Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Should We Memorize Scripture and With Which Bible?

Ok, so here are the discussion questions:

1) Is the memorization of Scripture something we, as Catholics, should strive to do?  (Protestant friends and readers are welcome to chime in as well.)

2) Is it necessary that we have a stable text in order to do this?

3) If so, which Catholic translation fills that need right now?

My responses:
1) Yes, absolutely!

2) I think so.  The continual revision of translations, often within 20 years of initial publication cannot be conducive to memorization.

3) That is the question, eh?

It should be the NABRE, but it has had a continuous history of revision after revision which means stability is not one of its virtues.  That being said, there is some legitimate hope that the current revision, due to be completed in 2025, may provide the stability many seek.

So, which text has the greatest likelihood of being a stable text?  Texts like the Douay-Rheims or Knox are not likely to be updated (officially) ever again.  Knox, himself, wrote that if his text became dated, he would prefer someone to do a completely fresh translation instead of revising his.  Well, then, how about the RSV or NRSV?  The RSV has been revised/updated a few times over its history, most notably the '66 CE, the '71 NT revision, and the Ignatius changes.  The NRSV has not been updated since publication in 1989 and the NCCUSA has made no mention of future revision.

I don't know if there is a clear answer.  I wonder myself, particularly since having a stable text for memorization would be a very good thing.

What say you?


CatholicSteve said...

Honesty, it doesn't matter which translation you use, so long as its approved by the Catholic Church. The choice of translations is based off of personal preference.

Jim said...

1) Yes. I presume folsk would question their own ability to memorize (It strikes me odd, each Sunday, that many people [including the priest celebrant] at Mass pull out a "card" [or "worship aid"] with the "revised" text of the Creed on it, almost six years after it first began to be used.)

2) Is it necessary that we have a stable text in order to do this?
It would seem so. Unless one is adept of remembering which translation a particular memorized verse is from. Such as, ""It reads in the NABRE (not from the Lectionary text, however), that ...."

3) If so, which Catholic translation fills that need right now?
An approved text. Simple as that. I hope that I would be able to quote a text from Scripture which I use regularly.

Eric Barczak said...

Thou shalt only thus memorize from thy Douai and thy Rheims. :-) (ok, just kidding)

I think we definitely should have some verses memorized; both for general comfort/inspiration for ourselves and other believers, as well as why we believe what we believe, for those who do not believe the way we do.

As to translation, I think that's less critical, but I would argue to use a more formal translation. While I love Knox, quoting "As in honor pledged, by sure paths he leads me. Dark be the valley about me, hurt I fear none.." is probably not going to be easily recognized from Psalm 22/23 by anyone who doesn't read Knox. There are so many translations out there now, that to have a "standard" translation is unrealistic.

Timothy said...

Knox would be a contender, if it weren't for those awkward renderings occasionally found in the Psalms and the prophets (in general).

Timothy said...

And I agree that a "standard" translation is unlikely at this point, but a stable one is what the focus should be.

Timothy said...

I do agree with this.

Surly Hermit said...

1) Absolutely. My mind (perhaps only my own) is like an echo chamber resounding with the words and music I've read and heard throughout my life. Hence I think it important that it be filled with the true, the good and the beautiful. What better fits that description than the Scriptures?

2) Absolutely. The reason for this is that it is essential (in my opinion) that all English-speaking peoples share a common sacred language. As mentioned above regarding the Knox, beautiful as it is, unless I've read it recently I won't have any idea what passage you're quoting. (And the Knox is my favorite translation to read from!) Whereas for over four centuries the English Bible, the Bible that shaped the English language as we know it today, has been the Authorized/King James Version. It is stable and unchanged in the official printings since the 1700s, apart from necessary updated spellings. And it is truly beautiful.

3) None. Until the day comes when a Catholic bishop authorizes the Authorized Version. Not because Catholic translations are terrible (though some are), but because they are not THE English Bible that all Christians should and used to recognize. Excepting the KJV, the RSV-CE would be my choice. The Knox is ill-suited to memorization and the Douay-Rheims is often clunky besides those passages wherein Challoner mimicked the KJV. (His doing so rather helps my cause, I like to think.)

For memorization and sheer beauty, no Catholic translation compares to the Authorized Version.

