Friday, September 30, 2022

Today on the Almanac, we tell the story of the publication and controversy behind the Revised Standard Version.

*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 30th of September 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.

A Very Happy St. Jerome’s Day, Eusebius Hieronymus Sophronius. We told his story on this show on this day last year- and he is probably best known for his translation of the Bible, completed in the early 5th century, known as The Vulgate- the Bible in the typical Latin tongue that was the standard bible in the Western church for more than 1,000 years.

But today, I’m not telling his story again. Still, instead of talking a bit about what has to be more than a coincidence- it was on this, the 30th of September in 1952, that Thomas Nelson Publishers first published the Revised Standard Version of the Bible- perhaps the most groundbreaking and controversial translation since Tyndale’s in the early 16th century. Let’s tell the Bible's story and the controversy surrounding it.

Before 1952 the Bible in English and the King James Bible were synonymous. The American Standard Version had been published in 1901 but to relative crickets. It was too technical, too awkward. And it kept a lot of the Elizabethan English of King James.

But by the 1930s, as Elizabethan English was becoming increasingly archaic, a group of scholars out of the National Council of Churches decided that a revised version- in everyday English- was needed and could be a text to unify the next Generations of Christians.

[Bear in mind that the Scriptures are in a standard version of your language and goes back to the Greek of the New Testament- it was the people's Greek. And the Vulgate- yes, that is cognate to “vulgar” meaning common].

The name of the Bible, “the Revised Standard Version,” gives us a hint as to what the committee was looking for, not a new translation but a revision of the familiar Bible. The committee came together, and book by book began its modification and translation.

However, in the 1940s, the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in a cave near Qumran- this provided textual critics with ample new evidence that confirmed some older translation decisions and challenged others. The committee would have to decide if fidelity to the best and most accurate texts outweighed people's concern with language and translations that were more familiar.

The Revised Standard Version was published on this day in 1952, and Thomas nelson couldn’t keep up with the demand- the Bible sold 1.5 million copies in 18 months. But despite its widespread popularity and acclaim for a Bible in readable modern English, the angriest voices were the loudest.

Carl McIntyre of the Bible Presbyterian Church proved one of the loudest and most vociferous enemies. He had previously left the Orthodox Presbyterian Church- the very conservative splinter group from the Presbyterian Church USA- because of his suspicions of the OPC. He had also opposed the National Council of Churches- forming his own “American Council of Christian Churches- he was a proud bearer of the name Fundamentalist.

Most famously, he publicized the burning of the RSV from a pulpit by a pastor in Colorado. This was also the era of McCarthy and the Red Scare. The translators were academics who met at Yale and were thus suspect- that Thomas Nelson published the first edition in bright red did not help its cause. A training manual for the Air Force warned its recruits to avoid the RSV as the National Council of Churches championed it.

In Isaiah 7, the translators used the term “young maiden” instead of “virgin.” The Hebrew word, Almah, the RSV committee argued, meant “young maiden” despite Matthew quoting it in Greek and using the word virgin. This was enough to lead some conservatives to begin developing their translations instead- the NIV and New King James would both translate the Hebrew word as “virgin.” Ironically, the Bible that was revised to bring the church together with a standard modern version led to the creation of new translations to which there is seemingly no end.

This is one of the most common questions I receive- which translation is best? And I will respond, again and publicly, that translations are precisely that- something translated from one language to another. I advise learning Greek and Hebrew or relying on multiple translations. My other answer what is the best translation? The one you will read.

The flood gates opened on this, the 30th of September- the feast day for St. Jerome, the patron saint of Bible translators, in 1952

The last word for today comes from Lamentations 3:

I remember my affliction and my wandering,
 the bitterness and the gall.

I well remember them,
 and my soul is downcast within me.

Yet this I call to mind
 and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
 for his compassions never fail.

They are new every morning;
 great is your faithfulness.

I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
 therefore I will wait for him.”

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
 to the one who seeks him;

it is good to wait quietly
 for the salvation of the Lord.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 30th of September 2022, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man whose favorite bible remains his Extreme Boys Adventure Bible presented by Mountain Dew…. He is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by whose first Bible was an RSV; it was also stolen from the lost and found…. If only that book had a word about stealing… I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

Subscribe to the Christian History Almanac

Subscribe to the Christian History Almanac

Subscribe (it’s free!) in your favorite podcast app.