Thursday, May 16, 2013

Guest Review: New Community Bible

Thank you to Diakonos for this guest review of the NCB.

Timothy asked me to give a little review of the New Community Bible: Catholic Edition (NCBCE) which I just received a few days ago. I want to say that this is a rookie review from an average informed Bible user and not one from someone steeped in the various editions, translations, schools and debates of the Biblical world. I have been using the Christian Community Bible: Catholic Pastoral Edition (34th Edition, 2003, brown leather, zip closure edition). I chose the CCB years ago not for its translation, but because it provided a fair amount of doctrinal notes with a great abundance of pastoral and inspirational commentary. The NCBCE I just obtained is the International edition copyright 2012 as opposed to the First Revised Edition of 2011 and the original Edition of 2008.

The preface to the original Edition states that the NCBCE has the goal of presenting a completely re-writing of the introductions and commentaries for each book of the Bible. I am assuming this means “new” in relation to the Christian Community Bible.  It also states that a fundamental principle was to include in the commentary (annotations, etc.) not only Catholic exegesis and application, but also that from the scriptures of other world religions.  I have not had the NCBCE long enough to discover a lot, but I have already encountered reference to the Quran in the commentary for Matthew 1 concerning the virginal conception of Jesus (in the Quran he is called by the Syro-Arabic name of Isa). And I also read the note to Jn 20:11-18 which makes use of  Hindu comparisons between Mary Magdalene and Jesus to the Indian relationship between a guru and his devotee. The commentary’s style presumes that the reader is familiar with what is being discussed. I would think an “international” edition would take care to be a bit more explanatory.

In comparison to my nice leather CCB, I was disappointed that the NCMCE came in only a basic hardcover edition. One of the things I really liked about my CCB is how it feels in the hand and how it is worthily bound for the sacredness of the book. I am just not a fan of plain hardcover (or especially paperback!) Bibles.  I find that in general it is of average quality as far as paper, ink, bleeding, etc. go. The page layout is an improvement over that of the CCB: each page has three parts – sacred text in upper portion, commentary in lower part and a box or bar containing cross references in between. The title of each book of the Bible is printed in a large (poor quality but distinct) calligraphic font. The actual print is of a very good and clear size (commentary as well) which I appreciate very much as my eyes settle into middle age!  I like that it has two ribbons: one attached in the OT section, the other in the NT, and the black thumb indexing is much easier to see/use than the yellow fine printed ones in the CCB.

The order of the books of the OT is different from that of the CCB and is given as is standard for Catholic editions of the Bible. There are four poor quality black and white maps at the back of the Bible, following a very basic lexicon that reminds me of the Word List found in many editions of the Good News Bible. The artwork is sparse and in some cases obviously “Indian” in style but for me artwork in a Bible isn’t an important component.

Of course I haven’t had enough time to really delve into the translation and commentary yet but I have noticed that the translation is a bit different from its predecessor (or competition) and the commentary is noticeably different in that it is more scholarly and doctrinal than pastoral and homiletic, yet these are not absent from the notes. For a comparison of translation, I looked at Luke’s account of the annunciation.  Both read “Rejoice, full of grace” which I think is a nice happy medium between, “Hail, favored one!” (NABRE), “Hail, full of grace” (RSV-CE), and 'Rejoice, you who enjoy God's favour!’ (NJB), while the commentary states that “rejoice” and   “most favored one” are the best translation of the Greek in keeping with the overall biblical continuity of the phrases. This theme continues in the annunciation narrative in the angel’s words to Mary for while the CCB states that God was looking kindly on Mary, the NCBCE states that ‘God has favored you’ (Lk 1:31).  Mary’s reply of virginity is also a tad nuanced for in the CCB she says ‘How can this be if I am a virgin?’ while in the NCBCE it is ‘How can this be since I am a virgin?’ not a huge difference at all but I somehow like the latter better.  I suppose this would be a good place to mention that the virgin vs. young maiden of Is. 4:17 retains the traditional Catholic rendering in the NCBCE.

Whenever I come across a new edition or version of a Bible there are certain “Catholic” passages I habitually turn to see how the translation and the notes resonate with me. These are Mt. 16:19ff, Lk 1:26ff, Jn 6:22ff, Jn 19:25ff, and Jn 20:19ff.  There are others of course but these few are my quick-search hits. The NCBCE does a great job of translating and an even finer task of providing extensive solid Catholic commentary for Peter the Rock, the Eucharist and Mass, and something not always discussed in notes for Jn 19 – the spiritual motherhood of Our Lady. However I feel that it missed the boat regarding Lk 1:28 and Jn 20:23. No mention of the Immaculate Conception in the notes for Luke nor was there reference to the Sacrament of Reconciliation for John. What makes this a glaring omission for me is that these are two of the extremely few and rare verses of Scripture that actually get a magisterial (not just devotional) interpretation and teaching associated with them.  I found this a bit odd considering the very catechetical Catholic spirit of the commentaries for the passages noted above, but definitely not even close to being a deal-breaker for me.  Here are some excerpts from the above mentioned Jn  note:

