Monday, December 20, 2010

The Longevity of the RSV-2CE?

Over this past weekend, I spent some time reading and thinking about the RSV-2CE a bit. The question that kept coming up in my mind was whether or not the RSV-2CE would ever become a standard Catholic Bible for most English speaking Catholics. Part of this questioning on my part comes from a number of emails I have received from readers over the past couple years asking me which is better, the original RSV-CE or the new RSV-2CE. For me, it is a tough question to answer and not as clean cut as I would expect. When looking on choosing between the two RSV’s, I tend to focus on three general areas: Translation, Resources, and Marketing/Promotion/Outreach.

As pointed out in numerous posts on this blog, the RSV-CE and REV-2CE, while being very close, do contain some subtle differences. While certainly the most obvious difference is that the RSV-2CE has eliminated all archaic language, it still maintains the exact style and sentence structure as the original. Sometimes the comparison is made between the RSV-2CE and the ESV. I am not sure that comparison, however, is valid, since for the most part the RSV-2CE is not a true revision of the RSV, but rather a selective update of it. You can go back to some previous posts here to look at some of my reflections on this.

Another issue that surrounds the production of the RSV-2CE is how it is in conformity with Liturgiam Authenticam. On recent post, an anonymous comment stated: “I also think the RSV-2CE is a tad bit deceptive when it claims to be translated in conformity with Liturgiam Authenticam. As most people who've read LA know, one of the recommendations from LA was that Hebrew and Aramaic words like "Amen," "Raca," "Maranatha," and "Alleluia" not be translated like they are in the RSV. Given all the ridiculous changes made by Ignatius Press (e.g., "ass" to "donkey," "babe" to "baby," etc.), surely they could have make these other changes too. Hopefully, the next printing will include these changes.”

I think he (or she) makes some valid points. We do have some insight into the mind of Ignatius Press, with the comments left by Ignatius Press Editor Fr. Fessio almost two years ago. It might be worth checking those out again and evaluating them. I think a little more clarity on this issue from Ignatius Press would go a long way. Perhaps in a future edition of the RSV-2CE, they could add a new preface, not simply the old 1966 one.

The last thing to point out in regards to translation is that they both have the same textual basis. Quoting from an earlier post of mine: “The RSV-2CE's textual basis is still the one used by translators of the original RSV OT and NT. According to Philip Comfort's Essential Guide to Bible Translations: "The Old Testament translators generally followed the Masoretic Text. At the same time, they introduced a few different renderings bases on the famous Dead Seas Scroll of Isaiah." Thus, only the initial findings of the Dead Sea Scrolls were used for the OT. The Deuterocanonical/Apocrypha books were not changed from the original RSV. As for the New Testament, the RSV-2CE retains the textual basis behind the original RSV NT, which used primarily the seventeenth edition of the Nestle text (1941). None of the modifications done in the 1971 edition of the RSV NT are found in the RSV-2CE.” Thus, the textual basis for both RSV's is well over fifty years old.

Basically, both translations can be used with such Bible study tools like Emmaus Road’s RSV Concordance (which includes the RSV-2CE changes in an appendix), the Navarre series, or even the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible. Since they are so similar, there is really no issue. However, will there be future study tools that utilize the RSV-2CE over the RSV-CE? I am not sure. Certainly the slow-to-finish Ignatius Catholic Study Bible utilizes the RSV-2CE, but I can also point out that the Navarre Bibles as well as the recently released Catholic Scripture Study International Study Bible from St. Benedict Press went with the RSV-CE. So, I guess only time will tell on this issue. If I were to guess right now, I would think there would be more use of the original RSV.

The original RSV-CE is over forty years old, but maintains a strong following in Catholic academic, apologetic, as well as Bible study circles. Certainly the influx of converts to the Catholic Church, many with high views of Scripture like Scott Hahn, has helped make the RSV-CE more mainstream. Oxford University Press continues to print the New Oxford Annotated Bible-RSV as well as individual readers editions of the RSV-CE. The original RSV-CE continues to be published by Ignatius Press and St. Benedict Press. St Benedict Press, in particular, has produced some very attractive editions over the past year or so, and I would think that there would be some more in the future, hopefully including cross-references.

The RSV-2CE should be promoted more than it is currently. The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, which is a fantastic resource that utilizes the RSV-2CE, is under promoted and unless the average Catholic sees it at a local bookstore, he or she probably doesn’t know it even exists.

This is of course my opinion, but I think the RSV-2CE will remain a niche translation. The RSV-CE is well established and published by more than one publishing house. It continues to live on in many different study tools, as well as devotional books. While there is much to like about the RSV-2CE, the fact that it is not promoted more broadly by Ignatius and does not come in various editions and style will keep its “popularity” fairly low in the overall Catholic Bible market.

