Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Spot Check: NAB(RE) vs. RSV

Today's spot check comes from the Gospel reading at Mass, Mark 8:22-26. It shouldn't be too difficult to figure out which one is which. It seems to me that the differences are pretty minimal. However, which one do you think reads better?

Here you go:

And they came to Beth-saida. And some people brought to him a blind man, and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the village; and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands upon him, he asked him, "Do you see anything?" And he looked up and said, "I see men; but they look like trees, walking." Then again he laid his hands upon his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and saw everything clearly. And he sent him away to his home, saying, "Do not even enter the village."


When they arrived at Bethsaida, they brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. Putting spittle on his eyes he laid his hands on him and asked, "Do you see anything?" Looking up he replied, "I see people looking like trees and walking." Then he laid hands on his eyes a second time and he saw clearly; his sight was restored and he could see everything distinctly. Then he sent him home and said, "Do not even go into the village."


Stephen said...

Good question. Sorry folks, I couldn't tell them apart immediately. I've been reading mainly the ESV over the last year or so and prior to that the NAB. Over the last couple of months, I've been reading the Ignatius New Testiment Study Bible, but have been focusing on the books after the four Gospels. I'm saving the Gospels to read during Lent. So I'm not familiar with the RSV-CE and needed to look it up to compare. Okay, pros and cons with each. The NABRE flowed a little more easily in my opinion. Many of the RSV's lines began with "And" - which is not bad, you just don't typically see sentences outside of the Bible beginning with "And" - on the other hand, I like "enter" in the RSV vs. "go into" in the NABRE. The other one that was a little puzzling is the RSV says "looked intently" - so I consulted my ESV (thinking that they did a pretty good job in the translation (and they market the ESV as one that is a 'word for word' translation) and was surprised when I didn't see "looked intently" in that version. Makes me wonder if "looked intently" was in the orginal text or not. A person might think I'm being picky...maybe so... on the other hand, I wonder what really happened...was it a case where the blind man didn't intially have enough faith? who knows... one wouldn't think that Jesus would have to 'look intently' because he made the universe, so curing the man wouldn't be difficult for him...which makes one wonder if "looked intently" were there or not. I could also argue that by Jesus "looking intently" it could have simply meant that he was just very focused on helping the blind man. I'm going to stop here...before I'm accused of over analyzing (probably too late though)!

Stephen said...

correction to my comment: forgot to type "NOT" into my earlier comment.

Correction to my comment below:

one wouldn't think that Jesus would have NOT to 'look intently' because he made the universe, so curing the man wouldn't be difficult for him...

Colleague said...

All I can say is that anyone who prefers the RSV in this instance HAS to explain why they prefer the image of Jesus hocking a loogie in a man's eyes versus applying spittle to the eyes 'cause that's the image I get from the RSV.

I also prefer the inclusive language usage of "people" instead of "men."

Finally, like Stephen above, I wonder where the RSV is getting this whole "he looked intently" translation from. I'm no Greek scholar though I'm fortunate enough to know enough about it to navigate readings such as this, but I don't quite understand how the translator arrived at "he looked intently" from the Gk anablepo.

Timothy said...

Looking at, the link below may or may not be helpful in regards to "looked intently":

Matt said...

"Hocking a Loogie" is quite a big different than simply spitting.

Regarding the inclusive language, what if the blind man actually only see men and not women? Would we rather then that the verse be translated "people"?

I realize we could go the other way and say "What if he opened his eyes and saw only women?"

I don't read Greek, but the Nova Vulgata says: "Et aspiciens dicebat: “Video homines, quia velut arbores video ambulantes ”

It seems odd to me that anyone would describe women walking around like trees. If we look to the Latin, "men" is a good translation of "homines".

Timothy said...

If the "Loogie" is coming from the Lord, I'd still be happy! :)

Colleague said...


Of course I don't literally imagine Jesus hocking a loogie (pardon the hyperbole), and of course I don't know the proper first century Palestinian etiquette for how spit gets into another person's eyes, but when the text reads quite plainly that Jesus spit on the man's eyes then my hyperbole is to be expected. The RSV appears to be correct in its formal translation, but I can only wonder at its grasp of the concept. We tend to forget that English often fails to grasp the same idioms as Koine Greek.

