Mark Giszczak, S.S.L., Ph.D. is associate professor of Sacred Scripture at the Augustine Institute. He is involved in much of the work the Augustine Institute is doing to promote the newly released ESV-CE (Augustine Bible). I had an opportunity to ask him a few questions about the ESVCE. I am thankful that he took the time to answer these questions.

1) Is it possible for a list of the differences between the ESV and ESV-CE to be published, similar to the list of changes for the original RSV-CE?

  • We at the Augustine Institute are working with our partner, Crossway, to publish an official list of changes. Everyone was conscious of not making this Catholic Edition into a totally different translation. Besides the addition of the deuterocanonical books, the changes are few and judicious. It is worth noting that the ESV-CE Bible differs slightly from the ESV-CE Lectionary in which a few further changes were introduced to conform to a liturgical setting.

2) More specifically in regards to the changes, one of the issues we have discussed on the blog was what some have perceived as a low ecclesiology in the ESV NT. Some have pointed to 1 Timothy 3:15 in combination with how “episkopos” is translated as proof that the ESV has a lower view of the church, compared to the RSV, NRSV, or NABRE. How would you respond to this? Do you have any insight as to why those places were not changed by the Catholic editors of the Catholic Edition (approved in India) along with an obvious verses like Luke 1:28?

  • My sense is that the scholars involved in the project wanted to change as little as possible in order that the ESV might be a truly ecumenical translation. In 1 Timothy 3:15, where ESV translates stulos as “a pillar” and RSV has “the pillar” in reference to the Church, the grammatical question is rather complicated. The Greek does not have the article (“the”), and of course, neither does the Vulgate since the Latin language does not have an article. Some scholars have argued that “pillar” refers to Timothy’s conduct as bishop, rather than to the Church proper and the ESV translation allows for this possibility. So, either the Church or the bishop is to be regarded as a pillar. Either way it sounds like a high view of the Church to me.
  • As for episkopos in the New Testament, the ESV pursues a literal translation philosophy and this word can literally be broken into its parts: epi- means “over” and skopos means “seer.” So the ESV-CE Bible translates it as “overseer,” but notably the ESV-CE Lectionary translates it as “bishop.” The word, episkopos, appears in the Septuagint, for example at Wisdom 1:6 and 1 Macc 1:51, and it clearly does not mean “bishop” in the conventional sense there. The English word, “bishop,” derives from the Greek word episkopos, and of course, this word indicates the office of bishop from the foundation of the Church.
  • The ESV-CE Bible translates the angel’s salutation to Mary as “Greetings, O highly favored one” in Luke 1:28. “Full of grace” in English translations is influenced by the Latin gratia plena. But since the ESV is being translated directly from the Greek, one might not expect to feel the Latin influence. Yet, the ESV-CE Lectionary translates it as “Hail, full of grace.” So perhaps, we are seeing a compromise here. Bible translations are the product of many scholars, interests and ecclesial bodies coming together. We should expect to see some negotiation on these important decisions.
  • And while you have pointed out some weak points from a Catholic standpoint, the ESV-CE honors Our Lady at Isaiah 7:14 where the prophet predicts “the virgin shall conceive” while the RSV and NABRE have “the young woman.”



3) When the NLT-CE was produced, the recommended changes were incorporated into the 2016 NLT text. The new Catholic and Protestant editions are the same (except for the deuterocanonicals). Do you think a similar process could happen for the ESV? If not, how much impact do you think the differences would have if Catholics and Protestants are using the ESV together in a Bible study?

  • The Translation Oversight Committee of the ESV has been very attentive to scholars’ and leaders’ concerns and suggestions, issuing a few lists of changes over the years since the first publication of the ESV in 2001. As long as Crossway continues to gather this committee, there is always the possibility for minor tweaks to the text. I would imagine the primary area where Catholic input would improve the translation is in the deuterocanonical books.  I think it is important that the ESV text be regarded as stable, so I do not think we’ll see a major revision, but minor corrections and improvements. I think Catholics and Protestants will be pleasantly surprised by the common ground they share when they study this translation together.



