Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Look Inside the Oxford NABRE

You are now able to get an "inside look" of the Oxford University Press NABRE Compact. All you need to do is go to the Amazon site to see some sample pages. Enjoy!


Timothy said...

Someone asked where the notes were for this edition. Well, they are placed at the end of each Biblical book. (Sorry for deleting you comment by accident.)

Theophrastus said...

It is not just the annotations that are at the back of each Biblical book -- so are the verse cross-references. (Although, judging from the amount of griping people do about NAB notes, some people may find the placement an advantage.)

The good news is that paperback St. Benedict's Press volume has dropped in price to $16.47 on Amazon. I have decided to get that edition (which does seem to have nice layout) as a temporary way to peruse the NABRE. In good time, the edition I want (the Oxford Catholic Study Bible, 3rd edition) will come out. (I seem to recall reading that it was supposed to be out this summer -- but somehow, I suspect I may be waiting longer than that.)

Timothy said...


Still looks like a July 2011 publication date. They just put up the cover art for the hardcover and paperback editions:

losabio said...

The layout of this compact version looks very uncluttered and I'm pleasantly surprised that they apparently have included introductory materials for each book in compact edition. The dense columns and absence of footnotes would probably make for very leisurely reading, assuming your eyes can deal with the size of the text.

Checking out some of the poetic books via Amazon's "search this book" function, I can see that the columns in Ps., Prov., etc. are center justified. I like it!

Anonymous said...

Putting the notes in the back is just awful. It makes this edition useless for study.

Colleague said...


You mention that Oxford's Catholic Study Bible will be in its 3rd edition. Are the supplementary study materials, such as the Reading Guide, being updated, or will they remain the same as the 2nd edition?

Theophrastus said...

Tim, thanks for the link. I went ahead and pre-ordered a copy . . . but I bet that come July 1, we'll be talking about delays again.

Diakonos said...

I glanced at the Amazon look-inside and have a couple questions:

1. The title page says the Revised Psalms are from 1991. So they did not use the more recent version of the Psalms after all?

2. What the heck are "Biblical Novellas" and if this is a "new genre" designation is it Church approved or just Scripture scholar/NABRE selected?

Timothy said...


Rest assured it is the re-revised Psalms of 2010.

The Biblical Novellas is new introduction, in the the NABRE, which gives an introduction to the books of Tobit, Judith, and Esther.

Theophrastus said...

The new permission to publish is quite odd (and contains at least one howler):

In accord with canon 825 §1 of the Code of Canon Law, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops hereby approves for publication The New American Bible, Revised Old Testament, a translation of the Sacred Scriptures authorized by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc.

One wonders what "authorized by" means here. If the text had said "commissioned by" or "sponsored by" or "overseen by" or "prepared at the request of" it would have been clear enough. But what exactly did the Confraternity "authorize"?

The translation was approved by the Administrative Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in November 2008 and September 2010. It is permitted by the undersigned for private use and study

The phrase "private use and study" is ambiguous. Does that mean:

"private use" and "private study"

or does that mean

"private use" and "study"

If the latter, presumably a better wording would have been "study and private use". If the former, then a lot of Catholic high school teachers are going to be in trouble!

Seriously, this ambiguity is troubling. It is not clear whether this work is permitted for public (non-liturgical) teachings.

Finally, it is regrettable that the Nihil Obstat is gone. For previous declarations of imprimatur, the nihil obstat would indicate that a properly qualified scholar had acted as a censor and actually carefully read the book and examined it and declared that the book contains nothing contrary to faith or morals. But it is not clear from the wording of the Rescript that any single scholar actually sat down and made that check of this work.

So at the end of the day, can this book be used in public teaching? My guess is the answer is "yes", but I have to say that the wording of the Rescript is not clear on this matter!

Theophrastus said...

You mention that Oxford's Catholic Study Bible will be in its 3rd edition. Are the supplementary study materials, such as the Reading Guide, being updated, or will they remain the same as the 2nd edition?

Well, at least some of the Reading Guide will need to change, because it pointed to features of the text that have changed. But I don't know if the changes in the Reading Guide will be deep or just minimal.

Carl said...

Isa. 9 is still awful!! "God-hero"? Seriously?

Keith said...

