Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Some Initial Thoughts on the ESV Lectionary Thing

Since finding out about the likely use of an adapted form of the ESV in the Australian lectionary, a few random thoughts have been floating around in my mind since yesterday. Some of these have already been brought up by commentators in the previous post, but I think they are worth repeating and discussing:

1) What does this say about the RSV-2CE? The fact that it has already been adapted and issued in a lectionary format, yet was passed up instead for an adapted ESV, makes me wonder whether the RSV-2CE will ever be a major translation for liturgical use (or study)? Also, there must be some sort of cost associated with adapting the ESV and getting permission to do so by Crossway or Oxford. It seems to me that the Australian Bishops were willing to incur an expense, presumably, to do this adaption, while they could have just simply used the RSV-2CE. Why?

2) What does this change to the ESV mean for other English speaking bishops conferences that were adapting the NRSV? Canada already has an adapted and approved NRSV lectionary, but what about the others? How did the Canadian Bishops get permission to make modifications to the NRSV, while the Australians were not? The Holy See did eventually approve the Canadian adapted NRSV for Mass.

3) Who is the copyright holder that is granting permission to do this adaption of the ESV? Crossway or Oxford?

4) What do I think about the ESV? There has not been, nor likely ever be, any official Catholic participation in this translation. The ESV is a product of a conservative Reformed tradition and does, at times, reflect that perspective. As Chrysostom suggested in his comment: “Change Lk 1:28 to the Angelic Salutation, add "only-begotten" in John 3:16, change "episkopos" and "presbyter" to "Bishop" and "Priest", take the indefinite article out of 1 Tim 3:15, and change a few words to "husband" instead of "man" ("not by the will of a husband..."), etc. to remove some overtly Calvinistic interpretations.” There is also the issue of whether to use “propitiation" (ESV) or “expiation" (RSV or NAB) in Romans 3:25. (Please note I realize the Vulgate and Nova Vulgata (and thus DR) use propitiationem, but how are those two important theological terms understood today?) The RSV, of course, had no Catholic participation when it was originally produced either, but later through editorial changes by the CBA (UK) and Ignatius Press. The NRSV, on the other hand, had active participation from a number of Catholic biblical scholars. Joel, a non-Catholic Christian, on his blog Unsettled Christianity wonders why any Catholic body would utilize the “Evangelical Standard Version”. I wonder as well.


Anonymous said...

What about the NABRE? Isn't it just as good as the ESV if not better?
Mike D.

Theophrastus said...

(1) This is not just about the Australian bishops. Abp Coleridge commission is, in fact, the ICPEL (including the British and Irish members).

(2) If the plan is to start from the Deuterocanon adaption prepared in the Oxford volume, right must be cleared from both Crossway and Oxford, and probably also National Council of Churches (which owns the underlying rights in the RSV). Rights must also be cleared from GIA for the revised Grail Psalter.

(3) The ICPEL must have seriously considered the RSV-2CE and rejected that possibility. Why? One can only speculate -- maybe cost, maybe unwillingness to adapt, maybe a political issue, maybe there was some sort of rights issue (for example, both Crossway and Ignatius bought rights from the National Council of Churches [NCC]. Maybe the rights package that Crossway purchased from NCC gives Crossway more freedom to allow further changes produce the lectionary.)

(4) Maybe this is a plan to put pressure on the NCC to compromise on NRSV rights.

(5) Previously in the UK, after many years, there was at least a Bible that matched the lectionary (The CTS Bible.) If the ICPEL moves ahead with its current plan, it seems unlikely that a matching Bible/lectionary will exist there again soon.

Pomeranian Catholic said...

Actually, in my opinion, the ESV is perhaps the best English translation out there at the moment. I honestly haven't noticed any theological biases, and besides, it's very well known that St. Paul was both extremely Arminian and devoutly Calvinistic.

