Why Vatican rejected 'inclusive' New Revised Standard Version Bible

Why Vatican rejected 'inclusive' New Revised Standard Version Bible

Fr G.H. Duggan SM

In a press release of October 25, 1994, the Catholic News Service reported that the Vatican "has rejected the New Revised Standard Version [NRSV] of the Bible for use in liturgical and catechetical texts, after doctrinal officials found fault with its use of inclusive language."

It is clear, when one considers the facts, that this decision of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was fully warranted. The NRSV is not a faithful rendering of the original Hebrew and Greek texts, but a propagandist version, which mirrors the feminist ideology.

Bruce Metzger, the chairman of the Commission which produced the version, makes this clear. One object of the translators, he writes in the preface, was to eliminate the linguistic sexism and the masculine bias of earlier translations.

"Linguistic sexism," like "patriarchy," and "sexism" in general, is a myth, created for the purposes of political propaganda, by feminists. These women appear to have a profound dislike of men and strive to have the word man eliminated from every text in which it occurs.

A recent article in the Canadian journal Catholic Insight (January /February 1995) by Dr Thaddeus Pruss notes that this has led to the replacement of "man" in the NRSV by no fewer than thirty different expressions, all with their own "specific places, and often very different connotations." Such an approach betrays a basic linguistic ignorance - or worse.

"Historically," writes Dr Pruss, "in all Teutonic languages, including English, the cognates of the word man had the two-fold meaning of 'human being' and 'adult male human being'. The history of English literature shows that the dualistic nature of the word man has been inherent in the English language for about a thousand years. In fact, every language contains ambiguities and words of multiple meanings. With age and experience, people of normal intelligence learn to cope with these, unless for political reasons they choose not to." (Emphasis added.)

Thus the NRSV's elimination of man in its generic sense can constitute a puerile departure from idiomatic English. We have an example of this in Luke 5:10, where "fishers of men" has been changed into "fishers of people." Even more ridiculous is the change of "man" into "adult" in 1 Cor 13:11, which suggests that St Paul could just have easily been a woman!

More serious is the elimination of some Messianic texts from the Old Testament. Thus Daniel 7:13 contains the phrase "Son of man" which Christ habitually used to designate himself. But in the NRSV, we no longer read "Son of man", but "a human being."

Even worse is the mistranslation of Psalm 8, where, as often in the NRSV, singular nouns are rendered in the plural. There we read, not, "What is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man, that thou dost take care of him?" (as in the Revised Standard Version), but "What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?" This mistranslation has disastrous consequences, for the text of Psalm 8 is quoted in Hebrews 2, where the writer is intent on establishing the divinity of Christ, in whom man's sovereignty over creation is fully realised.

Divine revelation

Since the "masculine bias," to which Metzger refers, is found in the original text, if you eliminate it, you mistranslate it. Dr Peter Kreeft of Boston College has pointed out that God's masculinity is so deliberate and all-pervasive in Scripture that it has to be regarded as an essential element in the revelation, not an accident which can be discarded. To discard it, he adds, would be to judge divine revelation by human ideology and opinion, and so frustrate its purpose - which is to correct our ideologies.

We may be quite sure that Orthodox Jews or Muslims would not allow their respective sacred texts to be dealt with as the Bible has been dealt with in the NRSV. The ordinary Christian wants to hear the Word of God as it is in the Bible. He will do so if what is read is the Revised Standard Version - recently reprinted by Ignatius Press - or the Jerusalem Bible. Not, however, if it is the NRSV.

Dr Pruss sums up well the fundamental flaws of the NRSV:

"The NRSV is unfaithful to the original inspired texts, and the verses cited above are but some of the many examples of this. The new translation depersonifies the human person by replacing him with his various non-essential attributes. The NRSV's language is contrary to the English literary tradition. And, finally, use of the NRSV-censored Bible in liturgy would divide English-speaking faithful from Roman Catholic liturgy everywhere else in the world.

"The question about the NRSV is a fundamental one: whose word is it? Is it the word of God, carrying a timeless and transcultural message? Or is it the word of a political compromise under pressure and in the name of gender sensitivity of the times? The confusion of politics with Revelation encroaches on the rights of the Author Who is in Heaven."

Fr G.H. Duggan, S.M., is a retired New Zealand seminary professor, and author of the apologetics book, 'Beyond Reasonable Doubt', Daughters of St Paul.

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