In Discordance With the Scriptures: American Protestant Battles over Translating the Bible

Explores one of the most colorful but least understood phenomena in American religion: controversies over Bible translation. Modern Bible translation controversies arose during the late nineteenth century, when rapid advances in textual criticism and translation seemed to threaten the inherited historical picture of Jesus. Unable to separate the quest for accurate translation from the quest for the real Jesus, Protestants repeatedly clashed over the rendering of a few key passages, such as the alleged prophecy of Christ’s virgin birth in Isaiah 7:14. In 1952, when the Revised Standard Version appeared with the rendering “young woman” instead of the traditional “virgin,” intense national controversy ensued: preachers burned it before cheering congregations; pamphleteers denounced it as modernist and communist; even the U.S. Air Force Reserve urged recruits to avoid it. Ironically, in the wake of this and other Bible battles, American Protestants recognized the need for some authority other than Scripture itself to certify the orthodoxy of Bible translations. Protestants thus began a struggle for the proper imprimatur that has helped produce the Babel of ideologically competing Bibles familiar to any bookstore browser today.