The subtitle is American Protestant Battles Over Translating the Bible, but the heart of the book is really the RSV (Revised Standard Version) vs. NIV (New International Version) controversy. The curtain of public veneer is pulled back on the ideological translation wars, to reveal a compelling tale rife with politics, posturing, and power struggles.
The introduction gets off on the wrong foot, with some esoteric blather about epistemological hermeneutics (or some such sespequedalian verbiage) and iconoclastic biblicism, that seemed pointless to me, other than as filler. I suggest you skip the introduction and get right into the book itself. Early on, the author takes some unwarranted stabs at William Tyndale, that only aggravated the situation.
But once you get into the controversies surrounding the Revised Standard Version translation, the author hits his stride, and the fascinating story behind this influential translation begins to unfold. Then the fundamentalist-reactionary NIV is introduced, and the plot thickens palpably. Great nuts-and-bolts, blood-and-guts reading. I found myself almost unable to put the book down at this point, since this subject fascinates me, and it seems very little is written on the subject. This battlefield history is obviously the author's strong suit, and he plays it well.
He comes across with a hard-boiled cynicism, that at times can be a little grating, and at other times, gives his work an edge. When he philosophizes about the implications of various ideologies, he seems on less solid ground. His observations are trenchant without being incisive. Ultimately, the author's thesis was unclear in my mind. Should Bible translator's NOT strive to get closer to a perfect ideal of the "inspired original?" What role should religious bias play in the translation process?
But no matter. Despite that, and despite an ending that fizzles rather abruptly, the strength of the story survives its weaknesses, and what emerges is a fascinating, well-researched and well-documented battle history of Christendom's American Bible Translation Civil War of the mid-century. I wish such a treatise was available for every translation out there!
Thorough History of Protestant Bible in English in the United States. "In Discordance with the Scriptures" by Peter J. Thuesen, sub-titled "American Protestant Battles Over Translating The Bible". Oxford University Press, 1999.
This book presents a history of the revisions of the English translations of the Bible, Old and New Testaments. The book has, however, another central theme: the dilemma that Protestants face when they proclaim, "Sola Scriptura", or "scripture alone", while denying the necessity of a church body to pass on the acceptability of each revision. As a papist, I rely on the Pope to say that one version or another can be printed: "imprimatur". "In Discordance with the Scriptures", points out that Protestants have no such authority. This book records the arguments of Protestants in the United States over the authority that would accept (or reject) each new English translation. The old King James Version, "...deeply internalized by many Americans, and tacitly assumed to be the very Word of God, began to lose its unchallenged cultural hegemony". Page 42. It has always been a wonder to me that Protestants, who effectively demand the separation of church and state, tolerate a Bible with a King's name on it: a bible authorized by an alien king (James was a Scot, you know).
The author, Dr. Peter J. Thuesen, spends a good portion of the first two chapters on the influence that the Tyndale Bible had on the foundation of the translations of the Hebrew and Greek versions into English. Tyndale's work predates the King James Version (as does the Catholic English Bible, the Douay-Rheims version). Dr. Thuesen is ecumenical enough to mention the encyclical of Pope Pius XII, "Divino Afflante Spiritu" (Page 80), which encouraged Catholic scholarship in biblical matters in the late 1950s.
The book records the difficulties that different Protestant sects or denominations had with the translations that affected theological matters. For example, Isaiah 7:14, was given as child born to at "virgin" as a child born to a "young woman". Dr. Thuesen reaches to John Calvin and into the New Testament accounts of the Virgin Birth (Matthew 1:23) to defend the propriety of the literally correct translation of Isaiah as "young woman". The author further records that it is lamentable that in today's age a "young woman" is not synonymous with a "virgin".
Interestingly enough, throughout the book, the author considers the King James Version to be somewhat lacking in accuracy, and that the new revisions, such as the Revised Standard Version, (RSV), are better translations, clarifying some poorer renditions. He does not cover, however, the Christmas story from Luke, which I remember, as a young boy, noting that that Catholic version was "Peace on earth to men of good will", while the English King James version stated, "Peace on earth, good will to men". Big difference! Today, we have, "..Peace on earth to those on whom His favor rests". This brings up style. I wish that Dr. Thuesen had addressed style variations more completely. For example, again using Luke's account of Christmas, "A decree went forth from Caesar Augustus that the whole world was to be censored." is probably not acceptable in this politically correct, democratic world where emperors and dictators have been replaced by the democracy of the people. I would have like to see what Dr. Thuesen could have done with the changes in bible translations as the political scene in the world has changed.
As a practicing Christian (Roman Catholic, but still a Christian), I wanted the book to cover more on the ecumenically acceptable translations of the Bible. The book's last chapter, "Epilogue" ended too soon for me, and I would recommend that future editions expand to consider Protestant/Catholic efforts on translations. Further, there is a need for a history or consideration of translations into other common languages. For example, a Seventh Day Adventist, who knocked on my door, became angry when I showed him that Luther's translation called "Exodus", "The First Book of Moses". In all, this book, by Peter J. Thuesen, is well written by a literate man, who attempts to present all sides fairly.