Friday, March 16, 2012

The NABRE after 1 Year

March 9th marked the one year anniversary of the publication of the NABRE. Over the past year, I have done some posts that have analyzed some of the unique features of the NABRE. For the most part, I have found the NABRE to be a definite upgrade to the original NAB. While not as consistently literal/formal as the RSV, I find that it does more things right than wrong. For example, I was doing some research this week for a lecture on 1 Kings 1-11, and while comparing the NABRE with the RSV, I spotted a couple of areas where I think the NABRE is better.

The first was in 1 Kings 3:4-11, where Solomon asks for a "listening heart" instead of the more typically translated "understanding mind". Not only is the translation of "heart" instead of "mind" more literal, it also helps to maintain the parallel with verse 6 where Solomon says to the LORD that "You have shown great kindness to your servant, David my father, because he walked before you with fidelity, justice, and an upright heart." We also know that David is describes as being a "man after his own heart" throughout 1-2 Samuel. Solomon's "heart" remains an important theme throughout 1 Kings, where by the time we get to 11:9, we see that "The LORD became angry with Solomon, because his heart turned away from the LORD."

The second is found in 1 Kings 4, which describes the domestic organization of the Solomonic kingdom. 4:1-6 lists the "officials" that Solomon had in his service, most likely high officials of Solomon's central government in Jerusalem. (The RSV refers to them has "high officials".) Then in verses 7-20, we are given the twelve administrative districts of the kingdom. The RSV and NRSV refers to those who are put in charge of these districts as "officers" while the NABRE translates it as "governors". As Jerome T. Walsh points out in his volume on 1 Kings in the Berit Olam series: "The NRSV (RSV) calls them "officials", but this is misleading, since the word is entirely different from the "high officials" of 4:2 (87)." I admit that this is a very subtle difference, but I do believe it is important nevertheless.

There have been some areas where I do think the NABRE could have been better, for sure. Most notably, I feel that there are a number of decisions in Genesis 1-3 which could have been better. Also, there is that notoriously final part of Judges 3:22 that was not translated in the NABRE.

Overall, I find the NABRE to be a considerable improvement over the original, not to mention the re-revised Psalms. I am interested to hear from those of you who have spent some time in the NABRE over the past year. What are your thoughts? What do you like? What do you dislike?


rolf said...

Overall the NABRE is a great improvement over the NAB. The Old Testament reads much smoother in the NABRE than the NAB, and considering that the Old Testament makes up at least two-thirds our Bible, this makes for a big change. As Timothy has mentioned, the Psalms are vastly improved, if your not sure just compare Psalms 1 and 23 and you will see the difference.
Now I wish that the NABRE would have used the translation of 'virgin' instead of 'young woman' in Isaiah 7:14, if for nothing else, to avoid all the controversy and the endless blog rantings, but they didn't, they went the path of other modern translations (including the RSV). Another change that I am getting used to is the translation of 'oracle of the Lord' instead of 'says the Lord' in certain places throughout the prophets.
I use the NABRE a lot (along with the RSV-2CE), and I take it with me often to classes and seminars. The NABRE giant print has still not been released by anybody, and I am waiting for the World Catholic Press NABRE with the zippered imitation leather cover which is nice and thin (approx the size of a thinline bible) and has an 8 font size (instead of 6) like many compact versions.

Chrysostom said...

In a nutshell: I like that it is far better than the NAB. I dislike that it's still not as good as much else.

The Psalms have undergone a vast improvement, although Catholics are still sorely lacking for a good Psalter (the DRC is wooden, the JB is just weird, the NJB is neutered but less weird, the NABRE abandons almost all traditional renderings, although I like that they brought back "shadow of death" now that bandwagon scholarship has done a 180º on the etymology of it); the 1991 Psalms were rightly condemned - they should have dusted off the bell, book, and candle for them - so I hesitate to call the vast improvement a worthy successor to them, but instead a worthy competitor to other Catholic Psalters.

