|Bible Research > English Versions > 20th Century > Christian Community Bible|
Bernardo Hurault et al., Christian Community Bible: Translated, Presented and Commented for the Christian Communities of the Philippines and the Third World; and for Those Who Seek God. Complete Text Translated from Hebrew and Greek. Pastoral Edition. Quezon City, Philippines: Claretian Publications, 1988
The Christian Community Bible is an annotated version produced by a group of liberal Roman Catholics in the Philippines. The chief translator, Bernardo Hurault (1924-2004), was a French missionary who had previously made a version in Spanish (Biblia Latinoamericana, published in 1971) while occupied as a missionary in Chile. In both versions, the stated purpose was to provide an easily-understood translation, with theological notes.
The English version was first conceived not by Hurault, but by Alberto Rossa, a priest of the Claretian order who was in charge of Claretian Publications in the Philippines. 1 The project was also supported by another Catholic organization, the Society of Saint Paul. Articles on websites maintained by members of the Society of Saint Paul explain that their organization had previously acquired the rights to Hurault's Spanish version, and had published it through an agency created for that purpose, the International Catholic Bible Society. When the English version was completed, it was published jointly by the International Catholic Bible Society and the Claretian Publishing house, but it seems that the Society of Saint Paul holds the legal copyright of the version. 2
A statement introducing the version on the Claretian website uses the name "Christian Community Bible" for a group of translations in several languages, including versions in Spanish, English, French, Filipino and Chinese. It implies that these versions are somehow equivalent to one another in content. But it also states that "the editors are engaged in a constant process of revision and improvement of the translations and commentaries always making it relevant with the latest developments in biblical scholarship and with the real situations of the people." 3 The Spanish and French versions are not available online, and we are unable to judge how much the others resemble one another.
Presumably the English version was produced because in the Philippines (as in many other countries of the Third World) English is used as lingua franca by educated people, although people of the lower classes are not usually familiar with it. Most higher education in the Philippines is conducted in English. One source states that Hurault aimed "to express the biblical texts in the language of people who use English as a second language." 4
In an interview Alberto Rossa was asked, "Why have the Claretians become publishers of the Christian Community Bible?" His response:
The goal, the mission, the dream of the pastoral bible is that people who read it will easily understand the word of God, which is sometimes quite complicated. Our first purpose is to be accurate in the reading of text that was intended for ordinary people from the beginning—and to render that in a language that people can really understand. So sometimes we might have to say in three words what can be said in one word, just to make sure that the people will understand the meaning of it. We also want to give people a feeling of belonging to the Catholic Church, bringing in the big tradition of the church through the centuries, so that readers will grow in their understanding of what the church means to them. This is the purpose of the pastoral commentaries in the Bible, which we consider to be 'from below,' from the life of the people. 5
Another article on the Claretian site states that Hurault did not know English very well, and he received help from various people in making this version:
Rossa convinced Hurault that an English-language version was necessary. At the age of 60, and knowing little English, Hurault spent four months on an intensive English-language course and set to work in May 1986, shortly after the downfall of President Marcos.
Hurault was assisted in the translation by a team of leading scholars, theologians and poets. It took 18 months to complete the translation of the entire Bible. The first edition of 60,000 copies sold out in two-and-a half months. 6
In the "Preface to the Christian Community Bible" included in The Catholic Comparative New Testament (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), it is said that Hurault had "extensive knowledge of New Testament Greek" and "translated the New Testament," but a Catholic nun from Australia is given credit for serving as the "main editor" of the work:
The Christian Community Bible (Catholic Pastoral Edition) is the first English translation of the Bible done and published from the Third World, specifically the Philippines. It is also unique for its pastoral commentaries on the biblical texts. After 19 years in Chile where he translated the Bible into Spanish — the Biblia Latinoamerica — Fr. Bernardo Hurault came to the Philippines in 1986 and with the Claretian Missionaries began the Christian Community Bible. Sr. Patricia Grogan FCJ, an Australian sister, came from England as the main editor and stylist even as other religious, priests and laypersons in the Philippines, shared in the work of translating the biblical texts and writing the pastoral notes. With Fr. Bernardo's extensive knowledge of New Testament Greek and profound reflection on the Word of God, he translated the New Testament of the Christian Community Bible.
