Wednesday, February 6, 2013

More NAB Bashing at First Things

First off, I would like to thank reader Michael D. for alerting me to this article at First Things.  It is entitled "A Bible That Keeps Us Apart" and is written by Eleanor Everett Pettus.    It comes in a long line of articles that have appeared either in the print edition of First Things or its online forum.  Most notable, of course, were the articles penned by the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, where he complained bitterly about having to read from the NAB at Mass.

So what is new with the latest article from Eleanor Pettus?  Not too much really, except this time her main argument is that the NAB actually hinders Protestant conversions to the Church.  

She says:
"Many Protestants believe, rightly or wrongly, that Catholics do not respect Scripture—they don’t want to revel in the God’s Word and get to know Him intimately through this great gift. The NAB is a confirmation to Protestants that they are right—Catholics, or at least the Catholic bishops, really don’t care. If they did, how could these leaders deny their people the liturgical use of a good translation?"

And then concludes her article with:
"The NAB is not just a problem for Catholics. If the Catholics are serious about wanting Protestants to 'Come Home' they need to give them a translation they can respect."

Having done ecumenical Bible studies for over ten years I have never heard any Protestant even mention that this was an issue.   In my experiences, the vast majority of Protestants I know use some version of the NIV, not the "KJV, RSV, NASB, NKJV, ESV" that she recalls from her experiences in college.  Just take a look at the most recent CBA sales ranking of Bible translations and you will see that the NIV remains ever popular, even though its most recent revision was panned by some in the Evangelical community.  Consider how many people purchase and use a translation like Peterson's The Message, which is a true paraphrase.  Other translations, like the NIV and NLT, which are more dynamic than the NAB(RE) in their translation style continue to be sold, not to mention the almost continuous publication of new translations in the Protestant community.  So, personally, I do not buy this argument at all.  If she means a certain segment of the Evangelical population won't accept the NAB then that is possible, but certainly not all or most Protestants.  

Examining the specific complaints against the NAB, she brings up the usual whipping-boy verse found in the NAB, Isaiah 9:5:
"Truly, then, to a Protestant who has been raised to love and treasure the language of the word, the New American Bible or “NAB” used in most Catholic parishes is a scandal. To the Christian who knows little of sacraments and much of Scripture, a good translation provides their clearest window into the divine mystery. Yet the NAB’s terrible translations are in particular relief when Protestant strangers are most likely to be visiting. On Christmas we are forced to hear “Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace”—in place of a verse which every English-speaking Christian knows because we’ve heard Handel. What editor thought it would be good to render those beautiful words in that way? One does not have to make an idol of Scripture to regard an unreadable translation as dishonorable."

Ouch!  Of course, if you read the rest of the article, and most of the reader comments, very few other examples from the NAB are brought up.  Nothing like referring to a translations as "terrible" yet only referencing one example.  Now to be sure, the NAB, or the much improved NABRE, is not likely to win any literary awards anytime soon.  Yet, it is still a very good translation overall, which I have tried to demonstrate on this blog from time to time.    There are indeed places where I prefer renderings from a slightly more formal translation like the RSV, but having spent some time comparing the two over the past couple of years, including teaching both high school and adult learners, I believe that the main complaints against the NAB are greatly exaggerated.  So, for example, while I think the RSV does a better job, overall, with a book like Genesis, I would prefer to use the NABRE when teaching from the Gospel of John.  The NAB's renderings of John 1:18, the "Amen, Amen" sayings, and the all important "I AM" sayings makes it far better to teach from than the RSV since the Christological connections are handled better.  So, in the end, I am very comfortable recommending the NABRE, as well as the RSV-2CE, to pretty much anyone who wants to study the Bible.

