ESV Catholic Edition not Catholic enough?

In 2019 the Augustine Institute in Colorado published the English Standard Version Catholic Edition.  This is a Catholic edition of the popular Evangelical Protestant translation that is owned by Crossway publishing house.

This translation is closely related to the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the Bible.  But it is revised so that the new edition “emphasizes ‘word-for-word’ accuracy, literary excellence, and depth of meaning.” The Catholic Edition was prepared under the auspices of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India which released a new edition of the Lectionary for Mass based on the ESV in 2020.

At the moment, the Bishops’ Conferences of England and Wales and of Scotland are in the process of editing their own new edition of the Lectionary for Mass based on the ESV. I believe that this edition is almost ready for publication.

I have nothing against the ESV per se. I have actually had a copy of the translation on my bookshelf since well before the Catholic edition was published. I believe that everyone can benefit from exposure to a variety of Bible translations and the ESV has a definite place in such study. But my views are on record, where I explain my opinion that that ESV is not the best choice for a new Lectionary in countries that are currently using the Jerusalem Bible In their Lectionary.

In the United States the ESV Catholic Edition has become quite popular with many Catholics.  However, there is very little chance that it will be adopted for liturgical use in the US.  It also is in a certain competition with the Ignatius Press edition of the RSV, which was used for the very successful Bible in a Year Podcast and the edition of the  NRSV that Bishop Robert Barron is publishing as the Word on Fire Bible.

Late last year the Augustine Institute published Bible Translation & the Making of the ESV Catholic Edition by Dr. Mark Giszczak, Associate Professor of Sacred Scripture at the Augustine Institute Graduate School of Theology. Here he explains the case for the ESV Catholic Edition. He gave an interview on his book on the Catholic Bible Talk blog. This was a very popular post that generated 67 comments.  Yet a few weeks later Catholic Bible Talk posted the revelation that the Augustine Institute was in the process of producing their own new translation of the Bible, the Catholic Standard Version. This led to consternation on the blog, and the post has so far generated 124 comments. Since then, two additional posts on the new CSV have been published there, and the new translation has passed from rumor to fact with the publication of some photos of the Gospel of Matthew, the first volume of the new translation shortly to be published by the Augustine Institute.

If PrayTell readers have time and interest, I would suggest that they spend a few minutes reading this series of posts on the Catholic Bible Talk blog and, more importantly, the many comments that they have generated. I find them to be a great insight as to where many Catholics who care about the Bible are. Some are excited about the new translation, others feel that the Augustine Institute have abandoned the whole ESV project, while others express the opinion that the ESV was not Catholic enough to start with. In any case, without the benefit of any special insight on the matter, it does seem strange to me that a publishing house that has so recently invested so much time and energy into producing a new Catholic edition of the Bible as its sole US publisher, would decide to produce a totally new translation that will be in direct competition with the earlier edition.

I doubt any of this will have the slightest affect on the adoption of the ESV for liturgical use in India and Great Britain. But the discussions illustrate the myriad of factors and opinions in the debate as to which is the best Bible translation to use in Roman Catholic liturgy in English speaking areas.


Cover image: Alex Leung – English-Greek Interlinear New Testament: ESV available under a Creative Commons license




11 responses to “ESV Catholic Edition not Catholic enough?”

  1. Eric Styles Avatar
    Eric Styles

    I readily admit, I don’t think I will invest the time in reading multiple blog posts and comments elsewhere on this topic. But I would happy read a summary. I’m interested in knowing what folks mean (besides the inclusion of duetero-canonical texts in proper ‘catholic’ order) when they say, “This bible isn’t Catholic enough.” Seems like a very interesting topic.

  2. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
    Karl Liam Saur

    The NAB as adapted for the Lectionary we are stuck with in the USA seems like the worst of most choices, and I think the US bishops are as committed to it as Captain Ahab was to harpooning the great white whale.

    For reading-study, I prefer a joint Oxford/Cambridge translation venture (including sponsorship by the Catholic churches of the UK and Ireland) from the late 1980s that is virtually unknown in the USA these days: the Revised English Bible. It’s dynamic but not in the typical way that is understood: I find it often arrests my attention in a good way that other modern translations don’t. (Olive Tree Bible Software offers the only electronic edition I am aware of, and worth the nominal price….)