For study, there are certainly better Catholic alternatives. I especially like the NABRE Old Testament, and eagerly anticipate the revised New Testament (only eight years away!).

(The Psalms are where this subject gets difficult. King James psalter, or Coverdale? Both are glorious.)

Timothy said...

All that being said, the Knox would still remain a contender for me. :)

Timothy said...


You bring up an interesting point in regards to the Psalms. They are the heart of prayer in the Bible and have likely been the book most often memorized. Yet, as you mentioned, there are some very good ones out there. There are a lot of them out there! Even my beloved Knox translated them twice!

Surly Hermit said...

"It should be the NABRE..."

Tim, I understand your point, but that's only true if you consider American Catholics in isolation from all other Anglophone Christians, Catholic and non-Catholic alike. Following your reasoning, shouldn't English Catholics memorize from the ESV and Canadian Catholics from the NRSV? (Assuming those are their current liturgical translations.)

The sheer quality of its English aside, one major reason for adopting the Authorized Version is that it is the most widespread English Bible and virtually everyone recognizes some passage or other from it. What better tool for evangelization than a common Bible which, alongside Shakespeare and the Book of Common Prayer, literally cemented the language we still speak over four centuries later?

Almost everyone I know will recite Psalm 23 as King James intended it. That's pretty significant right there. For Catholics to limit themselves to the NABRE is rather shortsighted. Again, for study there may perhaps be no better translation than the NABRE, especially when fully revised. But for memorization, the stablest of stable translations cannot be equaled.

Timothy said...


I am actually sympathetic to what you are saying. However, some will not even consider the KJV due to its history and the lack of an official Catholic edition. I am not one of those.

(By the way, Cambridge makes some truly wonderful KJV editions that include the apocrypha/deuterocanonicals.).

Surly Hermit said...

Tim, I'm aware of that, and it's unfortunate but true. However, I try to explain that the Catholic Church has "baptized", so to speak, many things which started out pagan or otherwise non-Catholic. Augustine and Aquinas did it, and in the last decade Popes Benedict and Francis have done it (with the Anglican Ordinariates). I personally love praying Morning and Evening Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer. And it's a wee bit amusing to think of what Cranmer's opinion of me, a Roman Catholic, praying with and benefiting from his work, might be. And, like the Bible, the BCP has deep Catholic roots (Benedictine, in this case).

I've seen Cambridge's editions and thought about getting one, but ended up with an APA edition that combines the KJV (with Apocrypha) and 1928 Book of Common Prayer. Perhaps not as luxurious as a Cambridge, but very handy as it combines two of my favorite books. (Cambridge did offer a KJV/BCP at one point, but it lacked the Apocrypha.)

Steve Molitor said...

Great post. An important criteria for me is the language -- is it easy and rewarding to memorize? Does it stick in your head?

To me, the KJ is clearly the best in this regard. For various reasons I won't be switching to the KJ. The RSV is a close second.

I did a little experiment memorizing Psalm 1 in the RSV, NABRE, and the Revised Grail. The RSV phrasing stuck in my head the most. For example, "sits in the seat of scoffers" is more alliterative and concrete than "sit in the company of scoffers." The Revised Grail work pretty well when read out load though. (I tried the NRSV as well for a bit, but "happy are those" just doesn't do it for me.)

There are other considerations however. My family reads the gospel from the NABRE before Sunday mass. It's easier for everyone to understand, what they will hear at mass, and is what father will be referencing in his homily. I'm focusing on the psalms though, and the situation with the future of the NABRE psalms is particularly fraught.

At a personal level, I suppose there is one simple solution to concerns about the stability of a translation: just don't buy the upgrade! It sure would be nice though if we had a stable Catholic translation.

Does anyone have any good techniques for memorization?

How do you guys pick what passages to memorize?

Kaska.David said...

Steve Molitor asked about techniques for memorizing scripture. I had a college roommate get me interested using the Navigators Topical Memory System. I think their method is pretty good, and it includes lots of little tips that are useful.

In general, you use topics as memory hooks. To use the most Catholic example I can think of, think of memorizing a verse to go with each mystery of the Rosary. So you would have a topic of 20 verses "The Rosary". Your first subset is "The Joyful Mysteries". Your first verse to memorize has a title "The Annunciation". The verse is Luke 1:28...I think you can find examples in pdf with a little google-fu.

