DENVER — “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Jesus Christ,” St. Jerome famously stated, and if the COVID-19 lockdowns have given Catholics anything, it is an opportunity to encounter Jesus Christ personally in the Bible before reuniting with him again in the Holy Eucharist.
The Augustine Institute is now bringing English-speaking Catholics in North America a major new revision of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible called the English Standard Version - Catholic Edition that began as a joint-venture between Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India and Crossway, an evangelical Protestant publishing house. The Vatican has also approved India’s new ESV-CE lectionary, raising the possibility that it may spread worldwide.
In this interview with the Register, Augustine Institute President Tim Gray and Scripture scholar Mark Giszczak discuss what the new ESV-CE translation means for Catholics in North America and how The Augustine Bible puts the Word of God in their hands like never before and heed the words that prompted St. Augustine to open his Bible and give his life to Jesus Christ: “take up and read.”
What’s the origin story of the English Standard Version — Catholic Edition that the Augustine Institute is now carrying as The Augustine Bible?
Gray: The ESV came out in 2001 as an update of the RSV [Revised Standard Version] that was really trying to be more literal in its translation of the text, following the Hebrew and Greek as closely as possible. Mark, would you tell how the Indian bishops’ conference got this through?
Giszczak: Yes, the Indian bishops conference works closely with a publisher there called the Asian Trading Corporation, or ATC. And ATC reached out to Crossway [ESV Bible’s publisher] in 2016, and said we’d really like to do a Catholic Edition of the ESV in conjunction with the Catholic conference of the bishops of India. And so Crossway responded yes, and they started working together to produce the Catholic edition.
What I find remarkable is how the evangelical translation oversight committee that produced the original translation worked together with these Catholic scholars in India, who were appointed by the bishops, to review the translation. And they did make some changes from the first edition to the Catholic edition. And then after those changes were made, the Bible was agreed upon both by Crossway and by the bishops’ conference, and it was approved on Feb. 4, 2018.
Gray: And then the Vatican approved it, which was significant.
Giszczak: So there are two stages here. So one was the approval of the Bible translation as such. And then the second was the approval at the lectionary. So after the Bible was approved in February 2018, they prepared the ESV-based lectionary which came up to the Vatican in December of 2019 and was approved there. And then was mandated for use throughout India in English starting on Palm Sunday this year.
What moved the Indian bishops to say the Church needs an ESV — CE Bible?
Giszczak: I think that there are a couple of things that have led up to that. One, if you read about the progress of the English lectionary over the past two decades, many of the English-speaking bishops’ conferences have been looking for new translation, being dissatisfied with the archaic language of the RSV; being unhappy with the dynamic equivalence translations in the Jerusalem Bibles; and you’ll also notice that other English-speaking bishops’ conferences don’t use the NAB [New American Bible]. Yeah. So many of the English-speaking bishops have been looking for a new option. And in fact, prior to approving the ESV, the Indian bishops’ conference approved the New Living Translation Catholic Edition just a couple of years earlier. But that translation is a paraphrase-style translation, so it wasn’t suitable for liturgical use. The ESV is better from the bishops’ perspective because it’s available to be used for liturgy because of it’s word-for-word style translation. So, I think that it really is a kind of answer to prayer for them. And it really provides a way forward for the lectionary in India and perhaps in other English speaking countries.
So what are the main differences between the ESV and the RSV translations of the Bible?
Giszczak: The ESV as an update of the RSV changes about 60,000 words from the RSV to the ESV. So it’s a pretty significant change. Of course, a lot of those are changing “thou” to “you,” and updating archaic language. But beyond that, the ESV is pursuing its own translation agenda, if you will, and is making certain changes to the RSV. So here’s an example. There’s been a lot of new manuscript discoveries and new analysis of the textual basis of the Bible since 1952, when the RSV was originally published, and the ESV is very conscious of those textual improvements and makes those changes along the way. So an example of that would be Deuteronomy 32:43. We have new textual information about that verse for the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the ESV is able to take that into account in its translation in that verse. The RSV was famously criticized for its translation of Isaiah 7:14, where it translates the prophecy of the Virgin birth as “a young woman shall conceive.”
Which happens a lot.
Giszczak: [Laughs] Exactly. And so, the ESV went back to “a virgin shall conceive,” which agrees with Matthew 1:23, which quotes that verse as a predictive prophecy of the Virgin Birth. So that was a big issue in the 1950s, and something that the ESV has changed.