My advice is to own and use both for study, pick one as your daily reading Bible, and just stop the never-ending complaining.  The NAB, in whatever form it takes during this next decade of revision, is not going away anytime soon.  When completed, I believe it will be even better than the improved NABRE.  Yet, no doubt there will continue to be its detractors.  While there certainly has been enmity between those who like the NAB and those who don't since 1971, I think this continued assault on the NAB is actually harmful to the Church in America.  The insinuation by the NAB haters always seems to be that the Bishops are either biblically unsophisticated or either greedy being only interested in gaining royalties from sales of the NAB.  In either case, this kind of thinking promotes division during a time in our nation's history where we need to be supportive of our Shepherds.   I pray that we do not find ourselves engaged in the same type of public disputes concerning translations that are found in some segments of the Evangelical community.  While it is already present, to some extent, in the Catholic Church in America, I would hate to see the same kind of characterizations that occur in the Evangelical community, where the type of Evangelical one is (good/bad, liberal/conservative) being tied to the Bible translation they might read, whether the KJV, NASB, ESV, or NIV.  Although I am afraid that we already see this, perhaps not as publicly though.

Am I saying that we shouldn't critique the NAB?  By no means!  (Or perhaps I should render that: "Of course not!")  Rather, let us be glad that there are numerous good translations out there, including the NRSV, JB, NJB, CCB, NCB, Knox, and even the Douay-Rheims, for people to choose from.  In discussing the revision of the NAB last summer, Cardinal Wuerl stated: "The goal — it’s a very simple goal — the goal is to produce a single translation, to arrive at a single translation."  Ultimately, that translation is going to be the New American Bible.   

A couple of additional random thoughts:
1) Has Eleanor Pettus actually read significant portions of the new NABRE?
2) Does she know about the revision that will be taking place over the next decade?
3) What kind of Protestant is she referring to?
4) Why does there continue to be such venom out there for this translation?
5) This whole issue reminds me of a post I did a year ago concerning those who have labeled the NAB(RE) as a paraphrase.  Utter nonsense.
6) I am surprised she didn't mention the NAB notes!

40 comments:

Leonardo said...

Hi,

I agree that this blog promotes the lecture of the Bible, and in my personal experience, I think that I know more of the Bible because of it.

Sometimes, one can criticize something trying to find an answer, or in a destructive way, only to express something that one dislikes, sometimes, in a strong way.

Best regards.

Anonymous said...


Hello Timothy,

As a former Protestant who converted to Catholicism in 1999. I can tell you that of all the issues I had to work through at that time, the quality of the Catholic translation(s) of the Bible, was never an issue AT ALL!

My only problem with the Catholic Bible, had to do with the inclusion of the deutero - canonical books. And a little historical research solved that problem in due time.

As a convert, I have naturally spent a lot of time reading the stories of other converts. And not once, have I ever heard of one who found the Catholic translation(s) of the Bible to be a problem!

So at the end of the day; the lady doth protest too much, methinks!

Pax,
John



Biblical Catholic said...

I would like to ask all those people complaining about apparent 'translation problems' in the NAB to point me to an English translation which has absolutely no 'translation problems'.....the moment you can find one, I'll rush out and buy it today and make it my main Bible.....

Colleague said...

Tim,

I, too, am surprised that she didn't base her complaint on the NAB notes. I thought that this was going to be the crux of her argument! Of course, some modern Protestant scholarship is more left-than-center than even the NAB notes. Then, as you also note, what sort of Protestant is she referring to? Most Baptists wouldn't convert even if the RCC utilized the NIV. And, for that matter, I know plenty of devout Catholics who utilize the NIV daily in good conscience.

I really think that she was commissioned to write an article and scrambled to discuss this very narrow topic in her small group before submitting it for publication.

Theophrastus said...

Just a quick note to mention that in the NABRE, the verse is numbered Isaiah 9:5.

Timothy said...

Noted and fixed! Thank you sir!

CJA Mayo said...

I like First Things more and more these days thanks to this blog, but I'm still more of a Touchstone reader.

rolf said...

The article contained a lot of bluster and only one example of a verse that she thought was atrocious!
I was expecting a lot more facts, then the article was over. I hope this is not her thesis for her doctorate.
Timothy, I also have found that many of the NAB 'ranters' often don't know that the NAB has been revised, and often quote something they hate about it from and earlier edition. And the idea that a Protestant would consider not converting to the Catholic Church because of the NAB is unrealistic. Maybe a few in academia might mumble and groan a little, but in my experience in RCIA over the last 9 years I have not found one Protestant who could name the translation used in the Roman Catholic Church (in the USA) or cared. And there is a simple solution for those who hate the NAB, use another translation in your personal study and prayer.

