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Paul C. Gutjahr
Battles over Bibles
Peter Thuesen's study focuses on the theological implications of Bible translation controversies in American Protestantism, from the origins of the Revised Version (RV) in 1870 to the start of work on the New International Version (NIV) in 1965. Although the book thus spans nearly a century of American Bible translation, Thuesen devotes three of his five chapters to a close analysis of the creation and ensuing debates concerning the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the mid-twentieth century. While this analysis is carefully contextualized (all the way back to William Tyndale), the reader should know from the outset that the book reads largely like a case study of the RSV—but in Thuesen's hands, this study yields a veritable cornucopia of insights into Protestant Bible translation in particular and nineteenth- and twentieth-century American Protestantism in general.
Three salient themes emerge from Thuesen's analysis. First, the tension between "real" history (what actually happened) and biblical history (the way the Bible chooses to relate the events) lay at the very foundation of the intense and rancorous translations debates between various Protestant factions in the United States in the period under consideration. Thuesen argues that "the detachment of biblical history and 'real' history forces interpreters to take sides on whether the two histories correspond with each other completely (fundamentalism) or loosely (liberalism)."
Second, while American Protestants may hold fast to a rhetoric of Sola Scriptura, where the Bible alone stands as their guide for all truth, such self-accrediting views of Scripture are not always that useful in practice. As Thuesen writes: "For Christians who, in theory at least, claimed the Scriptures as the final court of appeal in all doctrinal disputes, who could adjudicate disputes over the biblical text itself?" Thuesen makes a masterful argument that Protestants increasingly took on certain "Catholic" characteristics in seeking ...