Friday, February 25, 2011

NABRE Sneak Peek: Psalm 1

Psalm 1 has been posted at the NABRE Facebook site. One is immediately struck by the first four words: "Blessed is the man...". This is a significant change from the '91 Psalms, which followed the original NAB's use of 'happy' as well as using inclusive language for 'the man'. Is this perhaps an indication of the NABRE's Psalms utilization of Liturgiam Authenticam? It will be interesting to compare the NABRE OT, which was primarily translated in the 90's, and the more recently translated Psalms.


Theophrastus said...

The change from

Nor go the way of sinners


Nor stand in the way of sinners

invites misunderstanding.

Timothy said...


Yeah, I think you make an interesting point. Do you have an insight on the Hebrew?

Theophrastus said...

There is a reason for that wording -- עמד does, in fact, mean standing -- it appears about 500 times in the Bible (e.g., Exodus 3:5 -- "the place on which you are standing is holy ground"). And it reflects a contrast/parallelism in the Hebrew between the "walk in the counsel of the wicked"/"stand in the way of sinners"/"sit in company with scoffers".

However, the NABRE's wording is problematic to anyone who knows colloquial English. It would have been better to have translated this (and also would have reflect Hebrew word order better) to invert the object and verb, e.g.,

Nor, in the way of sinners, stand

or alternatively use a different word than way

Nor stand in the manner of sinners

or alternatively use a different preposition

Nor stand after the way of sinners

Francesco said...

"The NABRE gives, and the NABRE takes away"

"Happy" --> "Blessed"
"those" --> "the man"

"not follow the counsel of the wicked" --> "not walk in the counsel of the wicked"
"Nor go the way of sinners," --> "Nor stand in the way of sinners,"

I've been taking advice from people for all my life, but I've never "walked in the counsel" of someone before. In context its clear what it means, but alone it sounds like the blessed man doesn't interrupt the wicked when they advise each other.

The same thing about "stand in the way of sinners". In context it means something quite different than what it does alone. The way the Revised Grail Psalms handle these phrases is much better while being only marginally different:

"Blessed indeed is the man who follows not the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the path with sinners, nor abides in the company of scorners,"

What is also interesting is the new reading in v. 5, which now alludes to the resurrection:

"Therefore the wicked will not survive judgment, nor will sinners in the assembly of the just."

"Therefore the wicked will not arise at the judgment, nor will sinners in the assembly of the just."

Anonymous said...

I’ve been following conversations on this blog for a while. While I can’t profess to be as knowledgeable as some here, this is something I do know because of being my work with the Hebrew language over the past 20 years.

In the MT this verse reads: Ashrei ha’ish asher lo halakh ba’atzat resha’im uvderekh chatta’im lo amad uvmoshav leitsim lo yashav.

It is a play with words, namely how “ha’ish” or “the man” is “ashrei” or “blessed.” This enriched state is because of his obedience as can be seen by his “actions,” namely how he “walks,” where he “stands,” and who he “sits” with.

These three verbs connect with the Semitic expressions used to describe “living,” as in the expressions “going in and coming out,” which occurs frequently in the OT. In this Psalm “ha’ish” does not WALK according to the advice or counsel of “ba’atzat resha’im,” nor foolishly exposes himself to near occasion of sin by STANDING where he might unintentionally make a mistake and sin (which is what “chet,” from which the word “chatta’im” comes and refers to—erring by mistake instead of outright willful sinning or “rasha”), neither does he SIT with scornful, mocking cynics.

Going back to “uvderekh chatta’im” and its connection to “standing”—in Hebrew the expression “the way” literally means “the road taken” as in our expression “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” The writer already used “walking” down a dangerous path as a direction opposite of achieving “ashrei.” Now he talks about “standing” or better yet “loitering.”

This expression suggests that even investigating the path chosen by sinners could become a near occasion of sin, even if one does not intend to take it. One who “stands,” or “lingers” on this path is just fooling themselves if they don’t believe it will also rob them of happiness.

Forgive me in case I am missing something, but I don’t see how this newer translation would invite misunderstanding since the poet is definitely using these contrasting terms of “walking,” “standing,” and “sitting.” The word “go” is similar to walk, and that would invite misunderstanding if used along with avoiding “uvderekh chatta’im” altogether. My learning of Hebrew is from several rabbis. Am I wrong in my verbs here?

Timothy said...


Your note on v. 5 is interesting, again, looking at the Hebrew would be helpful. (Which I plan to do at some point!) ;)


Thanks for your contribution, which I think is very helpful. I will be interested in reading some responses to your comments, by some other people, like you, who have a grasp of the Hebrew.

Jonny said...

