The Revised Standard Version (RSV) is an English translation of the Bible published in the mid-20th century. It traces its history all the way back to William Tyndale's New Testament translation of 1525 and the King James Version of 1611. The RSV is a comprehensive revision of the King James Version (KJV), the Revised Version (RV) of 1881-85, and the American Standard Version (ASV) of 1901, with the ASV being the primary basis for the revision.
The RSV posed the first serious challenge to the popularity of the KJV, aiming to be a readable and literally accurate modern English translation of the Bible. The intention was not only to create a clearer version of the Bible for the English-speaking church, but also to "preserve all that is best in the English Bible as it has been known and used through the centuries" and "to put the message of the Bible in simple, enduring words that are worthy to stand in the great Tyndale-King James tradition."
The RSV was published in the following stages:
Making of the RSV
In 1928, the copyright to the ASV was acquired by the International Council of Religious Education
(ICRE), which renewed the copyright the next year. From 1930-32, a study of the ASV text was undertaken to decide the question of a new revision, but due to the Great Depression
, it was not until 1937 that the ICRE voted in favor of revising the ASV text. A panel of 32 scholars was put together for that task. Also, the Council hoped to set up a corresponding translation committee in Great Britain, as had been the case with the RV and ASV, but this plan was canceled because of World War II
Funding for the revision was assured in 1936 by a deal that was made with Thomas Nelson & Sons. The deal gave Thomas Nelson & Sons the exclusive rights to print the new version for ten years. The translators were to be paid by advance royalties.
The Committee determined that, since the work would be a revision of the "Standard Bible" (as the ASV was sometimes called because of its standard use in seminaries in those days), the name of the work would be the "Revised Standard Version".
The translation panel used the 17th edition of the Nestle-Aland 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 newly discovered Dead Sea Scrolls.
The RSV New Testament was published on February 11, 1946. In his presentation speech to the ICRE, Luther Weigle, dean of the translation committee, explained that he wanted the RSV to supplement and not supplant the KJV and ASV.
In 1950, the ICRE merged with the Federal Council of Churches to form the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA. The former ICRE became the new Council's Division of Christian Education, and the NCC became the official sponsor of the RSV.
After a thorough examination and about eighty changes to the New Testament text, the NCC authorized the RSV Bible for publication in 1951. St. Jerome's Day, September 30, 1952, was selected as the day of publication, and on that day, the NCC sponsored a celebratory rally in Washington D.C., with representatives of the churches affiliated with it present. The very first copy of the RSV Bible to come off the press was presented by Weigle to President Harry S. Truman.
There were three key differences between the RSV (on the one hand) and the KJV, RV and ASV:
- First, the translators reverted to the practice of the KJV and RV in the translation of the Tetragrammaton, or the Divine Name, YHWH. According to the practice of the versions of 1611 and 1885, the RSV translated the name "LORD" or "GOD", whereas the ASV had translated it "Jehovah".
- Second, a change was made in the usage of archaic English for second-person pronouns, "thou", "thee", "thy", and verb forms "art, hast, hadst, didst" etc. The KJV, RV and ASV used these terms for both God and humans. The RSV used archaic English pronouns and verbs only for God, a fairly common practice for Bible translations until the mid-1970s.
- Third, for the New Testament, the RSV followed the latest available version of Nestle's Greek text, whereas the RV and ASV had used an earlier version of this text (though the differences were slight) and the KJV had used the Textus receptus.
Reception and controversy
The Isaiah 7:14 dispute
The RSV New Testament was well received, but reaction to the Old Testament varied. Many accepted it as well, but many others denounced it. It was claimed that the RSV translators had translated the Old Testament from an odd viewpoint. Some specifically referred to a Jewish viewpoint, pointing to agreements with the 1917 Jewish Publication Society of America Version Tanakh
and the presence on the editorial board of a Jewish scholar, Harry Orlinsky
, and claimed that other views, including those of the New Testament, were not considered. The focus of the controversy was the translation of the Hebrew word עַלְמָה (ʿalmāh
) in 14
as "young woman" rather than the traditional Christian translation of "virgin", agreeing with the Greek word παρθένος (parthenos
) found in the Septuagint
's translation of this passage as well as the New Testament at 23
Of the seven appearances of ʿalmāh, the Septuagint translates only two of them as parthenos ("virgin"), including this passage. By contrast, the word בְּתוּלָה (bəṯūlāh) appears some fifty times, and the Septuagint and English translations agree in understanding the word to mean "virgin" in almost every case. In the end, disputes continue over what ʿalmāh does mean; the RSV translators chose to reconcile it with other passages where it does not necessarily mean "virgin".
