Thursday, May 17, 2012

Healing Catholic “Bible Envy"

The following article by Mickey Maudlin, HarperOne Senior V.P./Executive Editor, is found on the HarperOne website in their News and Pews section.  The title is great and the article is certainly worth your time.  I will include some comments within the article, which will be in red, in imitation of Fr. Z:

When HarperOne contracted with the National Council of Churches to manage the licensing of the NRSV in 2006, one of the happy surprises for us was the openness the Catholic market had to new Bibles designed for them. (I have been told by various sources that the NRSV Catholic Editions have sold quite well.) Catholic consumers spoke of “Bible envy” when they saw all the colors, features, bells, and whistles on their evangelical neighbors’ Bibles. Many said they wanted “cool” Bibles as well. (Like Me!)

So we accommodated these requests, offering a variety of colors, bindings, sizes, and styles, including single-column (called the NRSV Standard), large print (XL), thinline (Go-Anywhere) (Yay! Thinlines), compact, and even Bibles for teens (Live) and families (Catholic Faith and Family). While these NRSV Bibles found good homes and did well, we kept getting the same request: please do a beautiful edition of the main translation Catholic parishes and schools use, the New American Bible.  (Wow, a publisher who actually listens to consumer requests.  Ignatius are you listening?)

Once again we decided it was wise to listen to our audience and say yes to them whenever we can. Last month, we released a new hardcover of the NAB revised edition with a beautiful two-color text setting (subtitles and bottom of the page note references in red) to be followed by a black, imitation leather edition later this month. I have to admit, they are stunning and should assuage any Catholic still suffering from Bible envy.  (The hardcover edition is a joy to read, minus the thin Bible paper.  I am looking forward to receiving the imitation leather in the coming weeks as well.)

But what was most fun for this Protestant editor was discovering so many delightful surprises in the NAB. The translation was done by an elite group of Bible scholars and overseen by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. If one judged by stereotypes and caricatures, one would think such an approval process would encourage a conservative and narrow rendering of the text, but I found just the opposite to be true. In fact, from the evidence of the translation, it would be easy to make the case that the Catholic community and hierarchy are one of the most open Christian communities to the findings of scholarship and science, producing a wonderfully accurate and pleasing translation with a surplus of extra features to help anyone read and understand their scriptures. 

One of the historic charges against the Catholic church was that it discouraged the laity from reading the Bible for themselves (a perception which the church since Vatican II has vigorously reversed—hence our success with Catholic Bibles). One might see this old prejudice at work in the decision to include multitudinous notes and long introductions to each book of the Bible so that it is almost impossible to find an NAB Bible without these trappings of a complete study Bible. (Indeed, it is impossible!) Yet as someone from the evangelical community who has been immersed in the world of study Bibles, I have to say that I think these extrabiblical helps are among the best on the market. They combine mature and wise interaction with scholarly issues with a sensitivity to pastoral and ecclesiological concerns—which is a rare feat.

But what I found the most refreshing, by far, was the mature nondefensiveness about what would constitute controversial issues for most Protestant Bibles. For instance, in the introduction to the Pentateuch (the first five books of Moses), Moses’s authorship is questioned and the document hypothesis for explaining the different sources for these works is described and integrated into the notes and introductions. In the explanations for Genesis 1-11, they explain how the creation and flood stories were borrowed from other Mesopotamian groups and adapted by the “writers” of Genesis and should be considered “neither history nor myth.” They later explain how there were at least three Isaiahs and that Paul may or may not have written the Pastoral letters. All this without any hint that these conclusions undermine the Bible’s authority or teachings or could be described as “liberal” or “skeptical” in any way (remember who owns and manages the translation: the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops!).  (Fascinating insight coming from someone in the evangelical community.  Does this change our view of the NABRE notes?  We often spend way too much time, IMHO, debating the notes as opposed to the translation itself.)

So who has Bible envy now? My advice to my Protestant friends, don’t let tribal markers keep you from enjoying a wonderful new biblical resource. Take up and read the NAB.


Theophrastus said...

(Wow, a publisher who actually listens to consumer requests. Ignatius are you listening?)

Hmm, maybe that interjections should be rephrased? Or, Perhaps you were inspired by Titus 1:12 in putting together this variant of the Epimenides paradox.

* Ignatius does not listen to its customers.

* Ignatius does not listen to its customers when they ask Ignatius to listen to its customers.

* Ignatius does not listen to its customers when they ask Ignatius to listen to its customers when they ask Ignatius to listen to its customers.

I'll let you discover the recursive delights of this chain of statements. Or, alternatively, I can simply answer your question:

Q: Ignatius, are you listening?

A: No


By the way, Mickey Maudlin publishes authors such as Bart Ehrman, John Dominic Crossan, and non-Christian authors such as Deepak Chopra. So his perspective is interesting, but he is arguably far more open to different voices than the average Evangelical Protestant.

Timothy said...


Are you suggesting the people at Ignatius Press are 'lazy gluttons?'.

Timothy said...

