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1999 NCC News Archives

NCC Documentary "The Bible Under Fire" Set for Nov. 21 Premiere

October 15, 1999, NEW YORK CITY -- "The Bible Under Fire," a new documentary from the National Council of Churches, will make its world television premiere on Sunday, November 21 at 4 p.m. (ET/PT) on Odyssey, A Henson & Hallmark Entertainment Network.

It will be repeated Monday, November 29, at 1:00 a.m. (ET/PT). This one-hour special tells the story of the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the Bible, which was published in 1952 and was a significant cultural watershed, opening the way for the many competing Bible translations that are available today. The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) came out in 1989; its story is also featured in this program.

"The Bible Under Fire" looks at the RSV Bible and the many translations that followed against the backdrop of American history, both secular and religious. It is a story of "firsts." It was the first widely popular new translation of the Bible since the 1611 King James Version. It was the first Bible to incorporate the discoveries of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It was the first distinctly American Bible to be a success—and the first to be successfully promoted by an advertising agency.

The RSV Bible also drew controversy—it was called the "Red Bible" by those who thought it was communist-inspired, and burned by pastors who thought it was heretical. It was also a best-seller, breaking national sales records. It was the inaugural project of the newly-formed National Council of Churches (NCC), the ecumenical organization comprised of a wide membership of Protestant and Orthodox denominations. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the NCC.

The goal of the RSV translators was to create a "standard" Bible for modern times that would unify Christians, would be easier to read, and would be more faithful to the original texts. It was the first translation to make use of the Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in 1947. However, when the RSV translated Isaiah 7:14 as " a young woman" (true to the original Hebrew texts), replacing the King James Version's "a virgin" (following the Greek translation in the Septuagint and quoted in Matthew 1:23, which was the basis for the Latin Vulgate), many in the evangelical Christian community interpreted, and continue to interpret today, the RSV translation as a denial of the virginal conception (or "virgin birth," as evangelicals called it) and the divinity of Jesus.

The publication of the RSV opened the floodgates for competing translations. American culture has demanded that issues of gender, race and language be addressed. New Bible translations reflecting the whole spectrum of religious, political and social perspectives in American society continue to be published.

Both the RSV and the NRSV translations have been made possible through the NCC's Bible Translation and Utilization Committee, which also assisted in this production.

"The Bible Under Fire" is produced by Odyssey Productions for the National Council of Churches, in cooperation with the National Interfaith Cable Coalition. It is produced by Linda Hanick. Executive Producer for the National Council of Churches is Dave Pomeroy. Through the Interfaith Broadcasting Commission's "Horizons of the Spirit" series this program will also be made available to NBC stations in the spring of 2000.



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