Ultimately, the question is this: If you were a regular Catholic, who did not know the differences between the various Catholic translations, and wandered into a Barnes and Noble or Borders to buy a Catholic Bible, which one would you likely purchase? Most likely an NAB or NRSV, simply because there are more of them available, in many more attractive editions.


Anonymous said...

My uneducated guess is that the motive or intention for the RSV-2CE was not so much to be a reader's Bible, but for the Lectionary, based on its boasts of following (though not completely) Liturgiam Authenticam. Since the bishops of English speaking countries are moving toward the NRSV instead, Ignatius' gamble didn't pay off, and that may be the real reason the RSV-2CE may be doomed to be a niche translation.

Diakonos said...

Having known the Ignatius Press people for many years - and admiring their commitment to solid publishing - nevertheless I tend to think that the RSV-CE2 is what they would claim to be the only "really acceptable and best" Catholic translation. The Press tends to have this rather exclusive attitude. I mention this because I believe this high attitude is responsible for their apparent lack of providing us with a list of translators and a new preface. It certainly would be in character.

But with that said I prefer the RSV-CE2 for its updated text and addition of subheadings. These are things I did not like about the RVS-CE and what kept me from using it as a preferred reading Bible.

BUT what is most important to me these days is a COMMON Bible. Its terrible that Christians are divided on the most important feast (Easter date) AND divided in our common sacred text. For this reason I would chose the RSV-CE as the preferred edition for this post.

Timothy said...


I think the lectionary issue is a big factor. But as you mentioned, since it is not going to be used in the vast majority of English speaking Churches, I decided not to make it an issue. But you are 100% correct.

Francesco said...

Is the use in the lectionary that important, really? I have never seen anyone read out of a Bible at Mass, only out of the missallettes behind the pew.

I think that the RSV-2CE has a lot of catching up to do. The RSV-CE has been around for almost 50 years, the NAB has been around for 40, and the NRSV-CE for 15+. How many children have received the RSV-2CE as a first communion gift? How many teens use it in their parochial school? How many people have grown old reading it every night?

Those things, in my mind, are what will determine if the RSV-2CE becomes widely used.

Abe said...

If I was a regular Catholic, who did not know the differences between the various Catholic translations and wandered into Borders, both the NAB and the NRSV would be tempting... but the cover on the RSV-2CE would probably win me over.

I know that some considers it garish, but I like it. Other than that, it is true that the RSV-2CE doesn't seem to be marketed to the masses at this point. But, it seems as if the RSV-2CE has some outspoken fans online. With the internet playing such a prominent role in the choices that people makes today in their purchases, I wouldn't count it out of the competition yet.

Anonymous said...

Francesco said: "Is the use in the lectionary that important, really? I have never seen anyone read out of a Bible at Mass, only out of the missallettes behind the pew."

You answered your own question. No one brings thier Bibles to Mass to read. They all read from the missalettes, and the missalettes have the same translation as the Lectionary. That's why the use in the Lectionary was so important to the RSV-2CE.

rolf said...

When I am at Barnes and Noble or Borders, I see more RSV-2CE Bibles and Study Bibles (N.T.) than I see RSV-CE Bible, (which are usually in the compact version). If you look at the Ignatius 10 ten books sold list, The RSV-2CE or the new Study Bible (N.T.) usually occupy 2-3 spots in the top ten. I think thanks to the Study Bible (N.T.) and maybe a future O.T., the RSV-2CE sales are doing okay, considering it is being published only by one publisher (unlike the RSV-CE). I like the RSV-2CE because they removed a lot of the archaic language (thees and thous) and to me personally it does not matter if it is only being offered by one publisher (Ignatius). I think this matters less with many of the Bibles being bought online now. Plus Ignatius is the kind of publisher that would continue publishing the RSV-2CE despite sales numbers because they believe (along with the RSV-CE) that it is the best Catholic translation.

john said...

I think the future of the RSV-CE and RSV-CE2 depends on how the yet-to-be-released revised New American Bible turns out. For me personally its a toss-up between the old RSV-CE and the RSV-CE2 and I do like the New Revised Standard Version as well.

Now if Crossway Publishing who print the English Standard Version were smart they would publish an ESV-CE and market it heavily to the Catholic community the way they do the current ESV to the conservative Christian and Evangelical community then all bets are off, because this would truly be an Ecumenical Bible.

If Catholics want to dialogue effectively with the Evangelical Christians then a "Common Bible" goes a long way in that dialogue. Don't forget Evangelical and conservative Protestants won't go near either the RSV or NRSV.