Jon in the Nati said...

The author tells us that we need a translation that Protestants will respect. Let us assume, for the moment, that we need the respect of Protestants (a debatable point in itself). Which Catholic translation would a Protestant respect?

They might respect the RSV, but it is hard to read that liturgically when it contains hieratic English, while our liturgy (rightly or wrongly) does not. Same goes for the Douay-Rheims, and Protestants would find it too Catholic anyway. Some Protestants (mainliners, anyway) might respect the NRSV, but while it is a better read than the NAB it certainly has its issues theologically, and evangelicals think its crap anyhow. Jerusalem Bible? Yeah maybe. The Good News Bible? The next time I hear that read liturgically will be the last time I darken the doors of that parish.

The NAB isn't great, and it has a lot of renderings that, even if orthodox, are just clunky. But if we are to change our own usage, we ought to do it for our own reasons and not to curry favor with Protestants. The right decision made for the wrong reasons can end up being the wrong decision.

Anil Wang said...

Protestants should have much less of an issue with the translation than the footnotes. The footnotes are terrible.

If you look at the footnotes of the RSV, NRSV, ESV, NIV, NKJV, or KJV you'll see they focus on alternate translations, an explanation of terms (such as what a talent is), and cross references to other parts of scripture. The NAB, OTOH, tends to focus on telling you that Isaiah didn't write Isaiah and the second part was centuries after the events prophesized, or the Genesis was a patchwork of different sources, or other literary theories. Never mind that there is no physical evidence of any of these theories that are based on the assumption that miracles don't happen. While it is legitament for scholars to investigate such theories, these theories have no place as the standard Bible for a country for the common people. All it does is discredit the Bible in the eyes of the faithful, distracts from the whole purpose of the text commented, and is entirely not helpful in understanding the text. To a Protestant, such liberalism makes it seem like Catholics have a low opinion of the Bible and want to discredit it.

Even with the Protestant misinterpretation of various scriptures, Catholics are better served with the footnotes of the NIV than the NAB, though there are better footnotes to choose from.

Anonymous said...

Not sure why she didn't put more examples in her article - one that really bugs me in the Missalette every Christmas is the wise men or magi translated as astrologers. That is enough to eject it in my opinion since it seems to "approve" the occult practice of astrology or could be inferred that way.

Every Sunday seeing and hearing the readings from Missalette is painful. When I have read the readings beforehand in the Douay (my fave) it is painfully obvious to me that there is some agenda in this translation. Not sure what the agenda is but the meaning from the Douay is often quite different from that in the Missalette which is the NAB.

Also agreed on the Notes - they are awful and some seemed to border on heresy to me - just another reason to get it out of the Missalettes and "unapprove" it in my opinion.

Timothy said...

Anon,

Thanks for the comment. The current NAB NT doesn't use the term 'astrologers' but the more accurate 'Magi'.

Charles G said...

To me, the main, and I think somewhat valid, point underlying the First Things author's critique of NAB is that we in the Anglophone world have an English language Bible translation literary tradition stemming from KJV (and yes it is Protestant, although Douay Rheims Challoner has similarities). This has entered the cultural consciousness over several centuries, and has been carried on in the RSV and its progeny. It would be nice if translations that strive for modern and scholarly accurate translations could also endeavor to be more respectful of the traditional literary qualities and even poetry in the received translation tradition, and try to carry on at least some of that literary cultural resonance. As someone who grew up on KJV before converting to Catholicism, I for one miss the older literary style and am quite unhappy with the NAB approach as a literary matter. I am happy that the US bishops are at least working to come up with a version of NAB that would be Liturgiam Authenticam compliant and would be the same for liturgical, home and study use. However, I personally would have preferred if they had instead joined with the UK and Australia committee in working on a single translation for the whole English speaking Catholic world that uses using the ESV or something else in the KJV/RSV line. Just my two cents.

Leonardo said...

Hi,

I think that the theme of the comments of the NABRE is an issue of scholars, with their different views. I agree with the idea of a personal preference, because is a way to participate and grow in our knowledge of the Bible and not remain indifferent.

But what I like of some non catholic Bibles are the way they are printed. They are slim, because they don't have notes.

