The Zombie Bible

It’s the translation that just won’t die.

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I have occasionally written about bibles and bible translations. Those posts seemed not to generate much interest. But the subject of scripture translation interests me, so I will likely be writing about it more often, even though I don’t know any Hebrew or Greek (just a bit of Latin). The origin of my interest in the subject was the result of my trying to find a new bible after becoming Catholic (15 years ago now). I now am convinced I will never be fully satisfied in that search. In this post I will give the history, and in a follow up my thoughts on one translation, which has been buried but just keeps coming back. It’s the RSV.

The Revised Standard Version was the first major translation to intrude upon the dominance of the King James Version among Protestant Christians. First introduced in 1951, the RSV was adopted by many mainline (the more ‘liberal’ sort) Protestant churches. It was called a revision of the King James Version. Although a side by side reading of the two versions will demonstrate considerable differences between the two. It is effectively a new translation done by modernist (read ‘liberal’) Protestant scholars, with the previous translation tradition taken into account. It was produced using the latest critical editions of the manuscripts and incorporated most of the higher critical theories of the day. Thus it contained a number of renderings biased towards an agnostic rationalistic point of view. As a result of this the RSV was roundly rejected by conservative Protestants. Some even went so far as having bonfires to burn it. Evangelicals, Pentecostals, fundamentalists and more conservative mainline protestants continued to use the KJV. By time the 1980s rolled around there were other translations in modern English available for those who found archaic language difficult, and the Protestant RSV was virtually extinct. Some comparisons between the KJV and RSV.

KJV

RSV

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 1Cor13:1

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 1Cor13:1

Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Matt 5:13

 “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men.

 

Now unlike most zombies which when they return from the grave are further decayed, the RSV actually becomes more healthy and whole. I’m not sure of the motivations, but the producers of the RSV sought or agreed to (I haven’t found a clear account of the history here) the production of a Catholic Edition of the RSV. Apart from incorporating the “Apocrypha” into the Old Testament text, this required some alterations to the translation and viola, a somewhat improved translation. The modifications are fairly insignificant but are in the direction of a more conservative and cautious rendering. (a list of them can be found here (http://www.bible-researcher.com/rsv-ce.html)

In 2001 a group of conservative evangelical Protestants published the English Standard Version. This translation was produced as a result of the desire for a more formally literal translation (translate the meaning of the words) than the, then popular, New International Version. Which is more dynamic equivalence (translate the meaning of the sentence). It was also in part a reaction against moves on part of the NIV publishers attempting to introduce inclusive language revisions (politically correct feminist alterations to the text). The ESV has become one of the more popular translations in use among conservative Protestants. Unknown to most is that it is actually a revision of the RSV. This is the second time the RSV returned from the grave. A side by side reading of the RSV and ESV reveals they are nearly word for word. The revision is however complete and where they differ the ESV is usually either more literal, more conservative or replaces archaic language. For example in Isaiah 7:14 where the RSV has “the young woman shall conceive” the ESV says “the virgin shall conceive”. On the matter of archaic language I must point out an important and somewhat bizarre feature of the RSV, in the text whenever someone speaks to God the RSV reverts to sacral English (thee, thou, est endings etc.). This inconsistency is removed in the ESV. (a good reduction of the revisions can be found here http://www.bible-researcher.com/esv.html )

RSV

ESV

For thou art not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not sojourn with thee. The boastful may not stand before thy eyes; Ps. 5:4

For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes Ps. 5:4

 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. Rom 6:5-6

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin

 

In 2006 Ignatius press published the RSVCE second edition (RSV-2CE). Unlike the RSVCE this is an extensive revision. Like the ESV it eliminates the inconsistent archaisms. It also makes number of revisions in conformity to the principles of the church document Liturgiam Authenticam. In some cases this involves, revisions replacing translations that were novel in the original RSV with more traditional expressions. For example “steadfast love” is replaced with “mercy”.

Some examples.

RSV

ESV

RSV-2CE

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures for ever! Ps 107:1

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Ps 107:1

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his mercy endures forever! Ps 107:1

Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we may be sure that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He who says “I know him” but disobeys his commandments is a liar, 1 John 2:2-4

Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, 1 John 2:2-4

Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we may be sure that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He who says “I know him” but disobeys his commandments is a liar, 1 John 2:2-4

“Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” Lk. 22:42

saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” Lk. 22:42

“Father, if you are willing, remove this chalice from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” Lk. 22:42

The vast majority of the texts read the same. The examples given are to highlight how the different principles at play influence where they differ. The use of ‘mercy’ and ‘chalice’ in the RSV-2CE are more the language of prayer, more churchy and liturgical the result of adhering to the principles of Liturgiam Authenticam. ‘Expiation’ and ‘propitiation’ are both legitimate translations in the 1st John passage but ‘propitiation’ is more reflective of a Protestant understanding of how Christ’s sacrifice expiates sin. Protestant theologians have spilt copious amounts of ink arguing over minute shades of distinction between the two words. ‘You’ instead of ‘thy’ is the result of both revisions eliminating the inconsistent sacral English.

 

So that’s a basic brief history of the Revised Standard Version repeatedly returning from the grave.

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3 Responses to The Zombie Bible

  1. Ben says:

    bgpery,

    Which translation do you prefer overall? I like the RSV-CE (2nd edition) the most, as it comes highly recommended from scholarly Catholics over the New American Bible.

    When I was a Protestant I was a big NASB guy, as I understood it to be the “most literal” translation. But now when I look things up in it to compare translations, it seems to be more pointedly un-Catholic rather than actually more literal. Perhaps that’s why it’s a favorite of Protestant scholarly types.

    -Ben

    • bgpery says:

      Ben- that’s quite a question.
      I like the Clementine edition of the Latin Vulgate… just kidding, sort of.

      I tend to use a couple different translations for a couple of different reasons. For general and devotional reading (prayer) I tend to use the Douay Rheims (or also… yes I admit it I’m a closet KJV user) this is because I have an unshakable attachment to the KJV from my childhood. It’s just too deep in my consciousness. The DR has some things in it which may seem strange because it is a fairly literal translation of the Vulgate. Noe instead of Noah, Jeremias instead of Jeremiah, penance instead of repentance for example.

      For a Modern Catholic translation my favorite is the “confraternity version” started in the 40s unfortunately it is incomplete, being interrupted by Vatican II (long story on the details). The New Testament is still in print I think, I have a few old ones. (actually if you’re interested I could probably part with one). If I could pick just one it would be this, if only it had been finished.

      I’ll probably be writing up something on both of these.

      I believe the NASB is very literal but I also think you can’t avoid translator bias. Everybody has a bias and unconsciously it will wind up being expressed to some degree no matter how neutral one is trying to be. I have some issues with the various RSVs but it is decent and fairly literal. I really, really, dislike the NAB and can’t recommend it, even though it’s what’s in the lectionary.

  2. Pingback: The Zombie Bible: part 2 | Under the Mantle

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