The RSV Again?

By Bill McMilleon

Every once in awhile throughout the maze of brotherhood publications an article appears in order to show that the Revised Standard Version of the scriptures is a perversion or at least an inferior translation. One such article was recently found in Truth Magazine (June 19, 1978) by Bobby Graham. It is with this article that I take issue.

Allow me to say at the outset that I find Truth Magazine an interesting and necessary publication for our times. I have enjoyed many articles therein by brother Graham with which I can heartily agree. I have read articles in other magazines with which I have disagreed but have never taken the time to put pen in hand and write out my thoughts. So this is my first attempt. I can only pray that brother Graham will have no hard feelings because it is his article on which I choose to make my writing debut.

Objections Answered

First of all, brother Graham charges that the RSV has served as a vehicle for modernism since its publication. Well, I consider myself a “conservative,” if we can scripturally use that term, yet I use the RSV extensively. I would even go so far as to say that even though I use the RSV that brother Graham and I would not differ in our beliefs on the divinity of Christ, the necessity of baptism, the possibility of apostasy and a host of other important doctrines. I have used the RSV during the majority of my Christian life (8 years) refute teachings of the Jehovah Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Mormons and others. I have found it sufficient in every case.

Brother Graham begins by attacking the translators of the RSV saying that they were extremely modernistic. This may be true, I do not know. But allow me to ask this question: Does brother Graham agree in doctrine with the translators of the King James Version? I am sure he does not. If I am wrong I will humbly retract the statement. The question is not whether we agree with the doctrine of the translators but rather “Did they give us a reliable translation?” This is what we will examine, time and space permitting.

Let us begin with brother Graham’s assertion that the RSV does not provide italics whenever words have been supplied. He says this gives no indication where the text spoke or the translator spoke. Let us look at the other side of the coin and see some facts about the KJV. First, the translation was made in 1611 and the King’s English was used which was the common mode of communication for that time. The “thee” and “thou” were not used as terms of respect toward God as can be seen by the fact that both these terms were used in reference to individuals also. They were merely the common terms of speech used in 1611.

Secondly, much more evidence in the form of earlier manuscripts have been unearthed since 1611 to give us a more reliable text. The manuscripts were used in giving us the RSV.

Thirdly, let me ask brother Graham a question: If I read the KJV omitting the italics will I be reading the original text of the scriptures? He will have to answer in the negative so he need not reply personally. Neither we nor anyone else has a copy of the original manuscripts. We have copies. In all, more than 4500 copies of the original manuscripts but not one original. We come to a knowledge of the true word of God through careful examination of the most reliable copies and by cross comparison of manuscripts. Through these methods, we get our translations.

Brother Graham insists that the RSV denies the inspiration of the Bible. The only way I can refute brother Graham on these points is to merely quote the RSV and let it speak for itself. Second Timothy 3:16 is in the RSV and it says, “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness.” Another passage found in the RSV is 2 Peter 1:20 which says, “No prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (RSV).

He also insists the RSV denies the deity of Christ. But what does the RSV say? “Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:27, 28). Notice John says Thomas called him (Jesus) his God. Let us not forget John 1:1 also, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (RSV). There are many other passages we could quote but for lack of space we will let these suffice for now.

In his third paragraph brother Graham insists another major fault lies in the RSV’s attack (?) on the miraculous conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb. His proof is the Hebrew word that is rendered “virgin” in the KJV in Isaiah 7:14 is rendered “young woman” in the RSV. I am not an authority on the original languages but the articles I have read concerning this passage indicate that the Hebrew word can be rendered either way. The RSV has a footnote that says it also can be translated as virgin. But this is not the point. Let me ask brother Graham another question: Do you believe that you can come to a knowledge of the truth on any Bible doctrine by merely looking to one passage of scripture? I may be assuming too much but I believe he would agree that we have to look at every passage that we can find on a given subject .before we can come to a correct conclusion. I will progress on the grounds that my assumption is correct and leave it to him to tell me if I am wrong about his method of interpretation. Now then, what else does the RSV say about the birth of Christ besides what is found in Isaiah 7:14? Matthew 1:18 says, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way, When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was, found to be with child by the Holy Spirit, ” Verse 22 puts the whole thing together saying, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet; Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son” (RSV) Does this sound like the RSV “attacks” the miraculous conception of Jesus? I will leave it to the reader’s judgment. Notice also Luke 1:26, 27 where it is twice mentioned that Mary was a virgin.

He claims that the RSV “butchered” Jesus’ relationship to the Law and prophets in Matt. 5:17 by having him saying that he came not to abolish but to fulfill. What would brother Graham have us accept? The KJV does not relieve him of the difficulty. The KJV says, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law . . . .” The RSV says, “Think not that I am come to abolish the law . . . .” What is the difference? “Abolish,” in Websters Collegiate Dictionary means, “to destroy completely,” exactly the term the KJV uses! The point is His coming was not to abolish the law. His coming did not do away with the law, else the law would have done away with at his birth or at the very latest the beginning of His ministry. On the contrary, we know from Gal. 4:4 that he lived under the law and was subiect to it. The abolishment of the law was accomplished by His death (Col. 2:14; Eph. 2:15). The new covenant could not come into effect until His death (Heb. 9:16, 17).

Now we arrive at his final argument. He objects to the omission of the final paragraph (verses 9-20) of Mark 16. This was true in the earlier editions of the RSV. I presently have in my possession a copy of the latest RSV and it includes the total text of Mark 16. It is not a footnote or in italics as in earlier copies of the RSV. Since his argument here is outdated it need not be replied to.


In conclusion let me say that “perversions” can be found in any translation including the KJV. This happens when we take one verse and claim the whole version poisonous because of implications of the one verse. This can also be done with the KJV. For instance, in the KJV, 1 Cor. 10:24 reads, “Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth.” This perverts true Christianity! Here is a command to covet and that in the KJV! We know this is not the case, but how do we know? By reading the rest of the translation and understanding how this language was used in 1611. If we will but “study to show ourselves approved of God” we will be able to “rightly divide the Word of Truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).

Truth Magazine XXII: 45, pp. 728-729
November 16, 1978