Biblical Catholic said...

Given the many atrocious English translations out there....like the Common English Bible, The New Living Translation, the Good News Bible etc etc etc I can't see how they would regard the NAB, which at absolute worst is only one more bad translation, as being a particularly big deal....

Biblical Catholic said...

As far as notes are concerned, Canon Law requires that all Bibles be printed with explanatory notes, not just translation notes or alternative renderings, but explanatory notes which explain the meaning of the text. So publishing the NAB without the notes is really not going to happen, it is forbidden under Canon Law.

Jonny said...

I really do have high hopes for the next NABRE revision that may be out in 15 or 20 years, but that does not mean I should be unrealistic about the current estate of the NAB.

The real concern for scandal is not to be directed at First Things, but to our own home parishes and Catholic Schools. What could be more scandalous than catechists and teaches warning converts and children about the infidelity of the NAB notes against the tradition and Magesterium of the Church? That is what cuts me to the heart, because I have witnessed this several times just in recent memory, let alone what I have not seen over the entire United States in the past 40+ yearss. Does anyone understand the gravity of this situation?

I prefer not to get into the details with most people, precisely because I don't want to bring scandal to the Church. But I don't have any problem recommending the RSV-CE as an overall better modern english translation, or any other source of orthodox, Catholic study notes above the notes in the NABRE. I really don't expect those recommendations to change much even after the NAB is revised again, but there is always hope!

Timothy said...

Jonny,

To be sure, the NAB notes, particularly in the NT need a thorough review, although I think most are helpful or harmless. There are of course, a few that do need to be reviewed. But do keep in mind that there are some less-than-helpful notes even in the original RSV-CE, most notably the one in Ex. 16:14 which suggests the manna may be a 'substance secreted by the tamarisk or perhaps by an insect that feeds on its leaves and is edible. In the New Testament it is a type of the Eucharist.' Think about that typology too much may drive you buggy! :)

The main point, however, is on the translation itself, so I want to make sure this discussion focuses on the translation and not the notes.

Biblical Catholic said...

Also..I wanted to comment on the complaint about a translation of 'astrologers' implying that there is nothing wrong with astrology...it is just faulty reasoning to argue that 'the Bible mentions something therefore it is approving of it'....I mean, the book of Judges records what is probably the first instance of deliberate attempted genocide when it records that a relatively minor incident escalated into an attempt by the other 11 tribes, to exterminate the tribe of Benjamin....it's a pretty horrific story, but I've never heard anybody suggest that just because the story is in the Bible that therefore the author approves of what happened...

Theophrastus said...

I do not agree with many of the criticisms made against other translations (e.g., NRSV-CE, GNB-TEV) in this thread. In fact, just as the original article needed more support and more balance to demonstrate its thesis, criticism of other major Catholic translations such as the NRSV-CE also require support.

But that's a topic for another day.

-------------------------------

To my mind, the most serious problem with the NAB is the differing translations used for the NAB Lectionary and the NAB Bible.

While I understand that there is an effort towards harmonization, it will likely take decades, and the end result will probably be odd since there are deep differences in the translation philosophy of the Revised Grail Psalter (used in the lectionary and reportedly in this future Bible) and other Hebrew poetry in the NABRE (e.g., the Book of Job.) This sort of uneven translation plagued the pre-NABRE Old Testament NAB.

(NABRE went a great distance towards giving the NAB a more consistent style, while preserving some of the stylistic differences present in the Hebrew text, but even today, there are some inconsistencies in the NABRE translation. Those can only get worse in a hybrid RGP-NAB Bible.)

But whether we like or do not like the NAB does not really matter for serious or even casual Bible study: we can study the Bible in a wide variety of different translations with imprimatur (or even better, in the original languages); or in scholarly editions (such as Raymond Brown's Anchor Bible translation of the Gospel of John.) Similarly, there are an impressive number of commentaries and aids available.

But no matter how much money we have, we cannot buy an NAB Bible that has the same text as the NAB Lectionary.

In my opinion, that is the most serious criticism we can make against the NAB.

Biblical Catholic said...