Attacks on the RSV
Fundamentalists and evangelicals, in particular, accused the translators of deliberately tampering with the Scriptures to deny the doctrine of the Virgin Birth of Jesus
, and they cited other traditionally Messianic prophecies that were allegedly obscured in the RSV (i.e., , ) . Some opponents of the RSV took their anger to extremes. For example, a pastor in the Southern USA burned a copy of the RSV with a blowlamp in his pulpit, saying that it was like the devil because it was hard to burn, and sent the ashes as a protest to Weigle. (However, F.F. Bruce
dismissed it as a publicity stunt and wrote that it had the opposite effect of causing nearly every family in that congregation to acquire a copy!) These accusations are interesting in light of what happened to William Tyndale, an inspiration to the RSV translators, as they explained in their preface: "He met bitter opposition. He was accused of willfully perverting the meaning of the Scriptures, and his New Testaments were ordered to be burned as 'untrue translations.'" But where Tyndale was burned at the stake for his work, Bruce Metzger
, referring to the pastor who burned the RSV and sent the ashes to Weigle, commented in his book The Bible In Translation
"...today it is happily only a copy of the translation that meets such a fate."
Results of the controversy
The controversy stemming from the RSV helped reignite the King-James-Only Movement
within the Independent Baptist and Pentecostal churches (which had begun with the publication of the RV and ASV but had been dormant due to those versions' lack of popularity). Furthermore, many Christians have adopted what has come to be known as the "Isaiah 7.14 litmus test"; that is, whenever a new translation arrives, that verse is the one they will check to determine whether or not they can trust the new version as a legitimate translation. This controversy also served as a major factor in the translation of the New American Standard Bible
(1963-71) and the New International Version
of the Bible (1973-78).
The 2006 Second Catholic Edition of the RSV resolved the controversy by replacing "young woman" with "virgin" (see Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition#The RSV-CE Today).
Minor modifications to the RSV text were authorized in 1959 and completed for the 1962 printings. At the same time, other publishing companies besides Thomas Nelson were allowed to print it, including Zondervan
, and the American Bible Society
. Some of the changes included (but were not limited to) reverting to the Greek phrase "the husband of one wife" in 1 Timothy 3.2, 12 and Titus 1.6 (in the 1946-52 printing it was paraphrased as "married only once"), quoting the Roman centurion who witnessed Jesus' death as calling him "the Son of God" in Matthew 27.54 and Mark 15.39 (in 1946-52 he was quoted as calling Jesus "a son of God"), and changing "without" in Job 19.26 to "from" (and adjusting the associated footnote accordingly).
1971 Second Edition of the New Testament
In 1971, the RSV Bible was rereleased with the Second Edition of the Translation of the New Testament. Whereas in 1962 the translation panel had merely authorized a handful of changes, in 1971 they gave the New Testament text a thorough editing. The most obvious changes were the restoration of Mark 16.9-20 (the long ending) and John 7.53-8.11 (in which Jesus forgives an adultress) to the text (in 1946, they were put in footnotes). Also restored was Luke 22.19b-20, containing the bulk of Jesus' institution of the Lord's Supper. In the 1946-52 text, this had been cut off at the phrase "This is my body", and the rest had only been footnoted, since this verse did not appear in the original Codex Bezae
manuscript used by the translation committee. Luke 22.43-44, which had been part of the text in 1946-52, was relegated to the footnote section because of its questionable authenticity; in these verses an angel appears to Jesus in Gethsemane to strengthen and encourage Him before His arrest and crucifixion. Many other verses were rephrased or rewritten for greater clarity and accuracy. Moreover, the footnotes concerning monetary values were no longer expressed in terms of dollars and cents but in terms of how long it took to earn each coin (the denarius was no longer defined as twenty cents but as a day's wage). The book of Revelation
, called "The Revelation to John" in the previous editions, was retitled "The Revelation to John (The Apocalypse)". Some of these changes to the RSV New Testament had already been introduced in the 1965-66 Catholic Edition, and their introduction into the Protestant edition was done to pave the way for the publication of the RSV Common Bible in 1973.
The Apocrypha and the Catholic Edition
In 1957, at the request of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America
, the Deuterocanonical books
(called the Apocrypha
by most Protestant Christians) were added to the RSV. Since there was no American Standard Version of the Apocrypha, the RSV Apocrypha was a revision of the Revised Version
Apocrypha of 1894, as well as the King James Version. To make the RSV acceptable to Eastern Orthodox
congregations, an expanded edition of the Apocrypha containing 3 and 4 Maccabees and Psalm 151
was released in 1977.
Most editions of the RSV that contain the Apocrypha place those books after the New Testament, arranged in the order of the King James Version (the Eastern Orthodox books in post-1977 editions are added at the end). The exception, of course, is the Common Bible, where the Apocryphal books were placed between the Testaments and rearranged in an order pleasing to Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox alike (see below for more information about the Common Bible).
In 1965, the Catholic Biblical Association adapted—under the editorship of Bernard Orchard OSB and Reginald C. Fuller—the RSV for Catholic use with the release of the Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition. The RSV-Catholic New Testament was published in 1965 and the full RSV-Catholic Bible in 1966. This included revisions up through 1962, along with a small number of new revisions in the New Testament, mostly to return to familiar phrases. In addition, a few footnotes were changed. This edition is currently published and licensed by Ignatius Press. It contains the deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament placed in the traditional order of the Vulgate.
