Is ESV appropriate for Catholic study?

This is something of a more in-depth question than the subject line would indicate, so please bear with me…

Okay, I understand the main difference between a Catholic Edition bible and an everyday Protestant translation is the inclusion of the Deuterocanonical books of the OT in the later.

Well, I recently browsed an ESV bible at the local Parable bookstore and found it to be an elegant yet easy to read translation. Still, I didn’t purchase it.

Back home, Oxford NAB Study Bible in hand, I read the NT in a month and am now working my way through the OT. My intention is to go back to the NT with a specific emphasis on the Gospels when I’m done with the whole bible.

MY QUESTION FOR THE FORUMITES IS THIS: considering that I will have read the whole bible cover to cover in a Catholic-appropriate translation, is there anything inherently wrong with my using an ESV for my study of the Gospels and other NT letters afterwards?

Thanks so much,


The value in studying the ESV would be to see all the places where it gets the scriptures wrong so you can help people who don’t know any better change to a Catholic version on the way to the fullness of truth.

Well, beyond the fact the ESV omits the Deuterocanon, what scripture are you specifically speaking of?

Jimmy Akin says the right bible to use is the bible you’ll read. :hmmm:

My preference is for the NKJV, but, since this is not available in an edition with the deuterocanonicals, I use the RSV Catholic Edition. This is a Church-approved version of the RSV which has a few, minor changes in the New Testament. Until recently the RSV-CE has been hard to find in America and had to be ordered from the Catholic Truth Society in London. Now it is being reissued by Ignatius Press as The Ignatius Bible. (When this edition is in print, we will advertise it in This Rock.)

In the end, there is no good reason to select only one translation of the Bible. A Catholic should collect several versions, remaining aware of the strengths and weaknesses of each. Often it is possible to get a better sense of what is being said in a passage by comparing several different translations.

The bottom line: Which is the best version for you? A possibly apocryphal anecdote about Billy Graham has the answer. When asked which Bible version is the best, he replied, “The one you will read.”

Thank you for your reply Jerry-Jet, but I guess I’m looking for more specificity here.


Well, for one it says that the Church is “a” pillar and foundation of truth, rather than “the”…

True, the Greek doesn’t have the definite article, but inserting “a” [there is no indefinite article in Greek] is akin to the JW’s inserting “a” in John 1:1. If you don’t want to include “the”, then a suitable translation is “the Church of the living God, pillar and foundation of the truth”. So by context, “the” belongs naturally before “pillar”. One must keep in mind that “the” does not match 1-to-1 with the Greek definite article, and so the English may include “the” when the context says so, as in this case.

That is exactly what I wanted to know. I’m not sure why it didn’t occur to me to use ESV’s online version and compare a few scripture passages with, say, other Protestant bibles such as the NASB via Bible Gateway or other websites.

After pondering this difference, I have another question, porthos. What do you mean when you say "the Greek doesn’t have the definite article? (Read: what is a “definite article” and why doesn’t the Greek have it?)

Thanks for taking a n00b by the hand here, it’s helping!

I just compared 2 Thessalonians 2:15 and the ESV doesn’t replace the word “tradition” with “teaching” like, for instance, the NIV does. So this bodes well for the ESV - or so I should think.

Perhaps part of the reason this bible seems to “read” well is that it’s pretty new, the publication date is 2001.

A definite article is a word that lends definiteness and concreteness to a noun, while an indefinite article only refers to a noun in an abstract, theoretical manner. In English, the definite article is the word “the”, while the indefinite is “a/an”. Note the difference in sense when you read:

“the book” vs
“a book”

When you read “the book” you have the sense that there is a real, tangible, specific book you’re talking about. “A book” merely tells us that there is some book but we don’t know what, or if it even exists.

Context tells us how the articles work. For example, when we say “The World” we know what it means (our planet; there is only one) while “a world” can mean something else (a lifestyle; an alien planet).

After pondering this difference, I have another question, porthos. What do you mean when you say "the Greek doesn’t have the definite article? (Read: what is a “definite article” and why doesn’t the Greek have it?)

Thanks for taking a n00b by the hand here, it’s helping!

Perhaps I should clarify. The Greekof 2 Tim 3:15 doesn’t have the definite article before the word “pillar”, but it doesn’t mean that the English cannot place it there.

Greek as a language doesn’t have the indefinite article; that is, it has no equivalent for a/an. It does have the definite article, and it plays an ever bigger role in Greek than it does in English. Its form differs depending on gender and case (Greek is an inflected language; i.e. word forms change depending on usage). It is usually rendered as “the” in English, but there are times when it’s dropped (“the Jesus”) or added (such as in this case I cited).

I am not arguing with you here, but I have a question. In some places in the Greek, when translating it to English, I am sure that even though there is no specific indefinite article in the Greek, that the meaning requires using an indefinite article when translating it into English. I am not saying that this particular case is one of those, but how do translators know when it IS one of these cases?

Context will be the primary determinant. Indeed, English translators will have to determine, primarily through context whether an inserted “a/an” or “the” is needed in the translation.

