Wednesday, September 7, 2011

My Top 5 Catholic Bibles #1

The Revised Standard Version (1st and 2nd) Catholic Edition: When Literal is Necessary

"And he said to them, 'Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.' And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves; and he was transfigured before them, and his garments became glistening, intensely white, as no fuller on earth could bleach them." - Mark 9:1-3

The RSV-CE remains as popular for Catholics today as when it was first published in the mid-60's. Actually, it could be argued that it is more popular today, particularly since it is still promoted by Biblical scholars as well as more conservative Catholics. The RSV-CE comes primarily in two editions these days, the original 1966 version, which contains archaic language and the 2nd Edition published by Ignatius Press, which eliminated archaic language and made various changes at points in the text. This post will focus mainly on the RSV-2CE.

Translation Philosophy 4.5/5
The RSV is the most literal modern Catholic translation on the market today. Catholics do not have an equivalent to the Protestant NASB. Therefore, the RSV serves as the most literal/formal modern translation, which certainly makes it useful when doing serious study. We have discussed on this blog on many occasions the various issues related to the RSV translation itself, most notably in the 2nd Edition. I will refer you to those posts here here and here.

I will, however, point out one specific area in Mark where the RSV shines, even though it may not appear so at first glance. As the Catholic Study Bible points out: "The pace of the story is urgent. Jesus moves rapidly from place to place; there is little wasted motion and a minimum of verbage (387)." Now one of the ways this is most evident in Mark is the constant use of the Greek word καὶ at the beginning of sentences. Most often this word is translated into English as "and". The RSV does a great job in maintaining the use of "and" in most cases, while a number of more recent translations try to make Mark a smoother read by not translating καὶ. Yet, I am not sure Mark is meant to be a smooth read. Events happen quickly and as the above quote from the CSB states: "The pace of the story is urgent." The RSV does the best job at producing that urgency in Mark.

Readability 4/5
For the most part, the RSV remains a pretty smooth read. In particular, the RSV-2CE, with the elimination of archaic language, helps to modernize the text a bit. There are, however, still places where the words chosen or the word order can make reading a bit more difficult. I notice this most often in the Psalms, but perhaps that is to be expected when using a more formal translation. (Psalm 65 is an example.)

One other area of note is in the RSV's use of inclusive language. As most of you know, it does not use inclusive language. As a matter of fact, Ignatius Press goes out of its way to promote that the RSV-2CE does not include "feminist" inclusive language. One of the main changes in the RSV-2CE is the consistent rendering of "sons of Israel" instead of "people of Israel." In this way, the RSV-2CE goes beyond the original RSV. As I have mentioned on this blog before, my thoughts on inclusive language have changed a bit in the last few years. Now a days, I am more open to the use of modest horizontal inclusive language, as found in the NJB and to a lesser extent the NABRE. Now that I do a lot of reading of the Scriptures out loud in class, with both youth and adults, I find that having limited horizontal inclusive language in a translation to be preferable.

Available Formats 3.5/5
The RSV is available in a number of printed formats, as well as on Kindle. Oxford University Press still prints the beautiful New Oxford Annotated Bible-RSV, which still remains a standard today for its size, durability, and concise, yet useful study notes. Oxford also produces an RSV-CE reading Bible, while Saint Benedict Press prints the RSV in various editions. The one thing that hampers these editions is their lack of cross-references. If you want the RSV-CE with cross-references, you have to go with the edition printed by Ignatius Press.

As noted earlier, the RSV-2CE is the child of Ignatius Press. The RSV-2CE comes in a standard edition, with cross-references, maps, and the original notes, in both hardbound, bonded leather, and paperback. Ignatius also prints a pocket edition of the New Testament and Psalms. The most notable edition of the RSV-2CE is found in the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament. Of course, the issue with the ICSB is not whether or not it is good and useful, but rather when it will be finished. (I feel a bit like Pope Julius II in the movie The Agony and the Ecstasy!) I have not heard back from Ignatius about any future editions of the RSV-2CE.

Miscellaneous 4/5
The RSV is historically one of the first truly ecumenical Bibles. Its influence is still felt today, not only by it still being in print, but also by its descendants the NRSV and ESV, and to a lesser extent the RSV-2CE. In addition, Ignatius Press has printed a Lectionary for the RSV-2CE if it is ever allowed in the USA.

Summary 16/20
However, I still wonder what the future holds for the RSV-CE or RSV-2CE. I pondered this question a few months back, which you can read here. When I look at the main project associated with the RSV, that being the ICSB, I am not sure I am willing to sit around and wait for its completion. Also, in the past those who felt the RSV was easily the best translation on the market, including myself, now have to contend with an improved NABRE as well as the ESV w/Apocrypha. We shall see what happens, but as of today, the RSV remains my #1 Catholic Bible....but barely.


lou j. said...

I suspect the RSV-2CE lectionary will be adopted by the Anglican Ordinariate in North America, and perhaps even Australia and the UK.

Pomeranian Catholic said...