A Lama:

I appreciate your comments regarding the Hebrew language. I am happy (or more specifically, "blessed") that the American Bishops were forced to translate more accurately from the original languages. There is no need to water down the Book that God gave us to understand in Christ through the authority of the Church.

Although the translation is more accurate in some ways (what I have seen so far), I am not sure it or the accompanying notes have been made in the full light of the Magisterium. For instance the part about the sinners not arising in the judgment seems to conflict the Church's teaching on the Last Judgement. CCC1038: The resurrection of all the dead, "of both the just and the unjust," will precede the Last Judgment. This will be "the hour when all who are in the tombs will hear [the Son of man's] voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment."


Timothy said...

Just for reference, the following translations generally agree with the NABRE's "Nor stand in the way of sinners":


Timothy said...


Of course the Psalmist may not have the final judgment in mind when he composed this Psalm. This was written many centuries before the Word became flesh. We can, of course, see the spiritual sense of this passage and make that connection, but I am quite confident that the NABRE translators were not denying CCC1038 in translating it the way they did.

Theophrastus said...

"Stand in the way" has long been an idiom in English. The OED quotes circa 1450 Lydgate's Flour of Curtesye, "The whiche twayne ay stondeth in my wey Maliciously."; from the Briefe Exam. "Ye must ... take heede, lest ye stande in your owne way."; from a diary entry by J. Evelyn from 1667 "The thwarted some of them % stood in their way", and many, many other entries.

The difficulty is several-fold: this is an idiomatic expression in Hebrew that conflicts with a separate idiomatic expression in English. The 1611 KJV translators avoided the problem (which is present in the Geneva 1560 Bible "stand in the way") by choosing here, somewhat uncharacteristically, to switch to the second person singular: "standeth in the way of sinners" (deliberately choosing to avoid the well-established idiom.).

Similarly, the 1610 Douai translation avoids the problem by altering the tense (which is compatible with the Hebrew): "not stoode in the way of sinners." It further clarifies it with a sidenote that explicitly disclaims the common English idiom:

not continued in sinne.

and further includes a long note and pedantic note explaining the difference between Hebrew and English usage by including a side note

Hath not gone, not stood, not sitte.] The Hebrew stile, and maner of discourse differeth here from other nations, in mentioning first the lesse euil, and the greatest last. [Subnote: They are happie (in hope) that decline from euil.] VVhereas we would say in the contrary order: He is happie that hath not sitte, that is, hath not setled himselfe in wickednes, nor finally persisted obstinate: more happie, that hath not stood, anie notable time continued in sinne: and most happie, that hath not gone, not geuen anie consent at al to euil suggestions

No possibility of confusion here! So it appears that both the Douai and KJV translators were aware of the idiom problem.

However, by the time of the Challoner revision, there was already confusion brewing: in 1752 Challoner writes "nor stood in the way of sinners" which is close enough to the English idiom to cause problems (and he omits any note.)

(I am unable to find a facsimile version of the Douai or Challoner that quotes as Tim does above.)

Comment continued below

Colleague said...

There's been a number of comments posted here recently where certain persons have stated that these sneak peeks have scared them away from purchasing the NABRE, and yet, given such consistent, faithful renderings (as we have here, for example) I can't for the life of me figure out what has changed people's minds. The more sneak peaks I read, the more I'm impressed. I really sense in the NABRE a true Catholic Bible that American Catholics need not be ashamed in owning. Of course I'm biased, but having racked my brain over good, decent and just plain awful translations, the NABRE OT revisions are shaping up to be more satisfactory than I initially imagined.

Tim, I'm glad that you post out that the NABRE shares a similar translation to the RSV, NASB, ESV and Douay since these translations are not only regarded as the most formal and less idiomatic but because they are also highly regarded by Protestants and Catholics.

Theophrastus said...

Comment continued from above

he RV and RSV slip back to the Geneva usage, apparently unaware of the problem; but the NRSV takes pain to disambiguate it. The NEB follows the path that the later NAB would follow, by translating the idiom rather than the words

Happy is the man
who does not take the wicked for his guide
nor walk the road that sinners tread
nor take his seat among the scornful

Of course the NABRE has a note here explaining "way", but it still takes a few moments thought to figure out that this is a Hebrew expression meaning "emulate" rather than "blocking the way".

All of which raises the question in my mind: for whom is this translation? Is this translation for the scholar or highly educated? It seems to me from the excerpts that I've seen that this is the audience the notes and translation are written for. And that then raises the questions:

(1) Is that audience (scholars and highly educated) already served well by other translations?

(2) What translations will be presented to children, to non-native speakers of English, to those who lack a high school or college education?

Theophrastus said...