I am generally willing to defend the NRSV....but I find the Common English Bible and the Good News Bible to be so bad that I can't even read them....I tried reading both of them and was so annoyed by them that I gave up and stopped...I found the Common English Bible to be so bad that I deleted it from my nook.....even though I downloaded it free....

Theophrastus said...

I was also disappointed with the CEB -- and my disappointment springs from multiple reasons. But that's a topic for another thread.

The GNT-TEV does serve a purpose for those with rudimentary English skills -- including young children and immigrants. (I've seen worse translations.)

CJA Mayo said...

I strongly dislike the NRSV, the NAB/RE, and the GNB, albeit for some differing reasons, and make no secret of it - but the CEB is absolutely atrocious. I did the same as Biblical Catholic after downloading it for free, except I have a Kindle. (Amazon is the future.)

I believe after reading the first few chapters of Genesis, some of the Gospels, and a dozens Psalms in the CEB - each time believing that the next rendering could not be worse than the previous rendering, and each time being proved wrong - my first comment was, posted on this very blog:

"I need to read some of the NAB annotation to clear my palate."

It was either that, or Michael Coogan's NRSV NOAB 4th Ed. annotation. The NAB translation is poor, but not horrible; but I do not believe one can, or should, separate the translation from the mandatory annotation, in evaluations of the product. However, it appears to be a product of the pen of Lancelot Andrewes himself compared to the CEB.

Surprisingly, I think the NLT has its place for children or ESL students. Most Bibles are at least usable, if not desirable ("desirable" being limited much to KJV, DRC, NKJV, NASB, TR, MT, Byz for me), but the CEB is one of the few that I have seen, along with the NWT, The Inclusive, and various one-man translations of the "Gnostic gospels" that are bordering on unusable, even for the educated Bible student (who hath memorized enough of the Bible, to notice and mentally correct major deficiencies in any text).

Michael Demers said...

I think that it's not such a bad thing that the CCD/NAB/NABRE Bible has been continuously revised and re-translated since 1948 (or 1941, if you count the Confraternity NT). It seems to me that an American Bible has to reflect and change with our ever evolving language.

Biblical Catholic said...

The NAB has actually been under almost continuous revision since 1936......I do wonder however whether the constant revisions might not be at least partially motivated by a desire to keep the copyright current by continually re-copyrighting it....and if so that is not actually a bad strategy...

Servus Dei said...

The best thing that NAB can do is to somehow reach NRSV's literary style (minus the inclusive language).

Biblical Catholic said...

I would rank the NAB's language as being in the second tier of modern Bible translations...

The first tier, i.e.the best would be
RSV
ESV
NRSV
(in that order)

I would rank the NAB as being in the tier just below that, grouping it together with the NIV, the NASB and the New Jerusalem, not the best, but better than most

I think the third tier would be held by Jerusalem and Knox

Everything else I would put in the fourth tier


And I have a weird Pokemon collect's mentality about Bibles (Gotta Catch 'Em All!) so I've read most Bibles translations now in print sufficiently to be able to make a judgment, many translations I've read from cover to cover, some more than once....

Leonardo said...

I think that there is not such objectivity about the faith, apart of what the catechism establish. My biggest disappointments in my religious life are when living among those who establish not a community of faith, but a dictatorship of what is relative about the faith. I thanks the idea of finding different explanations about the Bible, so we can reunite and find a common place.

Francesco said...

I'm pretty sure "keeping the copyright current" isn't the reason why the Confraternity/NAB translation process has been going almost continuously. Copyrights pretty much last forever. At present works by corporations are protected for 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication, which ever is shorter. Assuming the 1970 publication date applies, this means that the NAB won't enter the public domain until 2065.

Even if we go back to the law as it was in 1970, there still would be a 56 year period of protection (a term of 28 years renewable once), so at publication they could have foreseen not needing a new edition until 2026.

If I had to guess I would say that revisions to the NAB take forever because the revisions are reviewed by the bishops before they are published. I'm not aware of any full-time Bible-translating bishops, so they probably have to do it on top of their regular duties, slowing everything down.

Just my theory.

Biblical Catholic said...

I know that the copyright is in no danger of expiring anytime soon, but frequent renewals of the copyright is one way to ensure that you never have to worry about it ever.....

