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Louis F. Hartman and Myles M. Bourke, eds., The New American Bible, Translated from the Original Languages, with Critical Use of All the Ancient Sources, by Members of the Catholic Biblical Association of America. Sponsored by the Bishops’ Committee of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. Paterson, N.J.: St. Anthony Guild Press. 1970.
The history of this Roman Catholic version is rather complicated. It was undertaken with the support and oversight of the American hierarchy after Pope Pius XII in 1943 issued an encyclical letter (the Divino afflante Spiritu) in which he encouraged Roman Catholic scholars to make translations of the Bible from the original languages rather than from the Latin Vulgate, which previously had been the basic text used by Catholic translators. At that time a new translation from the Vulgate, called the Confraternity Version, was already underway in America, the New Testament having been published in 1941. The corresponding translation of the Latin Old Testament was abandoned after the Pope’s encyclical gave permission to translate from the Hebrew, and work began on a translation of the Hebrew, with Louis F. Hartman as the chief editor. This translation of the Old Testament gradually appeared in four volumes in 1951, 1955, 1961, and 1969. During this time Catholic publishers issued various mixed editions of the whole Bible which included the completed portions of the new translation, with the remainder being in the old Challoner version of of the Old Testament and the Confraternity version of the New Testament. (1) Work on a new translation of the Greek New Testament (based on the Nestle-Aland 25th edition) began in 1956, with Myles M. Bourke as the chief editor. The completed Bible, as published in 1970, contained a substantial revision of the Old Testament portions which had earlier been published. (The 1970 version of Genesis was an entirely new translation.) Shortly after the publication of the complete Bible, the American bishops decided that the 1970 NAB New Testament was not sufficiently accurate for teaching purposes and “there was a widespread impression that the language … was not sufficiently dignified for liturgical use,” (2) so the New Testament was “revised” (translated anew, really, on different principles) and published in 1986. This new translation of the New Testament was for the most part more literal, and more formal in tone, but in some respects it was made less literal, for the sake of “inclusive” language. The Book of Psalms was similarly revised in 1991. In 2003 another revision of the entire Old Testament was completed by the translation committee, but the process of ecclesiastical review led to further revision, and so the revised Old Testament did not take final shape until 2010. The new edition, which the publisher has called the New American Bible, Revised Edition (NABRE), was issued in March 2011, and it consists of the 2010 Old Testament and the 1986 New Testament.
In America, the scripture portions that are read aloud in worship services of the Roman Catholic Church are based upon the New American Bible, but they are not read from any printed edition of the Bible. They are read from a Lectionary for Mass, in which selected portions have been revised under the direction of the Vatican. (3) The process of revision and approval has been a source of much friction between Catholics in recent years, mainly because certain persons in the American churches have demanded the use of inclusive language in the Mass. This manner of presenting the text was actually mandated by certain liturgical guidelines issued by a committee of the U.S. Catholic Conference in 1990, (4) but it was specifically disallowed by the provisional norms for translation of biblical texts sent by Vatican officials to American Bishops in June of 1997, (5) and also disallowed by the translation guidelines formally promulgated in an Instruction published by the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in March 2001. (6) Naturally, most Catholics would like to have an edition of the Bible which corresponds with the wording used in the lectionary portions read in the Mass, and so a complete overhaul to bring the version into compliance with the liturgical guidelines of the Vatican would seem to be the next logical step; but this is unlikely to happen, because opposition to the Vatican guidelines is very strong in the liberal American hierarchy, and among academics who are responsible for making the revisions.
Richard John Neuhaus described the confused state of affairs surrounding Roman Catholic Bible versions in 2001:
At present, three translations are approved for Catholic liturgical use: the New Jerusalem, the RSV, and the New American Bible (NAB). The lectionaries and the several publishers of Mass guides, however, use only the NAB. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, a wretched translation. It succeeds in being, at the same time, loose, stilted, breezy, vulgar, opaque, and relentlessly averse to literary grace. The bishops had the NAB updated to the Revised New American Bible (RNAB), but Rome had objections to that and hurriedly appointed a committee to fix it up into what might be called the Amended Revised New American Bible (ARNAB), which will soon become mandatory in lectionary use. Technically, the RSV and New Jerusalem are still permitted but, with ARNAB as the mandatory translation of the future, nobody has any interest in printing lectionaries or Mass guides using those versions. There is the additional oddity that you cannot buy an ARNAB Bible, since only the pericopes (liturgical readings) exist in ARNAB-talk. So Catholics do not have a Bible for personal or group reading that uses the same text that they hear at Mass. (7)
