King's College London
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'To make a good one better': translating the Bible

The Revised Standard Version

Text from the second chapter of Luke's Gospel (the account of the Nativity)The Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the New TestamentRevised Standard Version (RSV) was conceived, as its name suggests, as a revision of the King James Bible, rather than a completely fresh translation from the Hebrew and Greek originals. Instigated in 1937 by the International Council of Religious Education, a body comprising American and Canadian representatives of forty major Christian denominations, the RSV was intended to ‘embody the best results of modern scholarship ... in English diction which is designed for use in public and private worship and preserves those qualities which have given to the King James version a supreme place in English literature.’

A committee of 32 scholars, under the chairmanship of Luther A Weigle of Yale University, took charge of the revision, and the New Testament (or New Covenant, as it is named on the title page) was published in1946, the Old Testament following in 1952. The revisers were able to benefit from the latest scholarly discoveries, drawing in their revision of Isaiah, for example, on readings found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in 1947.

The RSV, like all revisions, endured some withering criticism – pamphlets with titles such as The new blasphemous Bible and The Bible of Antichrist indicate the strength of feeling against it in some quarters – and some of the revisers even found themselves a focus of interest to Joseph McCarthy’s committee of investigation into un-American activities for supposedly communist leanings, but it was also immediately successful, over twelve million copies being sold within ten years of publication.

Among the innovations of the RSV were the use of inverted commas to indicate direct speech, the use of ‘you’, ‘your’ and ‘yours’ instead of ‘thou’, ‘thee’, ‘thy’ and ‘thine’ except in passages addressed to God and an increase in the rendering of passages in verse, rather than prose (seen, for example, in verse 14, the song of the angels, in the pages on display).

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