Friday, February 12, 2010

NABRE Answers

Last week, I mentioned that Mary Elizabeth Sperry, Associate Director for the Utilization of the NAB at the USCCB, was willing to answer some of your questions regarding the revised NAB (NABRE). She graciously took the time over the past week to answer some of them. If you have any more questions about the translation, please feel free to comment below. If you have any suggestions for the new website, please contact Mary Elizabeth Sperry at nab (at) usccb dot org

Question: Is there any possibility the New Testament will include the changes adapted for the liturgy?
At present, there are no plans to revise the New Testament.

Question: Will it restore the word "charity" in place of "love" when appropriate?
Though this issue does not really appear in the Old Testament, a similar one does, so it merits discussion. The art of translation requires putting text from one language into another. It requires deep knowledge of both the original and the receptor languages. In some cases, the receptor language does not have an exact match. In other cases, the receptor language changes over time so that the meaning of a specific word becomes limited (or changes altogether. See, for example, the translation of Mark 10:14 in the Douay Rheims Version).

The first type of case appears frequently in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word “hesed” does not have an exact match in English. It is translated variously as “mercy,” “faithful love,” “steadfast love,” “loving kindness,” and the like. The second type of case is seen in the use of the words “charity” and “love.” In common English usage, “charity” is often understood to be material assistance given to the poor. Obviously, that is not the meaning intended in Scripture. Of course, “love” does not fully capture the meaning sought either. In such cases, translators must do their best to capture the fullest possible meaning of the original.

Question: And will the Old Testament match the New in style and translation? Will it restore "Tobias" in place of "Tobiah"?
Like the New Testament, the translation of the Old Testament is a formal equivalent translation attempting to reflect the original language as closely as possible. As in the current edition, the spelling of proper names in the New American Bible follows the customary forms found in most English Bibles since the Authorized Version.

Question: How about "Spirit of God" or "Divine wind" vs "Mighty Wind" in Genesis?
I use this as a general example. I can’t comment on any specific wording pending the release of the complete text. I can discuss general principles, but not specific verses.

Question: On more of a format side, I have a 1970 edition of the NAB published by Catholic Press and World Publishing Co. that is a favorite of mine. It's 7 1/2" x 9", has a flexible cover, words of Christ in red, and the most unique thing about it, it has THREE columns on each page. Any chance the revised NAB will be published in an edition like this?
Ultimately, the formats are decided by the individual publishers, not the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. Some publishers may be looking at this format (though three columns is quite a challenge for formatting). The best way to ensure that such a format is available is to communicate that desire to the publisher of your choice. If enough people want a specific format, a publisher is more likely to provide it.

Question: Will the NABRE replace the NAB for use in the liturgy? If so, how soon after publication will the switch happen?
Substituting the NABRE for the NAB in the Lectionary would be a time-consuming, multi-step process. First, the text would have to be formatted for the Lectionary. Then two-thirds of the U.S. bishops would have to approve the revised Lectionary, followed by confirmation by the Holy See. That process would take years at the fastest, even given the bishops’ decision to proceed.

Question: Will publishers continue to produce NABs after publication of the NABRE?
Publisher sales of the NAB will cease 18 months after the NABRE is released for publication. It is likely that some stores will have copies of the NAB for a while after that. But if you really want a copy of the current edition, you should purchase it within the next year.

Question: The NAB is such a joke, considering we got the RSV CE and the Douay Rheims. Both superior translations.
There is room for multiple translations. No single translation can ever capture all of the nuances of the original text. Using multiple translations can help a reader delve more deeply into the meaning God intends us to draw from his sacred word. The NABRE makes use of the best available manuscript traditions and archaeological discoveries not available to the translators of the RSV-CE or the Douay-Rheims. Hopefully, use of these materials will help bring us closer to the original text.

Question: A good idea might to put a 'beta' version of the NABRE (or part of) online before final publication.
No portion of the NABRE may be published until the bishops release the text for publication. Once the bishops have granted that release and a public announcement has been made, portions of the text will be made available. The entire text will be posted close to the initial publication date.

Question: The current NAB OT does reconstruct/rearrange verses in some places like in Ezekiel. Will the new edition follow that same practice?
This rearrangement occurs far less often in the NABRE and is more clearly marked.

Question: Will the new Psalms follow the same verse numbering as the original?
I can’t answer this question without reference to my computer files which are snowed in at my office. I’ll answer it as soon as we are able to return to work.

Question: I wonder if this means notes which are now in the NAB that are unfaithful to the Church will be removed or fixed.
The text, introductions, and notes of the NAB have received the imprimatur, signifying that nothing in the text is opposed to Catholic faith or morals. The revised Old Testament is undergoing the same scrutiny and will receive the same assurance of fidelity.

