Richard J. Clifford, S.J., a native of Lewiston, Maine, Professor of Old Testament, and Jesuit priest, taught biblical studies at Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge from 1970 to 2008. He is a graduate of Boston College (A.B., M.A.), Weston Jesuit School of Theology (S.T.L.) and Harvard University (Ph.D.). He was General Editor of the CatholicBiblical Quarterly and is a former President of the Catholic BiblicalAssociation. A former President of Weston Jesuit School of Theology, he was Founding Dean of the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry from 2008-2010. As well as teaching and lecturing in scholarly circles, he is also active in adult education in various New England dioceses. He has published numerous books and articles dealing with Scripture and Scripture interpretation.
1) How has Scripture played an important role in your prayer life? Has it always been that way? What inspired you to focus your education on the study of the Bible?
As a novice in the Jesuits, I could not understand many passages, and was much helped when I figured out the meaning. Finding the truth in these passages greatly helped my prayer. I loved the Latin and Greek classics, so I was predisposed to enjoy ancient literature, especially literature as fascinating and consoling as the Bible.
2) Can you talk a little bit about the importance and influence of Dei Verbum, particularly in light of the upcoming 50th anniversary of its publication?
The Bible has a transformative power. It provides a vocabulary and a spirituality for Catholics. The Pew Foundation Study found that the Catholic Church has lost a third of its members over the last few years. Half give up religion and half become Protestants. Of the half that become Protestants, 73% say their spiritual needs were not being met in the Catholic Church. I suspect that if that group had discovered the riches of the Bible, they would not have said their spiritual needs were not being met. If only, Catholics would begin reading on Monday the Sunday readings what a difference it would make!
3) In connection to the prior question, what are your thoughts on the state of Catholic biblical literacy today, particularly here in the USA?
Among most Catholics, it is not very high. Yet when they are introduced to the Psalms, most people come to love them. So also with the Gospels. Yet many Catholic sermons do not explain the Bible’s relevance for daily life.
4) You were one of the revisers to the recent (2011) revision of the New American Bible Old Testament. Could you talk about your role in the revision? Which books did you revise? How did you approach the task of composing the annotations to the books you worked on?
I revised and annotated Genesis and Proverbs. Both books had been well translated originally and so only retouching was necessary. A fair number of verses and notes were subsequently revised by a committee. I greatly expanded the notes for each book.
5) What do you think makes a good translation of the Bible?
I think translations should be fairly literal, so that some of the flavor of the original language comes through. The Bible after all arose in a non-Western culture and should not be too quickly domesticated. It’s good that we have “the stole into the camp,” “a drop in the bucket,” “God saw that it was good,” “you are the apple of my eye,” and other memorable phrases.
6) Are there any particular resources you think are most helpful for the average Catholic in learning what the Catholic approach is to studying the Bible?
Listening carefully to the biblical passages used in the liturgy; using an annotated Bible; praying two or three psalms and a short passage from the Gospels every day in the morning (sunrise) and evening (sunset).
7) Finally, do you have a favorite passage or verse from the Bible? Why?
15 Early the next morning, when the attendant of the man of God arose and went out, he saw the force with its horses and chariots surrounding the city. “Alas!” he said to Elisha. “What shall we do, my lord?” 16 “Do not be afraid,” Elisha answered. “Our side outnumbers theirs.”
17 Then he prayed, “O LORD, open his eyes, that he may see.” And the LORD opened the eyes of the servant, so that he saw the mountainside filled with horses and fiery chariots around Elisha. (2Kings 6:15-17 NAB)
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God;
9 it is not from works, so no one may boast. 10 For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them. (Eph 2:8-10 NAB)