Today, I am beginning a new series of posts that will appear periodically on this blog. This series will be known as "Popular Catholic Bible Myths". Many of these "myths" are perpetuated on websites and discussion forums, where there is a tendency to circulate and restate popularly held beliefs that may not be accurate.
Today's Myth: The NAB(RE) is a paraphrase or mostly dynamic equivalence translation
I have found that this myth is assumed by quite a few people who discuss Bible translations at the various Catholic forums and websites. Go to any discussion forum thread about Catholic Bible translations and you are likely to find a few people dogmatically declaring the NAB(RE) to be a paraphrase or highly dynamic translation, compared to the more "noble" RSV or Douay-Rheims. Most notably Catholic Answers, which typically has reliable information, makes the following observation in their translation guide:
"Then there are mostly dynamic translations such as the New International Version (NIV) and the New American Bible (NAB)."
Yet, if you spend a little time with the NAB(RE) it becomes clear that it tends to be more formal/literal than dynamic. Is the NAB(RE) as formal/literal as the RSV? By no means. But it is not far off either, and certainly more literal than the majority of Bibles that have been produced during the past 40 years.
Here is what the translators had to say about the NAB(RE), beginning with the preface to the recently revised NABRE 2011 Old Testament mentions:
"In many ways it is a more literal translation than the original NAB and has attempted to be more consistent in rendering Hebrew (or Greek) words and idioms, especially in technical contexts, such as regulations for sacrifices."
Even back in 1986, the translators of the revised NAB NT devoted quite a bit of space to make the point in the preface:
"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."
In addition, the USCCB NABRE site states plainly that the "NABRE is a formal equivalent translation of Sacred Scripture, sponsored by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, using the best manuscripts available."
There are of course instances where the NAB(RE) translates a phrase in a more dynamic-equivalence style, see the "mighty wind" in Genesis 1:2 as an example. But overall, sentence structure and vocabulary tend to follow a more formal equivalence philosophy.
It must be acknowledged that a major problem the NAB(RE) has faced over the years was that it was particularly uneven after the publication of the revised Psalms in 1991. Most people experienced with an edition of the NAB which had a mediating Old Testament translation completed in the 50's and 60's with no inclusive language, a revised New Testament which was far more literal than the original OT and NT with moderate inclusive language, and then a revised Psalter which used both vertical and horizontal inclusive language. It is no wonder that confusion has arisen over this translation.
Fortunately, the most recent New American Bible Revised Edition, published last March, has resolved a number of the problems of the previous edition. It is, overall, a more even translation, both in its translation philosophy, but also its use of inclusive language. There are, of course, no perfect translations, but the current NABRE is superior to the original, while only being slightly less literal than many of the formal translations, like the RSV, NRSV, and ESV.