Francesco said...

Even infrequent renewals are enough to not ever worry about it. Under present law they could wait 2 generations and still complete a revision on their current pace before the copyright expires.

Biblical Catholic said...

I know what the copyright law says, the copyright is safe until at least 2090....

CJA Mayo said...

I think the NAB is a major, if not the major, source of income to the USCCB - if so, copyright alone is not reason for such revisions, but the desire for individuals to buy new copies, and for churches to buy new missals, etc.

However, giving them the benefit of the doubt, I think there are two (or three) main reasons for continued use of the NAB. 1) An "it was invented here" mentality; 2) an awareness that the translation (with notes) is sub-par and can be damaging; and either 2.5) or 3) a true desire to improve, and see (2) reduced in magnitude.

It could be that (2) is instead "a lack of awareness of the rat race of keeping up with modern rationalistic scholarship", but, giving the benefit of the doubt, I'd say the above three until proven (or hinted) otherwise (such as the notes being updated and still as rationalistic as they are, as the OT notes, and even many of the NT ones, now teach abandoned, unpopular, and/or discredited theories, which were common in the 1970s and 1980s).

Biblical Catholic said...

I always despise discussions about why the NAB is the version used in the US, because it always seems to come down to ascribing malicious motives on the part of the bishops. There is great value in an 'official version' of the scriptures to be used by the Church in the United States, and there is absolutely no good reason, economic, theological or practical, why a 77 year investment of time, talent and treasure towards the development of such a project should be simply abandoned.

Anonymous said...

The problem I have is not with the NAB (except the Psalms - if they are found to be unacceptable for liturgical use by the Vatican, which they are, I find it entirely unacceptable for the USCCB to continue publishing them). The introductions and the notes are the height of historical critical scholarship. The Bishops will not let anybody publish the NABRE without the same darn notes. C'mon guys!

Now if you could get an NABRE with the notes of the 1966 Jerusalem Bible I think you'd have a dandy study bible. As it stands now the notes and intros make it a dandy felt banner age time capsule.

Anonymous said...

Timothy, you said,

"As far as notes are concerned, Canon Law requires that all Bibles be printed with explanatory notes, not just translation notes or alternative renderings, but explanatory notes which explain the meaning of the text."

You miss the point. The offense is not inclusion of notes to explain the meaning of the text. The offense is mandatory inclusion of notes which explain away the meaning of the text.

BC

Caine said...

Actually, I am a Protestant who uses the NAMBRE quite a lot, both in print and Kindle versions. My main beef with the NAMBRE (which is the same as the RSV-CE is the harmonization of Gal with Genesis in terms of the "seed" being singular, yet translated as "descendant" in Gal and "descendants" in Genesis. For some reason, most translations (excepting the NRSV, ESV, and HCSB) still get that wrong. Other than that, I find little--excepting some of the notes--to put me off.

Anonymous said...

Based on this article I ordered an Oxford NABRE, genuine leather, large print, thumb index from CBD.com. The notes in this version are at the back of each chapter so I can avoid the contentious ones. I hope you're right in your praise.

JM said...

The bluster you accuse her of... is exactly the same thing you manage to convey. The problem with the NAB is its english is too pedestrian, and its footnotes too liberal. I had a problemw ith it when I converted from Evangelicalism. As for versions Evangelicals use, the ESV is all over the play in the churches I was in and still know of. Evangelicals pride themselves on appreciating the Bible, and Catholics still seem to simply not so much... If merit of translation versus episcopal loyalty was the test, there is simply no way you would be up on your high horse. The NAB is simply a second-class translation, and for that reason, for the Bishops to mandate it is quite a shame. But really, we all already know that. A clunker is a clunker, no matter how many mitred men insist otherwise> God bless FIRST THINGS! God bless your blog to, despite this atypical lapse. LOL.

Anonymous said...

I got my NABRE, Oxford model, genuine leather. Sadly, they took genuine leather and made the surface scalloped and shiny to look like bonded leather, huh? It is OK but not "nicely" bound and printed, almost zero margins.

Having said that, you can now recognixe the 23rd Psalm as the 23rd Psalm. Other OT verses vastly improved. I still like Knox better.