Likewise, the Greek for men/people is anthropos, which generically includes all people in the plural. This isn't to say the word can't be used to specifically identify males only, but the context here is so completely ambiguous nor is there any need to specify men from women that I think an actual thoughtful argument against the inclusive language would be hard won.

Matt said...

Hi Colleague,

Thy hyperbole is pardoned. :-) And yes, Timothy, I would take it too.

But seriously speaking here, I agree with you Colleague that its tough for us to put ourselves back into that time and understand etiquette. In my mind Jesus spitting in the man's eyes means that he first spit on his hand and then wiped the man's eyes. That is how I picture the event. But to an ancient reading this they may have combined the two actions into one simple "spitting".

Inclusive language issues are entirely political. But they do matter. If I have to choose, I prefer using single words such as "people" rather than "brothers and sisters" which drives me crazy, especially during the liturgy.

The only worse thing is "sisters and brothers" which makes my eyes bleed. Just kidding. You get the point.

Anonymous said...

Beginning sentence with "and" is typical of Mark's style. The RSV conveys this, while NAB tries to smooth it over.

Anonymous said...


In regards to "inclusive language", one must remember that God named man and woman "Adam" (also the same word as a man), so therefore to refer to our race as "man" is entirely appropriate. Therefore, to change this to an ambiguous word in a translation is diluting the original meaning intended by the primary Author (God).

Granted, there are different opinions regarding how much and when this can be done with respect to current language usage, but why not just translate simply what is written as the Church has done for over 2000 years? If there is scholarly theories about words or idioms, that is what the footnotes are for.

Colleague said...


Actually, God didn't name man and woman Adam. According to the Book of Genesis, God named the first man Adam who named the first woman Eve. Adam, being the progenitor of all mankind, is aptly named, yes, and both Adam and Eve are eponymous names primary to their roles.

Even though Hebrew allows 'adam to be translated as either man (singular) or man (plural) or mankind does not mean the same principles can be applied to a completely different Greek word which, in its most common meaning, translates as mankind. For example, anthropology is not the study of man but of mankind, men and women -- people.

Given that the parlance of our day is much more likely to refer to a mixture of men and women as "people" and not "man," I think it is your preference which is becoming increasingly ambiguous. Not everyone who approaches the Bible approaches it as you do with the same degree of literacy. More people misunderstand the Bible because of unrelenting preferences such as yours than otherwise. As an RCIA instructor and confirmation assistant, I can evidence such realities confidently. Also, for a great many people, the word "man" is a huge, huge, huge stumbling block with negative associations. I've had the good fortune of visiting other congregations on Father's Day and seeing how maleness and the word man (either singular or plural) has shaken the fabric of individual lives. Given the minor theological significance of the word "man" or "people" in this particular passage, I think the Primary Author will forgive this edit.

Theophrastus said...

In terms of best reflecting Mark's style in Greek (or its relationship to Hebrew styles in the Pentateuch), there can be no doubt that the RSV here is far more accurate -- and gives the reader a much closer idea of what Mark was doing with language.

Regarding Mark's literary style, I can recommend Frank Kermode's Norton lectures at Harvard, as written up in his The Genesis of Secrecy: On the Interpretation of Narrative.

Colleague said...

It is true that the RSV is more faithful to the Greek style. No argument there.

Which leads me to a question: Why are these spot checks focusing only on the NABRE v. RSV? Why not focus on two contemporaries, such as the NABRE v. NRSV? I know it's a chance to compare a newer translation against an increasingly preferred one, but this seems to only lead into partisanship in many cases. For instance, I am preferential to the NABRE not only because I enjoy reading it but because, as a Catholic involved with RCIA and other public functions, this is the translation available on the parish bookshelves. The academic side of me prefers the NRSV. Since the NABRE strives to be a solid academic translation as does the NRSV, wouldn't this comparison be more appropriate?

Timothy said...