So it all goes on a card that you are going to memorize in full: The Rosary, The Joyful Mysteries, The Annunciation, Luke 1:28, He came to her and said, "Hail full of grace, the Lord is with you." Luke 1:28. They emphasize putting the citation (e.g. Luke 1:28) "fore and aft".

If you work consistently and especially if you review with a partner, it's pretty easy to learn 2 verses a week. After you build up a few verses, you review one group per day on a rotating basis. So you might be learning Rev. 12:1 "The Crowning of Mary", and also reviewing all 5 of the Joyful Mysteries verses. The next day you would continue learning Rev. 12:1 and review the Sorrowful Mysteries.

Once you learn the system it's kind of exciting to break down favorite longer passages that are meaningful to you and learn them. I wish this was a Catholic "thing", it's a great tool for meditation...imagine everyone in your parish learning one of the penitential Psalms for Lent.

Hope that helps?

Dwight Spivey said...

1 - yes
2 - not necessarily
3 - The Message - Catholic edition, of course! :)

Russ said...

Back when I was a young Protestant (converted to the Catholic Church at the age of 54) I memorized over 500 verses from the NASB using the Navigators program. Those verses still come back and speak to me although the NASB is not authorized for Catholic use. I feel a bit conflicted here...

Erap10 said...

The Douay Rheims, or at least an updated DR that can sound moe poetic and tries to be more consistent with its pronouns should be the standard text. I want an English translation of a Bible written within the Latin tradition as a Latin Rite Catholic.

If I had to pic an alternative it would have to be the RSV2CE.

Jerry Mc Kenna said...

1 - yes I think memorization of bible passages is a good idea.

2 - a stable text makes sense.

3 - ??? not sure. My own taste runs to older texts and despite the fact the my mind sometimes says 'unclean' when opening a non-Catholic Bible, I prefer the style of the King James or the Bishop Challoner version of the Douay Rheims translation.

Timothy said...

At least you can get the KJV with apocrypha!

Timothy said...

An updated Douay might sell really well.

Timothy said...


Yes, I think those older texts have that lasting, classic quality to them. The only options, seems to me, would be the KJV w/apocrypha, Douay-Challoner, or Knox.

Michael Demers said...

Logically and practically speaking, we should memorize the most widely used English translation in Catholic liturgy: the Jerusalem Bible.

Timothy said...

I'm not sure it has many days left with that title. Isn't the RSV-2Ce being updated for lectionary use?

Timothy said...

And then there was the ESV fiasco not to mention the attempts with the NRSV. Who knows what will it will be.

Eric Barczak said...

Well, technically, in that vein, you also have the Douay-Confraternity option (witj the CBPC translation of the New Latin Psalter). I think if we're talking "old school" English, the Confraternity NT is probably the best.

Bob said...

1-Memorization is quickly becoming "unnecessary" in the wider culture. I teach elementary aged children and you should see the cajoling and nonsense I put children through to get them to learn and retain their multiplication tables! Moving from an oral to a written culture turned memorization from a necessary skill to a parlor trick more than a century ago, and moving from a written culture to a post-literate culture has only made matters worse.

Still though, I think that memorization is a worthy skill. Why not?

That being said, in my bible study groups I find that the people who have memorized large chunks of scripture tend to be kind of show-offy about it and shoe-horn what they've memorized into contexts in which that scripture isn't necessarily appropriate to the discussion. I suppose to someone with a hammer, everything starts looking like a nail.

2-A stable text would be ideal, but the lack of one hasn't stopped us from memorizing the prayers of the people at Mass. There was the English version of the old mass from '66-'71, the old translation of the new mass from '71-'11, and the new translation of the new mass from '11 to present.

3-The 2025 NAB sounds like it could be a stable one, if indeed it gets keyed to the lectionary and the Liturgy of the Hours.

Until then, I think I will be most likely to memorize from my trusty Missal rather than any particular bible. So I guess that means the 1970/1986 NAB

Kenneth Massey said...

1. RSV Ce 2nd edition and Grail Psalms for memorisation, and CTS New Bible.
2. Yes and No, it depends how a given passage is translated.
3. I have been using the Didache Bible a lot for study and CTS New Bible as text used in lectionary here in the UK

Matthew Doe said...

Frankly, I think intentional memorisation is a rather poor replacement for Lectio Divina.

