Months before its publication in 1952 the Revised Standard Version (RSV) was widely advertised as “the greatest Bible news in 341 years.” This decidedly ambitious claim has yet to find general acceptance. Whether the RSV will attain permanent and widespread success still remains to be seen. For good reasons many are not ready to accept it as the rightful heir of the historic Authorized Version of 1611 (AV). Although the RSV professes to be a revision of the AV, it is in reality a modern speech version.

Literary Style

The literary style of the AV has been frequently and even extravagantly praised. Men like Ruskin and William Lyon Phelps have commended it most highly. According to A. T. Robertson, the great charm and the chief merit of the AV lies in the fact that “it reproduces to a remarkable extent the spirit and language of the Bible.” That it contains expressions which are now obsolete or have changed their meaning as well as readings which are now regarded as incorrect or inferior is obvious. Many of these were removed in the American Revised Version of 1901 (ARV) and should be changed in the text or margin of copies of the AV which are published today. One of the rules adopted in 1870 to govern the revision which resulted in the ARV was “That in such necessary changes the style of the language employed in the existing version be closely followed.” This rule was not adopted for the RSV. But the hope is expressed in the Preface to the RSV that the translators have not taken undue advantage of their freedom from it.

Some changes are a matter of taste. For example, “to” instead of “unto,” “on” for “upon,” “you” for “ye” are purely a matter of English. But when the translators presume to decide just how frequently “and” may be used in a chapter or paragraph, the situation is quite different, and subjective considerations enter into the decision. The first “and” is omitted in verse 10 of Genesis 1 and retained in verse 8, where the construction is exactly the same. Its omission at Leviticus 1:1 and Numbers 1:1 destroys the connection between these books. The familiar phrase “and it came to pass” is omitted in Genesis 6:1 and frequently elsewhere. “Answered and said” is reduced to “answered” (Gen. 24:50). In Genesis 36:15–18 the word “duke” (RSV “chief”) occurs 18 times. RSV reduces it to 6 (cf. 1 Chron. 1:51–54). Such changes may make for easy reading, but they do not reproduce the biblical language and style accurately.

The Use Of “Thou”

The most important question under the head of biblical language is the use of “thou.” Both Hebrew and Greek distinguish between the singular (thou) and plural (you). The 1611 version carefully observed the distinction, not because it was Jacobean, but because it was biblical. The ARV retained it for the same reason. “Thou” is little less common in our vernacular today than it was fifty years ago. Yet probably all “modern speech” versions either eliminate the singular form entirely or compromise by using it only “in language addressed to God” or “in exalted poetic apostrophe.” This compromise in RSV encounters the most serious difficulties. In the New Testament it means that in every case where Jesus is addressed the decision must be made whether the speaker recognized his deity. Thus in Matthew 16:16, where Peter makes his great confession, RSV renders “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” That is, it declares that Peter addresses Jesus as a man, even when affirming him to be the Son of God.

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In the Old Testament the same problem arises in connection with Messianic prophecy. The prophecy of Psalm 110:4 reads, “You are a priest for ever,” but it becomes in Hebrew 5:6 “Thou art a priest for ever,” which suggests that a prophecy which was not Messianic in the Old Testament becomes Messianic in the New Testament (NT). Or, if the principle of “exalted poetic apostrophe” is applied in the New Testament passage why not also in the Old Testament? We are told that the usage adopted in RSV followed “two years of debate and experiment.” The result is conclusive proof that such a compromise is both impracticable and dangerous. The only alternatives are either to follow the biblical usage or to eliminate the “thou” completely. We believe that the “thou” is too deeply embedded in the language of piety and religious devotion to be rudely displaced by the “you” of the modern colloquial. The fact that the diction of the AV differs from that of the daily newspaper is not necessarily a liability. Many regard it as a distinct asset. They enjoy the quaint and old-fashioned language of the Bible and want it changed as little as possible.

Paraphrase Not Translation

The aim of a translation is to render accurately the language of the text. A paraphrase may aim to give the meaning under a different form, but it tends to become an interpretation. “For he thought, ‘Why not, if there be peace and security in my days’ ” (2 Kings 20:19) is a loose paraphrase of “And he said, Is it not good, if peace and truth be in my days.” Does “For he thought,” etc., mean that Isaiah is not telling us what Hezekiah said but simply reading his mind for our benefit? “But he said, ‘Oh, my Lord, send, I pray, some other person’ ” (Ex. 4:13) tells us what Moses clearly wanted to say, but not what he actually said, which was, “O, my Lord, send I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send.” It may help some readers to read “Moses’ feet” (Ex. 4:25), “Eli fell over backward” (1 Sam. 4:18), “took his stand by Amasa” (2 Sam. 20:11), “now Ahijah had clad himself” (1 Kings 11:29b)—passages where the simple pronoun of the text is somewhat ambiguous. All such explanations, if really needed, should be placed in the margin, not inserted in the text.

