This week a verse-by-verse overhaul of (the RSV), sponsored by the National Council of Churches and known as the New RSV, is being shipped to bookstores around the country.
The New RSV goes its separate way too. Like other modern renderings from the ancient Hebrew and Greek, it systematically abandons the archaic thee and thou forms in addressing God. More important, in the words of the Rev. Bruce Metzger, the chief translator, it circumvents the “inherent bias toward the masculine gender.” During the 1980’s the NCC, in response to insistent feminist demands, published 3 sets of highly controversial rewrites of certain Bible passages. The texts referred to God as “Father (and Mother),” inserted women’s names that did not appear in the original, and refrained from calling God the King or Jesus the Son of God or Son of Man.
But the New RSV translators (four of the 30 are women) refused to play games with God. They use inclusive terms only when the manuscripts clearly intend to speak of humans in general. To avoid “he” or “him” in these cases, many verses use plural pronouns. Unfortunately, the 3rd person-plural wordings are less personal and often less pointed than the singular forms. The word man, which occurs in many well-known verses of the RSV, is replaced by synonyms such as “mortal” or “humanity”.
The New RSV drew upon hundreds of ancient Bible manuscripts that have become available since the earlier version appeared. Four sentences based upon one of the Dead Sea Scrolls have been tacked onto Chapter 10 of I Samuel, for instance, and Greek manuscripts provided an optional ending for Mark. But such substantive changes are surprising few, indicating, says Metzger, how reliable the biblical texts were all along.
The National Council of Churches had originally planned to kill off its 1952 version once the new rendition was out, but has decided to keep it available at least 5 more years because of popular demand. For good reason: the new text reads best when it sticks closest to its predecessor.
Genesis 1:2 A wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
Psalm 8:4 What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them.
I Tim. 2:5 There is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human.