Monday, October 10, 2011

The CEB: Is it the New NRSV? (1)


About a year ago I received a complimentary copy of the CEB (Common English Bible) New Testament with a letter asking me to read it and comment. Even the letter itself made it clear that I was not going to like this Bible, and the Preface made it even more obvious. I never wrote to them expressing my displeasure. But what has this to do with the NRSV?

The whole Bible of the RSV appeared in 1952 (the New Testament had been published in 1946). Almost immediately it became the preferred translation of the academic community, as well as the increasingly liberal mainline churches. I remember that the church I grew up in (liberal Presbyterian) had RSV pew Bible in the late 1950s. In 1970, the RSV was republished with a revised New Testament. In 1989, the New RSV (NRSV) was published, this time with gender-neutral language and with a definite move toward a more functional (read dynamic) equivalence approach to translation. The old RSV had been pretty stodgy, even retaining “thee” and such in the Psalms. Each of these editions of the RSV was published in annotated editions for the academic market. The Oxford Annotated RSV seemed to have cornered the market as the go-to Bible for university Bible and religion courses. After the appearance of the NRSV, the Oxford Annotated was updated, and no doubt is still the preferred translation and edition on many college campuses. But in 1994, the Harper-Collins Study Bible appeared as a challenger to the Oxford Annotated. The H-CSB had the advantage over the OA in that the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) had explicitly identified itself with the H-CSB, and all the annotations were done by members of the Society. The HarperCollins (whether it is Harper-Collins, Harper Collins, or HarperCollins is not exactly clear to me, because I have seen all three in print) Study Bible: Student Edition made this quite evident, with the statement at the bottom of the cover: A New Annotated Edition by the Society of Biblical Literature.

Now the copyright to the RSV and the NRSV is held by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches. And there appears to be no direct connection between the publishers of the Common English Bible and the Division of Christian Education of the NCC. However, the NRSV is now more than twenty years old. In the world of modern Bible translations, that is ancient. Even with regard to the RSV, it is the longest that it has gone without a significant update (1952, 1970, and 1989). Furthermore, the CEB seems to have the implicit support of the SBL. The list of editors and translators (see www.commonenglishbible.com) reads like a veritable Who’s Who of the Society of Biblical Literature. In addition, the CEB has its own panel discussion at the annual meeting of the SBL in San Francisco (slated for Sunday, November 20 from 1:00-3:00 p.m.). The panel is a stacked deck. The presenters of “Why We Need a New Bible Translation” are all members of the CEB editorial committee. All those presenting “Responses to the Need for a New Bible Translation” are also members of the CEB editorial committee. Apparently, they don’t want any naysayers in the bunch.

Continued in the next post.

3 comments:

Paul Franklyn said...

The SBL review panel has 3 scholars critiquing the CEB. They had nothing to do with the development of the translation. The respondents are senior editors for the translation.

The CEB is not connected in any way with the National Council of Churches or the NRSV. More than 8000 biblical scholars belong to SBL, and all of the major Bible translations were developed by biblical scholars in the association. Be careful with guilt by association.

Also note that the ESV is nearly identical to the RSV, except for about 30 to 40 passages that were changed to harmonize the text (e.g. Isa 7:14 with Matthew).

Benjamin Shaw said...

Mr. Franklyn, in part I stand corrected, and I will indicate that in my next post. However, the listing in the SBL Session Guide is misleading. Of the five presenters, who would seem to be listed as defenders of the CEB, only David Peterson is a member of the CEB Editorial Board. The other four (Carroll, Ring, Towner, and Witvliet) are not. It seems, therefore, odd to me that the three respondents (Strawn, deSilva, and Green)are members of the CEB editorial committee.

I did not say, nor did I imply, that the CEB is connected with the NCC, though I will clarify that in my next post. I'm not trying for any guilt by association.

What I am getting at is that the SBL seems to have a commitment to, or an involvement with the CEB that is has not had with the CEV, the NLT, the ESV, or the HCSB, in that I don't recall that any of those versions had a panel discussion devoted to them as the CEB does. Thus it raises for me the question as to whether the CEB might be being considered, at least by some, as a replacement for the NRSV.

As to the differences between the ESV and the RSV, I think they are more thoroughgoing than you seem to think. It goes well beyond the harmonizing of passages, and the removal of "thee" and such from the Psalms.

I will also clarify in my next post that all of the modern versions available have involved the work of many SBL members (these are all things that I had planned to address, hence my placing (1) at the end of the title of my post).

At any rate, thanks for reading, and for keeping me on my toes.

Richard Zuelch said...

Ben, wasn't it the Old Testament that was originally published in 1946, with the entire Bible following in 1952? And, I believe the RSV revision dates to 1971, not 1970 (the introductory materials for the ESV say that they used the 1971 RSV religion, I believe).

Aside from those two whiny comments, I enjoyed your post and look forward to the next.