The Catholic RSV was also used as the English text for the Navarre Bible commentary.
In 2006, Ignatius Press released the Revised Standard Version-Second Catholic Edition, which updated the archaic language in the 1966 printing and exchanged some footnotes and texts to reflect a more traditional understanding of certain passages, such as replacing "young woman" with "virgin" in Isaiah 7.14, as previously mentioned. (See also Ignatius Catholic Study Bible series)
There have been many adaptations of the RSV over the years.
The Common Bible
of 1973 ordered the books in a way that pleased both Catholics and Protestants
. It was divided into four sections:
- The Old Testament (39 Books)
- The Deuterocanonical Books (12 Books)
- The Non-Deuterocanonical Books (three Books; six Books after 1977)
- The New Testament (27 Books)
The non-deuterocanonicals gave the Common Bible a total of 81 books: it included 1 Esdras (also known as 3 Ezra), 2 Esdras (4 Ezra), and the Prayer of Manasseh, books that have appeared in the Vulgate's appendix since Jerome's time "lest they perish entirely", but are not considered canonical by Roman Catholics and are thus not included in most modern Catholic Bibles. In 1977, the RSV Apocrypha was expanded to include 3 Maccabees, 4 Maccabees, and Psalm 151, three additional sections accepted in the Eastern Orthodox canon (4 Maccabees again forming an appendix in that tradition). This action increased the Common Bible to 84 Books, making it the most comprehensive English bible translation to date in its inclusion of books not accepted by all denominations. The goal of the Common Bible was to help ecumenical relations between the churches.
Reader's Digest Bible
In 1982, Reader's Digest published a special edition of the RSV that was billed as a condensed edition of the text. The Reader's Digest edition of the RSV was intended for those who did not read the Bible or who read it infrequently. It was not intended as a replacement of the full RSV text. In this version, 55% of the Old Testament and 25% of the New Testament were cut. Familiar passages such as the Lord's Prayer, Psalm 23 and the Ten Commandments were retained. For those who wanted the full RSV, Reader's Digest provided a list of publishers that sold the complete RSV at that time.
New Revised Standard Version
In 1989, the National Council of Churches released a full-scale revision to the RSV called the New Revised Standard Version. It was the first major version to use gender-neutral language, and thus drew more criticism and ire from conservative Christians than did its 1952 predecessor.
English Standard Version
As an alternative to the NRSV, in 2001, publisher Crossway Bibles released its own Protestant evangelical revision of the RSV called the English Standard Version (ESV). This version was commissioned for the purpose of modifying RSV passages that conservatives had long disputed: e.g., the RSV's Isaiah 7:14 usage of the phrase "young woman" was changed back to "virgin". Unlike its cousin, it used only a small dose of gender-neutral language.
The RSV today
The RSV remains a favorite translation for many Christians. However, RSV Bibles are hard to find, except in second-hand shops and churches that used it, because the NCC prefers to print the New Revised Standard Version.
The year 2002 marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of the RSV Bible. Oxford University Press commemorated it by releasing two different Anniversary editions: one with the Old and New Testaments only (the NT text being from 1971), and one including the Apocryphal books as seen in the 1977 expanded edition. Because these editions contain some of the readings and footnotes found in the RSV-Catholic New Testament (as in Matthew 1.19; 19.9; Mark 16.9-20; Luke 8.43 24.5, 12, 36, 40; John 7.53-8.11; Romans 5.5; 8.11; 1 Corinthians 9.5; Hebrews 13.13, to name only a few), and because of the order of the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical books and their placement between the Testaments, it is apparent that these editions are revivals of the 1977 Expanded Edition Common Bible.
Two years before, Oxford's rival, Cambridge University Press, reprinted the RSV in two editions which are still available: a Brevier center-column reference Bible, and a New Testament with Psalms.
Oxford continues to make the RSV Oxford Annotated Bible available, in a 1973 edition with Old and New Testaments (the NT text being from the 1971 update) and a 1977 edition featuring both Testaments and the 1977 Expanded Apocrypha.
Scepter Publishers, Ignatius Press, and Oxford continue to print the 1966 edition of the RSV-Catholic Bible, and Ignatius, as mentioned, has made the Second Catholic Edition of the full Bible and a New Testament/Psalms available.
- Comfort, Philip (1996). The Complete Guide to Bible Versions. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House. ISBN 0-8423-1252-8
- Marlowe, Michael D. (2001) "Revised Standard Version (1946-1977)" Retrieved July 21, 2003.
- May, Herbert Gordon (1952). ''Our English Bible In The Making". Philadelphia: Westminster Press.
- Metzger, Bruce (2001). The Bible in Translation. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic. ISBN 0-8010-2282-7
- Sheely, Steven and Robert Nash (1999). Choosing A Bible. Nashville: Abdington Press. ISBN 0-687-05200-9
- Thuesen, Peter (1999). In Discordance with the Scriptures: American Protestant Battles over Translating the Bible. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-515228-X