Bible Translation & the Making of the ESV Catholic Edition by Mark Giszczak

(Greenwood Village, CO, Augustine Institute, 2022), 167

This book helped send me deeper down the rabbit hole of Bible translations, and was a quick and fascinating read. It makes a compelling case for the ESV as a translation that is essentially literal, consciously Christian, balanced with respect to inclusive language, and ecumenical in the KVJ/RSV tradition. Learning more about Bible translation has been both exhilarating and saddening, the latter when thinking about Liturgiam authenticam 361 and how many options there are and how little unity we have in translations. The ESV will be a point of reference for me moving forward, and I'm am glad to have found a small ESV Vest Pocket New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs that I have carried with me since I got it.



Part I: Origins

Chapter 1: Why Another Translation?

Summary: Desire in the 1990s for new translations like the ESV grew out of frustrations with with available options, often pushing the the extreme on one side or the other.

  • The Language of the King James Bible: A Glossary Explaining Its Words and Expressions by Melvin E. Elliott (4)
  • Two extremes of dynamic equivalence vs formal equivalence: The NIV is very readable but not as accurate to the text as one might like; the NASB took literalism to is most extreme, maintaining a single word from the original (cf. 2023-05-24-The Art of Bible Translation) but being less readable (5)
  • Additionally, given that the RSV had gone out of print and the NRSV was criticized for going to o far on inclusive language, by the 1990s many thought there was need for a new translation (7)
  • The guidelines of Liturgiam authenticam in many ways overlap with the philosophy of the ESV translators (9)
  • The ESV is a consciously Christian translation by reading OT/NT in continuity (10), and very consistent in its treatment on inclusive language (11)
  • "Learning the original languages of Scripture—Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic—is the only way to gain access to the meaning contained in them without a translator's involvement. One Jewish poet, Hayim Naham Bialik, is purported to have said: 'Reading the Bible in translation is like kissing your new bride through a veil.'" (12)

Chapter 2: The Catholic Lectionary Problem

Summary: English-speaking Catholics have many translations to choose from, but an unfortunate lack of unity as a result.

  • The Douay-Rheims was the gold standard for Catholic Bible translations, and with the revisions in the direction of the KVJ by Bishop Richard Challoner can be thought of a KJV twin. But also note that it was translated in a hurry from the Vulgate rather than the original languages (14, cf. The Part of Rheims in the Making of the English Bible by James G. Carleton bib)
  • The Catholic Biblical Association of America (CBA) revised DR to the Confraternity in 1941 (still from Vulgate), but then Divino Afflante Spiritu in 1943 specified original languages, so they started the New American Bible (16)
    • The NABRE shows how "Bible translations are not unchanging monoliths, but open-ended results of complex processes of ongoing revision." (17)
    • NABRE changes verse and chapter numbers (in Joel and Malachi for example)
    • Fr. Richard John Neuhaus called the NAB "clunky" and "unfortunate" (Three Who Changed the World)
  • The Jerusalem Bible has similar problems as the NIV and NABRE (though interesting that J.R.R. Tolkien contributed to it, 20)
  • Sad reality: "English-speaking Catholics around the globe have little unity in the way they hear, pray, sing, study, and meditate on Scripture...With such a diversity in translation, the words typically feel less important, less sacred, and less powerful than they would in a more unified environment." (22)

Chapter 3: The King of Bibles and the Toil of Revision

Summary: The King James is the heavyweight, and this chapter emphasizes that family lineage of the ESV.

  • King James has roots in Tyndale (1526), Geneva (1557/1560), and Bishops (1568)
  • "The impact of the King James Bible cannot be overestimated." (26)
  • KJV was revised in England to great the RV (1885) and US to create the ASV (1901; Jehova and "unreadably exact")
  • RSV emerged as an American project (1946/1952, CE 1965/1966)
    • RSV often obscured Greek New Testament quotations of the Old Testament because they were to dedicated to a literal rendering of Hebrew (32)
    • Some Protestants viewed it as a liberal translation (32)
    • RSV is an "ecumenical boon" and has "stood the test of time" (33) and is "truly a modern King James Version" (34)
  • NRSV was the first major inclusive language translation, and important for scholarly work
  • Family tree of the ESV on 35, cf. my Bible Translation Chart
  • "The ESV has the right pedigree to sound like the Bible to an English ear." (36, unlike from-scratch translations like NABRE, JB, NIV, etc.)

Chapter 4: Catholic Battles in the Inclusive Language Debate

Summary: Despite the efforts of the USCCB, inclusive language lost in Catholic translations thanks to Ratzinger.

Chapter 5: Evangelical Battles in the Inclusive Language Debate

Summary: Colorado Springs Guidelines were strikingly similar to the Vatican guidelines.

  • NIV Inclusive language was a bomb
  • Colorado Springs Guidelines were strikingly similar to the Vatican guidelines

Chapter 6: How the ESV Came to Be

Summary: Some notes on the team, translation philosophy, editions, etc. of the ESV.