4) Many of the drawbacks of the original New American Bible have been improved over the years with the 1986 New Testament revision and the 2011 Old Testament revision. What does the ESV-CE offer to the US Catholic audience that the NABRE lacks?

  • The ESV Catholic edition is a different type of translation than the NABRE. The ESV-CE attempts to offer an “essentially literal” rendering, trying to be as transparent as possible to the original text, without sacrificing solid, literary English in the process. The ESV also translates texts in such a way as to underscore a Christological reading of the Old Testament (Pss 2, 45, 110 in connection with the superiority of Christ in Hebrews 1; “Jesus” in Jude 1:5). The ESV inherits the KJV-ASV-RSV tradition, so it does not sidestep phrases or terms that sound “biblical” in an attempt to achieve novelty. The ESV Translation Oversight Committee was a relatively small yet balanced team with a rigorous translation philosophy. The fact that the team was small and unified meant that they were able to produce an exact and consistent translation that reads well from Genesis to Revelation. This word-for-word translation gives American Catholics the chance to dive deeper into the word of God and encounter it like never before.

5) What do you foresee in regards to future editions of the ESVCE? A number of people are really excited that the Augustine Institute may be able to provide some premium, reference, or even a new study edition of the ESVCE. 

  • I have to say that I too am excited about all of the projects in the works behind the scenes for the ESV Catholic Edition. This fall, the Augustine Institute will be releasing paperback, hardback and leather editions that I think your audience will enjoy. As things progress, we plan to put out a variety of editions to satisfy all types of Bible readers. And yes, premium Bibles, study editions, reference Bibles and other types of ESV-CE products will be forthcoming in time. Our hope is to provide Catholics with high quality, beautiful Bibles that inspire by design, offering the reader a great experience with a great translation. Crossway has done such a great job producing a wide array of elegant and useful Bible products. We have big shoes to fill!  

30 thoughts on “Q&A on the ESVCE w/Mark Giszczak, S.S.L., Ph.D.”

  1. Definitely appreciate the responses. Overall very helpful!

    However, without trying to be too critical — I like the ESV-CE very much and appreciate all the Augustine Institute’s work! — but with all due respect, the argument from “literal translation” for rendering “episkopos” as “overseer” seems specious to me and, frankly, absurd. Literal translation certainly does *not* mean *etymological* translation. Otherwise the ESV-CE should refer to the second book of the Pentateuch as “Second Law,” and stop calling it Deuteronomy! One could bring up lots of other examples where applying this “etymological” principle would clearly lead to absurdities.

    Literal translation involves conveying (as much as possible) word for word meaning. The question is decidedly not the etymology of episkopos — because in general, etymology and meaning are two things (even in English) — but rather the term’s literal meaning, as used in the NT. Many Catholic and non-Catholic historians and scriptural scholars would claim that to translate it merely as “overseer” does not accurately convey the meaning of the term as used by the sacred authors.

    Again, I apologize if my remarks are harsh or overly critical, and perhaps I am wrong. I am very grateful for the ESV-CE and I realize that probably the honest reason why it had to be translated ‘overseer’ was because of Crossways — and if there wasn’t formal pressure in that direction, there is still an implicit pressure. I think that’s fair enough and understandable. But the argument for “overseer” given here seems clearly not to work, because it equates “etymological” translation with “literal” translation, which would be absurd if applied generally.

    P.S.
    As far as the “pillar” goes, I think this is less egregious. It is true that there is no definite article there, and so you can argue for that translation. On the other hand, we should be clear: The lack of a definite article certainly does not necessitate rendering it with an indefinite article either. Frequently in Greek the definite article is implicit, and the lack of the definite article doesn’t necessarily mean it must go one way or the other.

  2. These are great questions. I would also like to see a list of the changes made… but apparently there needs to be TWO lists!!!! One for changes made to make the ESV-CE and the other the changes made to that to make the Lectionary! One specific place I am not a fan of is how they handled Genesis 3:16 in the 2016 ESV. It is “contrary” to previous versions interpretation of the verse and has a big impact on how to perceive the impact of original sin. I am actually surprised this particularly conservative translation went out on a limb like this here.

