Mark Giszczak is Associate Professor of Sacred Scripture at the Augustine Institute Graduate School of Theology (Greenwood Village, CO). He earned his doctorate in Biblical Studies at e Catholic University of America (Ph.D., 2013) and additional degrees from the Pontifical Biblical Commission (S.S.B., 2014; S.S.L., 2016). Dr. Giszczak has a passion for Scripture and loves helping Catholics read, pray, and understand the Bible. He is author of Light on the Dark Passages of Scripture (Our Sunday Visitor, 2015) and has contributed to the Augustine Institute’s Bible in a Year and the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible. His forthcoming books include a commentary on the Wisdom of Solomon. He writes regularly on his blog, CatholicBibleStudent.com. Dr. Giszczak graciously took the time to answer a few questions I had about his new book Bible Translation & the Making of the ESV Catholic Edition, which has recently been published by the Augustine Institute.
As a fan of books like Msgr. Ronald Knox’s “On Englishing the Bible” and Bruce Metzger’s “The
Making of the NRSV”, I am curious to know what it was like writing a book which attempts to
promote a particular bible translation with so many other Bible options in today’s English
speaking Catholic world? What did you find most challenging in this project?
No Bible translation is perfect, but many are unknown. The ESV-CE is a newcomer in
the world of English Catholic Bible translations and people have a lot of questions. Since
I was involved in its publication in the United States by the Augustine Institute, I
received many inquiries about where the ESV-CE came from, who translated it, what its
translation philosophy was and how it treated specific passages. For me, writing this book
was a great opportunity to answer those questions in a complete way. I had to dive deep
into the history behind the RSV, NRSV and ESV to be able to explain how this new
translation differs from others on the market and why Catholic Bible readers might find it
It is hard to describe the motivations of other people—what motivates translators,
publishers and others involved in Bible translation projects. Translation philosophies
themselves have to be applied to a complex text and thus require some flexibility. For
me, it was a challenge to do justice to all of those involved in producing the ESV-CE,
explain their thinking and then evaluate their work with specific examples. I hope I have
told the story well and that others will come to appreciate the work of the ESV translators
and the ecumenical cooperation of Crossway (the original publisher of the ESV) with the
Indian Bishops’ Conference. To me, the ESV-CE is not only a solid translation, but it
represents a valuable effort at collaboration across denominational lines.
You devote the first half of your book to explaining the origins of the ESV, with special emphasis
on the issues of the lectionary and inclusive language (in both Evangelical and Catholic circles).
Why are those two issues so important in regards to the making of the ESV Catholic Edition?
The Lectionary is where Catholics encounter Scripture in the liturgy. The printed Bible is
a great resource, but the Lectionary is the Bible proclaimed. I love the fact that Catholics
hear a human voice speak the words of Scripture every Sunday at mass. It is a powerful
testimony to its importance in our lives and its ability to transform us. Getting the
translation used in the Lectionary right is a high priority for Catholic bishops around the
world. The ESV-CE is now a resource for bishops and it is being used in the Lectionary
in several countries. The Lectionary must correspond with the Vatican’s translation rules
and the ESV-CE is compliant with those.
Inclusive language translation became very popular in the 1980s and 1990s, but it was
not uncontroversial at that time. Indeed, it was the central issue in many translation
controversies, both in the Protestant and Catholic realm. Proponents of inclusive
language translation desire to translate male terms–like father, brother, master, king, man,
men, mankind–in a way that opens their meaning up to be received by a female audience.
This is a laudable pastoral aspiration. However, when the meaning of passages is
substantially altered or restricted by such a translation method, the sense of the original text in all its complexity can be lost. The Vatican’s document on translation (Liturgiam
authenticam, 2001) says of inclusive language translation: “it may not be possible to
employ different words in the translations themselves without detriment to the precise
intended meaning of the text, the correlation of its various words or expressions, or its
aesthetic qualities.” Whenever you translate, you leave behind some meaning that cannot
be fully transferred to another language. This is usually seen as a difficulty to be
overcome, but inclusive translation style leaves some meaning behind on purpose. The
different views—either toward inclusive language or away from it—essentially constitute
competing visions of accuracy in translation. Should the resulting translation be accurate
to the concerns of the audience or should it be as close to the original language as
possible? Different translations trend in different directions on this point.
