Revised Standard Version

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Revised Standard Version
50th Anniversary edition of the RSV
50th Anniversary edition of the RSV
Full name: Revised Standard Version
Abbreviation: RSV
NT published: 1946
OT published: 1952
Derived from: American Standard Version
Textual Basis: Masoretic text (OT)
Nestle-Aland text (NT)
Translation type: Literal
Version Revised: 1971
Copyright status: Copyrighted
Religious Affiliation: National Council of Churches
Genesis 1:1-3
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light.
John 3:16
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

The Revised Standard Version (RSV) is an English translation of the Bible that was popular in the mid-20th century. It posed the first serious challenge to the King James Version (KJV), aiming to be both a readable and literally accurate modern English translation of the Bible.


The RSV is a comprehensive revision of the King James Version of 1611, the English Revised Version of 1881-1885, and the American Standard Version of 1901, with the ASV text being the most consulted. It sought not only to clearly bring the Bible to the English-speaking church, but to "preserve all that is best in the English Bible as it has been known and used through the centuries."

The copyright to the ASV was acquired by the International Council of Religious Education in 1928, and this Council renewed the ASV copyright the next year. In 1935, a two-year study began to decide the question of a new revision, and in 1937, it was decided that a revision would be done and a panel of 32 scholars was put together for that task. The decision, however, was delayed by the Great Depression. Funding for the revision was assured in 1936 by a deal that was made with Thomas Nelson & Sons. The deal gave Thomas Nelson & Sons the exclusive rights to print the RSV for ten years. The translators were to be paid by advance royalties.

Publication and updates

The translation panel used the 17th edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek text for the New Testament, and the traditional Hebrew Masoretic Text for the Old Testament. However, they amended the Hebrew in a number of places. In the Book of Isaiah, they sometimes followed readings found in the then newly discovered Dead Sea Scrolls. The New Testament was released in 1946, and the Old Testament in 1952.

The RSV New Testament was well received, but reaction to the Old Testament was different. Many accepted it as well, but many also denounced it. It was claimed that the RSV translators had translated the Old Testament from an odd viewpoint (some said a Jewish viewpoint, pointing to agreements with the Jewish Publication Society of America Version and the presence on the editorial board of a Jewish scholar, Harry Orlinsky) and that other views, including those of the New Testament, were not considered. Some conservative sections of the Church accused the RSV of tampering with some passages that can be read as prophecies relating to Jesus. Particularly criticised was the translation of Isaiah 7:14 as "a young woman" rather than the traditional Christian translation of "the virgin" (agreeing with the New Testament and the Septuagint). Of the seven appearances of "almah", the Septuagint translates only two of them as "parthenos" (that is, virgin"). The word "betulah" by contrast appears some fifty times, and the Septuagint and English translations agree in understanding the word to mean "virgin" in almost every case. In the end, disputes continue over what "almah" does mean; the RSV translators chose to reconcile it with other the other passages where it does not necessarily mean "virgin".

Fundamentalists and evangelicals in particular accused the translators of deliberately tampering with the Scriptures to deny the virgin birth doctrine of Christ, and they cited other Messianic prophecies that were obscured in the RSV (i.e., Psalm 16.10, Genesis 22.18) . Some people were so enraged over the RSV that they took their anger to extremes. For example, a pastor in the Southern USA burned a copy of the RSV and sent the ashes as a protest to Luther Weigle, the chairman of the translation panel. Others began to create unfounded charges that members of the translation panel were communists. At Senator Joseph McCarthy's request, these charges were printed in the US Air Force training manual. It was the RSV that helped ignite the King James Only Movement within the Independent Baptist and Pentecostal churches.

There were three key differences between the RSV and the KJV and American Standard Version (ASV). One difference was the way the name of God ( YHWH) is translated. The ASV translated the name as "Jehovah," (modern scholars usually render it as Yahweh). The RSV returned to the practice of the KJV by translating the name as the "LORD". Another change was in the usage of archaic English for second-person pronouns, " thou", "thee", "thy", etc. The KJV and ASV used these terms for both God and humans. The RSV used archaic English only for God. In the New Testament, the RSV followed the latest available version of Nestle's Greek text whereas the ASV had used an earlier version of this text (though the differences were slight) and the KJV had used the Textus receptus.

Minor modifications to the RSV text were authorized in 1959 and completed in 1962. At the same time, other publishing companies besides Thomas Nelson were allowed to print it, such as Zondervan, Holman, Melton, Oxford, and American Bible Society. The most obvious 1962 change was reverting to the Greek phrase "the husband of one wife" in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1; in 1946-52 it was paraphrased as "married only once".