One of the other things I would point you to is the continuity between the Old Testament and New Testament [in the ESV]. The RSV was very conscious of trying to translate the Old Testament on its own terms without reference to the New Testament. And so that meant that a lot of links between the New Testament and Old, a lot of quotations of the Old Testament in the New, were lost in the RSV. So a great example of this is Hebrews chapter one builds an argument for the divinity of Christ based on Psalm 2 and Psalm 45 and Psalm 110. And the way that the RSV translates Psalm 2 and Psalm 45:6, actually gets rid of the divine components in those verses, and undercuts the argument of Hebrews chapter one. So the ESV does a better job at translating those psalms in a way that matches their quotations in Hebrews chapter one.
So what kind of changes are we talking about between the ESV and the ESV Catholic edition?
Giszczak: So the ESV Catholic Edition adheres to the translation rules given by the Vatican in the 2001 document, Liturgiam Authenticam. And so certain changes are made in order to adhere to that sort of translation protocol established by the Vatican. But I would say that the major difference between the Catholic Edition of the ESV and the original ESV is that the Catholic Edition includes the deuterocanonical books, which of course weren’t there in the Protestant editions. And then there are changes made throughout, but I wouldn’t say heavy-handed changes. There are relatively few changes in the Old Testament and New, but they’re changes that make the translation line up more with Catholic doctrine and what the Catechism says, and with the way the Catholics understand the faith
The fact that the ESV original and Catholic translations are so close — and the Catholic changes mutually agreed upon — seems to indicate that Catholics and Protestants are close to having a common Bible in English then?
Giszczak: The ESV, I think, gives us hope that this translation might be the common Bible for Protestant and Catholic English-speakers for the future. And that’s a really exciting prospect that we’ll be able to read the Bible together, and even pray side by side, with the same Bible translation. And while the RSV is a great precedent of an ecumenical Bible translation, the ESV follows in that pattern where you have a Protestant board of translators and a Catholic bishops conference agreeing on the translation of the Bible. And that really is remarkable.
What would you say are the merits of this particular translation that you’ve come up that has come out and has been published as The Augustine Bible?
Gray: So the Augustine Institute has the rights to publish the ESV-CE in all of North America, and we want to provide this great translation to Catholics in the United States and Canada. I think it’s a great Bible for study. You know one of the interesting things is when the Catechism of the Catholic Church came out, the USCCB wanted the New American Bible, which they have the rights to, to be used as the English translation of the Bible in the Catechism for the English world. The Vatican reviewedthe New American Bible and said it isn't good enough for teaching. It’s very idiomatic, which is the other side of the ESV; the ESV seeks to be literally as close to the Greek and Hebrew texts as possible, and tries to even preserve the word order. Whereas the New American Bible tends to be idiomatic, as long as it gets the general meaning, that’s all that mattered. For the Catechism of the Catholic Church, that was insufficient for teaching the faith. And so what we want to do by providing the ESV-CE is provide a reliable, modern translation of the Bible that is deeply faithful to the Hebrew and Greek texts, and that is ideal for study.
Giszczak: A lot of Bible translations pursue a philosophy of “dynamic equivalence” or “thought for thought” style translation, which produces perhaps a very readable text, but not a very exact one. And the ESV takes the opposite approach of what they refer to as an essentially literal translation. The ESV is really trying to be as transparent as possible to original languages, and provide a word for word style translation rather than thought for thought style translation. And so it allows people who are studying Scripture, they get that much closer to the meaning in the original language, because they can trust what they’re reading is really what it says. So with the ESV, when you’re studying it or when it’s being preached from, you’ll hear a lot fewer of those phrases that we’re still accustomed to hearing in homilies, “well, what it really says here is.” So often the homilist or the preacher has to correct the translation in order for the people to understand it. But with the ESV, you have to spend less time retranslating in the context of study, and you can spend more time just understanding what’s there on the sacred page.
So what’s one example of what I’m going to get with an ESV Catholic Edition that my Catholic editions of the RSV would not provide me?