    I got the original ESV-CE when it first came out in India. I was a little disappointed, but glad to at least have a copy for reference. There would really have to be something special for me to spring for another copy. I wouldn’t mind having a liturgical Edition with a list of the changes in the back.

  3. So basically there is going to be a lectionary translation and a bible translation. Say what you want about the NAB, but eventually everything will match. I do love the KJV family of translation and the cadence found in the RSV, NRSV and ESV. And yes a translation should be as literal as possible.

    Yet besides the translation of bishop, full of grace and 1 Timothy, inclusive language has to be dealt with, especially with the lectionary. I am 35 and most Catholics I know (especially those younger, whether they be orthodox, semi-orthodox and otherwise) really do want inclusive language. Not using inclusive language is viewed as sexist and outdated. Same in protestant circles I run with, they will mock non-inclusive language in sarcastic voices. Society and English as a whole has changed so that man is no longer the conversational or editorial way to refer to both men and women. We can debate if this was a bottom up organic process or started by people with an ulterior agenda, but the fact is that inclusive language is the norm and that norm is only getting to get stronger.

    1. I hear both sides. I used to swing that way myself, but now I’m more partial to saying what the base text says, especially when it jars my modern sensibilities. I rather like the vertical vs. horizontal distinction ESV and NABRE translators make: gender inclusive pronouns for horizontal human relationships where the text supports it + literal pronouns for Divinity where it doesn’t.

      Moreover, numbers would seem to argue against the “most people” argument: As of 2020, far more people read “traditional” translations than “inclusive ones.” Top selling translations in Jan 2020:

      1. New International Version (NIV)
      2. King James Version (KJV)
      3. New Living Translation (NLT)
      4. English Standard Version (ESV)
      5. New King James Version (NKJV)
      6. Christian Standard Bible (CSB)
      7. Reina Valera (RV)
      8. New International Reader’s Version (NIrV)
      9. The Message (Message)
      10. New American Standard Bible (NASB)

      Source: https://www.christianpost.com/voices/top-10-bestselling-bible-translations-compared-to-10-years-ago.html

      NABRE, NRSV, and even the RSV don’t even come close. To my eyes, “most Catholics and Protestants I know” seem to be reading classical renderings.

      1. To be fair, of the list the NIV, NLT, CSB, and MSG all incorporate inclusive language into the translation. The ESV uses more than the RSV did, as well as providing inclusive language sensitive footnotes in the New Testament. The new NASB 2020 will also incorporate changes that reflect inclusive language.

      2. I do agree with the vertical vs horizontal distinction. When I said inclusive language, I meant horizontal. Also there are degrees of incorporation. I am not a fan the NRSV’s take personally.

        Among those I know here is the breakdown
        Catholics: NABRE/RSV-CE 2nd
        Orthodox: NKJV
        Protestants: NLT/NRSV/ESV

        As for your list, some of those numbers have to be inflated. And I am sure there are tons of unread KJVs laying around. I also suspect that the numbers are skewed towards older evangelicals who probably read and buy more Bibles than the average Catholic.
        A reality is that most of the Catholics who fill the pews are less engaged in Bible reading than their evangelical peers.

        I am not against the ESV per say. I just don’t know if it contains enough inclusivity to pass muster with the average non-ideological catholic in the pews? This is an open question for me.

      3. The 2011 NIV is probably the most politically correct mainstream Bible on the market, it uses inclusive language to a truly absurd degree, it is even more extreme than the NRSV in that regard. The NIV was always a bad translation, but the new PC edition has made it an even worse one.

      4. I wonder what’s the source for the rankings of that list. It appears they intentionally excluded Catholic bibles.

        Here’s the link to the current Amazon Best Seller list for bibles. Note that NIV bibles top the list, followed by the Oxford NRSV Study Bible and then, lo & behold, two versions of the NABRE. Finally some versions of the KJV appears followed by a version of the ESV and then another NRSV study bible:

        https://www.amazon.com/Best-Sellers-Books-Christian-Bibles/zgbs/books/12059/ref=zg_bs_nav_b_2_12290

    2. @Devin,

      The ESV uses gender-accurate language. When the underlying text does not specify a gender, the ESV translates it without a gender. When a gender is specified, the ESV translates the gender appropriately.