Brief explanation of what I mean with LD, because lots of mutations have been imposed on that term (e.g., lectionary-following, bad idea...) - you can skip this if you know the monastic / "medieval" way: Pick a book of the bible, and start reading it slowly. Common advice is to read out loud, rather than silently, to slow you down and use auditory reinforcement. If something strikes you as interesting or inspiring, "meditate" on it, which means read it several times and mull it over in your mind (not Eastern meditation). If nothing happens, just continue reading. If however you feel inspired by your meditation, start to pray about it. If nothing special happens in your prayers, just continue reading when you are done. Sometimes in your prayers by God's grace you may reach a contemplative state. If so, enjoy, and when it fades continue reading. When your session (at least about half an hour) is done, just stop, and next time pick up from where you stopped in the book. When you have finished a book, pick a new one (not necessarily in sequential order of the bible).

If you do LD, you will automatically start memorising the bible, indeed quite efficiently so. But it will not be "artificial", in the sense that you pre-select some verses to memorise by external criteria (or randomly). Rather it will be those very verses that have "caught" you in the reading (that you meditated and prayed about). And apart from verses which you have memorised explicitly, you will have a lot of "subconscious" knowledge of the bible, as the constant engagement with the text will "flavour" your thought. Finally, instead of isolating verses, by this method you will automatically remember context. Verses that stick out will stick out in terms of the surrounding text which you are also reading and processing, you will not just read that one verse over and over in isolation.

So, don't outright memorise, it's an inferior method. Use LD.

Steve Molitor said...

Thanks for the suggestions on the Navigators program. It looks like it might work well.

Wow Matthew that's a great suggestion re LD! I may go that route.

Steve Molitor said...

Re stability of a translation, I think a revision, while not ideal for the memorizer, is ok as long as the revision generally maintains the same style and language. There's a video of John Piper talking about how, while he grew up memorizing the RSV, switching to the ESV wasn't so bad because it wasn't that different. I'm not a fan of neither Piper nor the ESV, but I think he made sense there.

For better or worse, I didn't grow up with the KJ / RSV tradition ringing in my ears. I grew up with the NAB. Even today it's that tradition I hear at mass, in the songs, what my family reads together, and what my children will learn from in school and catechism. When I read the OT reading in the NABRE and hear it read in the NAB, it's not that jarring. The RSV sounds like a different language in comparison.

So in spite of what I said above about my beloved RSV (leather NOAB with all my notes!), I may go with a NABRE / Revised Grail combo. It's not exactly what we hear at mass, but it's in the same ballpark.

Timothy said...

Thank you Matthew. This is a helpful addition to the conversation. And I think this is a classical both/and situation. Lectio and intentional memorization of texts, can also be a good thing.

Surly Hermit said...

Matthew, excellent comment! Much to ponder there.

While I don't practice lectio divina as you described it (something to work towards in the future), my own memorization of Biblical texts is more along those lines than brute-force memorization of selected passages in isolation of the surrounding context.

Most of what I choose to memorize is from my daily prayer--the Nunc Dimittis and Magnificat, or the Last Gospel from Mass (in my case, Divine Worship, not the Extraordinary Form), or perhaps the De Profundis. I love canticles and psalms, and find that by praying them regularly I naturally come to memorize them, if not in whole than in large portions.

Picking a random verse, say John 3:16, doesn't do anything for me personally. I can't quote chapter and verse of nearly anything in the Bible, but I am familiar with and recognize nearly everything I read or hear. And I would rather be familiar with all of Scripture than be able to quote you chapter-and-verse any number of passages like anyone who just got back from VBS. Not that I think that's necessarily a bad thing--it's just not for me.

Steve Molitor said...

I can't believe I didn't think of this before, but an obvious technique to facilitate memorizing the psalms is to sing them. As I understand it, one can buy the "singing version" of the grail psalms (revised or not), which has accent marks in the right spots, and also purchase a little card with the 9 different psalm tones (i.e. melodies) and which psalms they go with.

The psalms are songs meant to be sung, and songs make lyrics stick in your head. I'm a musician so I can read the tunes.

Has anyone tried this approach?

Allister Roy Chua said...