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The AV and ARV use italics to indicate words which are inserted to clarify the meaning. RSV never uses italics. Yet it makes many interpretive additions. “After his mother’s death” (Gen. 24:67), “better than a thousand elsewhere” (Ps. 84:10), “seventy weeks of years” and “a most holy place” (Dan. 9:24), “three days’ journey in breadth” (Jonah 3:3). In these passages, “death,” “elsewhere,” “of years,” “place,” “in breadth” are all interpretive additions. But this is not indicated in any way.

Both the AV and the ARV recognized the value of the ancient versions, especially the Septuagint (LXX), for the Bible translator. But they recognized also that an important distinction is to be drawn between the divinely inspired original text and uninspired translations; and also that it is difficult to be sure of the text of these ancient versions. We are told in the Preface to the ARV: “The authorities referred to in the Old Testament are translations from the Hebrew; and though the date of these translations is more ancient than any extant manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible, yet there is no means of verifying with certainty the text of these translations; and one can never get beyond plausible conjecture in attempting to correct the Hebrew text by means of them. It is one thing to admit that the Hebrew text is probably corrupt here and there; quite another, to be sure how to rectify it.” Consequently the ARV revisers reduced to a minimum the corrections favored by the versions; and their policy was to place those they adopted or favored in the margin, not in the text.

The attitude of the RSV to the use of the versions is radically different from that of the ARV. Not only has it corrected the Hebrew text some 600 times on the basis of one or more versions, but it puts these corrections in the text with a marginal note. This note varies considerably in form. “Assyria” (Amos 3:9) has margin “Gk.:Heb. Ashdod,” although the Targum, Syriac, and Vulgate support the Hebrew. “House of Israel” (Hos. 10:15) has margin “Gk.:Heb. O Bethel,” although the Hebrew makes good sense and is supported by Syriac and Vulgate (cf. Targum). “His neighbor’s flesh” (Isa. 9:20) has margin “Tg. Compare Gk.:Heb. the flesh of his arm,” although the St. Mark Scroll, Codex B of the Septuagint, Vulgate and Syriac support the Hebrew Massoretic text.

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In a number of instances the margin contains the words, “Heb. lacks.” For example, “Jehoram his brother became king in his stead” (2 Kings 1:17) has margin: “Gk. Syr.: Heb. lacks his brother.” It is quite likely that the Greek translators, preparing a version for Greek-speaking Jews and proselytes, added the words “his brother” to make it clear just who this Jehoram was; and the Syriac probably followed the Greek. But the words “Heb. lacks” assume that the Greek is right and that the Hebrew text omits something which properly belongs there. Many examples of these alleged “lacks” of the Hebrew might be cited. Such readings as “Let us go out to the field” (Gen. 4:8), and “Why have you stolen my silver cup?” (Gen. 44:4 were undoubtedly known to the ARV revisers and probably also to those of 1611. But they ignored them. RSV places them in the text and states in the margin that the Hebrew “lacks” them.

How uncertain many of these changes are is illustrated by such a rendering as “swoon away” instead of “rejoice” (Jer. 51:39), which is adopted by RSV following Moffatt and the American Translation. If we take “exult” in the sense of “become hilarious,” the state which often precedes a drunken stupor, the Hebrew text makes perfectly good sense. It is quite probable that the Greek translators simply misunderstood the meaning. The RSV margin “Heb. rejoice” suggests that the Hebrew must be wrong. “And spreading itself like a green tree in its native soil” (Ps. 37:35 ARV) is literally “like a luxuriant native (tree).” RSV following the Greek changes it to “like a cedar of Lebanon” and adds a footnote, “Gk.:Heb. obscure,” which is a strange statement for Hebrew scholars to make.

Conjectural Readings

There are more than 300 readings in the text of RSV which are described in the margin as “cn,” which is explained in the Preface as standing for “correction.” But since these changes are without support in manuscripts or versions, they are really conjectures (properly abbreviated as “cj”) and should be described as such.