While overall I really like the NCBCE and can see it easily becoming my daily Bible and is already a replacement for my CCB…there are a couple things missing for me, but then is anyone ever satisfied with the Bibles they have or those available on the market?
  • First, I would like to have the option to buy it in a nice decent quality binding. Doesn’t need to be leather…I have come to enjoy many of the “faux” covers that feel so soft and great in hand. A different cover option alone would be a great change to match the inside of the NCBCE as it is with the indexing, ribbons and layout.
  • Second, I would like to see the biggest omission rectified: the inclusion of a Lectionary guide so that Catholics can use this for Sunday Mass reflection.  I am always baffled when Catholic bibles from Catholic publishers fail to include Sunday (and even Daily) lectionary guides. These really do not take up that much additional paper and are very helpful.
  • Third, in this Year of Faith and considering the overall impetus of the New Evangelization, I think the inclusion of a simple “doctrinal reference guide” to key Catholic passages would be helpful (and not require much additional space).  Along this line I also enjoy editions that provide a handy short reference to the miracles and parables of Jesus.
  • Lastly, and this is not vital since introductions are not inspired text (but they are very influential) I would like to see a publisher with academic honesty who will provide a balanced view of authorship, date, etc. rather than stating current popular biblical theory as if it was fact. The NCBCE does a decent job of it in some cases and I was most impressed with its treatment of John, not shy about relating the evangelist to the  “disciple whom Jesus loved” as well as to the apostle, and stating that the “Johannine community” is simply an opinion among opinions. I suppose the introductions in the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible (NT) comes as close as it gets these days to what I am referring to, but I think we all know that it is more likely for the Parousia to occur than for Ignatius to present a complete and user friendly Catholic Study Bible in a translation that transcends the ideology of a particular publishing house.


Theo said...

Thanks Diakonos - nice review.

I own a CCB identical to yours in all but color (mine's green), and I have to say that I agree with you entirely on the physical quality. They are extremely well made and, hence, completely consonant with the sacred text. The physical appearance, the texture, the actual 'handling' experience is all a part of textual reception (like it or not), and the way that we receive and relate to the text is affected enormously by physical quality. The whole person 'reads' Scripture, and Scripture is more than just the written text.

Peace to you, and to all

Pomeranian Catholic said...

I personally thought the commentary in the NCBCE was a big step down from that in the CCB. The CCB also has more plentiful reading aids at a higher quality. I recently acquired the new 57th edition, printed just this year, and I'm planning on doing a comparison of the two translations.

Diakonos said...

Definitely the commentary in the CCB is much more extensive in quantity of words and yes there are many study aids that I like. All agreed there. But I found the CCB commentary st time too much and too "1980's" in its application to social aspects which are a high theme in the commentary. What I like more about the NCBCE (and its still way too soon to speak about it with any authoritative experience) is that the notes are more solid theologically and less "application" style to a particular social need. I also think the decision to not include all the CCB-stype study aids allowed for space in the NCBCE for it to be printed in larger clearer font and have a nicer user friendly layout.

Dave Awbrey said...

The CCB has some very questinable commentary to say the least. It uses "She" for God in commentary in Genesis Ch. 12 I believe and also in commentary in the Psalms. I cant say where all for sure, as I got rid of it post haste! I even managed to talk to the publisher on the phone about it, and he told me that this was done intentionally. No thanks.

CJA Mayo said...

If Dave's statement is correct, it further confirms my already steady judgment of a Bible that references the Koran (a book of either human or demonic origin, and the foundational text of the most enduring and powerful ancient worldview [as opposed to modern anti-Christian worldviews, such as naturalism, Marxism, or evolutionism, etc.] opposed to Christianity):


(Unless every time a "Scripture" falsely so-called is referenced as if it could be of any aid whatsoever in explaining the divinely-inspired Bible for people of any religion or culture - faintly reminiscent of the "Muslim Idiom Translation" debates ongoing in the Protestant world - said writing was refuted. Which is doubtful. What can the sayings of deluded men, or demons, help in interpreting the word of God written?)

One egregious doctrinal error such as that is a deal-breaker for me, which has, for better or worse, left me "stranded" using a few 17th c. or earlier Bible translations and ancient commentaries. The standard of orthodoxy amongst divines was so much greater then, even if the people were not especially pious or religious, nor was society as a whole.

It reminds me of the Russian Orthodox priest who was asked by a Roman Catholic priest about "innovation" in his Church's doctrine, and, speaking, replied: "We recently added 'or by air' to our prayers for travellers, in addition to 'by land or sea'".

Dave Awbrey said...

CJA Mayo, I would like to reiterate that my comments about using feminine pronouns for God apply to the CCB and not the newer NCBCE. I had the brown leather version with zip closure, and that was probably eight years ago. I have no experience with this latest version but I do share your reluctance about referencing other religious texts to form my Catholic religious viewpoints. I also am more inclined to just stay with the old tried and true versions.

Ter said...

The using of the feminine pronoun in the full page article on Creation in the middle of Genesis occured in an early 2000's edition f(I think 2003)- it has been corrected to "He" in the more recent editions of the CCB i.e. 2007 on.

Thomas said...

I'm not sure if anyone will see this but I was wondering if the new community bible had the same somewhat unorthodox commentary at James 5:13 where the christian community bible says that the elders of the church were lay people who could anoint the sick and celebrate the Eucharist and not be ordained priests. And is there still and interruption between genesis 11 and 12 about the Three sayings of God? Thanks for any reply. Tom.

Timothy said...


The issue with James 5:13 is not in my edition. It mentions the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick and Confession.

As for Gen 11-12, I don't see the passage you are referring to.