I'm interested and have never read this blog's readers opinions on the reading guide in the Oxford Study Bible. I've heard mixed reviews in the past.

Any opinions?

rolf said...

I like the NABRE so far. I have had a paperback copy from Catholic Book Publishing (in large print) for one week now. The Psalms are greatly improved, a good example of this are Psalms 1 and 23. I have used this Bible everyday for my daily readings, Liturgy of the Hours and some Bible Study work. I am leaning toward the NABRE becoming my everyday Bible. And I am looking forward to summer when other versions of the NABRE become available (leather, Study Bible and a Kindle version).

rolf said...

Keith, the reviews are mixed on the Oxford Catholic Study Bible in general, usually based upon the fact of whether the person who is reviewing it is a proponent of the historical-critical method of biblical interpretation or not. If you are open to this method, you probably would like it, if not, you have probably have heard some of the negative reviews. Personally I like the Oxford Catholic Study Bible, but I also like theological based commentary like the Navarre Study Bible. I believe there should be a good balance of both.

Anonymous said...

The RNAB has disappointed me so far, I'm staying w my old Jerusaem Bible ad RSV CE2

Theophrastus said...

The advantage of the Oxford Catholic Study Bible(OCSB) is that the contributors to the OCSB are closely associated with the translation of the NAB/NABRE -- many of them being the actual translators themselves. The OCSB is therefore almost a "director's cut" of the NAB/NABRE.

Just compare the authors listed in the table of contents of the OCSB and the translators of the NAB/NABRE and you'll see what I mean.

Oxford has a knack for putting out these types of editions -- the early editions of the (New) Oxford Annotated Bible (up to the 1991 (2nd) edition of NOAB) have a similar relationship to the RSV/NRSV; as do the Oxford Study Bible editions with the NEB/REB.

Most other annotated editions of the NAB (and planned editions of the NABRE) seem to have a disconnect -- the editors and annotators don't always share the same world-view as the NAB authors. You can see this quite clearly, for example, with the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture series, where the authors often disagree with how the NAB (or the NAB's notes) and the tone is quite different. Another major choice, the (New) Collegeville Bible Commentary seems a bit more in harmony with the translation, although the fact that the commentaries (separate from the Biblical text) are available in collected volumes (e.g., the new edition of the New Testament volume) indicates that this commentary was meant to be used with any contemporary translation.

So if you like NAB/NABRE, I think a strong case can be made that the OCSB is the definitive edition. I would also say that the OCSB is particularly well suited for self-study, particularly for a reader who is making his first critical reading of the Bible.

But the OCSB is hardly the only show in town. On the historical-critical side, there are a number of excellent ecumenical study Bibles based on the NRSV (the NOAB 4th edition, the HarperCollins Study Bible, and the New Interpreter's Study Bible) which many people feel are superior. There are also a variety of single-volume standalone commentaries (such as the Catholic choices: New Jerome Biblical Commentary and International Bible Commentary; and ecumenical choices: Oxford Bible Commentary, Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible, HarperCollins Bible Commentary, New Interpreter's Bible One-volume Commentary, etc.) Oxford also publishes a high-quality Jewish Study Bible whose audience is broader than the title might indicate; and there are many outstanding commentaries on individual books on the Bible.

Or, if you prefer a commentary that is more connected to Catholic origins, the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible (currently only available for the New Testament) is a good choice; and the Navarre Bible has annotations that draw particularly on the thought of Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei.

The bottom line is that

(1) I feel that Oxford Catholic Study Bible is the director's cut of NAB/NABRE editions; but

(2) There are many better alternatives for either historical-critical Bible study or more Catholic-oriented Bible study

Jonny said...

Oxford is actually releasing TWO NABRE Study Bibles in July.

One is the "Catholic Bible, Personal Study Edition." From its description on their website is seems to be geared towards new Catholics and those in RCIA, and will include a glossary of terms, study questions for group sharing, and other features.

I believe the one Theophrastus is referring to is the "Catholic Study Bible." This was is described as having much more resources inside including essays, articles, extra introductory material , and an index.

Both will be available in the same formats at the same prices, so double check before you order!

Theophrastus said...

Jonny -- thanks for clarifying that! Yes, I was describing the Oxford Catholic Study Bible (OCSB).