It may be wondered why Hurault was commissioned to do an English version if his knowledge of English was very limited, but it was probably because the notes for the English edition were largely a translation of his notes in the Biblia Latinoamericana, and because Hurault has a somewhat romanticized reputation among "liberation theology" Catholics. We suppose that much of the work was really done by others recruited by Alberto Rossa.
The introductions and footnotes (which include some short essays on various topics) are very extensive. They often fill more than half the page. They tend to be supportive of various teachings peculiar to Roman Catholicism, but for the most part they promote modernistic interpretations. Many of the notes reflect the "liberation theology" ideas that liberal European Catholics have tried to disseminate among the poor in Third World countries. But many of the interpretations presented in the notes are quite eccentric, and not to be found anywhere else.
One source states that by 2005 the version was in its 31st edition. 7 For this review, we have examined the English edition currently available on the website of Claretian Publications (www.bible.claret.org). We are unable to determine which printed edition this may represent.
When we examine the translation, we find it less than impressive. Many renderings are peculiar, obscure, or clumsy. We will give some examples of these from the first chapter of the First Epistle of Peter.
1 Pet. 1:10-11 is rendered, "This was the salvation for which the prophets so eagerly looked when, in days past, they foretold the favor of God with regard to you. But they could only investigate when the Spirit of Christ present within them pointed out the time and the circumstances of this — the sufferings of Christ and the glories which would follow." It is hard to say what the translator was trying to express in the second sentence here. In the following verse, the meaning is darkened with the rendering, "It was revealed to them that they were working not for themselves but for you. Thus, in these days, after the Holy Spirit has been sent from heaven, the Gospel's preachers have taught you these mysteries which even the angels long to see." The sense of the Greek here is not hard to gather from a strictly literal rendering ("they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things ...), but it is made quite difficult by breaking up the sentence, using the rendering "working for you," and by introducing the word "Thus," as if the second statement were a logical inference from the first. This bears no resemblance to the Greek, either in form or in meaning. In verse 13, where Peter sharply warns his readers to "gird your minds for action, keep sober, fix your hope completely on the grace to be given you," we have instead some rather bland and reassuring words: "let your spirit be ready. Be alert, with confident trust in the grace ..." We miss here the whole mood of serious determination which the Greek words are designed to produce.
In general, we get the impression that the translator and editors were not very well equipped for this kind of work. Certainly there are better English translations available.
The translation itself is of little importance next to the notes. It is evident that the version was published for the sake of these, and so we will turn now to an examination of them.
In the notes to Genesis we find that the annotator comments upon the biblical narrative with a brazenly skeptical attitude, dismissing many things as fictitious elements borrowed from "pagan" folklore. Regarding the story of the fall of man in Genesis 3 he says,
... the author of these pages took some characters from ancient tales, for example, the serpent. He also preserved some strange expressions, like the following: 'the man has become like one of us,' in which it would seem that God is afraid of human competition. The author did not feel it necessary to clarify these ambiguous expressions which came directly from the pagan legend. The same goes for the cherubim and the flaming sword which referred to certain figures posted at the entrance of cities to keep the evil spirits away.
Regarding the story of Cain and Abel, he says,
Originally Cain's story had nothing to do with the story of Adam and Eve and their descendants. The biblical author who took the story and placed it here, related it to the previous one by fictitiously making Cain become Adam's son.
On the other hand, when he mentions things associated with Roman Catholic tradition, he seems to adopt an almost childlike attitude of credulity. The introduction to the First Epistle of Peter declares that "it is certain" that Peter, "being in charge of the entire Church," "went to Rome." Moreover, "a very ancient tradition affirms that ... he was buried on the grounds of the Vatican Hill. Investigations carried out these past years have enabled us to discover a grave and bones ..." and so forth. A picture of Pope John Paul II is put next to these words. But the introduction to the Second Epistle of Peter flatly denies that this one was written by Peter, despite the fact that the epistle clearly presents itself as an epistle of Peter. So the testimony of Scripture is summarily rejected, but a Roman Catholic legend concerning Peter and his bones is strongly affirmed.
Along the same lines, in the notes to Genesis 3, the annotator explains that the Virgin Mary is the virtuous counterpart of Eve, and that in Catholic art "Mary is represented as crushing the head of the serpent" because "God preserved her from the evil affecting our race ... from the beginning he prepared her with the fullness of his grace so that her entire life would be established and develop in a perfect filial spirit. This privilege of Mary is what we call her Immaculate Conception." This sounds very Catholic. In Roman Catholic theology the "Immaculate Conception" teaching asserts that Mary was conceived without the taint of original sin. But in his comments about sin, our annotator denies the reality of original sin. He attributes human sinfulness not to any inherited corruption but to bad influences which have "taught us to sin."