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Psalm 2:11 f. is a “cn” which has been frequently cited. By omitting the words “with trembling” and rearranging the consonants of the words “and rejoice” and “son,” a rendering “kiss his feet” (so American Translation) is secured. Yet if it is admitted that the Aramaic form of the word “son” (bar) is used here instead of the Hebrew form (ben), the difficulty is entirely removed (in vs. 9 the word “break” is also an Aramaic loan word). By a similar juggling of letters a rendering “kiss the hero” has also been reached. One is quite as conjectural as the other. “Rebelled against the Most High at the Red Sea” (Ps. 106:7) instead of “provoked him at the Sea, even at the Red Sea,” is not justified by simply referring to Psalm 78:17,56. “Crown” (Ps. 89:19) instead of “help” involves consonantal change and is no improvement. “Nor upsurgings of the deep” (2 Sam. 1:21) is no improvement on “nor fields of offerings,” i.e., fertile fields where first fruits might be gathered. It involves changes in the consonants of both Hebrew words and gives the words a mythological meaning. Dr. Moffatt justified the many conjectural changes that he made in his version on the ground that the Hebrew text is “often desperately corrupt.” It is only on the basis of such an assumption that many or most of the “cns” adopted in RSV can be justified; and obviously every “cn” adopted serves to strengthen the claim that the Hebrew text is corrupt.

Changes Without Marginal Note

Changes without marginal note are of two kinds. The revisers state that where the readings they have adopted make no change in the Consonantal text but simply involve the vocalization and punctuation of the Massoretic text (MT), no marginal note is given. The Massoretic pronunciation represents a reading which is both ancient and important. To ignore it completely is arbitrary, to say the least; and it is confusing to the reader who does not have all the facts before him. In Isaiah 49:17, RSV follows the St. Mark Isaiah Scroll in reading “your builders” (BoNaYiK) instead of “thy sons (BaNaYiK). In such cases a marginal note such as “MT: sons” would certainly be in order. It would indicate both the change and also to this extent the reason for it. “For they have no pangs; their bodies are sound and sleek” (Ps. 73:4) does not change the consonants, but it involves cutting the word “death” in two (making “they” and “sound”). This is favored by many critics but finds no support in the versions.

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Unfortunately there are, despite the claim of the Preface, a good many passages where changes involving the Consonantal Text are made without any marginal note. A glaring example of this is, “And Moses did as the Lord commanded him” (Lev. 16:34b). The only possible rendering of the Hebrew is “And he did as the Lord commanded Moses” (AV, ARV). Since the entire ritual of the Day of Atonement was to be performed by the high priest (Aaron is mentioned six times in the chapter), the statement as it stands in the AV is perfectly clear. “The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, and Accad, all of them in the land of Shinar” (Gen. 10:10), instead of “and the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh in the land of Shinar” (AV) has no margin. The rendering “all of them” (for Calneh) does not require a change in the consonants. But it does involve the rejection of the “and” which precedes; and it is at least questionable whether such a phrase as “all of them” would be necessary or appropriate after the mention of only three cities. It is arbitrary, to say the least, to introduce this new rendering without even a marginal note, simply because discoveries in Ugaritic indicate that such a rendering is possible. “In the land of Amaw” (Num. 22:5) replaces “of the land of the children of his people.” “His people” (ammo) could be read as Amaw. But this ignores the “sons of” which precedes. The Greek supports the AV. Some 13 manuscripts, the Samaritan Hebrew, the Syriac, and the Vulgate favor a reading “Ammon.” “Let my right hand wither” (Ps. 137:5) instead of “forget her cunning,” “cannot abide” (Ps. 49:20) for “understandeth not,” “The Lord is the strength of his people” (Ps. 28:8) instead of “The Lord is their strength,” “a pleasant vineyard” (Isa. 27:2) instead of “a vineyard of red wine,” “Summon thy might, O God” (Ps. 68:28) instead of “Thy God hath commanded thy strength,” “praised” (Eccles. 8:10) instead of “forgotten”—all involve consonantal changes. Such unindicated changes are disconcerting, to say the least.

Poetical Arrangement

In the AV the printing of each verse as a unit makes it somewhat difficult for the reader to distinguish readily between prose and poetry. The ARV made this possible by arranging prose passages in paragraphs and poetry in verses. It treated Psalms, Proverbs, Canticles, and most of Job as poetry, also the clearly poetical passages in Exodus 15, Numbers 23–24, Deuteronomy 32–33. That there is a poetic quality in many of the utterances of the prophets has long been recognized. Rhythmic parallelism is quite marked in some of their discourses. But this does not warrant the treatment of them as poetry. The RSV has “metricized” the greater part of the prophetical books. The result has been that splendidly rhythmic prose has often been changed into very poor and lame poetry. The first chapter of Isaiah, often called “the great arraignment,” is broken up in RSV and printed as a kind of blank verse. An extreme example of this appears in Matthew 4:1–11. Jesus in answering the devil quoted three Old Testament passages, two from Deuteronomy, the other from the Psalms. The two from Deuteronomy are quoted from a simple prose narrative. Yet they are treated as poetry in Matthew.