Giszczak: Let me give you one example that I find very moving. If you look in John 6, one of our favorite Eucharistic chapters in the Bible, Jesus famously in the discourse is objected to by his audience: they say how could we eat your flesh, and drink your blood? And instead of Jesus explaining, “Oh, well it’s only symbolic, that’s not what I really mean.” Instead, he changes the verb that he uses. So he had been using the regular verb for “eating” to describe the Eucharist, and now he switches to a different verb, the verb in John 6:54 and 6:56 which really means “to chew.” So it shows that this is not just a metaphor or a symbol. This is a real physical eating. Well, in the RSV, they don’t show that. It’s just, it just says eat, eat, eat; whereas in the ESV, the verb actually changes from eat in those first verses to “feeds on” in verses 54 and 56. So the ESV did the better job of being transparent to exactly what Jesus is teaching.
One of the merits of the ESV is that it tends to translate the original words, which are the same as in English, as much as possible.
The ESV actually fixes some of the problems that were there in the RSV. So the RSV was slightly criticized in the more difficult passages in the Old Testament, particularly in places like the Book of Job, for not actually translating the Hebrew text as it stands, but for when they came across a translation difficulty, making what’s referred to as a textual emendation, where they’re actually tweaking the Hebrew letters underlying the translation in order to try to make it make sense in English. So the ESV revisits those verses and tries to translate the Hebrew text as it stands without making as many emendations, or guesses, as the RSV did. So in that way, I think the ESV is a more reliable witness to the Hebrew of the Old Testament.
What else would you like to say about the ESV-CE translation. And particularly, can you explain its approach to the question of inclusive language?
Giszczak: Because the ESV is an update of the RSV, there’s a way in which it simultaneously feels really familiar — it sounds like the Bible that we know — and it also feels fresh and new, because the translation is changed, updated, and improved over the RSV. That’s something nice about the ESV translation: It doesn’t feel out of the blue or strange. It feels very familiar, and yet they’re also getting this update at the same time.
The issue of inclusive language has been a kind of hot topic in Bible translation. The ESV takes a very even-handed approach to the issue of inclusive language.
Giszczak: So, at points where the RSV adopts for the meaning “man” or “mankind,” or this sort of thing, when there’s no actual male meaning in the Hebrew or the Greek, the ESV is going to change that. So I’ll point to say, Luke 6:45, where in the RSV, you read “a good man,” in the ESV it is “a good person.” However, when the Hebrew or the Greek has a male meaning component underlying that translation, the ESV will always render that with a male meaning in the English. So for example, “man shall not live by bread alone.” Right? It doesn’t change those words. Whether it be “sons” or “brothers” or these other types of words that are often shifted in gender-inclusive translations, the ESV believes that that we need to be careful about making those types of changes. Because when we make those changes in the English, we’re not just changing the text to make it more inclusive, we’re actually changing the meaning of what it teaches. And so the ESV is very conscious of the inclusive language problem, and has a very consistent strategy for translating these types of words.
Now there may be some verses that Catholics may be familiar hearing that aren’t in the ESV-CE text itself, but are actually in the footnotes. Can you talk a little bit more about the interplay between the footnotes and the reading of the text?
Giszczak: So in The Augustine Bible, the footnotes that you’ll find are footnotes that are about the textual basis for the translation. Of course, the complicated thing about the Bible is that the evidence that we have for the text of the Bible is in many different manuscripts, papyri, and other ancient sources. And they don’t all perfectly agree. So the translator has to make certain number of text critical decisions in the process of translating, where they’re judging between ancient manuscripts and deciding which one represents the text the best.
Now, the Vatican helped us very greatly with the publication of the Nova Vulgata. The Nova Vulgata gives us the Catholic Church’s teaching on what is Scripture, and what is not; what is in the canon, and what is not; and what the textual basis of the Bible should be.
Can you give a couple examples?
Giszczak: Yes. If you look in almost any Bible now, and you look for Acts 8:37, it’s not there, right? It’s straight from verse 36 to the verse 38, because Acts 8:37 was in later manuscripts, but it wasn’t in the earlier ones. And so that verse has actually been removed for most modern Bibles, including the Nova Vulgata and the ESV Catholic Edition. Another example would be in a Jude 1:5. If you look that up in your typical Bible, you won’t find “Jesus.” But if you look it up in the ESV Catholic Edition, it says “Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt.” So there the ESV translators made a text critical decision based on wide manuscript evidence to include the name of Jesus in Jude 1:5, even though many other modern Bible translations don’t include his name there. So, the notes that you’ll find at the bottom of the page in the ESV Catholic Edition are about those textual decisions. They’re very simplified. So, for example, in the Old Testament, where the Greek and Hebrew texts sometimes don’t agree, sometimes you’ll get a note that gives you an alternate word for what appears in the Greek text as opposed to the Hebrew.