Overall, the tone of the English has been much improved, although it still has the characteristic deafness to good English that has plagued this entire line of versions all the way back to the never-completed Confraternity Old Testament. The register of English has been increased slightly, which is a good thing: no more "dilly-dallied". It is inconsistent between books and sometimes even passages in its translation philosophy, and even more so between Testaments, but the inconsistency is not as bad as the NAB 70/86/91 combination (or whatever the old NAB was), jumping between periphrastic (Gen 1, many parts of the Four Books of Kings, Esther, Sirach) and hyper-literal (Isaiah 9).

All of the questionable renderings have been retained, but no worse ones have been introduced (lo, that would be quite an accomplishment); the introductions and notes are still ill-suited to the Catholic layman, propose speculation as dogma, and now are woefully out of date (still teaching JEPD; everyone did away with E and D 30 years ago, except for the guy who wrote [i]The Bible: With Sources Revealed[/i], whose name eludes me at the moment - a solitary holdout).

In summation, I am saddened that it can be such a vast improvement - especially in the Psalter - over its forebear yet still be so inadequate - more of a statement regarding the NAB 70/86/91 than the NAB 86/11, admittedly - and in need of much more improvement and, now, a quarter century out of date, a major updating, especially in outdated higher critical conjectures. An overhaul of the annotation should be considered as well. And the NT is due for a revision as well, although Q-theory hasn't changed as much on the surface as JEPD theory has.

gordon j. said...

I like the NABRE. I can understand the criticism of the footnotes, but the Scripture translation itself is very good. Not as good as the Douay Rheims, RSV-CE/2CE, or Confraternity NT, but much better than the NRSV, NJB/JB, ESV, NIV, and the original NAB.

Someone said the NABRE has a deafness to good English. I disagree. I find the NABRE to be quite poetic and lyrical. On the contrary, it is the NRSV that I find to be rather souless, and to be quite awkward with its over emphasis on inclusive language, making the passages less comprehensible.

The bishops of other English speaking countries should seriously consider the NABRE for the Lectionary instead of the NRSV or ESV.

Unknown said...

I hate to admit it but even though I bought it one the first day last year I still haven't gotten around to reading the whole thing...

What I have read, my reaction is mixed, yes the Psalms are much improved, especially Psalm 1, which finally restored the Messianic meaning by removing the inclusive language but many of the biggest problems of the 1970 edition remain unchanged, including the atrocious translation of Isaiah 9:5....a translation which has been frankly the object of near universal ridicule.

It fixed many problems, but left many other untouched. I hate to say it but it still needs further revision.

Francesco said...

Hi Tim,

In general I enjoy reading the NABRE. I haven't spent too much time comparing the NAB OT with the NABRE OT, however. I read the Psalms and liked them a lot, especially when compared to the Grail Psalms. I've only got the Kindle versions of the NABRE, and each has their own strengths and weaknesses. Oddly enough, I think they all look better on the desktop Kindle program or my smartphone's Kindle app than on the Kindle itself.

I mostly read it when I'm on the bus going to and from work. I only get in a chapter and it's notes at a time. It serves my needs.

My response to the notes has been mixed. A few months back when Ms. Sperry answered our questions I raised some concerns about a few of the notes. I have found most of them helpful in trying to understand characteristics of the text in a broad sense. With a few exceptions, though, they aren't noticeably "Catholic" (perhaps that's on purpose?). I get the feeling that this would be a great textbook for a college course, given how it connects to other ancient documents available to scholars, and that perhaps that's what it was meant to be.

With regards to the translation itself, I like it. I wouldn't mind it if they used it in the Lectionary or any for other ecclesial use.

Len said...

What makes the NABRE superior to many other versions is the way it translates certain passages, such as John 18:4-8

Jesus, knowing everything that was going to happen to him, went out and said to them, “Whom are you looking for?” They answered him, “Jesus the Nazorean.” He said to them, “I AM.” Judas his betrayer was also with them. When he said to them, “I AM,” they turned away and fell to the ground. So he again asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” They said, “Jesus the Nazorean.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I AM."

The use of "I AM" makes the passage so much more impactful. Jesus is revealing his Divinity, and the soldiers, upon hearing this revelation fall to the ground as if dead. Other translations that have Jesus saying the less impactful "I am he" comes off less powerful, and doesn't make as much sense.