An ESV, Catholic Edition, would rule the world if it were unleashed. I wouldn't require making any changes, not even to 1 Timothy 3:15.

rolf said...

And it just happens that the icon on your Catholic Bibles Blog headline matches the icon of Jesus on the pictured cover of your #1 translation. Is this a coincidence or is this prophetic?
I too like the RSV-2CE translation very much (as I have posted in the past). I use the NABRE a lot more (bible study, RCIA, etc) and like the changes that that occurred in the revision! I wobble back and forth in trying to figure out which one I like the best. Then I decided that they each have their own function in my life and I use them both! So which one is my favorite? it depends on what day you ask me.

Timothy said...


Yes, pure coincidence!

As for the NABRE vs RSV debate, in my mind they are much closer than in the past. I have been doing some spot checking of various passages in the OT, and the NABRE seems to be very close to the RSV more times than not. And with the various published options available in the NABRE, along with a few more to be announced in the coming months, I may spend more time with the NABRE in the future.

Francesco said...

Hi Tim,

Its great to finally see the conclusion of your Top 5! Given the versions you chose in your previous top 5, this wasn't a surprise. I'm interested in a couple things though:

1) the overall score of the top three seem very close, especially compared with the last two.

RSV-xCE: 16
NABRE: 15.5
NJB: 10
DR: 8

Does this mean that you had a harder time deciding among the top three than you did for the bottom two?

2) You gave the RSV the same "Formats" score as you did the NRSV, but a theme of your blog over the years has been that HarperOne has been coming out with lots of different NRSVs (including the NRSV-CE thinline, which I think you said you liked when you reviewed it). How did you weigh all these things to make your assessment?

3) Related to "2", you gave the NABRE the highest "Formats" score (the only field where the NABRE got the highest score among the categories you looked at), could you explain that a bit more?


Timothy said...


1) Yes, I found it to be much harder this time around to rank the top 3. Each are very good and have both strengths and weaknesses.

2) in regards to format, one thing that kept the NRSV equal to the RSV was the general lack of cross-references in most NRSV's. In a sense, they both ended up with a similar score in that category, but for different reasons.

3) The NABRE has already been released in a single column edition, along with two, and soon three, study editions. Also, the NABRE is done pretty well on Kindle and will be published by a few more publishers, for instance HarperCollins, in the very near future. I also forgot to mention in my post that the NABRE has a website dedicated to it, which promises to contain textual notes and other study aids. Finally, while some people do complain about the NABRE notes, the fact is that every edition contains the notes and the cross-references.

Chrysostom said...

I can't fault you on putting it at number one. As you read in my own analysis of Bibles, the RSV took second spot and the NJB first, but I can see how the RSV is much better in terms of study, with all of the study helps available (there's no such thing as an "NJB concordance", etc.), and the N/RSV remains the scholarly standard throughout Christendom, at least in Catholic publishing (translations of scripture in Catechism, encyclicals, etc.).

Of course, I drop the NRSV off the bottom of the list - it's useful only because it's displacing the RSV from academia, and most single-volume study Bibles and many if not most study helps now come keyed to the NRSV version (with some to the NIV for Protestants), and, between the NRSV and the old NIV, I would have to choose the NIV, but, between the new NIV and the NRSV, the NRSV is leagues better (issue mainly being extreme use of PC language).

I've been reading the NABRE Old Testament (Psalms and the Wisdom Books), and it is far and away better than the NAB, but the New Testament is still mediocre.

Timothy said...


The NJB was really the first Bible I ever read, so it will remain important in my eyes. But like you mentioned, it has never been supported with much in the way of concordances and other study aids, in addition to it being produced in very limited styles and bindings. It's really a shame.

Theophrastus said...

I think that merits of the RSV-2CE and the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible are separable. Frankly, the ICSB notes would work just as well with the NRSV or NABRE.

This is a different situation than the New Oxford Annotated Bible Expanded Edition which (a) was the first publication of the books used in Eastern Churches in the RSV translation; and (b) was largely edited by scholars involved with the RSV translation or otherwise associated with the N/RSV project.

This is especially true of the wording of the notes -- the NOAB notes often refer to specific renderings into English found in the RSV. The ICSB does this much less.

In other words, it is easy to imagine the ICSB being published in an edition with a different translation(although I doubt that will happen anytime soon given Ignatius Press's connection with the RSV-2CE.) In contrast, I cannot imagine how the NOAB would work with a different translation.


On a related note, I can't help but feel the RSV-2CE is something of a Frankenstein editing job. The original RSV was produced with a particular philosophy and approach. The RSV-CE version was done by a completely separate set of editors. Then the 2CE version was done by yet another editor who was anything but transparent in his goals. How well does the RSV-2CE match up with the original translation goals of the RSV editors? (I think the ESV has an analogous problem.)

Whatever one thinks of the original RSV, one has to admit that it has a particular approach to the issue of translation. In contrast, the RSV-2CE has multiple approaches, as later sets of translators tries to undo the approaches of earlier translators.

Timothy said...