The main reason I use the RSV is that it, along with the NAB, seem to be the most used Catholic Bible translations in English. (At least here in the US). My non-scientific poll on the side bar, as well as my own experiences leading Bible study, seem to support my assumptions.

I like the NRSV a lot. Will I use it in a future "spot check"? Probably.

Colleague said...

I too like the NRSV, but no decent Catholic editions exist which prohibits me from making it my primary, everyday translation. Shame, really. The HarperOne editions are just unruly. Plus, I'm no fan of the Apocrypha being tacked on at the end, not because I have some soapbox concerning canonicity but because I prefer to read an integrated Esther and Daniel.

Timothy said...


Yeah, finding an optimal NRSV Catholic is frustratingly hard. Good look finding one with cross-references. I should mention that I did order the upcoming NRSV Catholic w/ Grail Psalms which Harper UK will be releasing in genuine leather March 3. It is suppose to come with maps and Sunday lectionary readings, but no word on cross-references. But with history as our guide, I would venture to say that they will not have them.

Mary Elizabeth Sperry said...

@ Colleague: I was happy to read your note. I spent over 30 minutes yesterday with the tech folks explaining why, in the web posting of the NABRE, the Book of Esther must be presented with the Greek texts integrated. They will be happy to know that their efforts will be appreciated!

Colleague said...

Thanks for that, Mary.

In the words of Paul McCartney, "You got to admit it's getting better, a little better all the time!"

Anonymous said...


Previous reference to the fact that God named man and woman collectively "man":Genesis Chap 5: "[1] This is the book of the generation of Adam. In the day that God created man, he made him to the likeness of God. [2] He created them male and female; and blessed them: and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created." God named our race after the male gender... Many people using a modern Bible do not understand that because it is not referenced in translation or in notes. If you look for it, you will find the truth in God's word (through the authority of the Church) that will ease the most man-ophobic moments one could imagine in RCIA.


Theophrastus said...

Colleague: You wrote that you prefer to read an integrated Esther. But, in fact, editions of the NRSV with Deuterocanon/Apocrypha typically print two entire versions of Esther -- one from Hebrew, one from Greek. (Sometimes the chapters are entitled "Additions to Esther", but the actually include the entire Greek Esther.) This is important because Greek Esther does not only feature additions, but in fact has quite a different style than Hebrew.

There are also a number of NRSV-CE editions in print that you may enjoy. My own preference is for the expanded editions that features an Ecumenical Deuterocanon/Apocrypha.

I would also suggest that you may want to purchase a copy of the New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS), which is a pure translation of major versions of the Septuagint (frequently giving parallel translations of different source texsts), but also tracks the NRSV in word and style choice when appropriate, allowing for rapid comparison of the two.

For some reason, the NETS has not caught on except in academic circles, but it is really quite a unique and useful resource.

Regarding the question of the order of the books of the Bible, this is an issue of great uncertainty. You'll notice that even among Catholic Bibles, there is quite a bit of variance in the ordering of the books of the Bible. While there are certainly logical units (e.g., the Pentateuch), there are a large number of plausible orders that one can use.

Colleague said...


Thanks for your insight. When you say that there are a number of NRSV-CE editions that I may enjoy, I can't help but wonder what you're referring to. The only NRSV-CE's that I am aware of are the ones produced by HarperOne in the strange sizes and shapes, with questionable quality of paper, font, ink, etc. And I definitely don't know of any expanded editions with ecumenical deuterocanon other than the NOABs. I have owned both the Metzger/Murphy NRSV NOAB and the latest edition as well, but both get minimal usage.

Aside from Esther, which I read infrequently anyway, much more important to me is an integrated Daniel. The reason why is because certain lectionary readings do flow from the text of Daniel into the Prayer of Azariah. It's difficult following the lectionary verse numbers when the PoA is placed at the back with different numbering.

Theophrastus said...


Below, I just refer to editions by publisher, name, and ISBN. All are available from Amazon. This list is not comprehensive - I only give 10 examples of each category. If you want more, please let me know -- there appear to several dozen editions of NRSV Ecumenical Editions and NRSV-CE's from a large array of publishers.

