Tuesday, August 23, 2011

My Top 5 Catholic Bibles #2

The New American Bible Revised Edition: A Great Upgrade and a Better NABRE

"The LORD is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack. In green pastures he makes me lie down; to still waters he leads me; he restores my soul. He guides me along right paths for the sake of his name. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me." – Psalm 23 (NABRE)

Of all the Catholic Bibles, in English, that are available, the NAB(RE) is easily the most controversial. One does not have to look much further than any Catholic online forum, or even this blog, to see the NAB(RE) referred to as heretical, a paraphrase, inaccurate, or even the vehicle of some masonic take-over of the Church. Yes, I have heard or seen it described as all of those things, but thankfully, none of them are true. The revised NAB was published this year, and I think it is a considerable improvement over the previous edition. That is why it has jumped from #4 to #2 in my top 5 Bible rankings. So let's take a look at the NABRE. Please note that from now on, I will refer to this edition simply as the NABRE.

Translation Philosophy 4/5
When the original NAB was published 1970, it was the culmination of over 20 years of work by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. In many ways, the original NAB tended to follow a more dynamic-equivalence translation philosophy. This was certainly a philosophy that was current in the Church at the time, most notably in other translations like the Jerusalem Bible, but also in the way the Liturgy was translated. (On a side note, it is interesting how both the new Roman Missal and the NABRE have adopted a more formal approach to translation....which is a very good thing.) However, already in 1978, it was decided that the NAB NT needed to be redone. The Preface to the Revised NAB NT reads:

"The primary aim of the revision is to produce a version as accurate and faithful to the meaning of the Greek original as is possible for a translation. The editors have consequently moved in the direction of a formal-equivalence approach to translation, matching the vocabulary, structure, and even word order of the original as closely as possible in the receptor language. Some other contemporary biblical versions have adopted, in varying degrees, a dynamic-equivalence approach, which attempts to respect the individuality of each language by expressing the meaning of the original in a linguistic structure suited to English, even though this may be very different from the corresponding Greek structure. While this approach often results in fresh and brilliant renderings, it has the disadvantages of more or less radically abandoning traditional biblical and liturgical terminology and phraseology, of expanding the text to include what more properly belongs in notes, commentaries, or preaching, and of tending toward paraphrase. A more formal approach seems better suited to the specific purposes intended for this translation."

The revised NAB NT was published in 1986 and was certainly more literal than the original. (While I don't have room to give examples, see if you can compare the two versions of Mary's Magnificat in Luke 1.) It also included moderate uses of inclusive language. Work also began on a revised Psalter, which was published in 1991. This version was notable for its use of both horizontal and vertical inclusive language. While the revised NAB NT was included in the new Lectionary, the '91 Psalms were rejected due to its extensive use of inclusive language. Finally, the NABRE was published in March of this year, which completely updated the NAB OT, including the Psalms. The revised NAB OT is a more literal translation than its predecessor. Moderate inclusive language is used throughout, much like the revised NAB NT, but not as pervasive as the NRSV. The NABRE has rightly maintained the traditional "Son of Man" in Daniel 7 and Psalm 8, unlike a number of newer translations. The NABRE Psalms, likely due to a stricter adherence to Liturgiam Authenticam, are dramatically different than the '91 NAB Psalms. One only has to compare Psalms 1 in both versions to get a feel of the difference.

The NABRE made the news back in March for following the Hebrew "young woman" instead of the LXX "virgin" for Isaiah 7:14. I never felt that this should have been as newsworthy as it was, particularly since the RSV-CE, Jerusalem Bible, and New Jerusalem Bible did not follow the LXX either.

Overall, the NABRE is superior to the original NAB because it is a more formal-equivalence translation. One of my complaints about the previous edition was that it seemed like different portions of the NAB were translated with different translation philosophies. The revised NAB NT was formal, while the OT was dynamic and the '91 Psalms was all-over-the-place. For the most part, this has been largely corrected in the NABRE. My one main issue with the NABRE is that I think it could have gone a little further. Most notably in the book of Genesis, where some unique rendering persist. (See Genesis 1:1-2, 2:24, 3:1, 3:15, 4:1, and 12:3) For instance, the rendering of the Hebrew word basar as "one body" in Genesis 2:24 rather than "flesh" tends to "obscure the reference of Matthew (19:14) to that text." The previous quote is actually found in the NABRE notes which makes me wonder why a change was not made.