My favorite chapter in your new book is chapter 9, where you argue that what makes the ESV
(and ESVCE) distinctive among most modern translations is that it is a Christian translation by
design. Could you explain what you mean by this and why Catholics should prefer a more
intentionally Christian translation to one that is not intentionally so?
The ESV translators were aware that their translation would be employed in church
settings. It would be proclaimed aloud, so it needed to read smoothly. It would be used
for prayer, so it had to preserve the form of traditional prayers like the “Our Father” and
some of the Psalms. They were also attentive to the fact that the New Testament often
quotes the Old Testament. In many translations, the NT quotes of the OT do not match,
because the two testaments were translated by different sub-committees with different
priorities. But the ESV, which had just one Translation Oversight Committee deliberately
renders NT quotations of the OT in a way that matches. This practice allows the Bible
reader to more easily see how the New Testament is using the Old and to recognize
quotations when they appear. To me, this practice gives the ESV-CE a more cohesive
sense than many translations.
The ESV-CE also does a few things that are more subtle, like capitalizing references to
Christ, selecting textual variants that lean in favor of the divinity of Christ. My favorite
example is in the Letter of Jude 1:5, where the ESV reads “…that Jesus, who saved a
people out of the land of Egypt” rather than “he who saved a people” (RSV) or “the Lord,
who once saved” (NRSV). The name of Jesus is widely attested in many important
manuscripts (such as Alexandrinus and Vaticanus) and it is included in the latest edition
of the critical edition of the Greek text. The ESV translators opted to go with this
One of my favorite quotes from the book comes at the end where you quote Cardinal Oswald
Gracias who said: “The ESV Catholic Bible is the Indian Church’s contribution to the universal
Church.” As someone who is married to a first generation Indian-American, who is also a
Catholic convert, can you talk about the significance of this translation coming from the Bishops
and biblical scholars of India, and not from Catholics in the West?
I think the significance of the fact that the ESV-CE Bible comes from India cannot be
overstated. It demonstrates that the world is changing. The Church is no longer
dominated by a Euro-centric focus but has become truly global. The English language
itself is no longer the exclusive domain of the British and the Americans, but it is truly a global phenomenon. The globalism we experience with the Internet is now something we
can experience with our very Bible translation. Just a few decades ago, it would be
impossible to think that a Midwestern evangelical publisher would reach a meeting of the
minds with a Catholic bishops’ conference half a world away. I think it also reflects one
of the deepest values of the Crossway organization. They do not want to just print books
and Bibles, but they want to bring knowledge of the Bible to people around the world.
This is evidenced in their ministries that involve giving away copies of the Bible and
translating biblical notes into many languages. Ebeth Dennis, the wife of longtime
Crossway CEO Lane Dennis, grew up in India as the daughter of missionaries and the
ESV-CE publication in India was a unique way for her to give back to the Indian
Christian community. Not only does the ESV-CE represent a great moment in
ecumenical cooperation, but it shows how Christians can team up across the globe to
advance the gospel.
The ESVCE is already the basis for the Indian lectionary and will soon be heard at Mass in the
UK and elsewhere. Here in the US, some form of the NAB (which is still under revision) will
likely remain the liturgical translation heard at Mass and in the breviary for the foreseeable
future. What role, then, do think the ESVCE can play in the US without it having any official
The ESV-CE will take its place alongside other English Catholic Bible translations as a
great resource for Bible study. I think most people enjoy using a variety of translations to
get different insights into the meaning of Scripture. The ESV-CE will provide a welcome
addition to the shelf as a contemporary formal-equivalence style translation that many
Protestants have already come to love and appreciate.
Because of the close affinity between the RSV and ESV, how might you try to convince
someone who has primarily used the RSV-CE/RSV-2CE for years to give the ESVCE a try?
