Many thanks to Timothy for allowing me to share a review of the Revised English Bible (REB). Almost two years ago, Rolf (a commenter on this blog) piqued my curiosity with his praise for the REB. I asked questions in the comments and discovered other blog readers who are REB fans. I ordered a used, inexpensive, hardcover REB to check it out. It quickly became my favorite translation, and I have used it as my primary bible for well over a year and a half. I'm excited to share it with all of you.
Catholic Involvement and Approval Status
The Catholic approval status of the REB has been an interesting puzzle to solve. The Catholic bishops in the British Isles officially sponsored the translation, Catholic scholars were involved in the translation process, and an auxiliary bishop of Westminster (Bishop Christopher Butler) sat on the joint committee of church representatives which sponsored the translation. In spite of all this, I cannot find any evidence that an imprimatur was ever granted to the REB.
The UK edition of the Divine Office uses excerpts from the NEB (the REB’s direct predecessor) for some scripture readings, even though the Catholic bishops were only observers during the NEB translation process. I also cannot find any evidence that the NEB received an imprimatur.
Trying to make sense of all this, I contacted the Conference of Catholic Bishops for England and Wales to inquire about the approval status of the REB. They assured me that the Catholic Church’s participation in the translation process would have involved a desire for the resulting translation to be acceptable to the Church. They also pointed me to the Vatican directive Guidelines for Interconfessional Cooperation in Translating the Bible promulgated in 1987. In section 2.8, it states, “In some circumstances, it may be wise to consider a preface including a joint recommendation by ecclesiastical authorities instead of a formal nihil obstat and imprimatur.” In the case of the REB, the translation preface from the Joint Committee of the Churches commending the translation to their readers would certainly satisfy this provision.
Printed Editions of the REB
The Joint Committee of the Churches granted the copyright for the REB jointly to Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press. Since its publication in 1989, the popularity of the REB has been overshadowed by wide acceptance of the NRSV and the NIV for public worship in protestant churches and continued use of the JB, NAB, and NRSV in Catholic churches. As such, demand for the REB has waned since its publication, and very few editions are still in print.
Out-of-print hardcover editions of the REB with and without the Apocrypha are easy to find used online. My first copy of the REB was a used Cambridge hardcover (shown below). I should note that the REB Apocrypha contains all books in the Catholic canon, as well as a few others that are part of the protestant Apocrypha: 1 and 2 Esdras, The Prayer of Manasseh, and Psalm 151. It does not contain 3 and 4 Maccabees.
Oxford University Press publishes only one edition of the REB: a paperback version of the Oxford Study Bible with Apocrypha. This edition contains succinct study notes, similar in scope and detail to the New Oxford Annotated Bible NRSV second edition. Hardcover editions of this bible are no longer in print, but they are readily available used on a variety of websites.
It’s also occasionally possible to find out-of-print editions of a pocket-sized REB New Testament (published by Cambridge). These editions have an attractive single-column text layout.