- The Washington Times - Monday, November 25, 2002

The Society of Biblical Literature will celebrate today in Toronto 50 years of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, which was greeted by indignant criticism for tinkering with the language of the King James Bible.
The Revised Standard Version (RSV) swept the American market, stirring celebrations among 30 endorsing denominations and prompting others to throw them on bonfires or return them with bullet holes.
Yet the furor over Bible translations continues, and current disputes over the bewildering variety for consumers and the rise of Bibles that neutralize many masculine pronouns and nouns could make the RSV debate of 1952 pale by comparison.
"The RSV opened the floodgates for all the translations and paraphrases that followed," said the Rev. Marvin Roloff, retired president of Augsburg-Fortress Press and member of the committee that publishes the RSV.
"It took away some of the poetic parts that people like in the old King James, but it was easier to understand," Mr. Roloff said.
The King James Version, published in 1611, was the eighth in a line of 40 English-language Bibles now published, and it still accounts for one-fourth of all Bibles sold in the United States.
Its Elizabethan prose had been altered in the 1901 American Standard Version, but the RSV would be the greatest overall change to date because it relied on major new discoveries in archaeology, ancient texts, and the meaning of Hebrew and Greek words.
Every such change jars the public, said New Testament scholar Bruce Metzger of Princeton Theological Seminary.
"Some people at first were not happy with the King James version," he said. "They were more happy with the Geneva version of 1560."
In addition to new discoveries prompting a break from the King James version, modern publishers have tried to create new Bible markets.
"New audiences are driving new translations," said David Burke, a scholar with the American Bible Society. "People in the churches don't have much control of this. They are asking, 'Which of these many versions do we use?'"
There now are Bibles for men, women, blacks, Hispanics, Pentecostals and in many study or devotional formats. The Roman Catholic Church updated its English Bible after Vatican II with the New American Bible in 1970.
Mr. Burke, who like Mr. Roloff and Mr. Metzger is attending the RSV celebration, said Bibles usually are divided into simpler ones used for evangelism or youth and more academic ones for study, worship and liturgy.
The American Bible Society specializes in the first kind and uses a "dynamic equivalent" translation for its two original translations, the Good News Bible and the Contemporary English Version.
Instead of word-for-word translation from the Hebrew and Greek, "dynamic equivalent" translation uses "thought-for-thought" for clearer English, Mr. Burke said.
Others go much further into a paraphrase, which has given the Living Bible its popularity. Another version, "The Message," is a novel-like retelling of the Bible by an author.
Just as the first RSV offended fundamentalist believers in 1952 by, for example, translating a Hebrew word in Isaiah to "young woman" rather than "virgin," the latest updating also caused a storm.
The New Revision Standard Version (NRSV) of 1990 was the first "gender-neutral" translation. "The archconservatives didn't like it, of course," said Mr. Metzger, 88, who led that team and is considered a conservative scholar.
Under gender-neutral rules, where the RSV once said that as death came by a "man," salvation comes by a man, the NRSV says "human" and "human being."
The RSV market share had declined for three decades and the NRSV now has less than 2 percent of the Bible market. "It's a mystery to us," said Mr. Roloff, who thinks that bookstores push the simpler Bibles.
The biggest recent case of what some have called "Bible rage" was the plan to add gender-neutral language to the popular the New International Version (NIV), published in 1978 as a conservative evangelical alternative to the RSV.
The NIV eclipsed the RSV and now is the best-selling Bible,k with 30 percent of the market.

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