Also, there is the use of "amen I say to you" in the Gospels, which I love, and is also more powerful than "truly I say to you", or any of the other weaker translations.

For these and other reasons, I think the NABRE is by far the best post-Divino Afflante Spiritu English translation of the Bible, Catholic or Protestant.

Timothy said...


The NABRE is particularly good in regards to John. The points you made are quite right. I would also point out Jn 1:14 and 'made his dwelling' is superior to simply 'dwelt' due to the connection to the tabernacle. Also, its consistent use of 'advocate' for paraclete in both the Gospel and 2 John 2 and 'born from above' in Jn 3 instead of 'born anew' are additional examples.

Len said...

I also really like the use of "Magi" instead of "wise men", or the really bad "astrologers" from the original NAB.

My only real complaint is that it doesn't have "full of grace", but at least it does have "hail".

I'm also unsure about the plural in Gen 3:15

Chrysostom said...

I believe the first three chapters of Genesis (probably the most important passage in the entire OT) is where the NABRE is weakest, and most periphrastic in order to achieve that goal (as, I don't see how it could not have been intended to end up as it did, and have ended up as it did anyway).

Most of my criticism of the translation itself is of those three chapters, along with some non-Messianic renderings of Messianic prophecies in Isaiah, the Psalms, and Hosea.

Chrysostom said...

Oh, and the NAB New Testament is still the 1986 version. It was not changed at all when the NABRE was released, which was solely a (slight) modification of the OT.

Theophrastus said...

The NABRE is a huge accomplishment. It is, in my opinion, the best Catholic-sponsored Bible translation in English. Wikipedia tells me that the NT started appearing in 1964, so it took at least 47 years for the whole NAB to appear.

The other major English Catholic-sponsored Bible translation of the last fifty years, the (New) Jerusalem Bible, obviously owes a tremendous amount to the La Bible de Jérusalem. But the New American Bible is a translation directly into English.

In the 1950s, American academic studies of the Bible were dominated by Protestant scholarship (and scholars). The Catholic Biblical Association and its Bible translation, the New American Bible, has changed that for good. The Catholic Biblical Association grew up together with the NAB. It is a magnificent achievement (and quite a nice translation too!)

rolf said...

Theophrastus, I agree! The NABRE is not going anywhere soon, it is entrenched in American Catholicism for many years to come (like it or not). It has the best balance of being formal enough for study and dynamic enough to read out loud in Mass. And as long as it is the translation that the Mass is based upon, it will be the most purchased.

Timothy said...

I also forgot to mention John 1:18 and how the NABRE translates 'monogenes theos' as 'the only Son, God', following a different manuscript than the RSV. (I fully recognize, however, the textual issues with this.)

Victor said...

I gotta admit it...I really am starting to like the NABRE a lot!..the past couple of months I have been giving much more credence to the translation than I did with the NAB. But still...I have a hard time with recommending this to someone because of the commentary! For instance, I would not want to recommend this to my Protestant friend, whom is liking the Catholic Church more and more because of her unchanging beliefs. Now I will say this...the commentary is not that bad actually at the way some people loathe it. But I say this as a seasoned Theology Major at a Catholic U in my which I understand the Faith(or, at least try). But someone who is discovering the Church for the first time...the notes can be very confusing.

What I have noticed is that Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture uses the NAB...and this commentary is by far the better alternative. Which is awesome to see the NAB used in such a positive way! I can guarantee these commentators will affirm Catholic teaching in Scripture and not leave it open to speculation.

Mike Roesch said...

I don't have an NABRE yet, but I'm doing a Theology of the Body-based Bible study with my college students. We were discussing Genesis 4:1 last week, and as I'm all ready to discuss how Adam knew his wife, Eve, my jaw dropped when the student who did have the RE read it as "Adam had intercourse with his wife, Eve." Really helpful when you're trying to segue into JPII's discussion of how rich the primitive language of the Hebrew is there with "knew."

We did have a nice discussion of the differences in Bible translation, though. The original NAB isn't much better, with "had relations with."

Xian Garvida said...

I am using the NAB right now but how I wish I could also have the NABRE.

Is there anyone here who is generous and willing enough to give it to me as a birthday gift? Actually, I wrote a blog about it, please check this