Scotland’s Bishops vote to adopt the ESV in the Lectionary

The revision of the Lectionary in the English-speaking world has been a long haul. The United States uses a version of the New American Bible, English-speaking Canada uses the New Revised Standard Version. English-speaking Africa and the Ordinariates for Catholics coming from the Anglican tradition use the Second Catholic Edition of the Revised Standard Version. India has recently adopted a Lectionary based on the English Standard Version.

That leaves Ireland, England & Wales, Scotland, Australia and New Zealand. These countries are still using an old Jerusalem Bible Lectionary that everyone agrees needs to be revised.  Many different translations have been tried and, so far, nothing has worked. The new edition of the Lectionary has had very bad luck suffering setbacks for many different reasons. I almost feel that Netflix could produce a documentary series about the travails suffered by those attempting to produce a new Lectionary for Mass in these countries!

I have made no secret of the fact that I personally advocate adopting the Revised New Jerusalem Bible in the countries that are currently using the original Jerusalem Bible. My main reason for this choice is that it would guarantee a high level of pastoral continuity and avoid the danger that Pope Francis warned of in his letter Aperuit Illis. Here he warned the Church that “the Bible cannot be just the heritage of some, much less a collection of books for the benefit of a privileged few. It belongs above all to those called to hear its message and to recognize themselves in its words. At times, there can be a tendency to monopolize the sacred text by restricting it to certain circles or to select groups. It cannot be that way. The Bible is the book of the Lord’s people, who, in listening to it, move from dispersion and division towards unity. The Word of God unites believers and makes them one people.”

I feel that many people were alienated by the 2011 translation of the Roman Missal and that the ESV will also have that tendency. When I proposed that we should consider adopting the Revised New Jerusalem Bible in the Tablet last summer, Professor Eamon Duffy, the renowned Cambridge Church historian, publicly disagreed with my proposal in the Tablet’s Letters’ Page (31 August). He claimed that the RNJB is a poor choice as it “falls so far short of versions given familiarity and valency by their presence in cultural touch-points like Handel’s Messiah or the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. Such echoes and associations matter a great deal in liturgy. In electing to use the ESV, the bishops,intentionally or not, are reconnecting Catholics to a deep-rooted dimension of anglophone culture.” I feel that this only validates my point. The Mass-goers that I know are not really familiar with Handel’s Messiah and have never attended a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. I think producing a Lectionary that can be easily understood by those who attend our parishes is a much more important goal. This is what ought to motivate the decision of which Biblical translation to use and not the cultural preferences of the “privileged few.”

However, today I learned from London’s Tablet that the Scottish Bishops Conference has voted to adopt the ESV in their Lectionary (full statement available here). The Scottish Bishops do say that their colleagues in England & Wales have already adopted the ESV and I have heard rumours to that effect. But I have not been able to find confirmation of this on the webpage of the England & Wales Conference or that of their Liturgy Office. The Liturgy Office has been using the ESV a lot in recent prayer texts it produces, but the ESV is not included on its list of approved Biblical translations for England & Wales.

Barring any more unforeseen developments on the Lectionary roller-coaster, it now seems that the Catholic bishops of the three countries of Britain have decided to adopt the ESV. The question that now remains to be answered is if the Irish, Australian and New Zealand bishops will follow their British counterparts or decide to do something else.

42 comments

  1. It seems perverse to select the ESV which I understand is an Evangelical translation/revision of the RSV. I agree that the RNJB would be the better choice but God definitely works in mysterious ways.

      1. “The English Standard Version (ESV) is an essentially literal translation of the Bible in contemporary English. Created by a team of more than 100 leading evangelical scholars and pastors, the ESV Bible emphasizes word-for-word accuracy, literary excellence, and depth of meaning.”

        It seems that no Catholics were involved in the production of the ESV, therefore it’s baffling (or perverse) for the Catholic Church to adopt it for its liturgy when there are other versions available that Catholic scholars worked on.

  2. I am not the biggest fan of the either the ESV or RNJB but I would personally choose the RNJB due to the high Church ecclesiology in the NT compared to the ESV. That said from the American perspective, I know that the ESV is used quite a bit among Christians of different theological persuasions, not just evangelicals. And it reads pretty well, especially if you are familiar with the RSV-NRSV family. If in the U.S. this Sunday the ESV would replace the NAB, I couldn’t see a big stink happening. Is that the UK really that much different?