Colleague writes:

Tim, I'm glad that you post out that the NABRE shares a similar translation to the RSV, NASB, ESV and Douay since these translations are not only regarded as the most formal and less idiomatic but because they are also highly regarded by Protestants and Catholics.

I'm not sure I understand this comment. First, as I show above, this is not actually true for the Douai. Second, what does it mean to be "highly regarded"? Does it mean that all aspects of these translations are viewed as exemplary and beyond criticism? If so, then why would we need a new translation? If not, then examinging previous translations addressed this verse is not a deciding factor: we can evaluate the quality of the NABRE's English as native English speakers ourselves.

In other words, I'm not trying to stand in your way. Or maybe I am trying to stand in your way. You're a native speaker -- you figure it out.

Timothy said...


How would you answer your own question about the intended audience of the NABRE?

If we are looking at English editions that are "approved" for Catholics, would not the Good News Bible (CE) be for Children and non-native speakers? I have heard, incorrectly might I say, that the NAB is for those with a lower reading level, but as you point out and in reality it is not. It is much closer to the RSV, for good or bad, than most people who like to rip on it are willing to acknowledge.

So, going back to your question, one which I asked a few weeks back, what is the intended audience of the NABRE?

Theophrastus said...

what is the intended audience of the NABRE?

You asked a good question -- which is why I copied it!

It is hard to know for sure because we have only seen short excerpts of the NABRE. But extrapolating from what we have seen, the notes currently seem to target the same sort of market as an academic study Bible such as New Oxford Annotated Bible or the HarperCollins Study Bible. They even can be compared with some notes in the New Jerome Bible Commentary.

The translation sans the notes seems to be a moderately formal translation similar in reading level to the NRSV.

However, the notes definitely seemed aimed at a reader who is (i) college-educated and (ii) already has some experience in reading the Bible.

Another comparison: the notes in the NABRE seem to be somewhat more challenging than the notes the New Jerusalem Bible. However, the NJB notes are omitted from many editions (such as the Reader's Edition or the Saint's Devotional Edition. As I understand it, there will be less opportunity for editions of the NABRE without notes.

The NABRE could have made notes in three categories:

(1) brief "translation notes",
(2) longer "commentary notes", and (3) "theological or Church history notes".

All three of these notes would be useful. But sadly, the examples we have seen so far are all of type (2), with no notes of types (1) or (3).

Tim (and others), what do you think so far about the target audience?

Timothy said...


I tend to agree with your analysis. As you have said, however, we have only seen a limited selection of text and notes. We were told that the notes would included content that utilized more "canonical exegesis". Perhaps we will see more of this when the text is actually published.

Of course, one of the classic complaints some people have with the commentary/notes is that they are exclusively a part of catagory 2 as you noted. This, again, goes to the whole question of the audience of the NABRE notes and commentary.

Thus, I agree with you: "the notes definitely seemed aimed at a reader who is (i) college-educated and (ii) already has some experience in reading the Bible."

Anonymous said...

Maybe its the sense that there's more testosterone being tossed around on this blog than anything else, but I will give this the old motherly try...

All of these arguments over details on the NABRE may be good for the mind, but they have little practicality or value for the average Catholic. It will be this type of person who will embrace the NABRE, and it is for this type of person it was designed for.

From helping conduct RCIA classes to conducting Bible study courses, to participation as a member of the Legion of Mary, I can only say what I see: the average Catholic had no issues with the NAB and will likely have no issues with the NABRE. They don’t know of the existence of this blog or are reading our discussions. How they will get the next bill paid or care for their child when ill or mend the problems in their relationships—or keep their faith strong in a world that constantly walks over them—these are the real concerns.

While I wish some would be less complacent about their Bible reading habits, the truth of the matter is that the everyday Catholic didn’t notice that the New Testament had been revised or that the last NAB rendition of the Psalms had inclusive language. It’s rare that I find a Catholic who feels there is anything seriously wrong with the NAB, just as it is rare to find anyone who is as outspoken on the Internet as they are in person.

I think the average Catholic should care a bit more about the Bible translation they use, but most are so busy with life and its challenges all they can do is trust that God will provide. They accept the Bible because they know that God is greater than the enemy and thus powerful enough to keep his Word pure for his Church in the translation that Christ entrusts his bishops in America to provide.

At the end of the day I would rather have the same type of faith, love, and trust that these folks have, that the Holy Spirit will guard the Church from error in her work of Bible transmission. Trust is better than doubt, love greater than education, faith more powerful than reason.

After reading what so many have to say, I admit that is just comes down to whether or not we trust that God is leading his Church. If he is, then the NABRE will be just what we need. It’s been corrected in the past, so if need proves it, you bet that it will eventually be corrected for no one can pervert the Word of God.

