Thursday, January 29, 2009


So, I have been dabbling a bit into my new ESV with Apocrypha (Deuterocanonicals) for the past few days. Overall, I have liked what I have read so far. It is definitely an improvement over the old RSV, particularly in its elimination of archaic English and its modest use of inclusive language.
While I am not a Bible translation scholar, nor do I pretend to be one on the Internet, I thought I might share some of my thoughts about the ESV translation, particularly in comparison to the NRSV.
I have jotted down some of my thoughts over the past few days, so this will not be a systematic analysis of the ESV, but simply some of my initial, random thoughts coming from my Catholic perspective.
**While I think the ESV is more readable than the RSV, I still find the NRSV to have better literary qualities. I have been reading through the prophets lately, mostly due to class assignments, and the NRSV just seems to read better. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that the NRSV is not as "literal" as the ESV. I am also not beholden to the KJV style, which the NRSV begins to break away from. I must say, however, that there is an exception, which is that I much prefer the ESV's use of "woe" to the NRSV's "Ah" or "alas" particularly in Isaiah 5.
**Some of the interesting word choices in the two translations stand out to me. Here is a small list:
1) Overseers vs. Bishops (I Tim/Titus)
2) Propitiation vs. sacrifice of atonement (Rm 3:25)
3) Hell vs. Hades (Matt 16:18)
4) Born again vs. Born from Above (Jn 3:3)
5) Brothers vs. Brothers and Sisters
6) Son of Man vs. O Mortal/Human Beings (OT/Heb 2)
7) "a" vs. "the" (1 Tm 3:15)
8) grasped vs. exploited (Phi. 2:6)
9) made himself nothing vs. emptied himself (Phi. 2:7)
10) Virgin vs. young woman (Is. 7:14)
11) Behold vs. Look or See
12) husband of one wife vs. married once (Titus 1:6)
It is interesting to not that in cases #2,3,4 the ESV agrees with the old Douay-Rheims. I also prefer the ESV in #'s 6, 10, 11, 12. However, there are some places, principly #'s 1, 5, 7, 8, and 9 that I prefer the NRSV translation.
** I am still not sure if I like using a translation that didn't have at least one Catholic scholar on the translation team. Is that wrong of me to think that way? While I am not always 100% in agreement with the NRSV's translation philosophy, I do feel somewhat better about the fact that there were Catholic scholars on the translation team.
**While I am glad that there is an ESV w/ Apocrypha (Deuterocanonicals), it does bug me that the main reason it is relegated to the back of the book is to affirm those books "uncanonicity". I appreciate the honesty of Dr. deSilva when he said on this blog: "Perhaps Luther's solution of separating them out and placing them in between the testaments (a location that makes far better sense historically) was not a sufficient statement regarding their (non-) canonicity." So there you have it. I am glad that the folks at Cambridge, who produced my beautiful NRSV w/ Apocrypha, refers to those books as "The Apocryphal or Deuterocanonical Books of the Old Testament".
More thoughts to come over the next few weeks.


Esteban Vázquez said...

The reason why the NRSV reads better than the ESV, I think, is that the ESV failed to be a thoroughgoing stylistic revision. The translation was changed (and many times, but not always, improved) in a number of places, matter of gender were attended to with great care, but no real stylistic work was made on the whole, which gives the ESV a feel of patchwork in many places. I enjoy getting a sense of what an improved RSV looks like here and there in the ESV, but the literary quality of translation as a whole is at best uneven.

Biblical Catholic said...

The reason why the NRSV is stylistically superior to the ESV is because the translators devoted a lot more time and attention to the task than did the ESV translators.

The NCC authorized a full revision of the RSV in 1974, the work of the translation committee was completed and approved in May 1989 and published later that year as the NRSV. So they spent 15 years working on it.

By contrast, the ESV was conceived as a kind of knee jerk reaction against the publication, in England of the NIV with Inclusive Language in 1996.

Now, let me be clear, I share some of the skepticism about inclusive language, so my problem isn't with the fact that they are skeptical about inclusive language, my problem is that their opposition is knee jerk, unthinking, reactionary, an emotional reaction and not the product of careful reflection.

The ESV was first conceived in 1997, the committee was put together in 1998, and the first edition was published in 2001.

They didn't really devote the necessary time and attention to the task that they should have, because they were in a rush to get it out as soon as possible.

By the way, when I first read the NRSV's rendering of Philippians 2:6, I thought it was the best that had ever been done in the English language 'who, though, being in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited'

'Exploited' that is absolutely the perfect word, much clearer than the RSV's 'grasped'

Timothy said...