1. Memorize Scripture?
YES! Although Matthew's insights on LD are beautiful and do make sense - it's learn-to-master rather than just rote memorization in the school context; instead of striving for grades (which I sadly did), strive to master the topic by immersing yourself in it. And LD fits that practice perfectly. It really should be promoted more among the lay faithful.

That said, memorizing SOME verses for the sake of being able to quote them is a helpful thing spiritually too. These verses in particular would be one's favorites, a Spiritual First Aid, if you will.

I suppose Bob's insights on written and post-literary cultures today are the reason why dynamic equivalence translations are so popular - the idea or thought behind the text is what many people recall more easily. But I do understand and even support the wisdom of a formal equivalence translation - we want to be sure that the text before us is really as the authors intended or wrote. Dynamic equivalence is more prone to misinterpretation or eisegesis.

Another interesting insight I had last night from a devout friend is that his parish, which is launching Bible study programs for parishioners, does not want to call it "Bible Study" but "Bible Sharing" - sharing the message of Scripture. To be able to do so via LD is just beautiful.

2. Need stable text?
YES! There isn't one definitive stable text, but a series of stable texts that got replaced over the years.

Though I accept this is inevitable because of archaeological discoveries that necessitate revisiting (take note, I said revisiting, not necessarily revising right away) the Scriptures, as well as linguistic evolutions (the KJV's contribution to English notwithstanding). Hopefully NABRE 2025 provides that stability, but it remains to be seen if the English-speaking world outside the US and my Philippines (where NAB is used in the lectionary) will adapt it - they have the Jerusalem.

Having a stable text allows for smoother discussion among the faithful. Then again, different texts can shed different lights on the same passage/s...

3. Which Catholic translation?
Since the KJV is not endorsed or approved by the Church, but several of its descendants are, we could look there. We go back to the time-honored question of the "best" Catholic translation, of which there really isn't any. Each of the so-called strong contenders has their strengths and flaws.

As per Surly and Michael's insights, yes, NAB(RE) is a fine translation - but is too American-centered, while the Jerusalem is for the rest of the Anglophone world. One can argue that KJV is British-centered - but English did come from there. So while the Americans have their own excellent scholarship, for linguistic purposes, I would settle on the KJV bloodline.

With all that said and done, I would go for the RSV or NRSV. RSV-2CE removed archaic language and restored some Catholic-friendly translations, while NRSV took advantage of the latest available sources (RSV-2CE, sadly, is still pre-Dead Sea Scrolls, if I am not mistaken), though it does suffer from overemphasis of gender neutrality. But because of the familiarity of its language to my prayers and religious experiences growing up, I would go for the RSV-2CE.

Matthew Doe said...

If you read the bible to memorise (whether by straight effort or indirectly via Lectio Divina), then the considerations need be a bit different to the usual discussion of "what is the best English translation".

First, I feel the well-known comment that the best translation is the on you actually read applies here, too. The best bible to memorise from is the one you will actually do it with (rather than the one you judge it would be best to do it with). If you are already mostly reading one particular translation, then frankly no further discussions is needed... Use what you use.

Second, not all texts are created equal concerning ease of memorisation. Speeches, songs, and narratives from an oral tradition have structures in them that help memorisations, like semantic repetitions or consistent speech rhythms. In part we finds those in the bible, and translations can bring this out or obscure it. Furthermore, translations can be smooth or awkward for memorisations, even where such original devices are absent, and that is not necessarily identical with the question of how "accurate" the translation is or what translation scheme is being followed.

If you are actually considering various translations for the purpose of memorisation, I would suggest to pick a reasonably long piece of text in the book from which you want to memorise, and to read it out loud, ideally to an actual audience that can provide feedback. If you find that the text is easy for oration, then it is likely easy for memorisation as well. If you find yourself stumbling, back-tracking or even saying things without actually knowing what you just have said, then the text is likely more difficult to memorise. Note carefully whenever your brain forces a pause on you, that's a bad sign. Whereas if you intentionally pause for effect, that's a good sign. Indeed, if you find that the text naturally brings out changes in your delivery, like intonation, stress, pace etc. then this is a good sign. It means the text is easy enough for you to add embellishments *and* provides semantic or emotional hooks for them. The same features will make the text stick more easily in your memory.

Steve Molitor said...

Thanks Matthew for another insightful post. Reading out loud gives you a different perspective on the text, and yeah if it sounds good and you enjoy reading it out loud, it's probably going to be easier to memorize.