I think calling the RSV-2CE 'Frankenstein' is spot on. While I generally like what they did, I still feel uneasy about it since there is basically no information about how it was edited, other than the brief comment here by Fr Fessio. While I still have it ranked #1 I have serious doubts about it's longevity from this point on.

Francesco said...

Tim & Theophrastus,

Are your concerns that the RSV-2CE fails to successfully edit the RSV according to the (unstated?) goals that Ignatius/Rome had in mind (that is, that the 2CE misses some places that should have been edited in the CE according to those goals), or that without a new introductory essay, or even a book, you don't know what those goals were?

From what Fr. Fessio has said here on this blog, the RSV-2CE seems like the result of editing the entire RSV-CE the way Rome wants the Lectionary. For insight into what Rome wants we have we have the unfortunate Catholic Translation Wars of the 1990s: the conflicts over the RNAB Pslams, the Canadian NRSV Lectionary, and the un-imprimatur-ing of the ICEL Pslams. Additionally there is Liturgiam Authenticam and the Psalms that were translated according to its specifications: the Revised Grail and the NABRE Psalms. On top of that we have the 1998/2002 US Lectionary, which edits the NAB in many ways. Come to think of it, how open was that process? Like the RSV-2CE the US Lectionary was created by a group of editors who had a different goal than the CBA translators working on the NAB in the 1950's, 1960's, 1980's and early 1990's. I'm not aware of who the editors were for the Lectionary, but I'd be willing to suppose that few of the NAB OT translators worked on it (since that was published in 1970), and probably few of the RNAB NT editors as well (published in 1986) worked on it to. Is the Lectionary a `Frankenstein' like Ignatius' RSV?

Theophrastus said...


I hear what you are saying, but a glance at the differences between the RSV-CE and RSV-2CE shows that the 2CE both went much further than Liturgiam Authenticam requires -- and also failed to meet LA's requirements in a few places. The fact is that Ignatius has not given an explanation of how or why it edited the RSV-2CE the way it is. In fact, it was only the efforts of a third party that allows us to see the extent of the changes.

In comparing the transparency of the RSV-2CE vs the NAB -- there are extensive textual notes describing the translator's choices associated with the NAB (soon to be posted online for the NABRE) so we have tremendous transparency there.

I'm not going to defend the US Lectionary (of course -- I wish it were possible for it to match a Bible translation), but the release of various statements (such as Liturgiam Authenticam) gives us considerable insight to the philosophy and approval process.

As you point out -- textual notes or a statement of translation philosophy is standard with almost all major Bible translations. I'm not even sure if the name of the RSV-2CE editor/revisor is public. Why is Igantius so secretive?

Francesco said...


You raise good points about the level of openness. Hopefully when the NRSV-2CE comes out they will be more open.

By the way, thanks for linking to the RSV-CE vs. RSV-2CE series of posts on this blog! After following that link (and many others) I eventually ended up at Amazon's best selling Christian Bibles page, where the NABRE Kindle edition is #4!

The current ranking is:

1) NRSV NOAB (paperback)
2) The Message 2.0 (Kindle)
3) NRSV HarperCollins Study Bible (paperback)
4) NABRE (Kindle)
5) NRSV NOAB (hardcover)

And 3 of those books are college textbooks!

Jonny said...

I have no problem with the changes made to the RSV-2CE. However, I do still prefer the original RSV-CE. This is what my parish uses in their RCIA program and curriculum. This translation is generally recognizable by converts (and reverts) because it is based on the KJV and also bears many similarities to the Challoner DR. The RSVs also influenced and even became the basis for other widely known translations, both Catholic and Protestant, which makes it even more familiar-sounding. It has that traditional sound that works well on RCIA progams, worksheets, and prayer/Psalm sheets. I think the traditional language is appropriate for Candidates and Catecumens who are considering joining the Faith that reaches even beyond the english language itself. It is sad that the original RSV-CE with cross-refrences is not available in higher quality formats, but at the same time, it is comforting to know that if John Doe candidate touches your Bible with his jelly donut fingers you are only out about 25 bucks.

Chrysostom said...

As of 09/10/2011, the NABRE has been the top-selling Bible on Amazon for two days.

I thought at first it was due to the price of it (lots of Kindle Bibles are $0.99 or less), but it's a full $6, and the cheapest dead tree NABREs aren't much more than $10.

I've been reading more and more of it and liking it more and more: as far as "general Bible", it's starting to rise through the ranks to take its place besides my NJB, RSV, and ESV, especially for the rendering of the Psalms, which are on par with the ESV renderings, IMO (one of the best contemporary, readily-available renderings of the Psalms is in the New English Septuagint).

I just can't read Psalm 22 when it says "the deepest valley of darkness" or "the darkest valley" - it has to be, "...though I walk through the VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH..." and both the NABRE and the ESV pass on those counts, as do the DRC and the KJV, but not many other, if any, modern Bibles do.

Michael Demers said...

I don't think you should lump the RSV-CE, and the RSV-2CE together. I'd rank the CE way ahead of the 2CE but I think The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, Revised Standard Version, Expanded Edition (Hardcover 8910A) is best.