Francesco said...

John, you reminded me of a mischievous thought that's been percolating for some time in my mind: while there are many -CE versions of popular Bibles, what if there were "-PE" versions of popular Catholic Bibles? I know it's a pipe dream, but I think I'd get a kick out of seeing one of those red NAB paperbacks that said "for Protestants".

Honestly, the reason why the NAB should say that its just "for Catholics" always eluded me.

Anonymous said...

I was wondering if anyone had any more insight to the "Catholic Scripture Study International Study Bible"? I went to the website where they have the look inside, and granted the color pictures are nice, and the list of passages are good for talking to Protestant brethren, but where is all the new bible study material? I wish they had a page showing stuff like that, the stuff the blurb bragged about. Anyone bought it and have an opinion?

Dwight said...

John, don't hold your breath on Crossway. I sent them an email about a year ago asking if an ESV-CE was in the works and I was told that there was not one and that there would not be one forthcoming from them. The only option you have for anything remotely Catholic in an ESV is Oxford's ESV with Apocrypha.

Theophrastus said...

Re: ESV-CE -- if you are a fan of the ESV, what is wrong with using Oxford's ESV with Apocrypha? The chance of the ESV getting the imprimatur is nil. You can't really complain about the book order: there is no single canonical order for OT books (compare the order of books in a DR Bible vs a NAB Bible). And you can certainly ignore (or cut out) books that are used by Eastern Christians but not Roman Catholics.

Re: RSV-2CE -- I wouldn't hold my breath for this become widely used. It is associated with a single publisher, who is not truly supporting it with a robust range of publications, and it is not widely used in the academy either. Both the RSV and NRSV are better this way. On the other hands, more conservative Catholics are more likely to prefer traditional translations such as the DR or original RSV-CE. I just don't see its market niche.

Matt said...

I've never understood why removing the archaic language was so important. The RSV uses very little and most of it is in the old testament.

Nevertheless, the RSV-2CE's biggest problem is that it is proprietary. If Ignatius really wants to overtake the other versions and companies they ought to allow (and maybe they do, I don't know...) easy access to its use by other publishers. Harper and the NCCC seems to have done this with the RSV.

Timothy said...

Yeah, I just don't get why they don't do more with the RSV-2CE. The fact that I emailed Ignatius Press asking them if they would be coming out with any future editions of the RSV-2CE and the answer was "only perhaps a large print edition" tells me all I need to know about the longevity of the RSV-2CE. I just don't see it, which is unfortunate.

Francesco said...

I can understand their reluctance to invest in creating new editions of their RSV, at least at this time.

They've probably devoted a lot of resources to getting the RSV-2CE published and are now trying to recoup those costs without incurring new ones. Fr. Fessio's comments about how many years and staff members it took tells me that this was a large undertaking for Ignatius Press. Tim, I know that you've brought up in the past how many books by the Pope they've published. However, those are probably faster to get out and easier to market than a new version of the Bible.

Additionally, its probable that every Catholic in America that is likely to be interested in the RSV-2CE already owns a Bible they like. If there's any growth, it'll take time. Going back to the books by Benedict XVI, before a month or two ago, no one owned a copy of his latest interview. For Light of the World Ignatius isn't competing against 50 or 60 years of publishers - they have that market all to themselves.

Finally, I don't think the best return is in a new printed Bible. If you go to Amazon's best selling Bibles, the 2CE's Kindle versions are (as of today) in the top 10, while you have to go all the way to #55 for the first dead tree edition.

rolf said...

Francesco, thanks for that Amazon best selling Bible link. It is interesting to see the RSV-2CE Kindle version in the top 10. I received a Kindle for Christmas and have already downloaded the RSV-2CE. It is very nice to able to control the font size. I finally have a large print RSV-2CE!

Simon Ho said...

It has come to my knowledge that there are a few other bishops conferences considering the text of the Revised Standard Version - Second Catholic Edition of the Bible for a new lectionary texts. Just not the ones who are still trying to make the NRSV work. Perhaps if this comes to fruition, the RSV-SCE might find new popularity in other parts of the English speaking world.

Timothy said...

Simon Ho,

That's interesting. Do you know which ones?

Peter T. said...

An update in regards to the RSV-2CE being used for new lectionary texts. The new "Divine Worship - The Missal" which uses text from the RSV-2CE was promulgated in late 2015 (to be used starting with the 2016 liturgical year) to all three Anglican ordinariates of the Catholic Church: Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham (England and Wales, Scotland), Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross (Australia, Japan) and the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter (United States, Canada).

I think this is the first official use of the RSV-2CE text by the Roman Catholic Church.