  • Crossway Blog: Origin of the ESV
  • The History of the English Standard Version on Vimeo
  • Crossway used the RSV as he base text because it is a good translation with wide scholarly acceptance and many were trained on it, and required a 2/3 vote to deviate from the RSV. It ended up changing 8% of 60,000 words.
  • The 116-person translation team was one of the first to use email
  • Translation Philosophy |
    • "The ESV is an "essentially literal" translation that seeks as far as possible to capture the precise wording of the original text and the personal style of each Bible writer. As such, its emphasis is on "word-for-word" correspondence, at the same time taking into account differences of grammar, syntax, and idiom between current literary English and the original languages. Thus it seeks to be transparent to the original text, letting the reader see as directly as possible the structure and meaning of the original."
  • Preface to the English Standard Version |
  • Evangelicals & Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium by Various | First Things](
  • ESV Editions/updates
    • 2001 ESV
    • 2007 360 changes
    • 2011 276 changes
    • 2016 52 changes
    • 2002 Anglicized edition
    • 2010 ESV with Apocrypha with Oxford University Press
    • 2013 Gideon Bible using Textus Receptus
  • "The ESV Bible holds promise for becoming a touchstone for formal, modern English." (85)

Part II: Translation

Chapter 7: Which Text Is Really the Bible?

Summary: Even the starting point for translating the Bible is challenging!

  • Old Testament question: are the later manuscripts in the original Hebrew language better or worse than the earlier manuscripts in Greek translation?, (90, cf. check verses 1 Sm-02)
  • The ESV systematically revises the RSV toward the Masoretic text (92)
  • The 2010 Oxford ESV with Apocrypha uses the shorter text of the Codex Vaticanus, but the 2018 ESV Catholic Edition used the longer text of Codex Sinaiticus (92)
  • check verses examples: Jb-27, Dt-32, Ps-144, Gn-49
  • The New Testament textual record is more complicated, over 5,000 "important" Greek manuscripts! (99)
  • Our verse system is based on the KJV, based on the Textus Receptus, based on Byzantine manuscripts that added to the Alexandrian tradition (i.e. check verses Acts-08!)
  • The ESV chooses renditions that point to the divinity of Chirst, check verses: Jn-01 and Jude-01

Chapter 8: The Case for Essentially Literal Translation

Summary: Essentially literal translation seeks to be as transparent as possible to the original languages while still making sense in English.

  • "Reading the Bible in any form is better than not reading it." (104)
  • Eugene Nida promoted dynamic equivalence or functional equivalence where the focus is on the reader rather than the text (105)
  • Essentially literal, or formal equivalence, seeks to be as transparent as possible to the original languages while still making sense in English (108)
  • Essentially literal respects the division of responsibility between translator and preacher, and makes as much information as possible available to the reader
  • Only essentially literal translations fulfill the requirements of Liturgiam authenticam

Chapter 9: A Christian Translation by Design

Summary: The ESV is Christian in its connection of OT and NT, the divinity of Christ, and traditional Christian prayers.

  • The ESV is a consciously Christian translation. As Ratzinger said: "Pure objectivity is an absurd abstraction." (113)
  • The Old Testament is to be read in light of the New (cf. Dei Verbum), and the ESV seeks to preserve the connection when the NT cites the Old
  • The ESV also emphasizes the divinity of Christ, check verses Rom-09
  • The ESV preserves traditional Christian prayers (i.e. the Lord’s Prayer, but without the subsequently added longer ending)

Chapter 10: A Christ-Centered Answer to the Inclusive Language Debate

Summary: The ESV's approach to inclusive language is humble and consistent.

Chapter 11: Can Evangelicals Produce a Trustworthy Catholic Translation?

Summary: The Evangelical ESV translation team produced a great translation for Catholics.

  • Evangelical ESV translators felt constrained by their belief in biblical inspiration (144)
  • check verses that demonstrate trustworthiness: Is-07, Lk-01, "How can this be?" in Lk-01, switches from "eats" in Jn-06 to "feeds on" in Jn-06, "a pillar" in 1 Tm-03, "with lustful intent" in Mt-05

Chapter 12: The Origin and Destiny of the ESV Catholic Edition

Summary: The ESV could be a new "Common Bible", and a long-hoped-for replacement of the King James Bible.

Topic: Bible Translations



file:(2023-05-13-Bible Translation & the Making of the ESV Catholic Edition)

Created: 2022-12-13-Tue
Updated: 2023-08-21-Mon

  1. Liturgiam authenticam 36: "In order that the faithful may be able to commit to memory at least the more important texts of the Sacred Scriptures and be formed by them even in their private prayer, it is of the greatest importance that the translation of the Sacred Scriptures intended for liturgical use be characterized by a certain uniformity and stability, such that in every territory there should exist only one approved translation, which will be employed in all parts of the various liturgical books. This stability is especially to be desired in the translation of the Sacred Books of more frequent use, such as the Psalter, which is the fundamental prayer book of the Christian people. The Conferences of Bishops are strongly encouraged to provide for the commissioning and publication in their territories of an integral translation of the Sacred Scriptures intended for the private study and reading of the faithful, which corresponds in every part to the text that is used in the Sacred Liturgy."