In 1989, a group of academics and church leaders decided to rewrite and update English translations of the Bible with the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). According to the National Council of Churches, this translation is a revision of the 1971 “Revised Standard Version,” which is a revision of the 1901 “American Standard Version,” which is a revision of the 1611 “King James Version.” Each revision attempts to meld current scholarship, modern English language interpretations, and the original meaning and wording in recovered ancient Greek texts.
While perhaps unintended, the NRSV revision likely appeals to academics in postmodernist and modernist camps. It’s in alignment with their collective, relativistic, and gender-neutral views, which are deeply flawed and problematic. These views are inconsistent with the original teachings of Jesus, which I will next explain.
My attention to the NRSV spiked when I discovered that one of its advocates is a vocal agnostic academic called Bart Ehrman. Ehrman is a New Testament scholar and textual critic who works as a professor at the University of North Carolina. He has written multiple books to call into question the reliability of the Bible. He is the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing.
An example of Ehrman’s work is Misquoting Jesus. Though he spends the vast majority of Misquoting Jesus denouncing the reliability of the New Testament, he unearths one truthful golden nugget in one of its editions. In the Appendix of the second edition, he states that he is in full agreement with his former (and Christian) mentor Bruce Metzger that what we have in the New Testament today includes the core tenets of Christian beliefs. In other words, the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection have not been corrupted from what appeared in the original texts. Curiously, this remark was excluded in his third edition. Such a move underscores William Lane Craig’s assertion that Bart Ehrman has two sides: a popular side where he discounts the reliability of the New Testament and a scholarly side where he doesn’t.
Problems with the New RSV Translations
This brings me back to the NRSV. According to Biblegateway.com, the NRSV “has received the widest acclaim and broadest support from academics and church leaders of any modern English translation….The ecumenical NRSV Bible Translation Committee consists of thirty men and women who are among the top scholars in America today. They come from Protestant denominations, the Roman Catholic church, and the Greek Orthodox Church. The committee also includes a Jewish scholar.”
Biblegateway.com further states, “The NRSV stands out among the many translations available today as the Bible translation that is the most widely ‘authorized’ by the churches. It received the endorsement of thirty-three Protestant churches. It received the imprimatur of the American and Canadian Conferences of Catholic bishops. And it received the blessing of a leader of the Greek Orthodox Church.”
“The NRSV differs from the RSV in four primary ways: (1) updating the language of the RSV, by replacing archaic forms of speech addressed to God (Thee, Thou, wast, dost, etc.), and by replacing words whose meaning has changed significantly since the RSV translation (for example, Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 11.25 that he was “stoned” once); (2) making the translation more accurate; (3) helping it to be more easily understood, especially when it is read out loud, and (4) making it clear where the original texts intend to include all humans, male and female, and where they intend to refer only to the male or female gender.”
Phrases such as “fishers of men” in Matthew 4:19 have been replaced by “fishers of people” in a quest for gender neutrality. Such changes are consistent with Western moves to change job titles. For example, waiters and waitresses are now called servers. Stewards and stewardesses are now called flight attendants. People think this move is an improvement in our communication, yet I will explain why these applications to the New Testament are faulty.
Grudem (1997) and the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood identified a handful of problematic issues. For example, the NRSV changes “he” and/or “she” to “they” our “you.” Though Jesus referenced specific sexes or individuals, the translators have decided to bury that under a generic “you” or “they.”
“The rejection of generic ‘he, him, his’ obscures the personal application of Scripture in many other verses, such as ‘I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me’ (Rev. 3:20, where three Greek pronouns are masculine singular). The NRSV changes this to, ‘I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me,’ but ‘you’ in this context would then refer to the whole church, and individual application of a familiar verse is lost. The NIVI, NCV, CEV and NLT, change ‘him’ to ‘them,’ which also represents Jesus eating with a whole church, not just an individual. This is a serious loss of the specific individual application that Scripture intended for our benefit.”
Grudem (1997) further notes the translators changed the third person to the second person; removed numerous direct quotations; and mistranslated God’s ordinances.
Christianity and the Modern World
One of the greatest contributions of Christianity to the globe is our emphasis on individualism, individual accountability, and individual dignity. Our Western legal system is built upon a foundation of the value of life and human dignity. Everyone is considered equal in the eyes of the law, so unlike what we saw in the ancient world, the punishments for crimes committed by the wealthy and the poor are not distinguished by their economic status. When Jesus reached out to His followers, He often referred to them in individual ways, not as members of a collective.
In the Roman society of Jesus’ time, the collective was valued over the individual. In places whose legal systems today haven’t been built on Christian values, we often see high levels of in-group collectivism where human dignity is sacrificed for the welfare of the group. The communistic political systems of the 20th century in China, the USSR, and Cambodia showcased the many inherent flaws in such systems where 120 million or more people perished due to starvation or being locked up as political protestors. In the USSR, farmers weren’t even allowed to retain a small portion of the foodstuffs they produced for their own families. Many starved. If they protested, they were shipped off to Siberia. The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn well documents these tragedies.
Jesus further often distinguished His male and female followers with specific and individual appeals to them. “He” or “she” were called upon, rather than a more impersonal and collective “they.”
Consider the English Standard Version (ESV) of John 14:23. The ESV is considered a “word-for-word” translation of the Revised Standard Version (RSV), which retains the gendered language of the original Greek text.
“Jesus answered him, ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.’”
Now consider the way the NRSV rewrites this verse:
“Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.’”
The Greek translation of the passage retains the original gendered text. For example, the word αὐτῷ, or “autō” means “to him.” The word τηρήσει, or tērēsei, refers to “he will keep.”
The moves to neuter the sexes and subsume our status as individuals made in the image of God to broader collectives are not new. They’re inherent in the shift away from Christianity to modernism, which is the belief that the world can largely be explained through rational or scientific means. They’re also inherent in the shift to postmodernism, which posits that objective morality is nonexistent. Rather, human actions or beliefs should be judged relative to the context of one’s society. In other words, we cannot judge the actions of the Soviets who starved their own people in the past century. Communism was accepted in their society. Postmodernists even deny we have absolute truths, because they realize that if absolute truths exist, an absolute transcendent source must be confessed.
It is the move of the NRSV academics and perhaps even church leaders to seem more “inclusive,” by removing much of the language concerning men and women as individuals in the New Testament. Yet the move is anything but. It speaks against what Jesus intended, what He taught, and how He referred to His children.
Let’s not sit back and act as if such new translations benefit society. They’re only falling prey to the sick underlying current of people trying to ultimately remove our individual dignity, importance, and status, along with our biological gifts to serve Jesus as either a man or a woman.
 Gruden, W. (1997). What’s wrong with gender-neutral Bible translations? The council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. http://helpmewithbiblestudy.org/5Bible/TransWhatsWrongGenderNeutralBible_Grudem.aspx#sthash.8q4oKNSN.dpbs
3 Replies to ““Fishers of People” or “Fishers of Men?” Problems with the Gender-Neutral NRSV Bible.”
Well done. Glad to see you tackled this thorny subject. While I dabble in Greek and Hebrew. I appreciate the precision of both of those languages.
P. S. — Sad to see you leave Twitter. You will be missed.
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Thanks Michael – It’s just too time-consuming. I have to get going on more research for my university and need to focus on other things now. I appreciate all you do here, on Twitter, and for Christianity! Keep up the great work for the KINGDOM!
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