RNJB versus ESV

Having a pastorally friendly liturgical translation is one of my favourite hobby horses. I hope American and Canadian readers will forgive me if I make another reference the edition of the Lectionary for Mass that is in use in Ireland, England & Wales, Scotland, Australia and New Zealand. I have already posted on this blog on two occasions on PrayTell (here and here).

The Revised New Jerusalem Bible will be publishedon this side of the Atlantic at the end of this month (the US edition is due for publication in February 2020)

This week London’s Tablethas published an article where I argue that the RNJB should be considered for the next edition of the Lectionary in those countries presently using the JB. The new point in my latest contribution is that I argue against the latest movements of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Whales to adopt the Catholic edition of the English Standard Version (ESV) that has been prepared by the Indian bishops.

While I do not consider myself qualified to make a judgment on the fidelity of the ESV’s translation, others have raised some serious concerns about the translation, which some experts have labeled as being not simply Calvinistic in theology but actually Arian. The other issue that needs to be dealt with is that, outside of India, the ESV is simply not available in a Catholic edition. I do hope that it will be published in a widely available Catholic edition, but so far Crossway publishers have not done so (despite publishing a myriad of Protestant editions). Indeed Crossway seems to be somewhat anti-Catholic in its ethos, and still publishes materialthat calls into question whether Catholics are really Christian. That is not to say that they would not license Catholic publishers outside of India to publish Catholic editions of the ESV, or even less that the ESV is inherently tainted. Oxford has recently publishedan edition with the Deuterocanonical material in an appendix. I believe that once the translation is widely available for Catholics, then and only then can a proper judgment be made on its suitability for use in the liturgy. 

In the meantime, the RNJB is now available and would provide the easiest and what I believe to be the pastorally most acceptable option.

For my article in the Tablet I provided a comparison of next Sunday’s Gospel in the JB/ESV/RNJB translations. Below I include it for all 3 Mass readings so that people can see a small sample of the options available in a real-world example that hasn’t cherry-picked passages to suit a particular argument.

16thSunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

First Reading: Genesis 18: 1-10

Current Jerusalem Bible LectionaryEnglish Standard Version Catholic EditionRevised New Jerusalem Bible
The Lord appeared to Abraham at the Oak of Mamre while he was sitting by the entrance of the tent during the hottest part of the day. He looked up, and there he saw three men standing near him. As soon as he saw them he ran from the entrance of the tent to meet them and bowed to the ground. ‘My lord,’ he said ‘I beg you, if I find favour with you kindly do not pass your servant by. A little water shall be brought; you shall wash your feet and lie down under the tree Let me fetch a little bread and you shall refresh yourselves before going further. That is why you have come in your servant’s direction.’ They replied ‘Do as you say.’Abraham hastened to the tent to find Sarah. ‘Hurry’ he said ‘knead three bushels of flour and make loaves.’ Then running to the cattle Abraham took a fine and tender calf and gave it to the servant, who hurried to prepare it. Then taking cream, milk and the calf he had prepared, he laid all before them, and they ate while he remained standing near them under the tree.‘Where is your wife Sarah?’ they asked him. ‘She is in the tent’ he replied. Then his guest said, ‘I shall visit you again next year without fail, and your wife will then have a son.’ And the Lordappeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth, and said, “O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.” And Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. Then he took curds, and milk, and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them. And he stood by them under the tree while they ate. They said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “She is in the tent.” 10 TheLord said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.”  The Lord appeared to Abraham at the Oak of Mamre as he was sitting by the entrance of the tent in the heat of the day. •He looked up, and there he saw three men standing near him. As soon as he saw them he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them, and bowed to the ground. •He said, ‘My Lord, if I find favour with you, please do not pass your servant by. •Let me have a little water brought, and you can wash your feet and have a rest under the tree. •Let me fetch a little bread and you can refresh yourselves before going further, now that you have come in your servant’s direction.’ They replied, ‘Do as you say.’ •Abraham hurried to the tent and said to Sarah, ‘Quick, knead three measures of best flour and make loaves.’ Then, running to the herd, Abraham took a fine and tender calf and gave it to the servant, who hurried to prepare it. •Then taking curds, milk and the calf which he had prepared, he laid it all before them, and remained standing by them under the tree while they ate. They said to him, ‘Where is your wife Sarah?’ He replied, ‘Here she is, in the tent.’ •Then his guest said, ‘I will be sure to come back to you next year, and then your wife Sarah will have a son.’   