I should also mention that many of the points in this article are an answer to one of my first ever posts on this blog entitled 'Catholic Bibles Stink!' from almost four years ago. At the very least, I am appreciative that people are listening to those who are desiring more innovative Catholic Bible editions.

(It is hard to believe that it has been almost 4 years since I started this blog.)

Theophrastus said...


Well, we know that "lazy glutton" quote cannot be true, because the Cretan who said that also said Cretans are always liars.

But seriously -- Ignatius claims to run a high-quality online university and it cannot get it together to publish a large print Bible edition or a single volume study Bible? It is hard to swallow.

PS: Congratulations on the upcoming anniversary of your blog.

rolf said...

Too bad we can't get Harper One to publish the RSV-2CE, then we might get a few more options (like a large print)!

Theophrastus said...

Actually if Ignatius would license RSV-2CE to a any other publisher at all, we would probably have a better product.

Anil Wang said...

"Does this change our view of the NABRE notes?"

Not really. The key problems with the "three Isaiahs" and other speculations, is that there is not one shred of evidence on the theories. The reason three Isaiahs are assumed is the presupposition that miracles and prophesies can't happen, so there must be some backfilling from later authors.

Similarly, anyone who has actually read the various Mesopotamian creation myths can clearly see that they are very different than the Genesis account. Sure there are some commonalities such the flood (which is in the collective memory of all cultures around the world), but they are different in every way that is important (creation out of nothing, peaceful creation, God is in complete control, man in the image of God, etc). These theories add nothing to the faith except confusion.

The sad thing is, there is no shortage of good commentary on scripture out there from the Church Fathers. Anyone with a bit of time could cobble up a decent Biblical commentary out of Haddock and the various catena bible commentaries and summarize it for the average Catholic.

David said...

It reads like an ad piece cheerleading Protestants on to buy a Catholic Bible, because the Catholic market for Bibles is somewhat smaller in comparison to the Protestant one. They no doubt want those crossover sales.

I'd hardly say Protestants envy us because of the NABRE. They have plenty of translations to choose from that cover the full range of translation styles, and the notes of the NABRE are hardly outstanding or unique in their content, from a purely scholarly point of view. I imagine most Evangelicals are not even remotely interested in a purely historical-critical commentary written by Catholics scholars.

Theophrastus said...

David, I beg to differ. I suspect that a significant fraction of sales of the NAB/NABRE are to non-Catholics. (Ditto for the New Jerusalem Bible, the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, etc.)

For example, the NAB is included in a number of parallel Bibles (such as The Precise Parallel New Testament) and Complete Parallel Bible.) I've heard from Oxford University Press that they believe they sell many of their Catholic Study Bible editions to non-Catholics.

Similarly, I have heard from numerous publishers that in the US, at least, non-Jewish buyers far outnumber Jewish buyers when it comes to Jewish translations of the Bible.

In fact, I bet a similar statement is true for most readers of this blog. I bet most readers of this blog have Catholic, Protestant, and maybe even Jewish and Eastern Orthodox translations of the Bible, regardless of individual denominational affiliations. I know that is true for me.

It is anecdotal, and thus should be taken with a grain of salt, but I've seen more praise for the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible from non-Catholics than from Catholics.


I imagine most Evangelicals are not even remotely interested in a purely historical-critical commentary written by Catholics scholars.

Raymond Brown's books are standard textbooks for a wide audience -- not just Catholics. And I read many reports that the Pope's Jesus books sold very well among non-Catholics.

The translators are quite clear that they do not intended this to be a Catholic-only translation -- the translation team and the commentary team were both ecumenical.

Javier said...


I am a spanish speaker, so my experience is with spanish language catholic bibles. But I can affirm that the notes of the "modern" (post 1960) bibles I have read, never -or almost never- accept the existence of miracles or of prophecy. In every instance of one of these, a natural explanation is sought.
Sometimes, the notes challenge the Bible words even when there is no miracle involved. For instance, some notes say the speech against the pharisees is not compatible with Jesus worldview, an so it must certainly be a later addition.
I am not schooled enough to say if this is right or wrong. But I dare affirm that it reduces much of the Bible to a series of metaphores.


David said...


I see what you're getting at, but the point that I was making wasn't that non-Catholics won't be interested in the NABRE, but that Evangelicals won't be interested, no matter how much promotion is put behind it. I single out Evangelicals because they seem to be the ones who make up the majority of the Bible buying public, and they tend to be of a more conservative bent. They favor translations like the NIV or ESV, both of which far outsell the NABRE.

I know the NABRE was done with ecumenism in mind, but unfortunately some who see the word Catholic on the cover will take it to mean for Catholics only, or view it with some amount of suspicion due to it being a church sponsored translation. There are also those who will want nothing to do with the purely historical-critical point of view espoused in the annotations, no matter what merits they may have.

Biblical Catholic said...

It seems that this guy likes the NAB for precisely the reason that most people DISLIKE it....

Anonymous said...

Evangelicals won't but the NAB because no one but Catholics will... it simply is a tin-eared translations. See Neuhaus' pointed comments at the First Thing blog.