      The only time a gendered word is used where the Hebrew/Greek does not specify a gender is in order to maintain the perspective (person) and tense of the underlying text.

      Since the ESV is “essentially literal”, it does not change the patriarchal language of the original text. If a reader prefers a translation that uses gender-neutral language where the original text used gendered language, then they need to use a less literal translation like the NRSV-CE.

    3. As a young Catholic who knows many other young Catholics, everything you said about what we supposedly prefer (inclusive language and similar rubbish) is completely inaccurate. But what do I know, I’m burnt out with ugly modern Catholic translations and stick to the KJV now.

      1. @ Surly Hermit, apparently you and I run very different circles :). That said, ten years ago when I was 25, I would I have said the similar things. Younger Catholics prefer traditional language and are allergic to inclusive language. What I have found it that there was small minority vocal about their preferences and most everyone just got along to get a long. Most didn’t care one way or another (to my chagrin) about scripture or liturgical translations or the TLM. Very few know there is more than one Catholic Bible. A friend of mine told me once he was always perplexed why his Bible never matched the mass readings. Turns out it he was using the RSV-CE 2nd edition and didn’t realize the NAB was in existence.

        1. That and the KJV is NOT approved for Catholic use, even for personal study and devotion.

          Respectfully, switch to a Catholic Bible like the Douay-Rheims-Challoner (a source translation used by the KJV translators) to get your traditional language fix.

          1. Restricting yourself to so-called “approved” Catholic translations is more than a little ridiculous. There goes the Septuagint, oops! And this is terrible news for all those Eastern Catholics using Orthodox Bibles and psalters rather than officially approved Catholic editions.

    4. Doesn’t Liturgiam Authenticam place limits on how much inclusive language can be used in the lectionary? I thought the NABRE OT actually dialed back the use of inclusive language a bit when compared to the NAB.

  4. Reading between the lines here, it sounds like Crossways would not agree to many changes to the ESV-CE full bible. But they gave the bishops more leeway regarding the lectionary. I’m glad Crossways does not apparently have veto power over the Catholic lectionary!

    I do see a lot of value in an ecumenical, modern translation. The ESV is a popular and respected translation in the Protestant world, and it can only help with dialog when Catholics can use a translation that is essentially the same. The RSV used to fill that role, but very few Protestants buy a new RSV anymore. They buy an ESV (or CSB, etc) instead.

    Since the changes to the ESV-CE are so few and so minor, it does make one wonder why have any changes at all? They could still make changes for the lectionary.

    It will be interesting to see if and how the Scottish (or British?) lectionary differs from the Indian lectionary.

    It is unfortunate that the lectionary won’t match the full bible!

    I’m well aware of the problems with the ESV, and they are real. But they are also few in number, and well known. Every translation has problems. Overall I think the ESV might be the best (or “least bad”? 😉 ) modern translation. I think it’s great that it’s available in a Catholic edition, and I look forward to seeing what new editions the Augustine Institute comes out with.

  5. I am curious to hear everyone’s opinion concerning something that bugs me in the last two points of question 2: He justifies the rendering of Luke 1:28 as being a literal one from the Greek for “Greetings, O highly favored one” but in the very next point he supports the decision of the ESV translators to not follow a more literal rendering of “almah” in Isaiah 7:14 instead for a more Christological-inspired translation based on the LXX, even though the ESV OT very often sides with the MT. I am also not sure that the ESV committee felt that they were “honoring our Lady” in the same way that most Catholics might by that rendering.

