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.