    That said I question why the ESV instead of the RSV-CE2. Both don’t include any inclusive language and the RSV-CE2 has traditional Catholic renderings built in.

    My dream translation for the lectionary would be a modified Revised English Bible adjusted for Catholic renderings in places like Genesis 3:14 and Luke 1:28.

      1. The current NABRE for example has Gen. 3:15 as:
        I will put enmity between you and the woman,
        and between your offspring and hers;
        They will strike at your head,
        while you strike at their heel.

        This could alternatively be translated with removing the they/their with he/his. I am told that this what the USCCB catechetical material actually prefers so as to highlight the passages connection with Christ.

        Luke 1:28 is sometimes translated as “Rejoice O (highly) favored one” such as in the NRSV, ESV or the current NABRE but can also be translated as “Rejoice Full of Grace” as in the RNJB and the RSV-CE2nd edition. This rendering is of course used in the Hail Mary.

  3. I love what Fr. Luke Bell, OSB, says in his new book “Staying Tender: Contemplation, Pathway to Compassion”:

    “I have used the King James Version of the Bible. Readers of early drafts of the book have suggested that this might be more difficult for people to get their head around than a modern version, so a word of explanation is in order. I don’t want you to get your head around it. I want it to get into your heart. I have chosen this version because it is poetic. T. S. Eliot observed (in connection with Dante) that ‘genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.’

    “That is to say that what comes through it is more than what the mind can grasp, at least to begin with. It speaks first of all to intuition rather than to any analytical faculty. That in us which sees the whole is touched by the poet’s own vision of the whole, its words awakening in us what awoke the words in him or her. Just as an inspiration of the oneness of creation can sometimes come through the beauty of nature, so a sense of the one divine source of all meaning can sometimes be received through poetry. It is the genre of the transcendent. Through it can be heard an echo of the music of eternity.

    “If all this is true of poetry it should be true a fortiori of versions of Scripture, which is above all the text through which the transcendent comes to us. If we word it so it reflects back to us the quotidian banalities of our own speech with all the limitations of its vision, reducing in effect what it speaks of to that of which we speak, then we tend to make it tamer than it should be. We risk the complacency of thinking we have mastered it replacing the aspiration that it should master us…

    “[A]n older version, written when the language was richer and less abstract, is more likely to make us pause before the mystery, to humble us before the numinous, to open us to what comes from beyond. Hence I give you these old words.”

    1. The problem with say the KJV is that there are many many words that are there that don’t mean what they meant when it was translated.
      Example: Study to shew thyself approved…
      I have heard many use this passage to show that we are to study God’s word.
      But that is not what that word meant at the time, and the modern translations have appropriately translated it.

    2. As I read the professor’s comment and quote I couldn’t help but think of these words of Cardinal Manning as quoted by Hunwicke+ a year or so ago:

      “The morning and evening prayers and the music of the English Bible for 17 years became part of my soul. If there were no eternal world, I could have made it my home”.

      Such a pity but Cardinal Manning did get the use of the Latinity of the Vulgate and the ancient collects echoes of which Saintsbury states formed the basis for the music of the English Bible and prayers.

      1. A bit of an aside, but your comment reminded me of when I went to sung BCP Evensong at York Minster last year.
        It was noteable that the 16th century English of Cranmer was far more lucid and beautiful than our 2011 translation. Could it be because they used the ordinary language of the people in the 16th century and aimed for clear understanding, unlike our 21st century translators?

      2. But did they use ordinary English? I’ve only read that they used deliberately archaic English. An example of this being the use of the plural “you” and singular “thou.”

      3. I had the same question as Jack and the same suspicions. I think people like Cranmer and Luther lived in a highly stratified society and belonged to the small minority of literate people. They didn’t really have reason yet to raise the questions we rightly have about engagement and estrangement of all comers. Though they wished to move Christian worship in a more vernacular and inclusive direction, they were basically elitist.