    1. It really doesn’t bother me. The reason he gives for Luke 1:28 is “my sense is that the scholars involved in the project wanted to change as little as possible in order that the ESV might be a truly ecumenical translation.” (Honestly that probably means the copyright holders weren’t keen on giving permission.) He then states it is supportable/justifiable choice based on a literal rendering which it is. He doesn’t state it is the best possible rendering from a Catholic perspective. He also doesn’t say that the ESV committee was honoring our Lady, but the translation honors our Lady. Two different things. He is answering questions on a product he is trying to sell so he is not going to criticize it or point out the compromises made in an unflattering light.

      Nor does it bother me personally that the ESV deviates from the MT on rare occasions to only make a Christological point. In terms of bible translation philosophy, my view is summed up by Oscar Wilde’s quote: “Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.” If I like a rendering, I will find any reason possible to justify it.

    2. I think he probably agrees with us, but he is in a position where he is paid to promote a particular thing, even though he might have reservations about it, so he does the only thing an honest person could do in such a situation and that is trying to minimize or downplay the negatives and emphasize the positive. I’m not accusing him of lying.

    3. I think that’s a well known criticism of the ESV Timothy: they promote how literal and beholden to the MT they are, but they deviate from that to make Christological references in the OT, to please their conservative evangelical base. It’s not consistent, but I don’t actually mind that much. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      At least in the case of Isaiah 7:14, I almost don’t care which way a translation goes on that one. In either case I know the alternate rendering by heart, because I’ve seen so many pixels spilled over it on the Internet! I guess you could say that’s one of my “anti litmus test” verses. 😉

      In Luke 1:28 the ESV has “O favored one”. The ESV-CE added “highly”, I guess to show more respect to Our Lady??? Whatevs, this is another one of my “anti litmus test” verses.

    4. “Almah” *may* mean “young woman” but it does not “more literal[ly]” mean that. The reference is to a young woman of child-bearing age who is either unmarried (and so marriageable) or at the very least has never had a child. The general implication is inclusive of virginity but how much of the stress is being placed on age, on virginity, or on marital status is to be found in context.

      All three would seem to be implied in the case of Abraham’s servant searching for a virtuous wife for Isaac for example (another instance where almah is translated as parthenos, incidentally), with virginity not placed in the foreground, but certainly not absent from the background.

      All translation involves a discernment of meaning and context, not just taking the whatever comes under item (1) in a dictionary entry as the most common usage of the word.

      I know that a preponderance of scholars have lately decided that almah has nothing to do with virginity and Isiah 7:14 has nothing to do with the Messiah.

      What is the truth of the matter? Well, we have the preponderance of modern critical scholars on one side and on the other we have the Holy Spirit’s guidance to St. Matthew as proof that they are completely wrong. If, in the process of translation, we keep our ears open to the scholars, but as a matter of principle, deliberately close them to the witness given by the Spirit, we retreat from, rather than approach the truth of the matter.

      Even if we come to the correct conclusion (as, for example, the translators of the LXX did) we have done so by first rejecting the witness of Truth Himself. Why this should seem a defensible–much less attractive–proposition to Christian translators boggles me.

      I want to be clear that I am not in anyway suggesting to do any violence to the text to torture out a meaning that is not there. It is a perfectly appropriate reading, and one I find the most natural in the prophecy, but of course it also highly unusual as the circumstance is unprecedented. Unusual enough to wish to be sure we read it rightly. If only we had a clear indication elsewhere from the Author as to which of those possible meanings was correct… Oh wait.

      1. As a note, when I mentioned the LXX translators, I was not commenting one way or the other on the tradition that the LXX was itself the product of inspiration. That’s a separate topic.