"The one you read" makes sense too. The one I keep coming back to is the RSV. I could see myself switching to the 2CE at some point, because the archaic language bits in the RSV don't always roll off my tongue. (I would need to find an edition with a big enough font. The standard Ignatius edition that I have is just a little too small, but the large print sounds hugetastic.)

One verse (or part of a verse really) that I do have memorized is Exodus 14:14, "The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be still." I say it when I feel anger or fear (often the two go together) rising up in me. Or before I send off an angry email or blog post reply! The scene is vivid in my head: the Israelites are seemingly trapped between Pharaoh's army and the Red Sea, angry at Moses and deathly afraid. Of course we know what happens next.

I prefer the RSV's "be still" over "keep still" in the NABRE. I know our high school English teachers taught us to prefer active verbs, but in this case we're talking about a state of being, not just a bodily action, so "be still" is perfect to me. I have no idea which is closer to the Hebrew.

Christopher Buckley said...

Yes, and it's best if it's something in the Catholic RSV lineage.
Simply because it provid.es the most verbal overlap with other Christian traditions.

Someone quoting the RSV-(2)CE is likely to be recognized by an ESV-reader (likely an evangelical or Missouri Synod Lutheran).

Someone quoting the NRSV-CE is likely to be recognized by a mainline Protestant (esp. United Methodists or Presbyterians) and Anglicans.

Jonny said...

1. I believe Scripture memorization is important. To clarify, I mean it is important to be able to quote Scripture accurately enough to engage people in discussions about the faith. This may not be exactly word for word according to one particular translation, but it helps if the language is recognizable enough to other Christians.

2. Yes, having a stable text is good, but having multiple stable texts is better. My preference is to use a small number of translations regularly, so that I end up remembering important verses in 2 translations.

3.0. The reason for the multiple translations is to accommodate different needs and situations. I really enjoy reading the Douay Rheims Challoner. This is the translation I mostly read with my family. We read the Mass readings every day, and reading out of a Bible opposed to the Missal gives the context of the passage. The DRC can be hard to get used to reading, but I really like language, the traditional renderings, and the apologetic notes. This Bible, in fact, was instrumental in my conversion to the Catholic Church. The notes do not mince words regarding the errors of Protestantism and the beauty of the Catholic faith in Scripture.

3.1. The RSV is my second go-to Bible. There are three popular editions in print: The original '66 Catholic Edition, the New Oxford Annotated Study Bible, and the Ignatius edition. I believe the Ignatius edition is the most important one for personal study and devotion for Catholics. This is the edition you want to get for parish Bible studies, Lectio Divina, SRE, RCIA, and other similar programs were a standard text is preferable.

3.2. The NAB is a part of my life because I go to Mass in the United States. There are many renderings in the RSV that I prefer over the NAB, and I doubt the 2025 NABRE will be significantly different enough to change that opinion. So we have the current NABRE. It has some degree of stability because there is only the one version in print... but the problem is that in a group setting it is very likely that there will be multiple different editions. So even in 2025 the NABRE will still be problematic.

3.3. I have to add this, just because it comes up so frequently. The KJV undoubtedly has literary merit, as well as a handful of passages which are widely recognizable. Even so, it is wholly inappropriate for Catholics as a devotional text. If you want a traditional translation, as a Catholic, go DRC. The KJV can be useful because it is available electronically for free, with Strong's Concordance. KJV/Strong's often reveals how literal the DRC is and can help in understanding the difficult passages. Keep in mind that the KJV was never a universal translation for all Christians, but rather has its roots in anti-Catholicism, wherein it is most commonly used today.

So in conclusion, I think one should pick one or two Catholic translations for their various Bible uses and memorize from them! The three I specifically mentioned are available in a variety of quality editions with sewn binding as well as being available electronically, which is also important. Of particular interest are the Lighthouse app with the Ignatius Study Bible (also has search engine), and the Haydock Bible online. I have both my most frequently used Bibles in my pocket all the time!

Biblical Catholic said...

I know I am very late to this conversation, but the King James or Authorized Version is an explicitly anti-Catholic translation.

The Authorized Version was put together under King James I of England for the purpose of theologically uniting the Church of England.