Readability 4/5
The NABRE is more consistently literal throughout, although probably a little less so than either the RSV or NRSV. This, of course, has its advantages and disadvantages depending on what you are looking for. For me, the biggest improvement, as mentioned above, is the NABRE Psalter. While I feel comfortable using that Psalter for study, I find that it is also a joy to read for longer periods of time. It flows much better than the previous two editions.

Available Formats 4/5
In the past, most NAB's looked the same. However, with this new translation comes hope for newer, more attractive formats and page layouts. The NABRE is being published by more publishers than before, with the likelihood of additional publishers to be announced in the near future. (Stay tuned for news regarding that.) The NABRE is now available in a Kindle version, online at the USCCB site, as well as in the much desired single-column format thanks to the folks at Little Rock. There also promises to be additional information available at the USCCB site, including the NABRE textual notes. Also, Oxford University Press will be publishing their Catholic study Bible with the NABRE shortly, and I shouldn't forget to mention the on-going Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture which is keyed to the NABRE. Time will tell whether or not the NABRE will be as available as the NRSV or RSV in different scholarly and devotional formats, but the future does look bright.

Miscellaneous 3.5/5
There are always two issues that come up when discussion is on the NAB(RE): 1) The Lectionary and 2) The NABRE notes/commentary. Probably one of the most frequent questions I get from people is why we cannot have a Bible that matches the readings heard at Mass. Well, the reality is that for the foreseeable future the Mass readings in the USA will include the original NAB OT and the revised NAB NT in an adapted form. Also, at some point, the Revised Grail Psalms will replace the current ones. That is just the reality of the situation, which I am sure can be confusing to the average Catholic in America.

Then, we come to the NABRE notes, which I am not going to discuss here. That discussion took place a few months ago, and generated over 70 comments. If you want to read that conversation, go here. Suffice to say, some people are happy with them, while some are vocally against them. I will just echo the comments I made at the end of that post: What should be the tone and content of the NAB(RE) commentary? Should those who have worked on the commentary assume that the typical Catholic reader would have some basic knowledge of the various theories in current Biblical scholarship?

Conclusion 15.5/20
The NABRE is a great improvement over the original NAB. I think many of the complaints against it have been answered and improved. It will be interesting to see how the NABRE does in the coming years. In the United States, the average Catholic is going to have a copy of the NAB(RE). It will continue to be the most available and most recognizably Catholic Bible in most bookstores.


Anonymous said...

Do we know the origin of the notes in the NABRE?

Like, did they assign one person per book? Were the same people who translated a book the same ones who put in notes?

It would be to have a director's commentary on these bits.

- Vince

rolf said...

The NAB was originally published in 1970 (not 1978 as in your description).

Timothy said...


Thanks for catching the typo. In my mind I was already thinking about the revision process for the NT, which began in 78.

Anonymous said...


I like the NABRE fine, but I wish when the editors postponed its publication to redo the Psalms, they also would have incorporated the Liturgical changes into the NT. Just this past Sunday, the Gospel reading at Mass had Peter saying "you are the Christ", but the standard NABRE has him saying "you are the Messiah". Likewise, the Liturgical NT has "Hail full of grace", where the standard has "hail favored one". It was a wasted opportunity not to make those changes when they had the chance. What a shame!

Chrysostom said...

You put the NABRE in #2 spot? The NT is still the same! It makes the psalms a bit better, but a bit is all!

"Father-forever, wonder-counsellor" - come on!

I've never seen an NRSV-CE but if it's as gender-inclusive as the regular NRSV (e.g. to the point of destroying prophecies, such as "like a mortal" in Daniel), I would think you're doing a 5 worst Catholic Bibles list!