Question: Who will be publishing the NABRE? I know that one of the frustrations in the past was that most NAB editions seemed to look almost identical, even if published by different publishing houses.
Unfortunately, I cannot announce the publishers of the NABRE until the text is released for publication. No contract to publish is finalized until the text receives final approval.

That being said, it is likely that you will see much greater diversity in the settings of the NABRE since modern methods of digital publishing make the creation of multiple formats easier and more cost-effective. Many current editions were published using typesetting files created during the 1970s and 1980s that are far less flexible.

Question: Is the NABRE going to be like the RSVCE and Douay Rheims, and be "Non-Inclusive"?
The revised NABOT does not use “vertical inclusive language.” It attempts to convey, as far as possible, the meaning of the original text. This is not always as easy as it sounds since Hebrew uses the same word for “sons,” “daughters,” and “children.” Translators must rely on the context of the passage to make the translation. In many cases in the OT, this is relatively clear as the text is narrative. For example, you know if the writer is talking about the sons of Isaac or the daughters of Jerusalem or the children of Israel.

Question: Complete sentences with verbs.
While the NAB translators follow standard English grammar, in some cases, the underlying Hebrew may use sentence fragments, particularly in poetic texts. In such cases, the English takes its clue from the original, provided comprehension is possible.

Question: Chapter and verse notation which conforms to recognized norms.
I can’t speak to questions of chapter and verse notation without recourse to my office files. See above comment regarding snow.

Question: Vocabulary that rises to a standard worthy of the Trinity: See NAB Isaiah 9:6ff for just one example of English that desperately needs to be elevated.
A entirely new and more reasoned approach to gender issues. The NRSV, NLT, NJB are not good examples. However, other modern translations exist which do gender inclusion better, attaining such without changing or obscuring the meaning of the text. Gender inclusion may be here to stay, but the NAB needs to go about it in a different manner than it has in the past. These questions are unclear.
I can’t really respond to them.

Question: An Old Testament translation which does not exclude a Christian understanding, especially in the Psalms. Example, the current rendering of Psalm 1 is incompatible with St. Augustine’s commentary on Psalm 1 and the fault lies with the translation theory. The English translation should make the magisterial teaching of the Doctors of the Church more accessible not less.
The NABOT and its notes will be very helpful in pursuing the canonical exegesis which the Holy Father has discussed. (See especially his address to the Swiss bishops on the ad limina visit.) However, it is very important to understand that the Fathers of the Church were far from unanimous in their interpretation of Scripture. Making the text compatible with one commentary may make it incompatible with another.

Question: A thorough and complete Christian revision of the notes and articles included in the text. The introductions and notes of the NAB should be faithful to the magisterial teaching of the Church.
See above response regarding the imprimatur.

Question: Please, pretty please may we have some cool, high quality paper, fonts, binding, covers, design, etc. See for a fun if evangelical discussion of such things. See especially the notes on non-leather bindings—there are many good possibilities that are not leatherette or bonded leather or 1960-ish vinyl.Margins. Readable type-setting. Smyth sewn. Options.
See above for discussion of the role of publishers. All of these decisions are up to publishers though the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine is working closely with the publishers to maximize the formats available. The plans I have seen are very exciting.

Question: A Greek / Hebrew interlinearDevelopment of this resource will depend on a publisher.
Most publishers will want some assurance of a sufficient Catholic market before developing such a publication. However, many electronic editions will offer the ability to view the English translation and the original text side-by-side or interlinearly.

Question: At long last, the text in the Bible I buy must match what is read at mass on Sunday. This is a must. It must happen. The published text and the lectionary text must be the same.
As explained above, this is a time-consuming and complicated process.

Question: Strive for excellence. The AR-NAB has always been a mediocre translation at best - nowhere near the worst and nowhere near the best; just fair-to-middling. Make it excellent and the critics will be silenced.
The NABNT is generally considered one of the highest-quality translations available. I have no doubt that the NABOT is at the same or even higher standard.

Question: Is the revision of the text (both scripture and notes) complete? If so, could you show us a sample?For example the Common English Bible, a translation that is much more than a year away from publication, has posted on its website the Gospel according to Matthew ( Is there any way that the USCCB could do something similar?
With the exception of the Book of Psalms, the revision is complete. However, the text may not be published in any way, in whole or in part, until the bishops authorize publication.

Question: Will the NABRE include a section for daily Liturgical readings according to the 3 year cycles?
The decision on including this chart is up to the individual publishers. However, we could include the chart in downloadable format on the website if that would be helpful.

Question: I know this would be more up to the publisher, but it would be great to take my Bible to Mass with me and be able to follow the readings of the day by simply using multiple ribbons to mark them before I go. This way I can just flip from one to the next using the ribbons. When I was a Protestant I took my Bible to church every Sunday and followed along with the pastor. I know the missals in the pews have all the readings in one spot, but I think it would set an example for some Catholics to be able to use our Bible's as we go through the readings.
This is up to the publishers. However, adding ribbons tends to add substantially to the cost of the Bible because of the extra work involved.