But some refuse to give up on their pride, on self-dependence, on relying on the own thinking, and no matter how much I or someone else knows about the original languages or manuscripts or anything else, some will never be satisfied regardless of what data or evidence is provided them. As the saying goes, to those who believe in God, no explanation is necessary, but for those who do not believe, no explanation is possible.

Finally, better that we go out and live what we know than waste time arguing about it. Even if it turns out that we are the only ones who are right and everyone else wrong, it is not logical to waste another minute writing about it. As one of my favorite saints pointed out, we should be proclaiming the Word at all times, and when necessary, to use words. Our debates do little to feed the hungry, heal the sick, care for the isolated, watch with the dying, and love those who have no one to love them.

Better that you fill a hundred bellies in the name of Christ than win an argument over who can spell his name correctly.

Matt said...

* [1:4] The wicked: those who by their actions distance themselves from God’s life-giving presence.


This phrase kind of annoys me. It sounds like an mean-nothing intercession from the Liturgy of the Hours at Lauds or Vespers. They should have left out "life giving", and it seems like they put it in there just to make the commentary less cold.

Just what makes God's presence "life-giving". God himself gives life, right?

At least they didn't use "God's saving power" (as far as we know, yet.)

Timothy said...


First off, thanks for your comments, which I think do add some perspective to this.

Let me just say that this blog is for discussion on issues related to Catholic Bibles. It is nothing more or less than that. I certainly don't make it out to be anything more than what it is. But as you would concede, there are people who like discussing these issues, like myself. The fact that the USCCB has a Facebook page which releases "sneak peeks" suggest that they are looking to initiate discussion in order to promote the upcoming NABRE release. So, while there are certainly more important issues for the Church, I do think having discussions on Catholic bibles can be a informative to those who are actually interested in these issues.

Again, thank you for your comments. Please don't take mine as a criticism, which they are not.

Anonymous said...

sadly, the examples we have seen so far are all of type (2), with no notes of types (1) or (3).

It needs to be added that the type 2 ("scholarly") notes are less helpful than they could be because they uniformly represent a very novel and narrow school of thought (extreme higher- and lower-critical) while also steadfastly refusing to acknowledge legitimate alternatives.


Jonny said...

A quick note on English interpretation of verse 5. From the Douay: "Therefore the wicked shall not rise again in judgment: nor sinners in the council of the just." This translation (in which the word "again" implies two risings) does employ the Magisterium in interpretation, although some details of the traditional understanding of the resurrection and judgement remain in the obscurity of the Roman Catechism. Here is the excerpt, note especially paragraph 3:

All Shall Rise

He should also carefully explain from the Apostle who are to be raised to life. Writing to the Corinthians, he (St. Paul) says: As in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive.' Good and bad then, without distinction, shall all rise from the dead, although the condition of all will not be the same. Those who have done good, shall rise to the resurrection of life; and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.

When we say all we mean those who will have died before the day of judgment, as well as those who will then die. That the Church acquiesces in the opinion that all, without distinction, shall die, and that this opinion is more consonant with truth, is the teaching of St. Jerome and of St. Augustine.

Nor does the Apostle in his Epistle to the Thessalonians dissent from this doctrine, when he says: The dead who are in Christ shall rise first, then we who are alive, who are left, shall be taken up together with them in the clouds to meet Christ, into the air. St. Ambrose explaining these words says: In that very taking up, death shall take place, as it were, in a deep sleep, and the soul, having gone forth from the body, shall instantly return. For those who are alive shall die when they are taken up that, coming to the Lord, they may receive their souls from His presence; because in His presence they cannot be dead. This opinion is supported by the authority of St. Augustine in his book On the City of God."

My point in citing this is that there are two risings, the resurrection of the body and also one could say "rising above condemnation into eternity with God." But to say that the wicked will not "arise" makes it sound like they will not be resurrected and obscures both levels of meaning.

Monsignoir Knox also does justice to his translation of the Vulgate in Psalm 1:5:"Not for the wicked, when judgement comes, to rise up and plead their cause; sinners will have no part in the reunion of the just.

I know that the NABRE translators are probably just trying to be faithful to the current scholarly understanding of the language, but words have a range of meanings and also should be translated into other languages variously depending on the context. And since God (who knows all things at all times) is the primary author of both Testaments, the precise meaning of the Old Testament Hebrew must be sought using the truths revealed by Jesus Christ through his Church.

I suppose I would be less critical about this if there was not already a common English interpretation of this verse (the wicked shall not stand in the judgement) that reflects the original language and the doctrine of the Church.