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Quotation marks are a feature of most, if not all “modern speech” versions. They may sometimes be helpful, but there are two dangers connected with their use. One is that they may be unduly interpretive. In Psalms 60, verses 6 to 8 are placed in quotes as the word of the Lord. Many commentators regard them as the word of the Psalmist. In Isaiah 2:3 the quotation ends with “paths” instead of including the rest of the verse. The other reason is that quotation marks are complicated and confusing. Deuteronomy 5:1 (“Hear O Israel”) to 26:19 is all placed in quotes. Every paragraph—there are more than 100 of them—begins with a quote (“). Hence the Ten Commandments are each introduced by two quotes (“ ‘) here, while in Exodus 20:2–17 they are introduced by one “quote” (“). Deuteronomy 5:28 begins with a quote (“). In includes a quotation (‘) which begins with the words “I have heard” and extends through verse 31; and this in turn includes a quotation (“) consisting of the words “Return to your tents” (vs. 30). Such a lavish use of quotation marks tends to pile up. Cf. Jeremiah 22:9 and 29:28, which end with three quotes (” ’ ”). It is to be noted also that the revisers have been quite inconsistent. Compare Jeremiah 13:12–14 with Ezekiel 35:1–9 in RSV.

An irritating feature of the RSV is its inconsistencies. Eitheir the Old Testament and the New Testament Committees did not consult one another sufficiently or they failed to reach an agreement on matters that concerned both testaments. Thus Isaiah 40:3 reads “A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord.”°’ This verse is quoted in all four Gospels, and in all four the words “in the wilderness” are connected with what precedes, not with what follows. The word “Gentiles” disappears from the Old Testament in RSV but appears nearly as frequently in the New Testament as in the AV. For the reader who has no way of checking them such inconsistencies are confusing. For those who have, they are irritating as indicative of carelessness and haste.

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Minimizing Attitude

The most serious defect of the RSV is what may be called its minimizing attitude toward the supernatural. This appears with especial clearness in its treatment of Isaiah 7:14. That the word alma can be used and is used of a virgin (Gen. 24:43, cf. vs. 16), that the Septuagint rendered it by parthenos and that parthenos means virgin, that Matthew 1:23 used the word parthenos in quoting Isaiah’s prophecy, that the context in Matthew speaks of a virgin birth—these are facts which cannot be denied. Yet RSV renders the Isaiah passage by “young woman” (margin: “Or virgin”). This implies that Matthew read into the prophecy a meaning which was not originally there. It is of course possible, perhaps probable that alma was used at times in the broader sense of “a young woman (of marriageable age).” But to adopt such a rendering here shows a readiness to find a minimum of truth in a passage instead of a desire to claim the most its language will properly admit.

The words “and he shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne” (Zech. 6:13, AV) predict the coming of the Priest-King, who is to be like unto Melchizedek (Ps. 110:4). The RSV rendering “and shall sit and rule upon his throne. And there shall be a priest by his throne” introduces a sharp distinction between the king and the priest which is not justified by the Hebrew. “Your divine throne” (Ps. 45:6) substitutes a divine throne for a divine Messiah and conflicts with the rendering of Hebrews 1:8, “Thy throne, O God.” “Whose origin is from of old, from ancient days” (Mic. 5:2) tones down the “from everlasting” of the AV. The rendering of Daniel 9:25, “Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again”—in fact the whole treatment of vss. 24–27—agrees with the critical theory that the Book of Daniel is Maccabean.

The writer is not one of those who regard the Authorized Version as sacrosanct. It is not infallible and where it is wrong it should be corrected. But such a revision, if it is to be entitled to the name, should be completely in the spirit of that time-honored version. It should aim to conserve its style and diction and make as few changes in it as are consistent with the accuracy and lucidity of the translation. We believe it to be imperative that conservative scholars prepare a revision of the AV that will carefully conserve all that is best in it while seeking to eliminate its occasional obscurities and errors. The AV has been for centuries a great unifying factor in the life of English-speaking Protestantism. Long may it remain so!

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For a quarter of a century Oswald T. Allis taught Old Testament and related subjects. From 1910 to 1929 he taught at Princeton Theological Seminary, first as instructor and then as assistant professor of Semitic Philology; and from 1929 to 1936 at Westminster Theological Seminary, first as Professor of Old Testament History and Exegesis, and then as Professor of Old Testament. He is author of seven books and a member of the Version Committee of the American Bible Society.

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