At the time, the Church of England was divided into at least three factions:

1. The Crypto-Catholics, who had never really accepted the Protestantizing reforms of Edward VI and Elizabeth I and were still trying to maintain something resembling Catholic orthodoxy under the auspices of the Church of England.

2. The Puritans who thought that the Protestantizing reforms of Edward and Elizabeth didn't go far enough to purge the Catholic elements from the Church of England

3. The royal party, who didn't really care one way or the other, but were willing to do whatever the king said.

In 1611, the Douay-Rheims had not yet taken hold, so Catholics were by and large still using the Vulgate. While the Puritans were using the Geneva Bible.

King James wanted a new translation to strengthen the royal party, and suppress the Puritan and Crypto-Catholic parties. This is the purpose of the King James Version.

The KJV is filled with literally dozens of explicitly anti-Catholic translations in both the Old and New Testaments, anti-Catholic in the sense that the passages were intentionally translated in such a way as to make a Catholic interpretation of the verses difficult is not close to impossible.

Examples of anti-Catholic renderings in the KJV would include

Luke 1:28 'hail favored one' instead of the traditional Catholic 'Hail, full of grace'

Genesis 3:15 "it shall crush your head" rather than the traditional "she will crush your head"

James 5:16 "confess your faults to one another" rather than the more accurate "confess your sins to one another"

In several places in the KJV, they use the word "overseer' instead of the more accurate 'bishop', for the word more properly translated 'grace' they use 'gift', and 'presbyter' or 'elder' for 'priest', and sometimes uses the word 'congregation' instead of the word 'church.'

The fact that some of these mistranslations have found their way into modern Catholic translations is simply a sign of recent attempts to water down the Catholic content of the scriptures to make them more appealing to Protestant readers.

Also, the KJV translates Christ's in Matthew so that he condemnations 'vain repetition' (a translation which was chosen to make it sound like he was condemning the Rosary), when it would be more accurate to say 'do not babble like the pagans do', which is what nearly all modern translations say.

In fact, Catholic theologians looking through the KJV have found more than 4,000 verses that seemed to be intentionally worded in such a way as to exclude a Catholic interpretation.

JDH said...

My thoughts on this topic are a bit complex, maybe even paradoxical. Yes, I certainly do believe that memorizing Scripture is very important, but I'm not so sure memorizing it as a goal in and of itself is that important. And, I'm not at all sure that memorizing a specific translation matters much at all.

To answer the posed questions directly:

1) Yes, I do think memorization is something we should hope to achieve, but as I said above, not as a solitary goal. When I was growing up in a Baptist church, it was common to have Bible memorization drills and the like. I think that's fine for children and it helps to get to know the Bible a little, but I'm not sure it's worth carrying into adulthood. It feeds into the problems brought about by versification, particularly proof-texting. I think memorization comes about best when (as several folks stated above) we read and pray with the Scriptures frequently. Then we can't help but remember them, even long passages. Is it possible to pray morning and evening prayer in the LOTH every day for years without memorizing whole psalms from the Grail Psalter? But those psalms will be part of you because you've prayed them, not because you drilled them until you could recite them.

2) I think it's important to have a standard text for communal worship, such as the lectionary (where everyone can read and pray with the same text that's read at Mass), or the LOTH. I don't think it matters much beyond that. There are passages in the Gospels I can recite almost word for word, but when I try to do so, I will largely be saying the NAB but will inadvertently mix in a well-known phrase from the KJV, learned in my youth. I really don't see that as a problem. To try to iron that out in my head would take some effort, and to what end?

3) Given all that I said above, I think the RSV-CE, the NRSV, and the NABRE all serve the contemporary American English speaking Catholic quite well. And for those drawn to the Knox or the D-R or the JB, those are great too! I agree with Jonny that having multiple good texts is really a great thing.

Peter T. said...

My responses (as a longtime lector and a catechist):

1) Only one’s favorite verses of the Bible, but whole chapters or books of the Bible? No, there are far more important words that Catholics should FIRST try to memorize and take to heart over whole chapters and books of the Bible: the Nicene and Apostle Creeds, the Gloria, the Sanctus, the Agnus Dei; the many wonderful Catholic prayers and chaplets; and if one is especially ambitious: the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Trying to memorize English translations of entire books of the Bible is in my opinion a fool’s errand because NO ENGLISH TRANSLATION is a perfect translation of the Nova Vulgata. If one wants to memorize one version of the Catholic Bible, learn Latin and memorize the Nova Vulgata. It’s not going to go through any major revisions anytime soon.