Ecumenical NRSV editions (only first 10 listed):

Oxford, New Oxford Annotated Bible, 0195289552

Harper, HarperCollins Study Bible, 006078685X

Abingdon, New Interpreter's Study Bible, 0687278325

Oxford, NRSV w/Apocrypha, 0195283805

Hendrickson, NRSV w/Apocrypha, 1565637461

Oxford, NRSV w/Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical Books, 0195283309

Oxford, Access Bible, 0195282175

Oxford, NRSV/w Apocrypha: Pocket Edition, 0195288297

Westminster, Discipleship Study Bible, 0664223710

Cambridge, Cambridge Annotated Study Bible, 0521507774

NRSV-Catholic editions (only first 10 listed):

Harper, NRSV-CE, 0061288373

Nelson, NRSV Catholic Edition, 0840785526

Zondervan, Catholic Women's Devotional Bible, 0310900611

St. Mary's Press, Catholic Youth Bible, 0884897958

Liturgical Press, St. John's Bible, 0814690556/0814690548/0814690521/0814690513/0814690564/081469053X

Harper, NRSV HarperCollins Catholic Gift Bible, 0061451851

Burns & Oates, NRSV-CE, 086012360X

Oxford, NRSV Catholic Edition with Concordance, 0195282655 -- note, consider purchasing from Loyola Press

Darton, Longman, & Todd, NRSV Catholic Edition Anglicized Text, 0232526028

Paulist Press, Catholic Prayer Bible, Lectio Divina Edition, 080910587X

Colleague said...


I definitely appreciate the list. I own a few of those already, and others I've encountered. What I don't see on the list is a good, solid NRSV-CE Study Bible. My arguments in favor of the NABRE have centered upon a number of things, namely that it is Catholic and contains all of the canonical books as approved by the Church; it attempts to be a sound academic translation complete with references and notes; and it attempts to be ecumenical. I've argued sloppily for the NABRE in the past because, as we both know, it is far from the easiest translation to defend, but I'm finding more and more that it delivers in ways that other Bibles don't for me.

The day they produce a NRSV-CE Study Bible, with notes on a similar par of the New Interpreter's or NOAB, then I'll gladly ditch the NABRE and invest my good money elsewhere.

Timothy said...

It is somewhat strange that there is no specifically Catholic Study Bible that uses the NRSV. Perhaps HarperCollins should think about this for the future. (I, of course, would just be happy with an NRSV-CE with cross-references!)

Theophrastus said...

You can certainly supplement a NRSV-CE with a stand-alone Catholic commentary volume, such as the New Jerome or International Bible Commentary.

Theophrastus said...

Regarding NRSV-CEs with cross references -- I cannot think of any. However, there are at least two excellent editions of the NRSV with the full ecumenical Deuterocanon/Apocrypha and cross references. (The main thing is to look for Bibles that include cross-references to the Deuterocanon and from the Deuterocanon.)

The best one, which I have mentioned many times, is the Oxford Cross-Reference NRSV. Unfortunately this is out of print (although I still see it sold from time-to-time.)

The second-best one is the Collins edition in print in the UK. I think the cheapest re-seller to the US is the which sells the hardcover for $23.69 and free shipping. Tim -- you may want to consider this book.

Francesco said...

The NRSV with Apocrypha Cross Reference Edition seems reasonably priced in the UK. Shipping might be somewhat expensive, however.

From the "look inside" feature it seems like that NRSV has a surfeit of cross references!

Theophrastus said...

Francesco -- despite the title that gives, the edition you link to lacks the Deuterocanon/Apocrypha. (If you want more evidence, click on "look inside" and check out the table of contents.) Unless you want an edition without the Deuterocanon/Apocrypha, don't get ISBN 0191070505

The Oxford cross-reference edition with Deuterocanon/Apocrypha is ISBN 0191000167.

I wouldn't say it included a surfeit of cross-references (because that means an excessive number) -- but it does include a large number.

Francesco said...

Good catch! Sorry about the confusion.

Anonymous said...

It is the man with restored sight who "looked intently."