        (But I don’t think ‘thou’ was archaic yet in the 16th century, was it?)

        awr

      4. Karl’s link explains it better than I could – using “thou” to only denote singular wouldn’t have been how common people spoke by that time since they would have used it to denote someone as being equal or lower status. They would have been keenly aware of who could and couldn’t be called “thou” lest they suffer the social consequences. I wonder if the common folk after Sunday Eucharist would have used “you” to refer to the clergy out of respect even though they would have responded “And with *thy* spirit” to them moments earlier.

        My own opinion is that we should have retained more of the poetic English, but think that is a debate for another time.

  4. Oh, I certainly agree that “genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.”

    The issue here revolves around genuine language. Our contemporary mother tongue–the language we grow up speaking and that brings us into communication with others–is quite unlike the language of King James; which, in its own time, was also merely filled with “the quotidian banalities of everyday speech” to its practitioners, exactly as ours.

    I’m constantly astonished by the notion that historical languages that have to be learned second hand and are never mastered in the way of our mother tongue are held up as being more authentic merely because they seem part of a world other than our own. We always romanticize these past times, I suppose.

    “An older version, written when language was richer and less abstract…” etc,. etc. Baloney. Setting up artificial barriers between ourselves and the mystery of God’s action in our personal and collective lives by using a language that is, yes, artificial to modern ears risks becoming an onerous burden to many.

    I wonder if some don’t mistake artificiality for art; mastering a past idiom for mastering the numinous. I think the Holy speaks our everyday tongue quite easily, and with art.

    If we were to bring the NRSV to Shakespeare’s England the people would find it difficult and odd, not because it is in itself, but because it’s written in a style they wouldn’t easily recognize. Exactly as theirs to us. This sort of ‘making strange’ of language by no means guarantees that it conveys the mystery of the numinous; rather it risks being an impediment for most.

    I like the King James Bible; I like comparing different translations and learning about the language of the Bible in all its complexities. Yes, I agree that the Gospel “must master us” But, what must master us speaks plainly in our common tongue. It concerns matters like charity, sacrifice and humility–not language acquisition.

    1. This is odd. The only statement I can find from England and Wales is from the Bishops’ Plenary in November 2015. There they resolved to use:
      Revised Grail Psalter (2010) for the Liturgy of the Hours.
      Revised Standard Version (2nd Catholic edition 2010) and the Revised Grail Psalter (2010) in the preparation of a Lectionary for use in England and Wales – seeking Vatican approval.
      See: https://www.cbcew.org.uk/home/the-church/catholic-bishops-conference-of-england-and-wales/plenary-meetings/plenary-november-2015/november-2015-plenary-resolutions/

  5. Speaking as a American Catholic, I am troubled by this decision. Just read the ESV’s rendering of 1 Tim.3.15
    “if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.”

    ‘A’ pillar?? How many are there?

    Now read the RSV2CE
    “if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.”

    Compare 1 Tim. 3.1 (RSV) “The saying is sure: If any one aspires to the office of bishop,[a] he desires a noble task.” with the ESV, “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.”

    This is not a good move by the Scottish bishops.

    1. On the other hand, 1 Corinthians 6 is translated clearly in the ESV, while the RSV-CE muddles it:

      ESV: The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.
      RSV-CE: The body is not meant for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.

      I would prefer either to the NAB, though.

  6. It is all very well for an elite among English RC’s to think of the King James Bible and the Carol Service, etc. The fact is that these things will not be familiar to many Catholics, even less to those in Scotland which does not have such a pervasive Anglican tradition.

    I was brought up on the KJB and the Book of Common Prayer, both of which I still use because they entered into my soul. How much of that is simply due to early conditioning and how much to intrinsic merit or beauty of language I can’t honestly say, both, probably. Looking at it more coolly, I find the KJB very obscure in places!

    Cranmer’s Collects have a fluency that no modern I know can imitate, certainly not the versions in the Missal. Their attempt at producing a sort of sacral English does not work because it is imitative. Imitation, if not accompanied by creativity, falls flat. Cranmer imitated Latin prosody, but also created an English equivalent in his translations, without slavishly following the Latin. And he composed many collects from scratch on similar lines.

    The JB is now very much embedded in the Church in England and Wales. I guess that it too has entered my soul though daily exposure. And parts of it, such as the Book of Job, are really fine. I would miss it, frankly.

    However, as the Desert Fathers said, too much replanting and the tree suffers. And this desert father says: too much purchasing of new prayer books/missals, etc, makes the wallet shrink.

