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Roman Catholics to use ESV

Archbishop Mark Coleridge, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn in Australia, writes that there was “no hope that the Lectionary or any part of it will appear at the same time as the Missal”. The Lectionary, in this context, refers to the book of scripture readings used at Mass.

His announcement continues with the news that this Lectionary will be based on the English Standard Version (ESV) with the revised Grail Psalter.

It is well known that the ESV is a conservative, Evangelical translation.

I am, hence for example, fascinated by what Roman Catholics will make of the Evangelical translation of ἱλασμός (hilasmos) which in ESV becomes “propitiation” (Rom 3:25; Heb 2:17; 1 Jn 2:2; 1 Jn 4:10). In previous RC translations, this is “expiation” (NAB) or “sacrifice to win reconciliation” (JB).

ESV is also seen as “a kind of knee jerk reaction to the publication of the ‘NIV Inclusive Language Edition’ in 1996.” It might, hence, be seen as surprising that this translation will become the official Roman Catholic one. Or maybe not, as it fits with the contemporary RC tendency to often translate as gender-uninclusively as possible.

I can see some integrity in translating singulars to the singular, and struggling to keep the original gender-inclusive intention of the original in tact in the very gender-specific English translation. I think the NRSV approach of using the gender-inclusive English plural, with clarification in the footnotes for those who do not read the original, one sensible way forward.

I have reviewed the ESV previously here. Suffice to say that I cannot for the life of me have any respect for a version that, for example, translates ἀδελφοὶ (adelphoi) as “brothers” while the ESV in its footnotes declares, “The plural Greek word adelphoi (translated “brothers”) refers to siblings in the family… men and women who are siblings (brothers and sisters) in God’s family, the church.”

Thanks to readers who alerted me to the archbishop’s announcement.

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7 thoughts on “Roman Catholics to use ESV”

  1. This does seem odd. Why not the RSV Catholic Edition (1966) or its very light revision in the Ignatius Bible (which removes 2nd-person singular pronouns and a few other archaisms)?

    The ESV approach to (non-)inclusive language is very puzzling. I find the NRSV approach irritating at times (as we’ve discussed here before, Bosco, the OT does not make use of footnotes to alert the reader to paraphrases — and why does the NRSV fail to make a clearer distinction between “adam” and “ish” in the Creation stories?), but the ESV is irritating in the opposite direction. We used to have a pretty serviceable one-word equivalent for adelphoi in “brethren” (reinstated in the RSV Catholic Edition NT); but I guess that train has left the station…

    I confess, I was driven to my Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church to be reminded of the difference between “expiation” (RSV) and “propitiation” (ESV):

    expiation. The atoning or making up for an offence committed against God or one’s neighbour. Christianity claims that the only sufficient expiation of human sin is the offering made by Jesus Christ of His earthly life and death, and that of this offering the merits are infinite. Acc. to Catholic theology, its effects are applied to the soul in baptism and (for sins thereafter committed) in absolution. In virtue of its all-sufficiency the performance by Christians of good or pious works, done as penance, has value only through their being effected in union with the perfect expiation offered by Christ.”

    propitiation. The general meaning of the word is the appeasing of the wrath of the Deity by prayer or sacrifice when a sin or offence has been committed against Him. The word occurs three times in the AV, in connection with the death of Christ (Rom. 3:25, 1 Jn. 2:2, and 4:10; to which RV adds Heb. 2:17). Such a translation accurately represents the meaning in classical Greek of the words used (hilastērion, hilasmos). However, the Hebrew equivalent is never used with God as the object; this fact suggests that the primary biblical meaning is to expiate or remove an obstacle on man’s part in his relationship with God. To say that the death of Christ is ‘propitiatory’ is, then, to say that it is effective in restoring the relationship between God and man, damaged by sin. Acc. to the Council of Trent (Sess. 22, can. 3), the Sacrifice offered in the Eucharist is propitiatory (propitiatorium).”

    Anglicans, of course, have long been accustomed to refer to Christ as “the propitiation for our sins” (in the Comfortable Words).

