Cover image for In discordance with the scriptures : American Protestant battles over translating the Bible
In discordance with the scriptures : American Protestant battles over translating the Bible
Thuesen, Peter Johannes, 1971-
Publication Information:
New York : Oxford University Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
xi, 238 pages, 6 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
Reading Level:
1690 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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Item Holds
BS455 .T55 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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The story of the translation of the Bible in America begins with the King James Version. In fact, many Americans thought of the KJV as the foundational text of the Republic, rather than a cultural inheritance from Anglican Britain. In the nineteenth century, however, as new editions of theGreek New Testament appeared, scholars increasingly recognized significant errors and inconsistencies in the KJV. This soon 1ed to the Bible revision movement, whose goal was the uniting of all English-speaking Protestants behind one new, improved version of the Bible. Ironically, as Peter Thuesenshows in this fascinating history, the revision movement in fact resulted in a vast proliferation of English scripture editions and an enduring polarization of American Christians over versions of Holy Writ. The recurrent controversies over Bible translations, he argues, tell us less about thelinguistic issues dividing conservatives and liberals than about the theological assumptions they have long held in common.

Author Notes

Peter J. Thuesen is Assistant Professor of American religious history and the history of Christianity in the Department of Comparative Religion at Tufts University.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Four centuries after Luther proclaimed Scripture alone as the standard for church doctrine and governance, American Protestants found themselves deeply at odds over questions Luther left unanswered: Which translation of Scripture merits acceptance? Revisiting the debates over the Revised Version and the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Thuesen narrates a fascinating chapter in church history, as American Protestants belatedly confronted the difficulties of basing ecclesiastical authority on a sacred text when the very wording of that text had come into question. Scrupulous scholarship provides a much-needed historical context for the fiery polemics of clerics who turned the new translations of the Bible into a battlefield for liberal and conservative factions, so dashing the translators' hope that their work would unify Christendom. With subtle insight, Thuesen examines American Protestants' demands that the holy text be examined against the empirical record of events, explaining in the process why the divisive implications of this historical consciousness remained submerged so long. And he shrewdly dissects the expedients Protestants have had to adopt to resolve the crisis in interpretive authority occasioned by the multiplication of competing vernacular translations. Not all readers will heed Thuesen's concluding appeal for a more aesthetic reading of Scripture, leaving questions of truth to be settled by nontextual means. But no one who wants to understand the place of the Bible in American culture can ignore this book. --Bryce Christensen

Library Journal Review

As indicated by the title, this book chronicles the vicious debates between American Protestants over the translation and publication of different versions of the Bible, particularly the American Standard Version (1885) and the Revised Standard Version (1952). Limited to this topic, Thuesen does well. But the title is misleading; much of this book deals with other translations and with the Protestant/Roman Catholic controversy over the Bible. If the author had wished to write a longer history of problems with Bible translation, he could easily have found disagreement as early as the fourth century, when Jerome picked and discarded extant Latin texts as he prepared the Vulgate translation; or he could have given more detail about the work of the King James translators. The achievement of this book is that it demonstrates that the historical and literary discoveries of the 19th century became the theological controversies of the 20th century. Many new discoveries about biblical texts have been made in recent years; the information offered here about how the Bible has been translated to suit theological tastes and publishers' expectations of profits is shocking indeed. Recommended for academic and public libraries with large religion collections and for theological libraries.√ĄJames A. Overbeck, Atlanta-Fulton P.L., GA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

This quotable monograph on American Protestant Bible translation controversies since 1870 does not evaluate different versions of the Bible but rather exposes the modernist epistemology that encouraged the development of new versions, ignited fiery conservative-liberal skirmishes over their accuracy, and led to a tacit repudiation of the Protestant ideal of sola scriptura, "Scripture alone." A modernist epistemology, embraced by conservatives and liberals alike, encouraged exacting scholarship but also divested the Bible of independent authority, for historical methods became the de facto arbiter of truth. This, Thuesen (Yale Divinity School) argues, "plunged conservatives and liberals into conflict and prompted them to reconsider Protestantism's centuries-old iconoclastic rejection of ecclesiastical authority." In the end, both sides turned to church-related organizations to certify the orthodoxy of their translations. Thuesen incorporates and extends insights from Hans W. Frei (The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative: A Study in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Hermeneutics, 1974) and includes well-annotated treatments of Tyndale's legacy and controversies related to the revised, revised standard, and new international versions. Winner of the Frank S. and Elizabeth D. Brewer Prize of the American Society of Church History. Upper-division undergraduates through professionals. F. R. Ames; Colorado Christian University

Table of Contents

Introduction: Sharper than Any Two-Edged Sword: The Bible in Modern American Protestantism
1 The Blood of the Martyr: History, Hagiography, and the Consecration of the English Bible
2 Coronation of ""King Truth"": Bible Revision and Late Nineteenth-Century Imagination
3 Scripture for the Ecumenical Church: Liberal Protestants and the Making of the RSV Bible
4 The Great RSV Controversy: Bible-Burning, Red-Hunting, and the Strange Specter of Unholy Scripture
5 The Virgin Text: Evangelicals and Liberals in the Quest for an Undefiled Book
Epilogue: Virginity Lost, Virginity Regained? Translation and Scripturalism since 1965