Both of the bibles you mention, the OCSB and the Catholic Bible: Personal Study Edition (CB-PSE) are currently in print with the previous NAB text, so you can use Amazon's "look inside" feature.

Here are links: OCSB, CB-PSE.

I've not spent time with the CB-PSE except to use Amazon's look inside feature -- from my brief glances, it did not appear to be an edition I would be interested in.

Timothy said...


Have you had a chance to give the NABRE a look? If so, what are your thoughts? How do you view it in relation to the RSV or NRSV?

Theophrastus said...

Tim, I have not yet finished reading it, so I'll withhold judgment for a few more days. However, it is clear that it many places it is much better than the (old) NAB OT.

Theophrastus said...

Two things I can say based on my preliminary review of the NABRE to date:

(1) The NABRE notes have a strange tendency to disagree with the NABRE translation. This can be found frequently throughout the text, starting with the first verse of the Bible: Genesis 1:1, where the translation gives it as "In the beginning ..." and the notes state that this translation does not agree with the Hebrew and suggest that it should be translated as "When ... then...." Now, many study Bibles have notes that correct the translation, but usually the notes are produced by a different team than the translators and the notes are separated in time from the translation (e.g., two decades separate the NRSV and the NOAB4.) Since the January 10 NABRE "Answer" #4 states explicitly claims that the NABRE will not be printed without notes because of (a) canon law 825 and (b) "the bishops who recommended the NABRE for approval reviewed the notes and introductions in great detail," this is just weird. It makes the NABRE translation look internally inconsistent with its notes.

(2) The NABRE translation is unusually uneven in style. Stylistic differences within a translation may be an attempt to match differences in the source material (e.g., the NRSV states that the traditional shall/will distinction is maintained in the Old Testament but not in New Testament, reflecting the different levels of formality of the source material) or the different genres (e.g., poetry, narration, law codes, etc.) But there are stylistic differences that seem unexplainable by the source material within single books (such as Leviticus or Job) and certainly across books, even in the same genres.

The result is that based on my preliminary reading to date (and I want to make it clear that I have only read about half of the NABRE so far), the NABRE looks as if it still bears many of the signs of compromise and in-fighting that must have occurred during the committee and review process. I would have hoped that given the prolonged production period for the NABRE, that greater effort would have been made to make the various parts of the translation less choppy in terms of different styles, and to harmonize the translation with the annotations.

Theophrastus said...

Tim, you asked: Have you had a chance to give the NABRE a look? If so, what are your thoughts? How do you view it in relation to the RSV or NRSV?

I've now read through the NABRE once. I read through it quickly and thus likely missed many points, but here are some preliminary impressions:

(1) The NABRE is definitely an improvement over the 1970 NAB OT. The number of improvements are so great as to be overwhelming. For this reason, I think it is good that the 1970 NAB OT will be phased out in 18 months.

(2) The study materials in the NABRE -- the book introductions, the notes, and the cross-references -- tend to be all much lighter than they are in the 1986 NT. There are some exceptions (Genesis, Proverbs), but it seems that this edition is not going to be competitive with detailed study Bibles that provide extensive annotations and introductions for all of the OT books.

(3) The cross-references are quite weak. The OT cross-references do not include reference to NT use of the verses. The cross-references that are given seem somewhat random -- not always capturing obvious parallels. The cross-references are so weak that I would recommend using a standalone volume of Biblical cross-references in favor of this edition.

(4) The translation tends to be more literal than the NJB or JB, but is not nearly as close to the original Greek and Hebrew as the NRSV or RSV (setting aside the issue of the NRSV's occasional pluralizing of terms to make terminology gender neutral). I would compare the translation to the NIV -- although in truth, the NABRE is a bit more literal than the NIV.

(5) The tone of the translation varies considerably. For example, 2 Maccabees is translated into plain, simple English, while Deuteronomy is translated into rather stilted, formal English. The RSV and NRSV, despite their faults, at least had the advantage of being related to a long line of elegant translations, and their wordings tend to have a certain resonance in English. I do not find that true at all in the NABRE -- not even in the psalter, which was supposedly retranslated to bring out this quality.

