Saturday, July 29, 2017

ESV - Catholic Edition....maybe.

Rumors abound on social media that Crossway is developing (or more accurately, has given license for another publisher) to develop a Catholic edition of the ESV.

You can read a brief summation of recent events here.

The notion of particular denominational based editions seems somewhat absurd from an academic perspective. The primary criterion by which any edition of the Canon ought to be measured is by how thoroughly grounded it is in textual criticism, particularly with regards to the manuscript tradition. The ESV has traditionally done this well. What else could be needed?

The frequency with which editions of the Bible are produced to reflect denominational or ecclesiastical interests reflects the tensions that abound in Christianity as pertains transitioning from pre-critical to post-critical self understanding and praxis. By and large, most Christian traditions identify their origin (partially) in pre-critical collections of Scripture. These are translations or manuscript traditions whose antiquity or proximity to the earliest edition of the sacred text is disputed on the weight of recovered manuscripts pointing to an alternate reading having greater antiquity.

Advocates of the pre-critical text often voice two primary objections. 1) Despite early fragments, there are no complete manuscripts of a given book of the same antiquity. As such, the "critical text" is viewed as a hypothesis demanding further proof before it can claim surety. 2) The pre-critical text has, by and large, been the basis of the praxis of the spiritual life. Christianity's praxis was influenced by the pre-critical text. This is the text that provided the imagination guiding the vision of Christianity's greatest moments, its liturgy, and its great ascetics and holy men and women. This is an argument one will find in many Orthodox arguments defending the insistence on the textus receptus for properly ecclesiastical usage - i.e., liturgy, doctrine, etc.

As an Orthodox Christian, I expect the KJV or NKJV to be utilized in most any ecclesiastical setting. Truth be told, I've basically gotten used to it since leaving the Roman Church for Antioch. This said, as someone with an academic background, there is the expectation that the edition of Scripture encountered will be the product of solid critical scholarship, and demonstrably so. In truth, my interpretive horizon is firmly planted on the critical mount, as such, that is the primary hermeneutic by which these matters are judged.

This said, the ESV is essentially a critical translation - the changes of the 2016 edition of the text being the only red flags that would argue against this statement. What exactly would distinguish a supposedly "Catholic" edition from the normal edition remains an open question.

Would Crossway let this happen?

Crossway is a firmly conservative Evangelical publisher. It has been exceptionally aggressive in promoting the ESV and its success has been a bit of a marvel when one considers the amount of new English translations that have been stuck on the margins, getting little more than a limited audience. If true, and we have to be somewhat careful when it comes to sources on social media, a Catholic edition would fall in line with Crossway's marketing of the ESV.

Would it get approved?

While its own study bible has some notes that strike Roman Catholics as "anti-catholic," it should be noted that said notes are: 1) fair, serving only to make clear the distinctions between Roman Catholicism and Evangelical Christianity, and 2) does not impact the text of the translation itself.

Would a Catholic publisher want to move forward with it?

Possibly. By and large most self identified liberal and conservative Catholics are dissatisfied with the translation commissioned by the USCCB (note: this is an American initiative). There are a myriad of reasons for this, but suffice to say the New American Bible typically fails to be adopted by "active" Roman Catholics.

Inevitably, a Catholic-ESV is likely to be a conservative initiative, but why move forward with it at all? I would imagine that the impetus behind interest in the ESV is borne from the failure to successfully resuscitate RSV in the Roman Church. Once a sign of the burgeoning ecumenicism around the time of Vatican II, attempts were made to get the RSV back in style by conservative Catholics. The initiative garnered limited results.

The RSV was impacted by Ecclesiastical politics when the US Bishops doubled down on their own translation and limited all liturgical texts to use of the New American Bible. The RSV was further hindered by the fact that it is essentially a "dead" translation. Unsupported by translation committee that could update the critical apparatus behind it and limited in the number of churches actively using (effectively, some conservative Protestant churches), the RSV has had little momentum behind it to find a place in Roman ecclesiastical life.

Enter the ESV. In the 16 years of its publication history, the ESV has steadily developed a segment of readers in the Roman Church. Crossway has successfully reached conservative Roman Catholics with its marketing of the ESV. Furthermore, Evangelicals and other conservative Protestants who have entered the Roman Church brought their Bibles with them - the ESV has been transplanted into the Roman Church for the better part of a decade via grassroots usage. Let's not forget, the ESV is a supported translation - developments in scholarship and manuscript discoveries will gradually be incorporated in subsequent editions. For a conservative Roman Catholic publisher with an eye towards a contemporary translation that falls on the opposite side of the ideological spectrum than the NRSV, the ESV makes sense.

Will it come to pass? Until there is something official from Crossway, it's all rumor. Is it relevant in the grand scheme of things? That depends upon one's estimation of the ESV and the motivations behind publishing a Catholic Edition. A Catholic Edition would broaden its audience and probably start getting some notice within the Orthodox Church. Although, I suspect the 2016 translation of Genesis 3:16 will be obstacle to Catholic approval, let alone Orthodox usage.

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