    AG.

  7. Setting aside inclusive language (which I think should be used to some degree in a lectionary based translation), are there really any issues with the ESV in terms of intelligibility that would not apply to the NRSV? In other words, is the discussion really about the use of inclusive language. Both the NRSV and the ESV are modern of updates of the RSV. And the ESV did more than remove archaic pronouns but also updated other language into more contemporary usage.

    Very few people have read the KJV but it has permeated our culture in a number of ways. At Christmas, we hear “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” which is not used in very few modern translations. The KJV has influenced the Douay-Rheims, RSV, NRSV, ESV, and NKJV translations. Canada uses a version of the NRSV in its lectionary. Mainline denominations also tend to use the NRSV. The Orthodox uses the NKJV or RSV. The ESV has started to make headway outside the evangelical market. I have seen many biblical materials marketed on both sides of the Atlantic to Catholics that use either the NRSV or the RSV-CE 2nd edition.

    1. Devin,

      My recollection from when the ESV was initially proposed is that it was a combination of copyright permissions and inclusive language issues which drove its attraction.

      I believe the NRSV copyright holders were approached with a proposal that we use an NRSV based lectionary, but with edits where it was desired to eliminate inclusive language etc, but the copyright holders rejected permitting that.

      The ESV copyright holders on the other hand were apparently perfectly happy for an ESV lectionary to be edited however the Bishops desired, including by making “CE” style edits for ecclesiology issues etc. I believe Fr. Lucien Legrand was responsible for the “CE” edits included in the Indian lectionary and ESV-CE bible now available there.

      1. Scott,
        When you mention “making ‘CE’ style edits for ecclesiology issues etc.” were those change already incorporated in the published Bible by both ATC Books and Augustine Press, or will the UK bishops be able to make additional edits?

        And when the NRSV lectionary was being negotiated, was the request for all references of inclusive language to be removed or was it more selective? Even though I am generally supportive of inclusive language, I found the NRSV usage to be a bit awkward and not sensitive to the underlying text.

      2. Devin,

        My understanding is there are already CE edits in the Indian version, though their is nothing stopping the UK bishops making further changes, as this isn’t being adopted as a globally consistent English lectionary.

        In terms of inclusive language, the changes were supposed to be in relation references to God rather than all examples, but I don’t think Archbishop Coleridge / the ICPELL ever publicly spelled out exactly how far the changes were supposed to go.

  8. Though it is too late obviously. The NRSV is undergoing an update, the NRSV-Updated Edition (NRSV-UE). See http://catholicbibletalk.com/2019/06/following-the-trail-of-breadcrumbs-for-the-upcoming-nrsv-revision/

    There are six goals listed for the NRSV-UE:
    • Allow for normative interpretations of Christian faith and practices
    • Provide space for diverse forms of expression and belief
    • Honor the written traditions of the biblical Hebrew community and New Testament Church as the people of God
    • Recognize the life and centrality of Jesus Christ, the testimony of the prophets, and the teachings of the apostles in the scriptures as part of the witness to the traditions of revelation
    • Provide for ways to encourage individual and communal usage of scripture in prayer and spiritual practices, learning and liturgy, worship and witness in Christian faith communities
    • Affirm God’s will for unity while respecting the diversity of experiences, traditions, and visions presented in the Scriptures

    Depending on the changes made (such as Christian renderings of the OT and a more judicious and surgical use of inclusive language), the NRSV-UE could have been a very good lectionary candidate.

    1. More detail from a link embedded in that link:

      ‘The update will focus on three areas:

      ◆ Text-Critical and Philological Advances: The primary focus of the thirty-year review is on new text-critical and philological considerations that affect the English translation. The philological review will draw upon the fruits of historical-critical scholarship that affect expressions in English. For the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, text-critical developments in the last thirty years have been especially significant. The publication of the Judean Desert biblical texts and fragments has revealed a number of readings that differ from the medieval Hebrew traditions in the Masoretic Text, which was the basis of the NRSV.
      ◆ Textual Notes: SBL’s initial review of the NRSV suggested that the current text-critical footnotes are neither complete nor consistent. There are cases when the translation silently adds words not conspicuously in the sources or does not indicate when a reading is not following the sources. To address this deficiency, reviewers will be asked to identify text-critical issues that should have been documented in the notes but were not.
      ◆ Style and Rendering: The translation philosophy of the NRSV will be maintained, including its overarching commitment to being “‘as literal as possible’ in adhering to the ancient texts and only ‘as free as necessary’ to make the meaning clear in graceful, understandable English.” That being said, when a reviewer judges a particular translation awkward, inaccurate, or difficult for general readers to understand, the reviewer may suggest a more elegant rendering.’