Question: Will the new Psalms follow the same verse numbering as the original?The numbering of the verses follows the Hebrew numbering whichtypically counts the superscription as a verse.

Question: Chapter and verse notation which conforms to recognized norms.
The biggest differences, e,.g. Malachi, are not unusual among Catholictranslations. The Neo-Vulgate follows a similar pattern.


Mike said...

I certainly think her for taking the time to answer these questions. I myself do not really use the NAB that much (preferring the Douay and RSV-CE), but I am very grateful for her responses to the questions.

Dwight said...

I am also very appreciative for the response. Thank you, Mary! However, I must take issue with the imprimatur statements. I know what the intended function of an imprimatur is, but an imprimatur does not a faithful text (or notes) make...

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much, Mary.

I would like to add my comment onto Dwight's with an example. The NRSV gained imprimatur status and approval from various bishops but was ultimately rejected for liturgical use because it was found to be too problematic. Similarly, the NAB has an imprimatur but the Psalms and the New Testament were found to be unsuitable for use in the Catholic Church. (Resulting in a longstanding mishmash of texts - those used, those not used, those modified for use but not published, those published but not liturgically approved, etc) For these and many other reasons, the imprimatur fails to reassure, in my opinion.

Again, thank you so much for your time and effort. I do really appreciate it.


Raphael said...

Thank you Mary, for answering our questions. To be honest, I wish some of the answers were different. It's somewhat disheartening that the NABRE will not use the altered NT approved for Liturgy. It deflates my enthusiasm for the NABRE somewhat. Pity.

Mary Elizabeth Sperry said...

Just to clarify, an imprimatur means that the text and notes are not oopsed to Catholic faith and morals. In the case of a Scripture translation, it means that Catholics may use the translation for personal study and devotion. Liturgical use is giverned by different law. The current policy for reviewing a Scripture text for the imprimatur is time-consuming and detailed. The text is reviewed (to every jot and tittle) by both independent scholars and a subcommittee of bishops. All involved take their responsibilities very seriously and it is not unusual for this review to result in changes to the text or notes or in the inclusion of additional helpful notes. I would never say anything to take away from the care, attention, fidelity, and love for Scripture that these scholars and bishops bring to their work.

Mary Elizabeth Sperry said...

Please forgive my typos. You'll all be happy to know I'm not the last proofreader for the NABRE!

Francesco said...

Thanks Mary for taking the time to answer our questions.

I have a follow-up question: is there a reason why a version of the NAB or NABRE can't be published with the Liturgical readings substituted in where they differ from the base text?

Thanks again!

becket said...

Looks like I'll be sticking with the RSV CE, and Douay Rheims. NAB RE will still be a modernist lame translation. Looks like this one will also be rejected by Rome as well. Great Job!!. We need to employ a new set of translators. Ones that stick with Romes directives.

Francesco said...

the NABRE will be a "lame translation"? What did Mary say that made you think that? What did Mary say that told you that the NABRE would not follow "Rome's directives"?

It's too soon to say anything about the NABRE because no one outside the USCCB has seen it.

becket said...

Francesco, if this is anything like the current NAB, it will be rejected by Rome for liturgical purposes unless "inclusive language" is removed. They don't get it do they!. Catholics in this country want the "exact translation that is used in the liturgy. WORD for WORD!. When I open up a missalette at church, I want the readings to be exact as my Bible at home. With the current NAB, and NABRE, this is not happening. Whay don't they just re-issue the 1970 NAB and be done with it. It was way more graceful then the current NAB. I hope and pray Rome disapproves of it for all forms of use!. The current American Catholic Church could not produce a graceful and conservative translation of scriptures if every Catholics soul depended on it.

Anonymous said...


I am grateful you took time to answer questions when you did not have to do so. Thank you. Nevertheless, I find your answers more troubling each time I read them.

As only one example, you assert that one hold-up to the release of the revision is the complexity of the imprimatur process (among other complex processes). This explanation discounts the fact that the USCCB has had 30 years to correct a text that took only 10 years to produce in the first place.

This process is not necessarily as complex as you indicate. For an example of what can be done, a committee updated the RSV-CE to a second Catholic edition (which is imperfect but quite good), got it approved by a house of bishops (Antilles) and by Rome, produced lectionaries, Bible study programs and now an excellent study Bible to go with the text, all in less than ten years.

It can be done. It has been done. Therefore, there must be a reason the USCCB refuses to do the necessary work. Incompetence? Neglect? Disobedience? Laziness? Subversion? Pride? What? The mind runs wild with speculation in the void of reasonable action.