The sin of Adam is not just another sin, older than our own rebellion, to be added — without our wanting it — to our own offences; it is rather another way of looking at the sin of our race. Here is what the author has understood in pondering the events of Israel's past: our sins are neither isolated nor individual. Each one of us from birth, and even before birth, has been immersed in a world of violence and ignorance of God (Ps 51:7): our relatives, our culture, our first experiences have taught us to sin. 'Adam' is made of all this interconnectedness. Not a word about Adam and his sin in the gospels: just a hint to the evil murderer in Jn 8:44 and nothing in all of the New Testament — other than Paul's letter to the Christians of Rome. There, however, this story takes center stage again. See the commentary of Rom 5:12.
Turning to Romans, we find that in the introduction to the epistle the commentator dismisses the idea of original sin as a mistake of interpretation:
Taking literally Paul's images and comparisons, a doctrine of original sin was developed in which we all pay now and forever, for the sin of our first ancestors.
In the notes to the fifth chapter of Romans, the idea that "God had condemned all humankind to hell because of the sin of Adam" is dismissed as "nonsense," and it is asserted that the "teaching of the apostles maintains that ... human nature is good," although we are born "alienated" from God's grace. A note on Ephesians 2:3 asserts that when Paul speaks of sin he "does not speak of a fault committed before our personal sins, and in addition to the sins we are responsible for," and that when Paul speaks of sin as something having originated in Adam's fall he is merely using "a way of speaking proper to Hebrew culture."
These statements concerning sin are presented as explanations of the Church's doctrine of original sin; but they really amount to a denial of the whole concept of original sin, and are quite contrary to Roman Catholic teachings on the subject. Obviously the "Immaculate Conception" teaching makes little sense after the teaching about original sin is rejected.
Regarding salvation, the annotations tend to promote universalism. In the notes to the eleventh chapter of John's gospel we read,
The worldwide effect of Christ's resurrection is to unite all of humanity in renewed creation — as Jesus himself put it, 'when I'm lifted up from earth I shall draw all to myself' (Jn 12:32). That is to say, the cross and resurrection are the source of communion and fraternity. The Church reunites believers of all races and cultures: we call it 'Catholic,' that is, universal. This Church, however, is but a beginning and a sign of that which will be attained at the end of time, when the whole of humanity will be reunited in Christ
On Romans 8:29 a note says,
... we do not read that some are elected for salvation, others not. Paul only says that they are elected to know Christ, which is not the same as salvation. The kingdom of God extends much farther than the Church. The great majority of humankind do not know Christ and the Gospel. Yet God knows how to lead and save them, for the sacrifice of Christ saves all humankind."
Biblical statements concerning hell and the wrath of God are ignored or set aside with comments like this one in the third chapter of Romans:
Paul finds it very hard to explain the mystery of salvation with the religious words available at the time, many of which refer to a violent God.
The biblical teaching on the role of women is flatly rejected, because it cannot be reconciled with modern ideas of "women's liberation." The exhortations to women in the third chapter of the First Epistle of Peter are explained thus:
Why does he ask them to obey their husband? Is it because God wants it that way, or because the Church is anti-feminist and wants women to be submissive? This point was explained in 1 Cor 11:9 and Eph 5:22. The apostles heard and taught the revolutionary ruling of Jesus who gave women the same rights as husbands in marriage. However, since they lived in a male-dominated society, they could hardly imagine or discover a new way of sharing between spouses. In any case, they could not reform the male-centered culture of their time overnight. They were speaking for women accustomed to obey. Some among them understood their promotion (Lk 8:1), but it happened that they showed this with actions which scandalized many (see commentaries on 1 Cor 11:6 and 1 Tim 2:11).
The commentator also seems to have a problem with biblical teachings about the atonement accomplished by Christ on the cross. Passages dealing with the blood of Christ are explained in peculiar ways, as in the note to Ephesians 1:7, where Paul states that we have "redemption through the blood" of Christ. Here the commentator insists that
This does not mean that Christ shed his blood to make amends to his Father offended by sin, as if God were resentful as we often are, and as if his dignity were offended. Paul is referring to a biblical law: the emancipation of slaves used to be signed in blood (Ex 21:6).
