This edition of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible has been prepared for the use of Catholics by a committee of the Catholic Biblical Association of Great Britain. It is published with ecclesiastical approval and by agreement with the Standard Bible Committee and the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.
The Revised Standard Version itself needs no lengthy introduction, being already well known and widely read. It is, as its Preface states, “an authorized revision of the American Standard Version, published in 1901, which was a revision of the King James Version, published in 1611.” In Britain, the King James Version is more commonly called the Authorized Version. It occupies a unique place in English Biblical and indeed literary tradition. The Standard Bible of 1901 was the work of an American committee revising it in the light of modern textual criticism. In 1937 it was decided to make a revision of the Standard Version which should “embody the best results of modern scholarship as to the meaning of the Scriptures, and express this meaning in English diction which is designed for use in public and private worship and preserves those qualities which have given to the King James Version a supreme place in English literature.” The New Testament in this new version was published in 1946 and the whole Bible in 1952.
The remarkable success which attended the new revision on its appearance seems to be ample justification of the revisers’ aims and it has been acclaimed on all sides as a translation which combines accuracy and clarity of meaning with beauty of language and traditional diction.
For four hundred years, following upon the great upheaval of the Reformation, Catholics and Protestants have gone their separate ways and suspected each other’s translations of the Bible of having been in some way manipulated in the interests of doctrinal presuppositions. It must be admitted that these suspicions were not always without foundation. At the present time, however, the sciences of textual criticism and philology, not to mention others, have made such great advances that the Bible text used by translators is substantially the same for all—Protestants and Catholics alike.
Today, and indeed since the appearance in 1943 of the Encyclical Letter Divino Afflante Spiritu, encouraging Biblical studies, Catholics like every one else go back to the original languages and base their translations on the same critical principles.
With the improvement in interdenominational relations and the advance of Biblical knowledge, the possibility of producing a Bible common to all Christians was mooted as far back as 1953. It was felt that, if such a thing could be achieved, it would be of incalculable benefit in wiping away remaining misconceptions and prejudices and in fostering still further good relations between the Churches. The Word of God would then not only be our common heritage and unifying link but be recognized as such, and those engaged in theological discussion could appeal to the same authoritative text. A decisive step toward this objective could be made by editing the Revised Standard Version for Catholic use.
A small committee of members of the Catholic Biblical Association was formed and permission obtained to examine this translation and suggest any changes that might be required to make it acceptable to Catholics. The Standard Bible Committee of the U.S.A. was then approached and they gave warm welcome to the proposal. Here was a wonderful opportunity to make a real step forward in the field of ecumenical relations. However, ideas of this kind take time to penetrate all levels and many difficulties and delays ensued. But a change of mind has taken place and what seemed to many in 1953 to be a novel idea of doubtful value or even of no value at all is now generally recognized to be a legitimate and desirable goal.
In the present edition the aim has not been to improve the translation as such. No doubt there are many places where a different rendering might have been chosen on critical grounds. This has been avoided. But there are other places where, the critical evidence being evenly balanced, considerations of Catholic tradition have favored a particular rendering or the inclusion of a passage omitted by the RSV translators.
In the Old Testament it has not been thought necessary to make any changes in the text. There is, however, the very important difference in the number of books. Catholic Bibles include seven extra books and parts of two others. These are known to Catholics as “deuterocanonical” and are regarded as an integral part of the Canon of the Old Testament. They are here printed in the order in which they appear in the Latin Vulgate, with the exception of the extra parts of the Book of Esther. As these parts do not occur in the Hebrew text of Esther, St. Jerome extracted them from their place in the Greek in deference to the view favoring their canonicity and included them in his translation of Esther. But not regarding them as canonical he put them together at the end of the Hebrew text regardless of their historical or logical sequence. In this edition of the RSV they have been restored to their proper place in the narrative. These books and parts of books are regarded by Protestants as apocryphal.
This question of the “Apocrypha” is the one big problem left and needs to be carefully considered when discussing the possibility of a common Bible. The books known as the Apocrypha are: 1 and 2 Esdras (3 and 4 Esdras), Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Baruch with the Letter of Jeremiah, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Additions to Daniel and to Esther, and the Prayer of Manasseh. Since the time of the Reformation these books have been regarded as noncanonical by Protestants and either grouped at the end of the Old Testament or left out altogether. Roman Catholics, on the other hand, have continued to regard them as inspired and canonical, with the following exceptions. There are three items in the Apocrypha which are not included in the deuterocanonical books, namely, 1 and 2 Esdras (3 and 4 Esdras) and the Prayer of Manasseh, and which in consequence are not printed in this Bible. The other books are given in the translation of the Revised Standard Version, which was published in 1957.
A word must be said here about the origin of these books. In the days of Jesus Christ, the Jews had no precisely defined (in the sense of officially closed) Canon of the Scriptures. Besides the books of the Hebrew Canon as we now know it, there were others of more recent origin (mostly of the first and second centuries b.c.) which were held in great esteem but whose exact status had not been finally determined. Though many of them had been written in Hebrew and Aramaic they seem to have circulated mainly outside Palestine, in a Greek translation or text, among the Greek-speaking Jews of the Dispersion, especially in Egypt. The books were less acceptable to the Jews of the Pharisaic tradition in Jerusalem, but many fragments of them in Hebrew and Aramaic have been found at Qumran where there was a religious community distinct from the Pharisees.
