What happens after we die? Is there a “heaven?” Is there a “hell?” If so, what does either of these look like?
The historical development of these ideas is the subject of Bart Ehrman’s Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife. Bart Ehrman is perhaps the world’s best known critic of evangelical Christian faith, having grown up in the evangelical world until he deconverted out of it in graduate school. His New York Times best selling Misquoting Jesus has made him one of most widely read biblical scholars in our day at the popular level, sought after by the media almost every time a major story arises within Christianity.
What was all of the fuss about? Well, the Passion Translation, advertises itself as “a modern, easy-to-read Bible translation that unlocks the passion of God’s heart and expresses his fiery love—merging emotion and life-changing truth.”
Well, a number of Bible scholars and pastors think otherwise. The Passion Translation has been popular among a number of charismatic and Pentecostal Christians, written by a missionary who has faithfully served for the Gospel in Latin America for many years, Brian Simmons, who claims to utilize the original languages, Hebrew and Greek, and … wait for it … Aramaic, to produce the English text. While we can commend the good natured intent, the problem with the “Aramaic” part is that relatively little of our ancient original sources for the Bible are actually found in Aramaic. It makes one wonder what the publisher means by “Aramaic.”
Probably the bigger news this year concerns the recent update to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) for 2021/2022, marketed as NRSVue, or NRSV Updated Edition. The NRSV is the endorsed Bible of the National Council of Churches, and the NRSV is pretty much the standard in mainline circles and in academia.
The older NRSV comes from a completely reworked version of the 20th century mainline standard translation, the Revised Standard Version (RSV), which was put together starting in the late 1940s with the New Testament, followed by the finished Old Testament being published in 1952 (some did not like the RSV then). After World War II, the National Council of Churches was known as the American wing of the World Council of Churches, resulting from a renewed emphasis in the ecumenical movement and world evangelization, after military servicemen were scattered all across the world, fighting in World War II. Since then, the National Council of Churches (NCC) appears to have drifted to the left theologically, as conservative evangelical churches kept their distance from the NCC. Along with that was skepticism among many evangelicals towards the NCC standard bearer Bible, the RSV….. despite the fact that one of my favorite professors in seminary loved the late 1980s edition of the RSV.
By the late 1980s, it was felt that the RSV was getting a bit “long in the tooth,” so the NCC bagged it. Interestingly, the conservative evangelical book publisher, Crossway, picked up the copyright of that old RSV, made some changes more suitable for conservative readers, and released a new Bible, the English Standard Version (ESV). While the venerable King James Version (KJV) and the New International Version (NIV) still remain the most popular Bible translation for conservative evangelical Christians, support for the ESV appears to be gaining more and more as the years go by.
The NCC decided to go with a different approach and came out with the NRSV in 1989, which became controversial for its use of “gender-neutral language.” In partnership with the Society of Biblical Literature, the NRSV Updated Edition (NRSVue) was finished in late 2021. A massive 10,000 substantial edits were made to the original NRSV, with 20,000 minor revisions, many of them described in this paper put out by the publisher. The NRSVue is destined to become the mainline standard Bible translation, superseding the previous NRSV. Here is a short sample of some of the changes:
changes “slave woman” to “enslaved woman” (Galatians)
changes “wise men” to “magi” (Gospel of Matthew)
changes “demoniacs, epileptics and paralytics” to “people possessed by demons or having epilepsy or afflicted with paralysis” (Gospel of Matthew)
adding capitalization to Jewish High Holy Days
changes “servant-girl” to “female servant” (Mark 14:69)
Do not let the reference to “mainline” scare you immediately, as the NRSVue is really one of the most competent translations available (… although there is a catch, as I will note in a moment). In my Bible reading, I like to compare popular evangelical Bible translations, like the ones I love, such as the English Standard Version (ESV), the New International Version (NIV), and the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) with the NRSV, … and now the NRSVue. In many ways the NRSV/NRSVue actually offers a more word-for-word sense of what the text is saying, in some cases. I frequently use the Harper Collins Study Bible, which uses the NRSV, to see if the NRSV will keep some of the other translations honest.
Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, men who engage in illicit sex, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, swindlers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.
The highlighted phrase “men who engage in illicit sex” is more ambiguous, as compared to the same phrase found in something like the Christian Standard Bible (CSB): “males who have sex with males.” The CSB rules out all sexual relationships between males, whereas the NRSVue leaves a door open. Is it therefore possible for men to have non-illicit sex with one another, and that still be okay in the Apostle Paul’s mind? On the other hand, other passages in the new NRSVue that deal with the same topic are more traditional, like Romans 1:27:
… and in the same way also the males, giving up natural intercourse with females, were consumed with their passionate desires for one another. Males committed shameless acts with males and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.