Download: ESV & Lectionary 2021

Catholics in the UK are aware (I hope) that in 2022 there will be a new Lectionary. In every Mass “God’s holy words” will be proclaimed in a new and inclusive translation.
The Jerusalem Bible has served us well providing the readings for the very first time in a modern English translation. But so inadequate was that translation that it was quickly replaced by The New Jerusalem Bible. That translation likewise proved to be very poor. A third effort, the Revised New Jerusalem Bible was produced (by a single scholar) with the expectation of its publishers that it would be chosen for a new Lectionary. That our bishops did not approve of that translation and chose instead a Catholic edition of the English Standard Version has caused much conflict. Some clarification of that decision will not go amiss.

The alleged lack of inclusive language quickly emerged as the most obvious reason for rejecting the English Standard Version. However, from the beginning of the heated debates in The Tablet and other publications, those who championed the Revised New Jerusalem Bible failed to acquaint themselves with the truth of the matter. The bishops of England, Wales, and Scotland, from the outset of the project, insisted that new Lectionaries must embrace inclusive language.

A team, led by Archbishop George Stack of Cardiff, was appointed to produce the new Lectionary. In the matter of gender language Archbishop Stack and his team were commanded to produce a Lectionary text that everywhere was inclusive. Our bishops could do not other - for a true understanding of God’s holy words demands inclusivity. Inclusive language is not an added-on modern-day demand. It is a requirement made by the ancient texts themselves. Our new Lectionary will be a true blessing for when we declare THE WORD OF THE LORD we will know that what we have heard is truly inclusive of men and women and therefore truly the word of the LORD.


The ESV Bible was published in the United States in 2001. It is in the tradition of the great English translations that go back to William Tyndale’s translation of the New Testament of 1526, to the King James Version (KJV), known as the Authorised Version, of 1611, and to revisions of that magnificent work, down to the Revised Standard Version, and the translations that followed on from that great work published in 1952.

The KJV of 1611 is by far and away the most influential Bible ever published in any language. It has nourished and continues to nourish the faith of millions. The Oxford University Press sells a quarter of a million copies of that Bible every year. The ESV seeks to capture the glory of the King James and its successors by offering a translation that is accessible to modern ears while at the same time allowing the reader to see as directly as possible the structure and meaning of the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. It tries to do in our time what the King James has done for over four hundred years.

What we will hear in our new Lectionary are the varied voices of the past in an English translation that is faithful to the literal meaning of these ancient words while allowing them faithfully to speak to our faith and to our understanding of God and God’s Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

There is an Italian proverb that speaks true: traduttore, traditore, a translator is a traitor. It is not possible to translate every nuance of one language into anther language. Is it possible to translate Tell me about it! without the complicit shake of the head that confirms there is no need to tell me about it? The ESV translation rightly seeks to echo the tone of voice, the stress of emphasis of what was written in the past. As the Preface says, the ESV translators “have sought to capture the echoes and overtones of meaning that are so abundantly present in the original texts”. This places great responsibility on preachers and teachers, and on parish Scripture groups to wrestle with God’s holy words with prayer and attentive listening in order to hear the voice of God in words written long ago by our fathers and mothers in faith.


The ESV, as published by the American Bible Society (New York), is readily available in many different editions from paperback to luxury-bound and large print volumes.
Everyone must be aware that the published editions of the English Standard Version, including the English Standard Version/Catholic Edition, are copyrighted by Crossways Bible, a division of Good News Publishers, do not adhere directly to a policy of inclusive language for inclusivity’s sake. Every ESV edition, including the Catholic edition, includes a preface explaining the Crossways policy in the area of gender language. It is essential to study this Preface carefully and to note the principles of translating adhered to in the ESV project. Its conclusion sums up its determination to render literally what is endemic in the original texts:

In each case the objective has been transparency to the original text, allowing the reader to understand the original on its own terms rather than in the terms of our present-day culture.

However, in every instance of where an inclusive translation would reflect the Hebrew and Greek texts the ESV provides a footnote that justifies an inclusive translation. Catholic readers are advised to read the footnotes to such instances and adhere to the inclusive translation.

Every offshoot of the ESV, such as the ESV/Catholic Edition, must adhere to the principles demanded by Crossway Bibles. However, our new Lectionary is not bound by this policy. It will embrace inclusive language throughout the whole of the Bible. “Brothers” will rightly be rendered “brothers and sisters”. “Any man” will become “anyone”. “People” rather than “men” will be employed where the original languages clearly refer to both men and women. When St Paul uses the word “brothers” he is not excluding Phoebe, Lydia or Junia, or Mary (not Our Lady), or Persis, or the sisters Tryphaena and Tryphosa. These women and all who were baptised into God’s family, enjoyed all the privileges, rights, and duties given to Paul himself.

The ESV/Catholic Edition is now available in an edition published by the Indian bishops. There is a Catholic edition, called The Augustine Bible, published in the United States. An edition published by our bishops will appear in October, 2021. Our Lectionary should begin to bless us at the beginning of Advent in 2021 or of Lent 2022.

Dr Joseph O’Hanlon
1 August, 2021.