About the Angelic Salutation. I'm sorry, but in the Peshitta, the Syriac Bible which Maronites and many other Eastern Christians use, the salutation was translated as (if it were rendered in English) "Greetings, peace is with you." "Full of grace" is merely a Greek idiom meaning "highly favored," and was translated into another idiom in the receiver language meaning the same thing. Eastern Christians fully embrace Marian doctrines, but none of those teachings are given by this verse. Protestant reformers may have had an agenda translating it a different way, but the Church fathers didn't. The phrase "full of grace" has nothing to do with Mary's place in the divine economy.

There also isn't a problem with the indefinite article in 1 Tim 3:15. Considering the esteem in which Paul held the Hebrew Scriptures, he'd be just as likely to describe them the same way. His meaning is thus accurately captured in this translation. "The" is a little strong and implies beliefs about the Church, which although held by Christians from the beginning, are not being stated here.

I would be quite comfortable with using the ESV in liturgy pretty much as is.

Francesco said...


I think your readers might benefit from reviewing your older posts comparing the ESV, NRSV, and RSV-2CE

Especially given the fact that any lectionary (regardless of what the Greek manuscripts say) is going to have to say "Hail, full of grace", and other things not in the ESV, I find the choice of editing the ESV interesting.

I'm tempted to say that the choice is over inclusive language, but when ICPEL started the project (ten years ago?) they must have known full-well about the problems that the NRSV has in that regard. Could there be something else in Liturgiam Authenticam that is a `new' concern?

How long ago was this decision made? Could it be that they've been working on it since before the RSV-2CE was published in 2006?

Chrysostom said...

PS The entire Arminius/Calvin debate is a non-starter in both Catholic and Orthodox soteriology, although more parallels can be drawn between the Church's teachings and Arminianism than between them and Calvinism. The Arminian/Calvinism debate is an issue born in Protestantism, and within Protestantism it shall stay. (Although many Calvinists love to call themselves "Augustinians", Catholics follow the teaching of no one individual Father, but the consensus of the Church.)

There is also quite a difference between "highly favored one" and "full of grace", both from the Greek (in the sense that a literal translation is proper, and translating it otherwise in a new translation just because another translation didn't is pure error: the same line of reasoning states that the Comma Johanneum and the Pericope Adulterae should be printed in modern Bibles, as well), and in theological implications.

The entire line of reasoning is far too long to post here, but I invite you to read the discussion at CAF, which is probably 20,000+ words long, and has input from some intelligent participants (including myself and Tim of Catholic Bibles) on this issue, and several others touching matters of translational fidelity with doctrinal import, at (if Tim shall permit the link to be posted) Catholic Answer Forums' "Luke 1:28" -

Anonymous said...

Okay, let me get this straight again: whatever bible version is used, it has to be adapted for the lectionary and, as if this wasn't enough, it has to meet the requirements as set out in Liturgiam Authenticam. No wonder it takes so long to put out a new lectionary.

Theophrastus said...

I suspect that the reason behind the decision mostly had to do with copyright issues. It is clear (indeed Abp Coleridge fairly clearly says it) that the NCC was unwilling to grant permissions to change the NRSV the way the ICPEL wanted.

Perhaps there was something more attractive about the rights package offered by the ESV rather than the RSV-2CE.

Timothy said...


Yes the Church does take her time with these things, and while this can be frustrating, there may be some wisdom in doin it this way.

Timothy said...


If your are correct, one could say that Ignatius Press: 1) Has very little control of the RSV-2CE's rights or is unwilling to offer attractive packages for it's rights; 2) Does not adequately promote the RSV-2CE; 3) Is taking its time in completing the ICSB, while other major study Bibles are produced at a fraction of the time; 4) Apparently will not release the RSV-2CE in any new editions; 5) Will not answer any questions about its production, changes, or editors.

So, why did they even go through the trouble of creating the RSV-2CE.

Francesco said...

But the Archbishop's statement says that he had trouble on the Roman end as well:

"However, we struck problems with the copyright holders of the NRSV and have had some difficulties in our dealings with the Holy See."

I think there is more going on than the NCC not letting them revise at-will.

Theophrastus said...