While I was attending the "St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology Conference" in November, one of the speakers, I think Dr. Scott Hahn, agreed that "exploited" was the best way to translate Philippians 2:6. Cheers to the NRSV!

Kevin A. Sam said...

Michael said:
The reason why the NRSV is stylistically superior to the ESV is because the translators devoted a lot more time and attention to the task than did the ESV translators.

I agree. The NRSV reads better than the NRSV. But if we have to compare the ESV with the RSV, I would probably go with the ESV for readability. It’s too bad the ESV didn’t include any Catholic translators. It was purely a protestant translation. To make it more ecumenical, I guess they could have included Catholic translators to do the Apocrypha. Hopefully, it will happen in the future but it was born as a response to the NRSV.

jogomu said...

After much turmoil I am landing on the NRSV-CE as the Bible I am going to use. (I am also learning Latin, but I think reading the Nova Vulgata is a long way off...)

The primary reason is that the NRSV seems to contain more translation footnotes than others, including the ESV (which I only recently became aware of in a version with the Deuterocanon). That is what I want-- to know my options! Sort of a modern day "Amplified Bible" where the amplification consists of footnotes containing a bunch of other words and/or phrases that might be better.

So, with that in mind, I'm trying to come up with a list of such notes. It is hosted here, and I would appreciate and and all help with the project:

The basic premise is that I am not going to "translation hop" anymore, regarding what I pick up most times to "read the Bible"-- because such indecision contributes to plain old not reading it--, instead I am going to make a note of whatever seems to need noting. I'll access this information during my reading of a given chapter to remind myself, and perhaps even print booklets someday when the information matures.

The start I've made is largely from comparing DR, NAB, RSV-CE, JB, NJB. Some things I've thought doctrinally significant are starting to get noted there too... check out what Jerome has to say about almah! Oh man is that good stuff... "a garden locked, a fountain sealed..."

Please pass the word if you know of anyone potentially interested in my wiki!

jogomu said...

One more thought about book order in print. We've found with breviaries that books stand up to use better when the most often used portions are closer to the middle of the binding.

To me, this argues for the Psalms and Gospels being at the very center of the Bible, with lesser read books being closer to the front and the back.

The ESV banishing the "apocrypha" to the back of the book actually helps in this regard, for the Gospel location anyway.

Of course it would be difficult to build consensus about the new ordering... some folks I know would want Romans in the middle. :)

Matthew Doe said...

Concerning the inclusion and placement of the "Greek extras" (Deuterocanonicals for Catholic / Apocrypha for Protestants): it is my opinion as a Catholic that bitching about what the Protestants are doing there is basically complete hypocrisy.

For we have been doing *the very same thing* to the "even more Greek extras" of the Eastern Orthodox churches: Prayer of Manasses, 3 & 4 Esdras, and Psalm 151. In a first stage of the Vulgate development, all of these were removed from their proper place (according to the Greek manuscripts) and instead dumped at the end of the NT, except for Psalm 151 which was already omitted entirely. This stage is reflected also in old translations (Douay-Rheims). Next we dropped all of these Apocrypha entirely in print... and today these reduced bibles completely dominate the modern market, so that a Catholic bible that includes these would be considered odd (unless it is "ancient", like the D-R).

Now, both the RSV and NRSV are complete translations, i.e., all those extra bits have in fact been translated. But the extra bits are only available in the most chopped up way possible, with a Protestant core and all else separated out as Apocrypha, which supposedly makes for an "ecumenical" bible.

Why? Seriously, why? Why not print all the available material in the Greek order, since anyhow that's where the extra stuff is coming from. And then just mark in the text which bits are canonical for what tradition. It really is not difficult to do this, so why can I not buy even a single edition of either RSV or NRSV that does this?!

Anyway, my point is that we Catholics are doing to the Orthodox bible precisely what the Protestants are doing to the Catholic bible. We Catholics should do the right thing, and start including the Orthodox extra bits in our bibles always, if marked clearly as apocryphal. And we should not dump these extra bits into weird places, but where they belong. *Then* we can turn to the Protestants and say "See, that's how it's done." Till then, not so much...

(IMHO it would be the most important ecumenical gesture of our age if the RCC made a conciliar decision to extend our biblical canon to match the Eastern Orthodox one. In my opinion this is a sine qua non on the path to reunification. But till then, we can at least extend them the curtesy to include their material as apocryphal, again.)

Timothy said...


This would make a very nice guest blog post. Consider it.

Anonymous said...

I feel that the sentence structure of NRSV is somewhere unnecessarily complicated, so I am thinking of switching to ESV.