    1. It was going to be all about money. The E&W Bishops found that they could get the Indian lectionary at a discounted rate and save themselves all the editorial work. Unfortunately, the book produced by the Asia Trading Corporation proved to be so full of errors that it could not be used as it stood, so the bishops have had to do the editorial work themselves anyway. (If they were going to have to start at the beginning, they could have gone back to their original choice, the NRSV. Indeed, they still could, given Magnum Principium.) The grapevine says it is being rushed through, which could indicate that a botched job may be in prospect, one that will have to be lived with for the next 50 years.

    2. Michael,

      Just a point of information. Northern Ireland has not decided to adopt the ESV.

      The Bishops of Ireland form one episcopal conference, many dioceses have parishes in both the Republic and the North (and some parishes are on both sides of the border).

      What happens in England & Wales and in Scotland, as our nearest neighbors, is of some influence, but the Irish Episcopal Conference is the one that decides what translation will be adopted here. So far they have not made a decision and we still are using either the old Jerusalem Bible or the old RSV lectionaries (although I have never actually seen an RSV lectionary “in the wild”, all parishes use the JB).

      1. I don’t think Glenstal Abbey uses JB. I shudder every time I hear “It is the LORD who speaks”, and Glenstal Abbey’s readings do not contain this unEnglish.

      2. If I understand correctly, the Catholics in Northern Ireland come under the jurisdiction of the Bishops of Ireland.

      3. Michael
        sorry I can’t get this reply to appear after your question, but yes the whole island of Ireland (and both jurisdictions on it) is under the ecclesiastical governance of the bishops who form the Irish Episcopal Conference. The new border between the Republic and the North doesn’t really enter into the ecclesiastical governance of the island’s Catholics. The diocesan boundries were fundamentally decided at the Synod of Raith Bressail in 1111. The new division of Ireland into two political units is only about a hundred years old.

      4. Father O’Donoghue,
        Thank you for the clarification and information on your replies of August 12 and 13. It seems good to me that the Irish diocesan boundaries are separate from and prior to the current political units.

    3. The catholic church in Ireland is all-island. The 32 counties (6 in UK and 26 in the republic) are under the jurisdiction of Armagh in Ireland.

  9. It is self-evident from presentations here that there is no universal agreement on which translation is ‘the best’. So far, I haven’t seen any reference of texts to ‘ease of understanding’ levels to various translations. Clergy expect people of various levels of education/comprehension to listen – hear – process what is said almost instantly. If the Church’s role is to proclaim the gospel (in the widest sense of the term) should the translation used not be available to the maximum number of worshippers, even if it is not the most technically exact version? This is a huge area for academic research… and on a wider scope than biblical scholars.

    1. Quite so. There is, and can be, no best in the abstract, we can only have suitable for the current purpose. Some translations achieve ease of comprehension when heard, some ease of declaiming when speaking, some accuracy when studied.
      I consider the desire to have people always hear the same version is pernicious. What harm could there be in using, as appropriate, both Grail63 and Scottish metrical psalter for singing The Lord is my Shepherd, and then turning to Knox for “He … leads me out to the cool water’s brink, refreshed and content”. Indeed if I were charged with preaching on scripture I would want to study a variety of translations to prepare myself. Why should I deny the congregation opportunities to hear different versions?

    1. Abhishek,
      It could be incorporated into future translations of the CCC. But given that the Catholic Truth Society has released a revised translation fairly recently ( https://www.ctsbooks.org/product/catechism-of-the-catholic-church/ ), I can’t see anyone wanting to produce a new translation in Great Britain any time soon. Also I am not too sure if the Vatican would be in favor of a multiplicity of translations of the CCC. So far as I know, Magisterium documents use the 2nd Catholic edition of the RSV as published by Ignatius Press.

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