Francesco: indeed he did mention both. But notice that they are described on the one hand as "problems" and the other hand as "some difficulties." I would suggest that Abp. Coleridge's plain language suggests that the major conflict was with the NCC.

Consistent with this, there have been many rumors that NCC was pushing back hard on changes to the NRSV. At least three elements of Liturgiam Authenticam seem to run against NRSV translation philosophy: (a) LA 30, forbidding inclusive language; (b) LA 37, requiring that the Deuterocanonical textual basis be the same as Nova Vulgata; and (c) LA 41, requiring that all OT passages be translated in conformity with the NT and in a Christological interpretation.

However, this leaves open the question of how NCC (and CDW) approved the Canadian lectionary, while the ICPEL lectionary ran into problems.

Anil Wang said...

I believe the Canadian Lectionary had approval before the issues in it were discovered and before the standards were raised (Liturgiam Authenticam) so it was grandfathered. Changes did need to be made to the lectionary, however, for use. Anyone else that wanted the use the NRSV would need to adopt the higher standards.

WRT Pomeranian Catholic's comment that "1 Tim 3:15" that "a" is a more accurate translation than "the", that's impossible unless you are a Hindu or Buddhist. If "a" Church is the pillar and foundation of the truth, and the truth is singular (i.e. there is an absolute truth), then all particular churches must have the same truth and be part of the Church Universal. Paul constantly comments on the Church as being the Body of Christ. All Reformed Christians accept this as well. You have to go out of your way to find excuses not to use "a" versus "the", as the JW do with John 1.

Theophrastus said...

You are right that Canada had an NRSV based lectionary in the 1990s, before Liturgiam Authenticam (which is dated March 2001).

After LA, the Holy See reportedly informed the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops was told that that it would have to be revised to receive recognitio.

The CCCB did revise the NRSV lectionary and in August 2007 received recognitio.

Francesco said...

My guess would be similar to Anil's, there may have been two parallel and contradictory "dispensations" (to use that term the way the Church uses it), one from the appropriate curial office and another from the NCC. On the one hand the Holy See let the CCCB lectionary go without all the edits they wanted (perhaps to allow the Canadians to save face and not complicate ecumenical relations), with the understanding that future lectionaries would need to be done "properly". On the other hand, the NCC, also not wanting its flagship project from being dumped for similar ecumenical and PR reasons, allowed more edits than really would have liked. Both sides would therefore be able to reach an unrepeatable agreement, without ever saying so explicitly.

I wonder who knew about this decision. The NRSV with Grail Pslams still says that it is going to be "used in the new edition of the Lectionary which is coming soon" on the publishers' webpage! I'd expect HarperCollins to at least be aware of the behind-the-scenes stuff like that.

Pomeranian Catholic said...

@Anil Wang: I think you're attaching too great importance to one verse. You're essentially proof-texting. Elsewhere St. Paul expresses similar sentiments about the Hebrew Scriptures (cf. 2 Tim 3:14-17). Of course, the Church is THE pillar and bulwark of the truth, but that thought is simply not given by the passage. St. Paul, from the context, is stating that the Church has authority to dictate matters of behavior as a pillar and bulwark of the truth given by the living God.

As for the Angelic Salutation, Liturgiam Athenticam mandates that it be translated "full of grace," and many theologians have seen great meaning in this verse. Translations are certainly not beyond the purveyance of the Holy Spirit's inspiration, but the fact remains that many Church Fathers translated the phrase differently in different languages to connote an idiom that expressed being highly favored. They were by no means heretics and acknowledged the truth of Mary's sinlessness.

Anonymous said...

I am glad to know the esv may be used. It is an outstanding translation which is superior to other approved options and will make a fine addition to the catholic corpus, offering a more traditional option where there currently is none.

Also, crossway's commitment to the product and the esv's broad acceptance in the evangelical world will ensure that the translation remains in production for many years and also will offer an opportunity for ecumenical dialogue which none of the other translation can currently support.

IMHO, brad

Anonymous said...

"From a stylistic standpoint, the Ignatius 2nd edition is the closest thing in the Catholic publishing world to the English Standard Version."