The first Christians were Aramaic-speaking Jews of Palestine and they used the Hebrew Scriptures. Very soon the Greek-speaking Jewish and Gentile converts outnumbered those of Aramaic speech; and consequently the Bible they used, namely, the Greek Septuagint translation which included the books referred to above, came into general use. The books thus came to be implicitly accepted by the Christians of the first centuries, though no attempt was made to issue an official decree defining the limits of the Old Testament Canon.
With the virtual disappearance of the priestly class as a force in Judaism after the destruction of the Temple in a.d. 70, and the rise of the Pharisees to a position of dominance as champions of the national heritage, the Jews set about the task of consolidating their tradition and defining the limits of their sacred writings. Toward the end of the first century a.d. at Jamnia, they decided that their Bible consisted only of books written up to the time of Ezra, when prophecy was deemed to have ceased; and this criterion, though not applied uniformly, excluded the books of more recent origin which were on the whole less in accord with the Pharisaic outlook. The need for a decision was forced upon the Jews because of the growing controversies with Christians; and besides delimiting the Canon of Scripture they also not long afterward condemned the Greek Septuagint translation as inaccurate. Though the decision about the Canon was not of course binding upon the Christians, it did have some influence on them in the course of centuries and various writers expressed doubts about the extra books of the Greek Bible which had come into general use. This was especially so in the fourth century a.d. when, for example, St. Jerome regarded them as noncanonical. Eventually official decrees confirming the longer Canon were issued toward the end of the fourth and beginning of the fifth centuries in the West at Hippo and Carthage and in the East during the eighth and ninth centuries at Nicaea and Constantinople. But doubts and adverse opinions continued to be expressed in various quarters and by prominent writers.
In the sixteenth century the Reformers rejected the extra books, partly, perhaps, because some of the teaching contained in them seemed to favor Roman doctrine, but chiefly because they were not in the Hebrew Canon. Finally, the Council of Trent issued its decree on the Canon of Scripture in 1546 declaring that all the books which it had been the custom to read in the Catholic Church and which were contained in the ancient Latin Vulgate Bible must be accepted as sacred and canonical. The decree gave the list of the books in question which in fact coincided with the lists issued by earlier Councils in the West. It is interesting to note that though 3 and 4 Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh were excluded from the list they were printed at the end of many subsequent Latin Bibles “ne prorsus interirent”—“lest they altogether perish.”
The positions taken up in the sixteenth century with regard to the Old Testament Canon are substantially the same as those held today. The aim of this edition is to show that there is more common ground for the practical purpose of Bible reading than perhaps may appear at first sight. Thus, there is an increasing tendency on the part of Protestants to include the “Apocrypha” in their Bibles without necessarily admitting their inspired and canonical character. On the other hand, Roman Catholics do not today attach the same significance to the traditional order of books in the Old Testament as they once did. There seems room for some accommodation here. This is an important development and it must be taken in conjunction with another equally important, namely, the steadily diminishing number of textual differences, as may be seen in the present edition.
To turn now to the text of the “Apocrypha.” There is in the first place a striking contrast between the uniformity imposed on the Hebrew text by the rabbis and the lack of it in the Greek text of the Christian Bible. The other ancient versions add to the variety. The consequence of this is that there are often substantial differences between the English translations of these books according to which Greek recension or version has been used. Thus, for example, in the case of the Book of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), the Latin, on which the Douay Version is based, is notably longer than the Revised Standard Version which is based on the Greek. It is generally agreed that the Greek underlying the RSV is better than the recension underlying the Latin. On critical principles therefore we should accept the RSV text as preferable to the Douay. It is admitted today that the decree of Trent declaring that Catholics must accept the books contained in the Latin Vulgate with all their parts does not oblige us to accept passages which have been judged, according to the best critical principles, not to be part of the original text. Thus the passage known as the “Three Heavenly Witnesses” or the “Comma Johanneum” (I John 5:7–8), which is in the Latin Vulgate and in versions based on it, does not appear in recent Catholic editions of the New Testament. This procedure is in accordance with the directives given in Divino Afflante Spiritu.
The aim of the translator must be to render into intelligible language, as faithfully as possible, what he regards on solid critical grounds as the original text or the closest possible approximation to it. In some cases the original has not come down to us, but it is still incumbent on the translator to try to get as near as possible to it by a study of the most ancient versions.
In conclusion, a tribute of thanks must be paid to the Catholic bishops who have approved this edition and to the American Standard Bible Committee who have throughout given their unfailing and generous support in spite of difficulties and delays. Thanks are due also to all those who throughout the years of waiting have been inspired by the ideal of Christian unity to persevere in the work of producing this Bible. Its appearance coincides in time with a development in relations between Christian bodies which no one could have foreseen ten years ago, a development which offers great promise of the fulfilment of our Savior’s words, “that they may all be one” (John 17:21).