Perhaps you could give an example from the ESVCE that shows how it improves upon the RSV.
The RSV is old. It was translated in the 1940s and 1950s. It is based on older scholarship.
On the other hand, the ESV is informed by new manuscript discoveries and more recent
scholarship. The RSV2CE only updates a handful of things—like removing thee/thou
language–but it only modifies less than 1% of the text. The ESV-CE is a much more
substantial revision that changes about 8% of the biblical text. Ezekiel is a stand-out
example of the contrast, where RSV2CE changes only 467 characters, whereas ESV
changes 15,380 (about 33 times more revision!). I wrote a long blog post comparing the
ESV-CE to the RSV-2CE, showing how the ESV offers a much more complete revision.
The ESV-CE is a more thorough update of the RSV, changing about 60,000 words while
also adhering to the Vatican translation guidelines. The ESV Translation Oversight
Committee recognized that the RSV had some problems baked in since 1952, things it
was criticized for at the time. The most significant example was that the RSV rendered
almah in Isa 7:14 as “young woman.” Both RSV2CE and ESV-CE change it to “virgin.”
Yet the RSV was also notorious for relying on textual emendation to create an imaginary
text in difficult Hebrew passages in the Old Testament, particularly in difficult books like Job. The RSV2CE leaves these alone, while the ESV-CE goes back to the Hebrew Masoretic Text and tries to read it as it stands. My favorite example of this is Job 27:18, which I explain in the book.
The RSV was criticized when it came out for severing New Testament quotations of the
OT from their OT roots. A serious example of this problem is Genesis 12:3 et al., where
the verb could be read either as a passive or reflexive: the nations will either “be blessed”
(by God) or “bless themselves.” The RSV2CE adopts the reflexive meaning in all cases
(18:18, 22:18, 26:4, 28:14), while the NT adopts the passive meaning. So when Acts 3:25
or Gal 3:8 refer back to this Genesis thread, it is lost in the RSV, but present in the ESV.
The ESV is better about making NT references to the OT match. Other stand-out
examples are Psalm 2 and 45:6 in Hebrews 1, which are left unchanged in the RSV2CE.
Another important example is the book of Tobit. The RSV Tobit first came out in 1957,
four years before the most important critical text of Tobit was published. That critical text
demonstrated that the longer form of the book was better, so the Nova Vulgata followed
suit and translated the longer form of Tobit. The ESV retranslated Tobit from the best
edition, while the RSV still has the short form of Tobit that does not correspond to the
official Nova Vulgata.
The ESV-CE also relies on updated text-critical information in the OT, which the
RSV2CE does not. See, for example, Deut 32:43 or Ps 144:2. Note also the difference at
Back when I first started blogging about Catholic Bibles, the thought of Crossway allowing an
ESV Catholic Edition seemed impossible. Yet, with the publication of Oxford’s ESV w/
Apocrypha, there seemed to be a willingness to perhaps consider the possibility of a Catholic
Edition in the future. So I am wondering (if you know) what caused Crossway to fully endorse
and support a Catholic Edition of the ESV? And how has the partnership been between
Crossway and the Augustine Institute?
Really the credit goes to Nigel Fernandes of the Asian Trading Corporation. He reached
out to Crossway and got the discussion started. I think Crossway saw a great mission
opportunity to provide a Bible translation to English-speaking Catholics. They had
already done the preparatory work with the “ESV with Apocrypha” as you mentioned.
Crossway had also worked with other groups, like the Gideons, to bring the ESV to
different audiences. It was a great meeting of the minds—to bring a new English
translation into the Catholic Lectionary.
Is there anything else you would want my readers to know about the ESVCE or the Augustine Institute or yourself? Do you have any other publications forthcoming?
You can pick up a copy of the ESV Catholic Edition Bible at https://catholicbible.org/
Yes, you can look forward to my forthcoming commentary on the Wisdom of Solomon in
the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture series in 2024 from Baker Academic.