Second Reading: Colossians 1: 24-28

Current Jerusalem Bible LectionaryEnglish Standard Version Catholic EditionRevised New Jerusalem Bible
It makes me happy to suffer for you, as I am suffering now, and in my own body to do what I can to make up all that has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church. I became the servant of the Church when God made me responsible for delivering God’s message to you, the message which was a mystery hidden for generations and centuries and has now been revealed to his saints. It was God’s purpose to reveal it to them and to show all the rich glory of this mystery to pagans. The mystery is Christ among you, your hope of glory: this is the Christ we proclaim, this is the wisdom in which we thoroughly train everyone and instruct everyone, to make them all perfect in Christ.24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. I now rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my own body I am completing what is lacking of the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his body, the Church, •of which I was made a servant in accordance with God’s   commission given to me for you, that of completing God’s message: •the mystery hidden for ages and generations and now revealed to his saints, to whom God wished to make known how rich is the glory of this mystery among the gentiles. It is Christ among you, your hope of glory, •whom we are proclaiming, by admonishing and instructing everyone in all wisdom, to present everyone mature in Christ.   

Gospel: Lk 10:38-42

Current Jerusalem Bible LectionaryEnglish Standard Version Catholic EditionRevised New Jerusalem Bible
Jesus came to a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. She had a sister called Mary, who sat down at the Lord’s feet and listened to him speaking. Now Martha, who was distracted with all the serving, said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister is leaving me to do the serving all by myself? Please tell her to help me.’ But the Lord answered: ‘Martha, Martha,’ he said, ‘you worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one. It is Mary who has chosen the better part; it is not to be taken from her.’ Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.’ Jesus came to a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. She had a sister called Mary, who sat down at the Lord’s feet and listened to him speaking. Now Martha, who was distracted with all the serving, came to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister is leaving me to do the serving all by myself? Then tell her to help me.’ But the Lord answered, ‘Martha, Martha,’ he said, ‘you worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one. It is Mary who has chosen the better part, and it is not to be taken from her.’ 

10 comments

  1. If you’re going Calvinist why not up the ante and use the King James? As Saintsbury said in his meticulous book on prose rhythm, when critiquing the earliest Revised Version, the KJV’s rhythm was matchless and its vocabulary superb, or words to that effect.

  2. It makes sense to me to replace the 1966 Jerusalem Bible with the latest edition now available to us in the RNJB. I hope the Bishops of England and Wales will reconsider using the Catholic edition of ESV which isn’t really available outside of India.

  3. I went to a Bible College and the ESV was many of my professors encouraged translation for our coursework. I have little experience with a Catholic Edition, but I can guarantee plenty of my professors would not have been interested in it, as some were in the camp that Catholic folks are not Christians.

    The ESV is closely related to the NASB and claims to be extremely “word for word” to the original languages. I have always found its insistence against gendered language, i.e. translating αδελφοί as “brethren” instead of “brothers and sisters” to be a bit out-dated. I would hope that the Catholic Church abroad would distance itself from unnecessarily gendered language… I also find Crossway’s statement about the 2016 ESV being the “permanent” text to be a bit strange, considering the Church does strive to perfect it’s texts (or at least change them!).

  4. From the other direction, I’ve come to regard a Bible without the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical books as an incomplete Bible. I’m occasionally disappointed to find a Bible that’s typographically superb only to notice it lacks those books. And I’m glad to have a beautifully bound KJV that has them.

    1. An Orthodox priest has recently noted on his blog that Cambridge University Press is offering an “updated” KJV with the Apocrypha in both economical and lavish editions.