Chrysostom said...

By the way, I do think the NABRE Psalms are a great improvement, especially for a Bible that has a stiff Septuagint and Vulgate influence, which is too rare - it became more like the Septuagint, and the most offensive inclusive language was mostly eradicated.

I can't stand Psalm 23s straight from the MT that go: "I walk through a dark valley.. my soul droops.." - it always needs an infusion of LXX ("the of death shadow midst") when you see something like that.

Too many Protestant and Oecumenical editions follow the MT to a fault. The NRSV follows the DSS (with a healthy dose of PC language) to the exclusion of all other textual evidence in many places (viz. the entirety of 1-2 Samuel).

Chrysostom said...

And for yet another comment - third time's a charm, sorry for taking up your bandwidth - the NAB/RE is the most accurate NT in existence based on comparison to the readings in the critical Nestle-Aland 27th Ed. text. (Changing "Hail, o favoured one" would drop it down to fifth).

The most accurate is the original NASB; the third most accurate is the NASB revision with the Jacobean English removed. Not that I recommend the NASB.

The ESV and NET round out the top five in my studies, but I've never compared an ASV-1901 or an ERV-1885, which I imagine (just from second-hand sources; I've never seen either of them) would knock ESV and NET down to six and seven respectively.

The problem with all of those Bibles, except for the NAB, don't have the deuterocanon, so, if you don't want to lug around an OT and an NT, it seems to be an ideal choice.

But, accuracy to the letter to the UBSIV/NA27 isn't everything - several of my favourite Bibles (the RSV, REB, DRC and NJB, and a new favourite, the CCD) are easily some of the less accurate ones - the slight differences aren't that important in general, as they generally (with some exceptions, viz. the NWT and to a much lesser extent the NIV) don't corrupt the message (although the might corrupt literary quality at some point) although some over-accurate readings can actually obscure the message.

Examples: "born not by the will of man" in the ESV, makes the Calvinist interpretation come forward, where it literally means "man", as in "husband", not the "universal man" or the "racial man", or "blessed are those who do not stand in the way of sinners": modern English dictates that the correct phraseology is "blessed are those who do not walk in the path/footsteps/way of sinners".

The two least accurate are the KJV and the NKJV - big surprise. And the KJV still gets the message across better than the NIV, IMO, and very similarly to the ESV, even though they're at opposite poles of accuracy to the text-critical Greek.

Jonny said...

Hi Tim:

Just wanted to let you know that there are actually 3 versions of the NAB New Testament. My pocket NT from CBPC has the name "Kephas" in Galatians instead of "Cephas." It is with a "C" in every other edition of the NAB that I own, including the 1970 version. I don't know of any other variations, but that one caught my eye. Perhaps the NT was based on an earlier draft (with closer pronunciation to the original text), but was changed to match the more common English spelling? The RSV-CE actually has the phonetical marks as being "see-fas", and I suppose it made sense to the editors to keep it the same in the NAB.

Timothy said...


1 Corinthians 6:9 in the revised NAB NT has also changed from what it was originally rendered when it was released in '86.

Anonymous said...

Good comments, Timothy. I find that I would rank the same 5 Bibles as you have once the dust has settled. We will be using the NABRE for the first time throughout RCIA this year, and I am eager to see how it goes. I think it is worth noting that the NABRE Psalms got special treatment, with a different Board of Editors and 5 (of 7) Revisers who did not work on the rest of the OT revision. These are listed in the unnumbered pages at the front of my St. Benedict Press edition.

Jim McCullough
Greensboro, NC

Ter said...

I know it's a bit late to be commenting here, but would you consider the NABRE to be significantly more 'literal' than the NJB?

Timothy said...


Yes, it is in comparison to NJB. It would be slightly less literal than the RSV.

Ter said...

I have the RSV but sometimes I prefer the rendering of the NJB (as more Catholic - following LXX, New Vugate etc) so I was wondering would the NABRE be 'best of both worlds'. Or rather as 'best' as English speaking Catholics are going to get.