    1. Thanks, Jesse. I am fascinated by the article you quote which effectively is saying that when Christians use the word “propitiation” they mean “to expiate”. I’ll be simple about this – if we actually mean “expiate” (and Old Testament usage where, for example in LXX, hilastērion is used to translate the Hebrew “kapporet”, supporting that interpretation) let’s translate it as “expiate”. Blessings.

  2. To say nothing of the deutero-canonicals only existing in an unofficial two man project hard to get hold of. But hey, who cares as long as it keeps women invisible wherever possible!

  3. A very fine translation is the ESV, not least because it is essentially the RSV!

    Have you been fair to this announcement, Bosco?

    I read these words, “However, we struck problems with the copyright holders of the NRSV and have had some difficulties in our dealings with the Holy See. All of this so becalmed the project that there is now no hope that the Lectionary or any part of it will appear at the same time as the Missal. In fact, we have decided to move away from the NRSV and to prepare the Lectionary using a modified form of the English Standard Version (ESV), still with the revised Grail Psalter.”

    That tells me the intention was to use the NRSV but the intention was stymied, in multiple ways, one technically difficult (the NRSV/copyright), one possible reflecting conservatism sweeping the Vatican (?anti-inclusive language???).

    What is one to do if one wants to keep in the RSV stream of translation (faithful, scholarly)? Going backwards to RSV/ASV runs certain risks re ‘feel’ of language being – 1966, or earlier = OLD!! – so ESV makes sense.

    You have quibbles about the ESV? I note the quote above talks about a ‘modified’ form: have you prejudged what those modifications might involve? It is possible your quibbles (aside from the inclusive footnotes re adelphoi) will be covered by these modifications!

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Peter. I am opposed to the unnecessary proliferation of English-language Bible translations, and concerned when a translation is driven by a particular agenda. The ESV is not an appropriate translation for reading aloud as, while footnoting that a word is gender-inclusive, it uses gender-exclusive language in what is being read! Our church, committed to the use of gender-inclusive language as much as possible, made a serious mistake of principle in authorising ESV for use in public worship.

      I have written previously about RC use of NRSV. Canadian Catholics have used NRSV since 1992. While Canadians have the Vatican’s permission to use this, other RCs are forbidden from using it in worship. You are well aware that the NRSV allows reproduction in Lectionaries (books of the church’s readings), so what you are underscoring as a “copyright” issue with NRSV must be a desire to alter (ie revise) the NRSV to fit in with the Vatican’s requirements. I can well understand NRSV copyright holders’ reticence, especially since the direction of such a revision is ESV, which the Vatican is allowing.

      Jesse, above, has already explained that RCs could have used the Ignatian Bible if they wanted a “not old feeling” RSV. I continue to be surprised by the choice of ESV, as I am saddened by its unjustifiable gender exclusivity.


      1. Unjustifiable gender exclusivity? The Bible was written in an ancient, patriarchal society, and accurate translations should reflect that. Besides, “man,” “men,” “brothers,” etc, used to be inclusive English words just fifty years ago until some wacky linguists got the idiotic notion that by selectively sabotaging our language with silly things like the singular “they,” we would miraculously respect women more because of some neurolinguistic reprogramming. And how has that worked out?

        Common people couldn’t care less about inclusive language. Ask them. Only publishers who want to make a buck or elderly political activists who still buy the linguistic theories of yesteryear care. All in all, the issue has been very divisive and has achieved the exact opposite of its goal, namely, to help form a more inclusive community.

        1. Thanks, Geoffrey for your visit and thoughts.

          You write, “Unjustifiable gender exclusivity? The Bible was written in an ancient, patriarchal society, and accurate translations should reflect that.” I agree with you. And the ESV does not accomplish this. When the original intends males only, the translation should reflect that. When the original intends to include females, the translation should reflect that. ESV, as I have indicated, does not achieve this.

          You write, ““man,” “men,” “brothers,” etc, used to be inclusive English words just fifty years ago”. Yes, language changes and grows. “Prevent” used to mean “go before”. This is a good argument for keeping a translation up to date, but not an argument in favour of using the ESV today.

          I cannot speak for those you term “common people” where you are, but I assure you that “inclusive language” is just taken for granted here.


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