Perhaps you’ve heard—the New Revised Standard Version is being updated. Stop the presses! I’m sure that everyone has been anticipating this as much as biblical scholars have! If you’ve not been able to feel the buzz maybe it’s because you’re not in the Bible publishing business. As the discussions have been going on (rights holders are of course consulting with publishers, because that’s where the money is) a great deal of energy goes into deciding what exactly to call it. And since Christianity is so fragmented there have to be different versions of the versions. Some include the apocrypha and others do not. Some prefer British spelling and others American. Imperial interests are important, even when it comes to Scriptures. What may be overlooked in these developments is the connection to the most influential English translation, the King James.
The King James Version was not the first English translation of the Bible, but it was the version that captured the imagination of some as directly inspired by God. Strangely enough, King James onlyists can seldom name the translators who apparently had the divine mouth to their ears, but never mind that. The KJV held immense sway especially among literalists because it is so quotable. In the 1950s it was revised. (There are, by the way, several differing versions of the King James Version, and the original included the apocrypha.) That first major revision came to be known as the Revised Standard Version. Translators seldom begin their task with what original language manuscripts they can find; new translations are based on existing translations in families. It’s okay, we’re all related.
When I was a kid the RSV (Revised Standard Version) was considered pretty good by many. Hardly an overwhelming affirmation, but still, it’s something. The real concern began when the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) came out in the eighties. The reason? It used inclusive language! See what happens when you allow women to read? Ironically, the book that has been used for centuries to liberate white men is something you want to keep out of the hands of women and non-whites unless you make it clear that everyone from Adam to Jesus and Paul was a white man and this is his story. Now the New Revised Standard Version is being updated. Nobody’s quite yet sure how it will be denominated. And this is only one family in a vast genealogy of Bible translations. If you’re not in the Bible business, you’re missing all the excitement.