Not that I expect you to offer a convincing answer. There comes a time when rationalizations and explanations no longer satisfy. The USCCB should have solved the NAB problem long ago. There are no more satisfying excuses left to explain another delay, especially one that is leading to yet another incomplete resolution.

Thank you for reading my thoughts. I know that you are not responsible for the mess that is the NAB, but I hope you or someone in a qualified position will begin to change this ridiculous situation.


Dwight said...

I'm afraid that issues with the USCCB go much deeper than questionable Biblical translation...

Mary Elizabeth Sperry said...

I would like to clarify a few points for Dwight. The Subcomittee on the Translation of Scripture Texts (then the Ad Hoc Committee for the Review of Scripture Translations) received the NAB Old Testament (except the Book of Psalms) in December 2002. The vote on approval took place in November 2008. The Psalms have been with the subcommittee for nearly a year and no schedule is available for the completion of their review. I cannot speak for the RSV-CE second edition except to note that uit is not on the list of translations that has been approved by the USCCB: I can only assume that it did not follow the process I described.

Timothy said...

Might I just make a few comments:

1) If you want to read what Fr. Fessio has said about the RSV-2CE process, you can go here:

2) While the revised '91 NAB Psalms were rejected by Rome for liturgical use, the NAB OT and NT are both accepted for use in the liturgy (with minor adaptions). The fact that the NAB OT and NT (minus the '91 Psalms) are the English translation on the Vatican website also says something. (They also included the NAB notes)

3) I also want to echo what Francesco has stated. It is too early to start condemning a translation when you haven't even seen it yet. The fact that the entire OT, including Psalms, is being revised to be more formal equivalence is a very good thing. Also, if it's use of "horizontal inclusive langauge" is the same as the NAB NT, which is far less than the NRSV and other more recent translations, then there really should be no problem IMHO. If it is good enough to be put on the Vatican website, then it is good enough for me.

becket said...

Like I said before. When I open up a missalette at church, I want the readings to be exact as my Bible at home. With the current NAB, and NABRE, this is not happening. Tim these adaptions need to also be included in the Bibles we buy in the store as well.

Mary said "I cannot speak for the RSV-CE second edition except to note that uit is not on the list of translations that has been approved by the USCCB:"

The Douay Rheims is approved and it is used in the EF Mass for the readings in vernacular.

Anonymous said "the USCCB refuses to do the necessary work. Incompetence? Neglect? Disobedience? Laziness? Subversion? Pride? What? The mind runs wild with speculation in the void of reasonable action."

I agree with all six!.

Mary Elizabeth Sperry said...

To clarify, the list on the USCCB website dates to 1991. Texts that received an imprimatur prior to that date (including the Douay Rheims, the first edition of the RSV-CE, the Jerusalem Bible, and the original NAB OT and revised NT) would not be included. Of course, the imprimaturs previously granted remain valid despite the change in canon law.

Sam said...

that was awesome! I was really clueless about the hating on the NAB until I took a class on the OT. What a blessing to have such frank responses to everyone's question; I would've expected more politicing.

Raphael said...

I do hope it is not too late for the bishops to reconsider and include the altered version of the NT approved for Liturgy in the NABRE. It's already complete, so they need not do any work on it. As long as the NABRE is still incomplete (i.e., still working on the Psalms), there's still hope the bishops could decide to go with the Liturgical NT, if they get many respectful requests for it (hint-hint-hint!!).

Marcia said...

There is no need to bring our Bibles to Mass, since the Word of God is to be HEARD, not read along with the Lector or Priest... The Misalettes include the texts for people that have difficulty hearing or understanding spoken English.

Richard Novak said...

Mary did an honest job answering the questions about the NABRE - and with great patience! It appears that several questions were "agenda driven" and likely from Catholic conservatives and fundamentalists. These folks have been consistently critical of the NAB, NRSV, NJB as well as our current Mass texts - favoring (or demanding) more formal and literal translations to the exclusion of any degree of dynamic equivalence (and reasonable horizontal inclusive language). As I read many of the comments, I saw wearisome efforts to be "literalist and orthodoxy watchdogs" regarding the NABRE or any other translation that isn't a clone of the RSV-CE(2). Sounds like the Catholic version of the "King James Only" folk among our Protestant neighbors!

I was annoyed by the repeated questioning about the validity of the "Imprimatur" for the NABRE text and notes. Mary did a professional job of clarifying those issues.

I've used the NAB (1970) and welcomed its later revisions as very adequate for prayer and study. Overall I'm looking forward to the NABRE as a scholarly contemporary version - although I'm not a fan of its further drift toward a more formal rendering. And I especially disfavor the dismantling of the 1991 Psalms in the new revision.

The release of the NABRE - and the implementation of the new English missal highlight the continuing fault-lines in the church and the polarization over what it means to be truly "catholic" (ie., "according to the whole") in our mission to proclaim the Gospel.

Richard Novak