New Lectionary – Update

The Archbishop of Canberra (Australia), Mark Coleridge, is chairman of the committee that is preparing the New Lectionary for the Church in the anglophone world (apart from the States, which will stick to its own New American Bible [NAB], and Canada, which has already implemented a New Revised Standard Version [NRSV] lectionary, though this may turn out to be an interim arrangement). The version chosen from the outset to base the new lectionary on was the NRSV. This version is a vast improvement on the currently widely-used Jerusalem version that has become the de facto lectionary in most of the non-American anglophone Church. The Jerusalem version is bare and often banal in its translation, and makes some dubious editorial and translation choices. The RSV was always a more elegant and timeless translation (and we still use it here at Mass and at Office), and more faithful to the original texts.

Or rather, more faithful to the particular manuscript versions used in the translation process. If I remember rightly the RSV employed the received texts, which are not now accepted by all as the best versions from which to translate. Moreover, some argued that the translators at the time adopted a more liberal hermeneutic to inform their translation choices. The NRSV maintains the more elegant style but makes some concessions to modern socio-political concerns (such as the greater use of inclusive language). With both versions of the RSV there has always been tensions with the copyright holders, who have been loathe to let the Church make small modifications to the text to suit the demands not only of the Catholic Faith but employment in a lectionary (which necessarily does not read biblical books continuously from start to finish).

These troubles have not abated and now Archbishop Coleridge has announced that the new lectionary will be based on the English Standard Version (ESV), a modern revision of the RSV by evangelical scholars. For some time the absence of an ESV version of the Apocryphal books (omitted in Protestant bibles on the whole) precluded its being considered for the lectionary. But there is now an ESV translation of the Apocrypha, and so it is able to be used for the lectionary. It would appear that the copyright holders for the ESV are more amenable to Catholic needs and proposed small modifications. The ESV is widely available now in various formats, including versions with the Apocrypha. Often smaller hardback editions can be found remaindered at excellent prices at sites like Postscript. Of course, you can look at it online.


For a more thorough intro to the ESV go here.

10 thoughts on “New Lectionary – Update

  1. Interesting! I always nurtured the improbable hope that the problems with the NRSV copyright-holders would send the bishops back to the RSV, which simply in terms of literary style is my favourite, but it sounds like that would not have been straightforward either. I don’t know the ESV well enough to know if this is good news. I wonder what Dom Henry thinks?


    1. Well, the NRSV and the RSV have the same copyright holders, so they same problems obtain. They did not like fiddling with the text to make it more intelligible when passages were read out of their context. The ESV, I read, is quite an evangelical revision of the RSV, and I guess they must be happy to allow us RCs to makes some small changes as needed. Ecumenism indeed!

      I imagine even Dom Henry might allow that the Jerusalem version is a little dated now.



    1. Thanks Gregory. As you could see, I was working from memory and a hole-y one at that. I have been trying to find where I read that these sources were not universally considered ideal, but cannot find it. But for now I offer this article which mentions issues with the Masoretic text as well as other controversial points, and this article which gives a potted history of the RSV. I claim NO expertise in biblical translation, but I am glad that we will be using a translation that will allow Isaiah’s prophecy to say “a virgin shall conceive” rather than the evasive “a young woman shall conceive”.



  2. Thanks for this Fr Hugh – astute, as ever. I must say, I’m no expert on scriptural translations either (quite the opposite), but I’m no fan of the rather leaden Jerusalem version. I normally use the NRSV, though when quoting it in my own stuff I occasionally amend it – e.g., ‘the least of these my brothers’ for the NRSV’s horrific ‘these who are the least of the members of my family’. No real problem with gender-inclusive language, but that’s just a horrible bit of phrasing. (What’s wrong with the word ‘siblings’?) I keep meaning to buy a copy of Nick King’s translations, which I’ve liked on the odd occasion I’ve cast my eye over them. Will try to acquaint myself with the ESV too!


    1. Thanks Stephen. You pointed out a most tortuous circumlocution indeed, though I think they might have avoided ‘siblings’ because it does not sound quite right. There is something cold about it, and perhaps is too specifically and unequivocally familial, and so overworks the image. As to Nick King’s translation, to be fair I have not read much of it, but what I did read I did not like at all. The good thing about the ESV is that you can sample it all on the web for free. I just procured the study version of the ESV at a good price from Amazon and it is superb, an amazing resource. Have you ever read Monsignor Knox’s translation that for an all too brief period was officially used in England and Wales? He makes use of dynamic equivalence a lot, and his editorial choices weigh heavy at times, but it is very readable.


    1. In short, it is not a very good translation. The translators have imposed their own interpretation on the text too often. And often it reads aloud as rather banal. Soon (I hope!) I will post some comparisons of the main English translations so we can see their strengths and weaknesses.



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