(6) The notes are all over the place. Some are simple translation notes, others are extensive digressions, some correct the text. The ragged tone of the notes significantly detracts from the use of the NABRE on its own as a study Bible. In fact, I think it is quite difficult for someone with no Bible reading experience to read only the NABRE and its notes and have a strong grasp of the Old Testament. However, I could imagine someone using the NABRE with a separate commentary or as part of a study series that included additional supplementary material.

(7) However, and I say this with some sadness -- that I would have to recommend that someone using this volume for study disregard many of the notes. The notes are simply often random, or seem aimed at scholars. For example consider the note to Genesis 4:7 "sin is personified as a power that 'lies in wait' (Heb. robes) at a place. In Mesopotamian religion, a related word (rabisu) refers to a malevolent god who attacks human beings in particular places like roofs or canals." That's quite a difficult statement to absorb on many levels, and for Catholics attempting to understand the Bible it may be quite difficult to expect them to master Mesopotamian religion as well.

(8) For these reasons, I think that unless one is using study materials that explicitly use the NABRE (such as, perhaps, future Collegeville commentary volumes), one is better off using the NABRE as a secondary translation, and using the RSV or NRSV as one's main translation.

(9) With the exception of a few notes (such as the note to Gen 3:15) there is nothing really "Catholic" about this translation except for its sponsorship. It is not related to the Lectionary and it is not particularly Catholic in its translation or interpretation.

What are your opinions, Tim?

Timothy said...


I haven't been able to spend as much time as I wanted at this point, but here are my observations from what I have read, which in many ways mirror yours:

1) the translation overall is better than the original OT, particularly the 91 Psalms.

2) One major surprise for me is how certain 'controversial' passages, particular in Genesis, remained the same. Most notably Gen 1:1-2 and 2:24. I am not sure, with the latter, why they would not go with flesh, which is used in the NT from the mouth of Jesus.

3) One other thing is that there doesn't seem to be much 'canonical exegesis' in the notes. Perhaps there is more that I just haven't seen yet.

I need a little more time with it to be fair. But I agree with your assessment, particularly in regards to the notes. The question remains: what is the intended audience for the NABRE notes /commentary?

Jonny said...


Regarding your question, "what is the intended audience for the NABRE notes/ commentary?", allow me to offer my opinion. It seems to me that there is no intended audience. The many different flavors of the notes seem to pick apart the Bible on various levels from the spiritual to the corporeal. It does not seem to be designed for any particular purpose other than to amass the the most relevant and interesting thoughts and theories of the translators.

I see the Catechism of the Catholic Church as the real study notes of any Bible. The index of Scripture references in the back alert the reader to the specific and detailed official teachings of the Church on specific verses. True, other study Bibles such as the Navarre, the Haydock, or the recent Ignatius Study Bible are great resources, but I think priority should be given to the most complete and official statement of the Catholic faith as given in the CCC.


I have read the NAB in the context that it is a fresh translation of the Hebrew and Greek from the most current critical sources. This apparently was done with no absolute preference for any previous translation, including the Vulgate. Now in the NABRE, even more recent manuscript discoveries were utilized while reigning in the excessive liberality employed in the translation of the original 1970 version.

Considering these principals used in translating the NABRE, can you give any examples where the NABRE falls glaringly short of the original languages as compared to the NRSV or the RSV? I am not sure if perhaps you were referring to deviations from traditional interpretations, or simply unnecessarily watered-down English in general.

Theophrastus said...

Jonny --

Sure, here is a simple example. At Judges 3:22, you will see that a particularly graphic example from Hebrew has been censored from the NABRE -- and there it is in all its glory (an image of a disembowled King Eglon spilling feces out of gutted large intestine.)

And in the NABRE -- it has all been "cleaned up." Now there is a scholarly reason to do this (some argue that the passage is a conflation of two separate descriptions of Ehud's exit), but if you were translating from the Hebrew, you'd need to keep it in.

Want another example? No problem. Look at the preceding verse. In the NABRE, it is "Eglon's" belly that the Ehud thrusts the dagger into. But in the Hebrew, it is "his" belly. The RSV translates it exactly, and the NRSV carefully gives a footnote to indicate that it has changed the meaning. And the NRSV ... nothing.

Now, this is just a random example (I was looking at this verse earlier today.) I bet that if you name any chapter in Hebrew Bible in the NABRE, I can find a verse or phrase which the NRSV and RSV translate more literally than the NABRE.