Let me get this straight. If the Greek doesn’t have “a/an”, then while the ESV’s translation of the verse in question can’t necessarily be called dishonest, it (the translation here) may reflect a slight Evangelical bias as evidenced by the decision not to use “the” as a Catholic translator of the text would likely choose?

A follow up question: based on these discussions, would you ever use an ESV for general scripture reading (I’ve got an NAB Study for study)? I’m going to concentrate on the NT anyway and on that canon Catholics and Protestants agree.


Essentially, yes. Unfortunately it goes against the witness of older English translations, including the KJV, RSV, NIV, and NASB, all Protestant translations.

A follow up question: based on these discussions, would you ever use an ESV for general scripture reading (I’ve got an NAB Study for study)? I’m going to concentrate on the NT anyway and on that canon Catholics and Protestants agree.


I think you can, after all, you’re cross-referencing anyway. Personally, I would go for the RSV-CE though.


You can save the money and review the ESV here:
or here:

Fr, Felix Just S.J. believes it’s a good idea to have at least 2 Catholic Church approved “Formal Correspondence” translations such as the NAB & RSV-CE and 2 “Dynamic Equivalence” translation such as the JB & NEB.

Since you can research the ESV without purchasing it, I’d concentrate on getting the RSV-CE & JB before I got something such as the ESV.

I see no reason to require that posters try to knock a particular version of the Scriptures. It’s just that, with a something such as the ESV (or the NIV I often use) the translators had an anti-Catholic bias, and that, no matter how hard they tried, that bias might have come through at crucial points.

I just browsed 6 Scriptures that I consider “Canaries in the Mine” - The ESV didn’t do as badly as many other translations.

Your Brother in Christ, Michael


It’s 1 Tim 3:15 ESV:

“…if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth.”

But, otherwise, you’re right, it obviously should be something such as, “…if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.” 1 Tim 3:15 RSV

No matter how hard one tries, it’s very hard to keep one’s bias from coming through in translating documents or speeches, reporting events or in things involving human judgment.

I see that I’ll have to add a 7th Canary to the batch.

Your Brother in Christ, Michael

Is the NAB considered “formal equivalence”? It does not seem to be a really literal translation to me. Of the Catholic translations, it is my least favourite. I prefer the RSV-CE and Douay Rheims. The NAB seems more of a dynamic equivalence translation to me, more like a Catholic Bible similar to the Protestant NIV, which I don’t like either.

The original NAB fell within the dynamic side of the spectrum. With the revision of the New Testament in 1986, it moved somewhat to the center, but the NAB is still more dynamic than formal. It falls around the same point as the NIV.

Thanks! That’s what I thought.


The NAB has usually been classified as a “Formal Equivalence” translation by scholars who know better than I. An absolutely literal translation would be absolutely unintellegible, so all translations are compromises. The NAB generally tries to translate word for word or phrase for phrase - I agree with you that it seems to do a “clunky” job of it.

A “Dynamic Equivalence” Translation is always asking the question, “What was the impact of the that sentence or scene on the hearers or observers?” Look at my recently posted link to JB Philips NT in Modern English if you have any questions, or read the NIV on Gateway.

I usually prefer the RSV-CE for a “Formal Equivalence” and the JB (Mother Angelica’s favorite) for the “Dynamic Equivalence”, although I’ve had some trouble getting access to a copy. Gateway works for the variety of versions on the Web and for posting here.

There have have been too many discoveries of texts and too many changes in the meanings of words for me to use the older versions as study bibles.

Your Brother in Christ, Michael

Laymen need only read the version used in Mass and in the Catechism, ie. the NAB and RSV. If this isn’t enough for you learn the original languages.

For the record…

I own an NIV Life Application Study Bible. It’s a great resource with maps and what I’ll call character bios… except (no offense) for the fact I feel it’s, well, a bit dishonest in that the translators replaced the word “tradition” with “teaching” in various sections. That’s blatantly anti-RC IMHO.

I own two NAB Bibles, one being the Oxford Press Catholic Study Bible 2nd Ed. It has alot of good notes, a nice reading guide, and is the source of most of my intensive scripture study (as opposed to relaxed reading, say, over a cup of morning coffee).

I own a very nice, small sized, duo-tone leather bound RSV-CE, another Oxford bible, and love it except for the fact some of the language sounds a little archaic to me (and is therefore hard to interpret).

That lead me to pick up a few bibles at the local Parables last week. After sampling several translations, I ran across the ESV and, for whatever reason, it seemed to “read” more easily than the RSV.

So that’s the basis for my questions in this thread.

If you want an easy to read bible or a stylisticaly smooth bible or a Protestant bible or an inclusive language bible or a bible with heretical footnotes or a bible that omits verses there are many choices out there.

If you want an imperfect bible but one that is closer to the truth of God’s word than any other in English and one that is Catholic buy a Douay Rheims Challoner Haydock.

If you want a thoroughly Protestant bible buy the ESV.