Old Testament p. 716, Isaiah 7:14
The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version containing the Old and New Testaments, translated from the original tongues, being the version set forth A.D. 1611. Revised A.D. 18811885, and A.D. 1901. Toronto, New York, Edinburgh: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1952.
xii, 997, 293 pages. § CD-ROM: 10.6, title page; 10.6, p. 716 (detail); 10.6, New Testament, p.6.
On the feast day of St. Jerome, 30 September 1952, the National Council of Churches published the completed Revised Standard Version. Five hundred years earlier, Gutenberg was working on his famous Bible, an event also noted in the pre-publication literature for the Revised Standard Version. The work of the translation of the Revised Standard Version was done by thirty-two American and Canadian scholars, of whom five died while the work was in progress. Their labors continued over a period of twelve years. The New Testament had been published in 1946 to substantial acclaim.
On, or near, publication date of the complete Bible, services of Thanksgiving for the Divine Word were held in many churches. However, peace was short-lived!
A flood of verbal abuse of the most violent character was heaped upon the RSV and all who were connected with itthe scholar translators, the National Council of Churches, and in many cases the local pastor who dared to use the new translation in worship services.
The chief cause of such intense discontent was on the translation of Isaiah 7:14 where "young woman" is used instead of "virgin." Some burned the page containing the passage. Others threw the whole book into the fire.
Of course the difficulties were far more than just the translation of a few passages. It was the period of the beginning of vast social change: the sexual revolution, the attacks on the barriers of race, change in patterns of dress and speech, etc. The fires of hatred were stoked by some politicians and some clerics who would rather hate than love.
And, then there was always present the ever-ready chargeCommunist! The claims of Communist influence spread like leaves before a hurricaneso many charges made so quickly and from so many inquisitors that victims never had a chance to answer adequately. Some of the names applied to the RSV were "The New Communist Bible," "A Sad Travesty," "The Devils Masterpiece," "Modernisms Unholy Bible," etc. Anti-Semite attacks were launched against Committee member and scholar Harry Orlinsky. Incredible attempts were made to link the translators with "subversive" groups. To many, the RSV represented a deliberate, planned effort on the part of modernist leaders in the church to substitute another for the genuine Bible.
The pattern of criticism of new translations seems to crest when the Old Testament is translated. This was true already in the days of St. Jerome. In order to bring some unity to various Latin texts of the New Testament, Pope Damasus commissioned Jerome to prepare a version which could provide a standard text. Jerome translated the Gospels, and then the rest of the New Testament between 383 and 385. No particular problems emerged in acceptance of his work. He then went on to translate the Old Testament from the original Hebrew, and after 15 years of work released his text to the world. It was met with derision and denunciation. How dare he cast suspicions upon the sacred Septuagint? What was good enough for the Lord and his Disciples was surely good enough for Jerome! Even St. Augustine joined the critics. And thus the Vulgate was born, and patterns of rejection/reception became fixed.
How very strange it seems now to contemplate the violence done to the name of the RSV because of its verbal differences from the KJV. "What was good enough for Paul and Silas is good enough for me" they sang lustilyimplying of course that Paul and Silas did their preaching in early seventeenth-century English! How odd the critics outrage when, in a matter of months, or a few years at most, many became involved in preparing or supporting the effort to prepare a new translation for their own group.
The RSV was not suppressed as many wished. Rather, it opened the floodgates for new translations. When next in a bookstore which has a section of current Bibles for purchase, count the number which has the word "New" in their titles.
Literature: Allen 1961; Cohn 1952, 5-6; Irwin 1952, 17; Larue 1963.