2) As I just mentioned, the most stable text will be the Latin Nova Vulgata. For an English translation (if stability of text if of most importance), one ought to consider the Jerusalem Bible (JB) which is the text (along with the Grail Psalter) that’s used in all Catholic English Masses outside of the United States and Canada. The Jerusalem Bible being actively used by Catholics around the world for over 50 years makes it a pretty stable translation, IMHO.

3) The Jerusalem Bible combined the Grail Psalter has been a very stable translation. This edition of the Bible is called the CTS New Catholic Bible and is published by CTS.

Michael Demers said...

Referring to Biblical Catholic above, if there are more than 4000 verses in the KJV that preclude Catholic interpretation, how many are left in the RSV and maybe even the NRSV?

Matthew Doe said...

Memorise the Neo-Vulgate? Oh, please. Basically, Rome needed a standard source for Latin biblical texts, and could face neither translating ad hoc into Latin from the (obviously much more active) world of vernacular bible translations, nor using the utterly obvious traditional choice, the Sixto-Clementine Vulgate, because it belonged to the pre-Vatican II world that this generation of bishops trashed mercilessly.

So, instead they basically bastardised the Sixto-Clementine Vulgate text with the translation principles and sources like those of modern vernacular translation, rendering it all largely in Classical (rather than Church) Latin. The Neo-Vulgate is basically like the protagonist of "The Fly" movie...

Whereas the Sixto-Clementine Vulgate is the only bible text in existence which is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit to be free of errors of faith or moral nature, as infallibly declared by the Council of Trent. And by "all" I include all so-called "source" texts that have been found. While it is possible that one of them, or perhaps most of them, are "perfect", we do not know that. But we do know that they do not perfectly agree with each other. (In my opinion, the Septuagint probably qualifies for the same status as the Sixto-Clementine Vulgate by the ordinary magisterium of the Eastern Church. However, this can be debated absent an explicit conciliar endorsement. The status of the Vulgate cannot.) As Pius XII affirmed in Divino Afflante Spiritu:

"Hence this special authority or as they say, authenticity of the Vulgate was not affirmed by the Council particularly for critical reasons, but rather because of its legitimate use in the Churches throughout so many centuries; by which use indeed the same is shown, in the sense in which the Church has understood and understands it, to be free from any error whatsoever in matters of faith and morals; so that, as the Church herself testifies and affirms, it may be quoted safely and without fear of error in disputations, in lectures and in preaching; and so its authenticity is not specified primarily as critical, but rather as juridical."

Of course, the Sixto-Clementine Vulgate is also a much better text to know if one wants to understand the writings of the Saints and Doctors of about the first 1700 years of the Church. The Neo-Vulgate will disappear eventually. No living tradition is being built up on this mutated text... how many future Saints and Doctors of our times would have even read a single word of it? It's a bureaucratic device of the contemporary Church, that will continue to be ignored but for formal checks and official copy & paste of Latin bible verses.

If you wish to learn from a Latin bible (and I do not recommend this, unless your are a fluent reader of Latin), then use the Sixto-Clementine Vulgate, the only guaranteed biblical text available to us.

Timothy said...

While I would not be as harsh as Matthew, I generally agree with his comments about the Vulgate. I have heard only complaints about the Nova Vugata from most people, including a number of scholars.

Michael Demers said...

The Nova Vulgata is based on the original languages of the Bible while keeping more or less to the style of the Clementine Vulgate. One big difference is the presence of many Hebraisms.
Also, the Sixto-Clementine was published after the Council of Trent which declared [in 1546] the following:

"Moreover, the same sacred and holy Synod,—considering that no small utility may accrue to the Church of God, if it be made known which out of all the Latin editions, now in circulation, of the sacred books, is to be held as authentic,—ordains and declares, that the said old and vulgate edition, which, by the lengthened usage of so many ages, has been approved of in the Church, be, in public lectures, disputations, sermons and expositions, held as authentic; and that no one is to dare, or presume to reject it under any pretext whatever."

Note that this is in opposition to other Latin translations of the Bible at the time. It doesn't apply to the Clementine Vulgate which came later.