  5. I’m thrilled that the ESV is to be used; it’s faithful to the Greek and Hebrew whilst still being readable. The RNJB is a revision of the NJB which doesn’t produce a version as accurate as the NRSV, let alone the ESV. The Colossians passage above is a good example, where the RNJB masks the distinction between flesh and body, a crucial distinction for understanding St Paul, which the ESV preserves.

    I’m disappointed by the publication of the RNJB; the notes are poor, certainly compared to the NJB, and the quality of the print is poor. I’ve found many mistakes and errors already in the RNJB, it has not been well proof read at all. Even in the preface Lumen Gentium rather than Dei Verbum is referenced as the conciliar document on revelation.

    If anyone considers the ESV to have a Calvinist bias I would encourage a YouTube search for a lengthy video showing a comparison of many Calvinist “proof texts” in the ESV and the RSV, which shows the ESV to have no Calvinist bias.

    Catholic editions of the ESV will come out over the next few years. You can already purchase some, and you can purchase the deuterocanonicals as a standalone volume. Adopting an ESV lectionary could be a major contribution to renewal in the Church, I’m excited to see it happen.

  6. Neil’s comparison of versions, here as in his Tablet article, would have been so much more useful had he included the NRSV, which scholars continue to tell us is the best version currently available.

    The British Isles could have had an up-to-date lectionary years ago had Rome not decided to reject NRSV as an accceptable translation. The reason why NRSV was rejected by Rome, although it was already in use and continues in use in Canada (with Rome’s approval, which they tried to withdraw and failed), was because some of those formerly working in the Congregation belatedly realized that NRSV contains inclusive language. Since they couldn’t admit that this was the reason, they invented another: they said they didn’t like the way archetypes of Christ are handled in the OT. Closer examination shows that this affects a total of nine verses, most of which in fact use language which is unexceptionable in the NRSV. Of those that don’t, some are in the psalms, which would not be used by a British Isles Lectionary in any case, leaving a small remainder which could very easily be adapted. In fact the owners of the NRSV offered to do the adapting, but were rebuffed by Rome because archetypes of Christ was not in fact the real reason at all but an artifice.

    As with the Missal, lectionary projects have been scuppered for ideological motives rather than pastoral ones. It is time the bishops followed the permissions of Magnum Principium and demanded the scripture translation they want, not the one they think they can get.

    1. Thanks Paul

      I didn’t include the NRSV, as that is not currently under consideration. The Tablet article was a continuation of the discussion that they are already having there. Although it would be good to compare a number of different versions, to see which one best suits the purpose of our Lectionary. Also we need to be a little realistic and see that no version will be perfect. Yes it might be possible to suggest some changes for the Lectionary edition, but it is impossible to find one translation that everyone will be totally happy with.

      I have nothing against the NRSV, especially as it is being happily used in Canada. However, my point is that for pastoral continuity, I think we should consider the RNJB. It is a revision of what has been in use since Vatican II.

      We are not starting from scratch. People are used to the JB. Particularly after the missal experience we need to be wary of changes in translation. I think there is a pastoral imperative to change as little as possible in translation (that is the main reason that India is moving from the RSV to ESV). The point that I am trying to make, is that those responsible for the translation (mainly our bishops) ought to give consideration to the RNJB for reasons of pastoral continuity. Yes, personally I like it as a translation, given that I normally use the JB/NJB for lectio divina myself and it was the translation that was used when I was taking my biblical courses in seminary. But this is not the main point. If the bishops decide on the NRSV I won’t stand in their way, but until they make that decision, I will continue to offer my opinion.

      The other possibility, that is admittedly a long shot, is that they adopt more than one translation. In England & Wales, Ireland and Scotland (I’m not sure about Australia and New Zealand) both the JB and RSV lectionaries are currently approved. Would it be the end of the world if they replaced them with the NRSV and the RNJB? Then worshipping communities could decide which version suited them best.

      1. Neil,

        Your last suggestion is a good one. In fact there are more translations approved for liturgical use than you might realise, because only the JB and RSV have the benefit of a published lectionary. At the last count there were five others…. (but NJB and RNJB are not among them).

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