Examining the Bible Versions

Revised Standard Version (1952)

The next major version to come along was the Revised Standard Version. According to Wikipedia, “The RSV is a revision of the 1901 American Standard Version. The translation panel used the 17th edition of the Nestle Greek text for the New Testament, and the traditional Hebrew Masoretic Text for the Old Testament. However, they amended the Hebrew in a number of places. In the Book of Isaiah, they sometimes followed readings found in the then newly discovered Dead Sea Scrolls. The New Testament was released in 1946, and the Old Testament in 1952. According to bible-researcher.com, “The Revised Standard Version of the New Testament purported to be a revision of the American Standard Version, although very little of the ASV remains in the RSV. The Greek text usually followed was the 17th edition (1941) of the Nestle text (see Nestle 1927). The American Standard Version excelled in literal accuracy, but the RSV tended to be more free in its renderings. As F.F. Bruce puts it, the RSV translators “blurred some of the finer distinctions in New Testament wording which … have some significance for those who are concerned with the more accurate interpretation of the text.” The New Testament was well received by American churches, including the evangelical ones; but the Old Testament (1952) provoked a storm of controversy, and killed the version’s chances of becoming a generally accepted standard Bible in America.

The RSV New Testament was well received, while the Old Testament was not. It was claimed that the RSV translators had translated the Old Testament from an odd viewpoint (some said a Jewish viewpoint, pointing to agreements with the Jewish Publication Society of America Version and the presence on the editorial board of a Jewish scholar, Harry Orlinsky) and that other views, including those of the New Testament, were not considered. Some conservative sections of the Church accused the RSV of tampering with some passages that can be read as prophecies relating to Jesus. Particularly criticized was the translation of Isaiah 7:14 as “a young woman” (the generally accepted meaning of the Hebrew) rather than the traditional Christian translation of “a virgin” (agreeing with the New Testament and the Septuagint). Some people were so enraged over the RSV that they took their anger to extremes. For example, a pastor in the Southern USA burned a copy of the RSV and sent the ashes as a protest to Luther Weigle, the chairman of the translation panel. Others began to create unfounded charges that members of the translation panel were communists. At Senator Joseph McCarthy’s request, these charges were printed in the US Air Force training manual.

There were three key differences between the RSV and the KJV and American Standard Version (ASV). One difference was the way the name of God (YHVH) is translated. The ASV translated the name as “Jehovah,” (modern scholars usually render it as Yahweh). The RSV returned to the practice of the KJV by translating the name as the “LORD”. Another change was in the usage of archaic English for second-person pronouns, “thou”, “thee”, “thy”, etc. The KJV and ASV used these terms for both God and humans. The RSV used archaic English only for God. In the New Testament, the RSV followed the latest available version of Nestle’s Greek text whereas the ASV had used an earlier version of this text (though the differences were slight) and the KJV had used the Textus receptus. 1971 saw a revision of the New Testament. This revision restored John 7:53-8:11 and Mark 16:9-20 to the text (in 1946 they were footnotes). The 1971 New Testament revision also made some use of the 3rd edition of the United Bible Societies Greek New Testament.”

The RSV Old Testament was not well received outside of liberal circles, chiefly because the translators often deliberately rendered Old Testament passages in such a way that they were contrary to the interpretations given in the New Testament. This was done on the principle that the Old Testament ought to be interpreted only in reference to its own historical (Jewish) context. Christian interpretations, including those of the New Testament writers, are therefore deliberately excluded as “anachronistic.” But this, as conservative critics perceived, practically amounted to a denial of the truth of the New Testament. As the conservative scholar R. Laird Harris wrote,

“It is a curious study to check the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, a monument of higher critical scholarship, and note how every important Old Testament passage purporting to predict directly the coming of Christ has been altered so as to remove this possibility … It is almost impossible to escape the conclusion that the admittedly higher critical bias of the translators has operated in all of these places. The translations given are by no means necessary from the Hebrew and in some cases … are in clear violation of the Hebrew.”

The verse most often mentioned by conservatives was Isaiah 7:14, in which the RSV translators rendered the Hebrew word almah as “young woman” instead of “virgin.” While this was not a case of a clear violation of the Hebrew (the word must be interpreted according to its context), it was by no means necessary. And there were many other instances of the same problem, which revealed a pattern of systematic contradiction of the New Testament interpretations of Old Testament passages. For example, in Genesis 22:18 the RSV renders an ambiguous sentence as “by your descendents shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves” contrary to the interpretation given by the Apostle Paul in Galatians 3:8 and 3:16. The objections of conservatives were not merely captious criticisms concerning the meaning of a word here and there; the controversy was about whether or not a version of the Old Testament which ignores and contradicts the New Testament in so many places has any right to be received as the standard Bible of American churches. At any rate, the rejection of the RSV by evangelicals had serious consequences for the future of the version. At the time that it was replaced by the New Revised Standard Version in 1990, the RSV was one of the least popular versions in America, having only about 5 percent of the market share in Bibles.”

Studying the origin of the KJV, ASV, and RSV prepares us to examine the modern translations, most of which are based from one of these three versions. This information sets the table for a critique of the NASB, NKJV, NIV, NRSV, ESV, HCSB, TNIV, and some of the paraphrase versions. On the back of this is the “family tree” for our study of the modern versions.

(Information for RSV article from Wikipedia & bible-researcher.com).

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