The reference to Exodus 21:6 here is mystifying. It is unclear how the ceremony described there can be interpreted as an act of emancipation, "signed in blood." There are many unsupportable interpretations like this to be found in the notes.
In short, we find that the annotations often show disrespect for the text, and a failure to understand or explain it correctly. They promote ideas that openly conflict with orthodox theology on matters of fundamental importance. Concerning sin, salvation and judgment they are clearly heterodox. Some of the notes are evidently designed to undermine the reader's faith in the truthfulness or authority of the Bible when it contradicts ideas favored by modern liberals. The "Catholic" coloring of the commentary is superficial, and misleading.
Despite this—or perhaps because of it—the Christian Community Bible was granted the "Imprimatur" by the Catholic Bishop's Conference of the Philippines. In their judgment the work is "free from doctrinal and moral error." 8 But this looks like an error on their part.
The French and Chinese editions of the "Christian Community Bible" have run into some trouble. The French edition (published in 1994 under the name Bible des Communautés chrétiennes) had its imprimatur rescinded in 1995 after complaints that its notes were anti-semitic. The Chinese edition has also received sharp criticism, from those who observe that its notes are "unsuitable for lay people without extensive prior theological training." 9
1. http://www.claretians.org/site/PageServer?pagename=clr_asiaaustrailia, accessed 9 Nov 2007. Here Rossa is called the "creator of the Christian Community Bible," and it is said that the version was "created in 1988 when Father Rossa, then editor of Claretian Publications in the Philippines, saw the need for a Bible "for the people."
2. "The Bible editions from SOBICAIN," 27 Oct 2006, http://www.sanpaolo.org/info/org/sobicain/pdf/sobicain_bibbia_ottobre2006_eng.pdf, accessed 9 Nov 2007; "Relaunching of the Catholic Bible Society," 3 Oct 2007, http://rome67ad.com/st-pauls-notes/catholic-bible-society.html, accessed 9 Nov. 2007.
3. http://www.bible.claret.org/bibles, accessed 9 Nov. 2007.
4. "Preface to the Christian Community Bible," in The Catholic Comparative New Testament (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).
5. "Bible for the People" (an interview with the director of Pastoral Bible Foundation, Fr. Alberto S. Rossa, May 2003), http://www.bible.claret.org/bibles_files/bilble_4dpipol.htm, accessed 9 Nov. 2007.
6. Chris Farlekas, "A Bible of New Power," http://www.bible.claret.org/bibles_files/wat_power.htm, accessed 9 Nov 2007.
7. "Preface to the Christian Community Bible," in The Catholic Comparative New Testament (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).
8. Cf. the article "Imprimatur" in The Catholic Encyclopedia, edited by Robert C. Broderick (New York: Thomas Nelson, 1987), p 288. "It is usual ... to print an explanation of the Imprimatur and Nihil obstat in wording similar to the following: 'The Nihil obstat and Imprimatur are a declaration that a book or pamphlet is considered to be free from doctrinal or moral error. It is not implied that those who have granted the Nihil obstat and Imprimatur agree with the contents, opinions, or statements expressed.'"
Below we reproduce in full the text of the statement introducing the Christian Community Bible on the Claretian website, at http://www.bible.claret.org/bibles (accessed November 2007).
The Christian Community Bible is the Bible Christian people are waiting for. There are many translations of the Bible in modern languages. However, many of them are difficult to understand because they use a language that most people cannot identify with.
The Christian Community Bible is a very accurate translation from the Hebrew and Greek biblical texts to the real language used by ordinary people, those who are the preferred recipients of the salvation message found in it. Because of this the Christian Community Bibleis understood by all the Christian believers.
The Christian Community Bible comes out with commentaries that transform it in an authentic catechism of Christian life. They enlighten and help the reader to comprehend the meaning of the biblical texts.
The Christian Community Bible was born in 1971 in Latin America as a result of the pastoral concern of the French priest Bernardo Hurault. Since then, he has devoted his whole life to this work. After the first translation in Spanish, the translations in English, French, Filipino and Chinese came out. Other translations, also coordinated by Fr. Bernardo Hurault, are in process. The editors are engaged in a constant process of revision and improvement of the translations and commentaries always making it relevant with the latest developments in biblical scholarship and with the real situations of the people.
There have been more than one hundred fifty editions in different languages of the Christian Community Bible and many millions of copies distributed which have helped the faithful in many local churches to understand and assimilate better the Word of God.
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