Having grown up with the King James Version of the Bible, I have no sentimental attachment to the Revised Standard Version, although I do read from it in the context of daily prayers. Still I cannot manage to summon up Fr. Neuhaus’s enthusiasm for this translation, which has a number of literary flaws, stemming mostly from the translators’ misguided retention of some Jacobean English features in an otherwise modern translation. The problems are especially obvious in their inconsistent use of the old second-person-singular pronouns (thou, thee, thy, thine). In general, these are used in addressing God, as in this example from Psalm 25:

To thee , O LORD, I lift up my soul. O my God, in thee I trust, let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me.

However, these pronouns are never used in addressing Jesus, which might be seen to suggest a deficient christology on the part of the translators. Moreover, there are some passages where the second-person-singular pronouns are used to address a personified entity, such as a country or city:
He it was who smote the first-born of Egypt, both of man and of beast; who in thy midst, O Egypt, sent signs and wonders against Pharaoh and all his servants . . . . (Psalm 135:9)

and:
The LORD will reign for ever,
thy God, O Zion, to all generations.
Praise the LORD! (Psalm 146:10)

and:
. . . and the sound of harpers and minstrels, of flute players and trumpeters, shall be heard in thee no more; and a craftsman of any craft shall be found in thee no more; and the sound of the millstone shall be heard in thee no more; and the light of a lamp shall shine in thee no more; and the voice of bridegroom and bride shall be heard in thee no more; for thy merchants were the great men of the earth, and all nations were deceived by thy sorcery (Revelation 18:22-23).

But these are unusual occurrences. Here is the more normal usage in addressing cities:
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither! (Psalm 137:5)

Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion! (Psalm 147:12)

Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength . . . . (Isaiah 40:9)

Then there is one occurrence of the obsolete second-singular- plural nominative form in Psalm 27:8: ‘Thou hast said, “Seek ye my face.’” I could go on in this vein. I even found one place where God is addressed as you rather than thou (but could not manage to locate it again when I went to look for it). By the time the RSV with expanded Apocrypha was published in the late 1970s, the translators had dropped the obsolete pronouns altogether, giving the entire collection an uneven feel.

In other words, by the end of its four-decade run, the RSV was crying out for, if not replacement, then at least a more consistent updating throughout. Whether the NRSV or the ESV satisfies this need will have readers disagreeing, but the revisers of both are to be commended for dispensing at last with the remnants of Jacobean English, which could never be used consistently in a translation meant for late 20th-century and early 21st-century readers.

Articles by David T. Koyzis

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