In 1971, the RSV Bible was rereleased with the Second Edition of the Translation of the New Testament. The most obvious changes were the restoring of Mark 16.9-20 and John 7.53-8.11 to the text (in 1946, they were put in footnotes). Also restored was Luke 22.19b-20, containing the bulk of Jesus' institution of the Lord's Supper; whereas in 1946-52 it had been cut off at the phrase "This is my body", and the rest had only been footnoted; for this verse did not appear in the original Codex Bezae manuscript used by the translation committee. Many other verses were rephrased or rewritten for greater clarity and accuracy. Moreover, the footnotes concerning monetary values were no longer expressed in terms of dollars and cents but in terms of how long it took to earn each coin (the denarius was no longer defined as twenty cents but as a day's wage).

The Deuterocanonicals and the 1965 Catholic Edition

English translations of the Bible +/-
Old English translations (pre-1066)
Middle English translations (1066-1500)
Early Modern English translations (1500-1800)
Modern Christian translations (post 1800)
Modern Jewish translations (post 1853)
Miscellaneous translations

In 1957, at the request of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, the Deuterocanonicals ((called the Apocrypha by most Protestant Christians) were added to the RSV. The RSV Apocrypha was a revision of the English Revised Version Apocrypha of 1894. To make the RSV acceptable to Eastern Orthodox congregations, an expanded edition of the Apocrypha containing 3 & 4 Maccabees and Psalm 151 was released in 1977.

In 1965, the Catholic Biblical Association adapted – under the editorship of Bernard Orchard OSB and Reginald C. Fuller – the RSV for Catholic use with the Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition, which included revisions up through 1959, along with a small number of new revisions in the New Testament, mostly to return to familiar phrases, and a few footnotes were changed. This edition is currently published and licensed by Ignatius Press. This edition contained the deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament placed in the traditional order of the Vulgate.

The Catholic RSV was also used as the English text for the Navarre Bible commentary.

In 2006, Ignatius Press released the Revised Standard Version-Second Catholic Edition (see Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition), which updated the archaic language in the 1966 RSV-Catholic Edition, and exchanged some footnotes and texts to reflect a more traditional understanding of certain passages. (see also Ignatius Catholic Study Bible series)


In 1989, the National Council of Churches released a full-scale revision to the RSV called the New Revised Standard Version.

In 2001, publisher Crossway Bibles released its own Protestant evangelical update to the RSV called the English Standard Version (ESV). This version was commissioned for the purpose of correcting RSV passages which conservatives had long disagreed with: ie., the RSV's Isaiah 7:14 usage of the phrase "young woman" was changed back to "virgin".


There have been many adaptations of the RSV over the years.

The Common Bible of 1973 was a way to place the books in a way that pleased both Catholics and Protestants. The Common Bible was divided into four sections:

  • The Old Testament (39 Books)
  • The Deuterocanonical Books (12 Books)
  • The Non-Deuterocanonical Books (Three Books; Six Books after 1977)
  • The New Testament (27 Books)

The expanded Apocrypha gave the Common Bible a total of 81 books; it included 1 Esdras (also known as 3 Ezra), 2 Esdras ( 4 Ezra), and the Prayer of Manasseh, books that have appeared in the Vulgate's appendix since Jerome's time "lest they perish entirely", but which are not considered canonical by Roman Catholics and are thus not included in most modern Catholic Bibles. In 1977, the RSV Apocrypha was expanded to include 3 Maccabees, 4 Maccabees, and Psalm 151, three additional sections accepted in the Eastern Orthodox canon (4 Maccabees again forming an appendix in that tradition). This action increased the Common Bible to 84 Books, making it the most comprehensive English bible translation to date with regard to books not accepted by all denominations. The goal of the Common Bible was to help ecumenical relations between the churches.

The 1982 Reader's Digest Condensed RSV
The 1982 Reader's Digest Condensed RSV

In 1982, Reader's Digest published a special edition of the RSV that was billed as a condensed edition of the text. The Reader's Digest edition of the RSV was intended for those who don't read the Bible or who read it once in a while. It was not intended as a replacement of the full RSV text. In the end, 55% of the Old Testament and 25% of the New Testament was cut. Familiar passages such as the Lord's Prayer, Psalm 23 and the Ten Commandments were retained. For those who wanted the full RSV, Reader's Digest provided a list of publishers that sold the complete RSV at that time.

2002 marked the 50th anniversary of the 1952 edition of the RSV. To mark this event, Oxford University Press issued a special edition of the RSV. This edition contained the 1971 revised New Testament and the 1977 expanded Apocrypha.

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