Bible translation can be a risky business. Just ask Zondervan who (working jointly with IBS) launched the TNIV back in 2005 as an NIV with updated gender language (hence “Today’s NIV”). The fundamentalist response was the equivalent of a military blockade against Zondervan: the NIV with its limp-wristed linguistic choices was now out, and by 2007 the ESV was in. After initially defending the TNIV, Zondervan eventually back-pedalled and dropped the Tainted NIV while rushing yet another updated NIV, one that could satisfy the vocal conservatives, to market.
Growing up in the eighties the RSV (and its 1989 reworking) was considered the liberal Bible. We’ll put it this way: carrying the RSV around church would attract unwanted attention.
The NIV was permissible but the NKJV (or KJV) was the safest choice. The NASB was also sound for its “word for word” translation philosophy.
So what was wrong with the RSV? To note the most contentious issue, the RSV courted all sorts of controversy for choosing to translate Isaiah 7:14 as a “young woman shall conceive” rather than the traditional “virgin”. It didn’t matter that this was a sound translation choice, the conservatives interpreted it as a direct assault on the virgin birth.
While reading Harvey Cox’s The Future of Faith, I got some of the backstory on the RSV. He writes:
“as soon as the ‘new Bible’ rolled off the presses, outrage erupted among fundamentalists. They viewed the RSV as blasphemy. Some, noting it had been published in a red cover instead of in the usual black imitation leather (or white imitation leather for brides to carry at weddings), began to brand it as the ‘red Bible.’ Since the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was raging at the time, the hint that there was something both sinister and subversive about the new Bible was not subtle. This translation was part of a Communist plot.” (157-58)
Such conspiracy theories are not uncommon among Christian conservatives. Remember that I said the NKJV was a safer choice growing up than the NIV? This suspicion was based on the notion that the NIV was a pro-gay Bible due to the alleged influence of a homosexual (Virginia Mollenkott) on the translation committee. (For an example of this conspiracy see here. See also this audio track on YouTube.)
Conservatives are thus often fearful that some other ideology — e.g. feminism, communism, gay rights, etc. — will influence the translation of the Bible. Alas, they rarely stop to consider the extent to which fear of a conservative ideological backlash might itself be unduly influencing Bible translation.