  6. I believe the “litmus” test passages in the analysis of the worth of a translation detract from a proper analysis of the value of a specific Bible translation. There is so much more about a translation that needs to be evaluated. Further, there is not a single translation that meets all reader’s needs. That being said let us look at the arguments regarding of “young woman” versus “virgin.” As said by Steve above in terms of spilled pixels and others say in huge quantities of spilled ink, or others in pounds of toner there is much to read out there. However, I think the evil one is using these arguments to distract us. First, we must say that we believe Jesus was born of a virgin because Luke and Mathew tell us so. Not because Isaiah told us. If we accept that; then what is Isaiah telling us since a young woman having a child is not in the least remarkable? He is telling us that the potential typology of the Old Testament will not be what to look for in the new age. If we were to look at the birth typology of important people in the Old Testament we would look, in the New Testament for a barren woman who is far beyond the age of menopause as the mother. Further, in most other cases, the important characters of the Old Testament are rarely the first born (Moses, David and many others). John the Baptist the prophet of the New Testament exactly matches the Old Testament typology. Jesus, exactly matches the prophecy of Isaiah. In the New Testament there are a number of cases where people are confused over the roles of John the Baptist and Jesus. If they were more attuned to Isaiah there would have been less confusion.
    Now, if you have “young woman” or “virgin” does it really matter? We only need to know that the Messiah will be very different than anything in the past. This should not be the measure of the value of a Bible translation.

    1. > Now, if you have “young woman” or “virgin” does it really matter?

      It appears to have mattered to the Holy Ghost and St. Matthew.

  7. I think the ESV translators did a fair job with inclusive language (there’s always room for improvement). As much as I like reading the NRSV— and I do, a lot— and in spite of the exceptional scholarship, the translation has been criticized, I believe rightly, for going overboard as it obscures the text in places that have traditionally been interpreted to connect with Jesus (such as the “blessed one” of Psalm 1).

    I’m not saying the sacred authors were aware of this connection, but for the majority of Church history the connection has been made, and to take the singular in this case and make it plural obscures that connection. Other translations did a better job, using phrases such as, “blessed is the one…” instead of “happy [blessed] are those,” as does the NRSV. This happens not a few times. In Daniel, of course, “one like a son of man,” with its clear christological connection, is changed to “one like a human being” in the NRSV.

    Havng said all that, I do believe that some attempt at gender inclusivity for the horizontal language is a good idea, because it is more relatable for women. I try to imagine if the Bible used the feminine whenever addressing humankind, such as “Blessed is she,” and I would definitely find it more difficult to identify with. I get that using the generic “man” is traditional and true to English, but I also think it’s simply becoming antiquated. It seems to me that the goal isn’t to win the English argument, anyway, but to help people “hear” the Word. That’s why one reason I appreciate the ESV. They did a decent job of that. At least they moved in the right direction.

    I’m still disappointed that the Augustine Institute isn’t releasing the ESV-CE in a genuine or premium leather edition, but this is a start, I suppose. At least the paperback edition has sewn binding and not glued, which for me is always a deal breaker when it comes to purchasing a bible or expensive book, so one might assume that these new editions will, as well.

  8. “Having said all that, I do believe that some attempt at gender inclusivity for the horizontal language is a good idea because it is more relatable for women.’

    Doesn’t that seem a little condescending? It sounds like you’re suggesting that women are not capable of understanding standard English.

    1. That might be true if it was still “standard English.” That simply isn’t the case anymore. As a father of four young women, I know that they use more inclusive language in their speech. They don’t go around using “man” when describing human beings. Like it or not, our alngaige isn’t a static thing. It develops and changes with time. The ESV seems to respect that. I find it amusing when men— myself included at one time— don’t understand why the masculine generic would be a bit alienating to women. I think it’s very appropriate to do our level best to use inclusive language when it doesn’t obscure the intent of the original. So no, I don’t find it condescending. I find it respectful.

      Obviously this is a contentious issue, as we see in the world of biblical scholarship. It’s great that we have so many choices to choose from, so that everyone can take up and read and connect personally to the Word.

  9. *In my previous comment, I’m not sure how I managed to type “language” as “alngaige,” but there you go… typing with my thumbs on my phone is not always successful.

    A really helpful treatment on the subject of inclusive language is “The Inclusive Language Debate, a Plea for Realism,” by D.A. Carson. Though the book is slightly dated, Carson does a superb job of allowing for both sides of the debate to have their say, and gives what I perceive to be a balanced presentation of the merits and challenges of using inclusive language in the translation of the biblical texts. With professional respect and charity he examines the successes and failures of a wide range of popular translations, with many helpful examples throughout.

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