So what is next for The Augustine Bible? What are your next steps to get the ESV-CE into the hands of Catholics in North America?
Gray: One of the first things I say is because it’s the Word of God, the printing and the layout is of the highest quality it can be. And so it needs to be beautiful. And so we wanted the Bible to be both beautiful and high quality. And that’s one of the things we’re doing. We will have other versions of The Augustine Bible coming out in the fall. We’ll have a very nice leather version. We’ll have a more affordable paperback version and a hardcover edition. We have generous margins. A lot of Bibles get printed with very narrow margins because they’re trying to save space and save money and just be efficient. But we want people to live in the Bible. We want people to use their Bible to study, to pray, to read daily.
This is just the beginning for the Bible that we’re going to be publishing. We’re going to be investing a lot over the next couple of years into other Bible resources. So one of the things we have is the Bible in a Year, and that’s with a daily reflection to help people read through the Bible. Most Catholics have never read the Bible. The whole Bible in the Year we have is to give them a method for reading so that they can read the Bible prayerfully.
We just raised about a million dollars to invest in more Bibles. So we want a high quality leather, a paperback version and hardcover like I mentioned. We’ve done the Bible in a Year, and we’re reprinting and making some adaptations to make it even nicer with the ESV-CE translation. And then we’ll do The Gospels in a Year and we’re working on a new study Bible. So there are a lot more things coming!
Giszczak: We’re also working on a new app to also present the Bible in an electronic format.
Great news all around. Any chance that the ESV-CE could become the lectionary in other countries for English-speaking Catholics?
GISZCZAK: I’ve heard that New Zealand, Australia, Ireland and England are considering adopting the ESV-CE as the Bible for their lectionary, and I think they would do it sooner than the United States would do it. It’s going to take a number of years to get the ESV-CE used by Catholics, used by Catholic priests, by the Catholic faithful and Catholic Biblical scholars. But once they discover this translation and become comfortable with it, I think you’re going to hear a lot of people then ask the U.S. bishops’ conference to adopt it. So I could see that down the road.
Thank you so much. Any final thought or comment that you’d like to leave with our readers?
Giszaczak: Maybe a final thought would be about Cardinal Oswald Gracias, who gave this Bible its imprimatur, and who has really been leading the Catholic bishops conference of India. Cardinal Gracias is a member of Pope Francis’s top advisory team, the Council of Cardinals, and he has been a very generous sponsor of the ESV Catholic Edition project and of the new lectionary in India. He wrote the forward to the ESV Catholic Edition, and said that he hopes this translation will be a gift that the Church of India can give to the universal Church. And so we’re very grateful to Cardinal Gracias for making this transition possible.
This interview has been edited for length.
Peter Jesserer Smith is a Register staff writer.
ESV to ESV Catholic Edition: Some ‘Before’ and ‘After’ Changes
The biggest change between the ESV and the ESV-CE is the publication of the Deuterocanonical books, specifically Tobit. Augustine Institute professor Mark Giszczak explained that while there was an original ESV published with Apocrypha, it translated Tobit from a shorter Greek text. However, he said that “the Church considers the longer version to be canonical and more ancient on the basis of Dead Sea Scrolls evidence, so Tobit had to be redone for the ESV-CE.”
Another difference between the ESV and the ESV-CE, Giszczak explained, is the ESV-CE regards as canonical the text of Mark 16:9-20. This is the longer ending of the Gospel of Mark, from where Jesus meets up to the Ascension. The ESV-CE also regards as canonical the text of John 7:53-8:11, the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. The ESV puts these texts in double brackets with a note explaining their problematic absence from some of the earliest manuscripts available.
Giszczak pointed out other specific changes from the ESV can be seen in how the ESV-CE renders “Abigail the Carmelite” (1 Chronicles 3:1) as “Abigail of Carmel,” renders “Immanuel” (in Matthew 1:23) as “Emmanuel” and “every affliction” (in Matthew 9:35) as “every infirmity.”
— Peter Jesserer Smith