendering of John 1:14 reminds me of needlessly pouring kerosene on the fire of skepticism about the underlying motives of the majority of the translators. Technically defensible, “technically” adequate is not going to “cut it” among those take the deityship of Jesus seriously. It’s the type of excess that drives one to think, “If it wasn’t Modernist inspired it ought to have been because it’s the only theology being served by it!”
After this drastic “humanization” of the Father in verse 14, it is difficult to grasp how the translators only a few verses later seemingly go out of their way to strengthen the traditional reading and make Jesus’ deityship even more clear:
RSV: No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the
Father, he has made him known.
NRSV: No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to
the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
Assuming verse 14 is accurate, how could even an uninspired John possibly write verse 18? He’s gone from a son no more special than that of any human’s son who has no brother--to the explicit deityship of that same Son!
This is also true in reverse: If verse 18 is accurately translated, then verse 14 should have an equally clear-cut embracing of that Son’s supernaturalness and the unambiguous identification (by capitalization) of the heavenly Father as the “father” under consideration--not the weakening of it as found in the NRSV rendering. Internal consistency of the author requires both passages point in the same direction, especially when they are so close together.
Inspiration does not have to have anything to do with this. Even waged on the battlefield of the intelligence of the author, the same conclusion is required.
2. Hebrews 2:6-8: Was messianic prophecy really intended to be translated into other languages with “gender neutral” language?
RSV: 6 It has been testified somewhere, “What is man that thou art mindful of him, or the son of man, that thou carest for him? 7 Thou didst make him for a little while lower than the angels, thou hast crowned him with glory and honor, 8 putting everything in subjection under his feet.”" Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.
NRSV: 7 But someone has testified somewhere, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, or mortals, that you care for them? 7 You have made them for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned them with glory and honor, 8 subjecting all things under their feet.” Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them.
In the RSV, Hebrews 2:6-8 reads as one would expect a text regarded as Messianic. In the NRSV, however, it is mutilated—no other word really seems to fit—in a manner that even an uninspired author would feel ridiculous in invoking.
How could the Hebrews text possibly be read—“misread” if you don’t believe in genuine advance prediction of the Messiah—as evidence of anything concerning a specific individual? The author intends us, though, to read it as (or as if) written of a single, specific human—a male. Translation should give him enough respect to render it accordingly.
As translated into English in the NRSV, however, it is clearly and emphatically speaking of a group and not an individual. It is worded as applicable to every single being of the human species and leaves no room for a special application to a specific person—male or not. The individualistic “he” language, however, makes the passage of obvious relevance to the case he is making.
Even if this argument was not originally in the mind of the Old Testament penman, it is in the mind of the Hebrews author: he unquestionably is doing that. That individual (and I might add, male) application is the point of the argument and it is not the proper role of the translator to undermine the writer’s case or to obscure it regardless of what he or she may think of its appropriateness or validity: It is to communicate what the author intends and not what we prefer to have been said.
N. 1 -- William C. Taylor. The New Bible—Pro and
N. 2 -- Ibid., page 50.
N. 3 -- Ibid.
N. 4 -- Ibid., pages 50-51.
N. 5 -- Ibid., page 52.
N. 6 -- Ibid., pages 53-54.
N. 7 -- Ibid., pages 55-56.
N. 8 -- Ibid., page 57.
N. 9 -- Ibid., page 59.
N. 10 -- Ibid., pages 60-61.
N. 11 -- Ibid., page 115.
N. 12 -- Ibid.
N. 13 -- Ibid., pages 116-117.