Title: NRSV, The C. S. Lewis Bible: For Reading, Reflection, and Inspiration
Genre: Study Bible (English Bible translation + Commentary)
Rating: 3.5 of 5
I love C. S. Lewis, so I was pretty excited when I discovered that there was a C. S. Lewis study Bible. Then, I was a bit disappointed to find that it only came in the NRSV translation. I am all for accurate modern-language translations of the Bible (See: this review), but in my circles the New Revised Standard Version has a reputation for being a translation that is untrustworthy, biased, and corrupted by the liberal theology of its translators. Nevertheless, I know that cries of “it’s a corrupt translation!” are usually nitpicking and overblown so I decided to read and evaluate it for myself, both in terms of the NRSV translation and the C. S. Lewis excerpts used as commentary.
Admittedly, I went into this biased by what I had heard in the past, but I don’t think the concerns are completely unfounded (though they are a bit overblown). The translators offer a huge number of notations that provide alternate readings or say, “exact meaning is uncertain.” By itself that isn’t necessarily a bad thing – there are minor differences between ancient manuscripts (see this post) and any attempt at translation reveals the ambiguity in language.
However, the ways that many these alternate readings and ambiguities of language are handled by the NRSV seem questionable. For example:
- Some supposed ambiguities are left nearly nonsensical rather than making a good-faith effort to provide a meaningful translation.
- Some alternate readings are completely conjectural, amending the underlying text without any ancient manuscript evidence
- Unlikely alternate readings are often given as much weight as well-attested ones
- More subjectively, there does appear to be some theological bias in deciding which variant to put in the main text and which to put in the footnote (especially in sections relating to prophecy and the Holy Spirit).
Overall, I wouldn’t call this an unusably corrupt translation, but it certainly wouldn’t be in my top 5 recommended English Bible translations. Other modern English translations (e.g. ESV & NIV) are more helpful in their handling of ambiguous phrases and less likely to include alternate readings that are clearly secondary or conjectural in nature.
C. S. Lewis Notes:
For me, the editorial choices regarding C. S. Lewis excerpts were a mixed bag. Most of them were insightful and moving (because Lewis is amazing), but some of them (especially in the Old Testament) seemed barely related to the passage in which the footnote occurred.
Additionally, there seemed to be an inordinate number of quotes from Reflections on the Psalms in which Lewis questions the historicity and/or goodness of certain parts of the Bible. Lewis was definitely influenced by the “higher criticism” of liberal theology, and even though he rarely mentions it in his writings, the editors seem intent on highlighting this (including in a concluding essay). That said, they do include Lewis’s insights on the veracity of Jesus’ virgin birth, miracles, and bodily resurrection, all of which are frequently denied in liberal theology.
Fusing the NRSV translation with a selection of explanatory/inspirational C. S. Lewis quotes isn’t the worst thing ever, but I think you would be a lot better off just reading Lewis on his own and reading a different modern-English translation.