    1. Scott Knitter Avatar
      Scott Knitter

      Another REB reader nodding my head over here. The Revised English Bible deserves greater publicity and more attractive editions but was somewhat upstaged by the NRSV.
      I’m aware of one monastic community (Order of St Julian of Norwich, in Wisconsin) in the USA that uses the REB exclusively. I use it to read the lessons during my (BCP 1979) daily office.

  3. Jeff Armbruster Avatar
    Jeff Armbruster

    Catholics can’t agree on what’s ‘Catholic enough’. Regardless, that’s the least of my concerns when reading any given translation.

  4. Devin Rice Avatar
    Devin Rice

    The REB and RSV-CE2nd Edition are my go-to translations. The REB is wonderful although some of the translation’s choices are bit obscure and would leave pew sitters scratching their heads if it were to be used in a lectionary without revision. It is a bit highbrow in vocabulary choice as well. But I would still highly recommend this translation. One can find a copy online on eBay, Amazon and other online sellers for under 15 dollars including shipping.

    I was listening to a video of talk that Mary Sperry (Associate Director for USCCB Permissions and NAB Utilization at USCCB Publishing) gave on Facebook in the group “Fans of the NABRE” back in August 2022. She was talking about the NT revision coming up in 2025/2026, and I am cautiously optimistic about the translation. Although, I think you and I are not quire on the same page about what an ideal translation would encompass, perhaps you should withhold judgment on the final product. She noted that the New Testament would be an entirely *new translation*, not just a revision. Also, that the translation committee had a rule that each passage of scripture would be read aloud and if they couldn’t read the passage aloud without after stumbling after two attempts, it would have to be revised. The Old Testament is being lightly revised as well, also with an eye to how the text would be proclaimed.

    1. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
      Karl Liam Saur

      That’s good to know.

      “The REB and RSV-CE2nd Edition are my go-to translations. The REB is wonderful although some of the translation’s choices are bit obscure and would leave pew sitters scratching their heads if it were to be used in a lectionary without revision. It is a bit highbrow in vocabulary choice as well. But I would still highly recommend this translation. One can find a copy online on eBay, Amazon and other online sellers for under 15 dollars including shipping.”

      I agree generally (and RSV-CE is likewise my other preferred translation of the more commonly encountered ones in Catholicism today), and would encourage anyone not familiar with it who is interested in English language Bibles to become familiar with it. The translation has to my ear and eye a somewhat craggy modern beauty to it that is lacking in so many other options. (I write this as someone who a generation ago was part of a group tasked with reviewing English language translations for Lectionary readings over a three-year period, including interlinear sources with original language as well as a member language scholars. What I learned from this process was not exactly edifying about the common options being consulted. I am not interested in translators who want to elide or finesse difficult translation issues: that is for homilists and study – if those issues are elided or finessed, they are not properly engaged in the life of the Body, as it were, and remain like unseen icebergs.)

  5. Mary Kennan Avatar
    Mary Kennan

    I can’t tell you how much I agree with you about the unsuitability of the choice of ESV for the new Lectionary. The bishops of England and Wales have repeated what they did with the translation of the Missal and opted for language which is not the vernacular but archaic and, in many ways, incomprehensible while lacking strength or beauty.

  6. David Bushey Avatar
    David Bushey

    Knox version, anybody?

    1. Anthony Hawkins Avatar
      Anthony Hawkins

      Patrick Kelly archbishop emeritus of Liverpool is a fan.
      Those of us not in the orbit of US LOTH still have Knox for readings from Wisdom and Galatians in the Divine Office (and parts of Romans), where most of the readings are from RSV or JB.

  7. Aaron Winstanley Avatar
    Aaron Winstanley

    I prefer the REB as some have mentioned already, for the clarity it provides to the Pauline epistles and John’s gospel alone. It’s a dignified translation edited especially for liturgical use that had the active input of Catholic representatives. It’s accurate and well-balanced between the literal and functional translation approaches in addition to being ecumenical. Its treatment of gender inclusivity goes only as far as the original languages can infer without hurting the flow of natural English, whereas the ESV is a reaction against all gender inclusion and the NRSV goes overboard with it. Furthermore, Cambridge would be more willing to allow the inclusion of catholic commentary, etc in its publication than Crossway seems to be. However, that being said it’s an obscure translation that definitely needs more love.

  8. James Rinkevich Avatar
    James Rinkevich

    The ESV is in India by the bishops conference approved for liturgical use.

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