Roman Catholic publishers are required to provide explanatory notes in their versions of the Bible. This requirement was originally designed to help readers avoid false and heretical interpretations, and to promote traditional Roman Catholic teachings, but its terms have become less specific and more permissive over time. A decree of Pope Leo III issued in 1897 (Officiorum ac munerum) reads, Cum experimento manifestum sit, si Sacra Biblia vulgari lingua passim sine discrimine permittantur, plus inde, ob hominum temeritatem, detrimenti quam utilitatis oriri; versiones omnes in lingua vernacula, etiam a viris catholicis confectae, omnino prohibentur, nisi fuerint ab apostolica sede approbatae, aut editae sub vigilantia episcoporum cum adnotationibus desumptis ex sanctis ecclesia patribus, atque ex doctis catholicisque scriptoribus. (“Since it is clear from experience that if the Sacred Books are permitted everywhere and without discrimination in the vernacular, there will by reason of the audacity of men arise from it more harm than good, all versions in vernacular languages, even those done by catholic men, are wholly prohibited unless they be approved by the apostolic see, or edited under the vigilance of the bishops, with annotations drawn from the holy Fathers of the Church, or from the writings of Catholic doctors.”) (8) The 1917 Codex Iuris Canonici, canon 1391, is similar, but omits the reason for the rule: Versiones sacrarum Scripturarum in linguam vernaculam typis imprimi nequeunt, nisi sint a Sede Apostolica probatae, aut nisi edantur sub vigilantia Episcoporum et cum adnotationibus praecipue excerptis ex sanctis Ecclesiae Patribus atque ex doctis catholicisque scriptoribus. (“Versions of sacred Scripture cannot be printed in the vernacular language unless they have been approved by the Apostolic See and unless they are published under the vigilance of the Bishops, and [come] with annotations and especially excerpts from the holy Fathers of the Church and from Catholic doctors and writers.”) (9) In the revised code of 1983, canon 825 § 1, we find a greatly relaxed rule: Libri sacrarum Scripturarum edi non possunt nisi ab Apostolica Sede aut ab Episcoporum conferentia approbati sint; itemque ut eorundem versiones in linguam vernaculam edi possint, requiritur ut ab eadem auctoritate sint approbatae atque insimul necessariis et sufficientibus explicationibus sint instructae. (“Books of the sacred scriptures cannot be published unless the Apostolic See or the conference of bishops has approved them. For the publication of their translations into the vernacular, it is also required that they be approved by the same authority and provided with necessary and sufficient annotations.”) In this last and current form, the rule makes no reference to spiritual dangers, Church Fathers, nor even Catholic writers.
Since about 1930, biblical scholars in the Roman Catholic seminaries have been generally moving away from the traditional concept of their role in the Church. They no longer see themselves as stewards of Patristic tradition and defenders of the traditional teachings of the Roman Catholic Church; they have became liberal in their views, and almost indistinguishable from their counterparts in the liberal Protestant seminaries. One might expect, therefore, that the introductions and annotations that appeared in successive editions of the New American Bible would reflect this abandonment of tradition and adoption of modern liberal opinions. And that is in fact what we find. The early editions of the NAB version contain a mixture of traditional and modernistic interpretations, and its annotations grow more liberal from edition to edition. Some traditional interpretations persist, but one gets the impression that these have been retained more or less as a tribute to a dying tradition by persons who have no personal loyalty to it. The movement away from tradition (and away from orthodoxy, we dare say) may be illustrated by the introduction to the Psalms and the annotations for Psalm 110. In the original introduction to the Psalms (as published in 1955) there is this statement:
Prefixed to most of the psalms are certain words and phrases which offer traditional information about the psalm, such as the tone in which it is to be sung, the musical instruments which are to accompany its singing, the historical circumstances connected in some way with its composition, the name of its author, and so forth. These “titles,” as they are called, were added, at least in most cases, by later writers. It cannot be proved that they were divinely inspired. They have some value, however, as representing ancient tradition. They are printed here in smaller type. About half of the psalms are attributed in these “titles” to David. The Davidic authorship of some of these is confirmed in the New Testament and, at least in these cases, cannot prudently be called into question.
It is noteworthy that the editors attribute “some value” to ancient tradition. In connection with this, we observe that their original annotations on Psalm 110 (which they call psalm no. 109, after the enumeration of the Vulgate) present interpretations which are quite traditional. The psalm is provided with a subject heading that indicates the Messianic interpretation (“The Messias: King, Priest, and Conqueror”) and the notes are as follows:
Ps 109 (110): One of the most important of the Messianic psalms. Following the teaching of our Lord and the Apostles, Catholic tradition has constantly and unanimously interpreted this psalm as referring to Christ. However, in some verses the Hebrew text is obscure and the interpretation uncertain. Here are set forth the dignity of the Messias as the king appointed by God (1-3), as the royal priest (4), and as victor over his foes (5-7).
109, 1: The Lord said to my Lord: literally, “The oracle of the Lord (Yahweh) for my Lord.” My Lord: a Hebrew phrase of polite address, equivalent to “you,” and used when a subject addresses his superior. Cf 1 Kgs 25, 25ff; 2 Kgs 1, 10. The force of our Lord’s argument from this passage is as follows: David was universally recognized as the author of this psalm, which was acknowledged by all as referring to the Messias; but the psalmist addresses the Messias here as his superior; therefore the Messias must be David’s superior and not merely his “son” or descendant. Cf Mt 22, 41-45 and parallels. At my right hand: the place of honor next to the royal throne. Cf 3 Kgs 2, 19. Your footstool: in ancient times vanquished enemies had to suffer the victor’s putting his feet on their prostrate bodies as a sign of their submission.
109, 3: The current Hebrew text is obscure and seems corrupt. The translation here follows the reading of the revised Latin Psalter, which is based on the ancient versions. Before the daystar: when the sun had not yet been created, that is, from all eternity. Like the dew: in a secret, mysterious manner.
109, 4: According to the order of Melchisedec: in the same way as Melchisedec was a priest. There are three main points of resemblance between Melchisedec, the prophetic type, and Christ who fulfilled this prophecy: both are kings as well as priests, both offer bread and wine to God, and both have their priesthood directly from God and not through Aaron, since neither belongs to the tribe of Levi. Cf Gn. 14, 18; Heb 7.
109, 7: Figurative language of uncertain significance. The sense, according to some, is: The Messianic king will bow down in humility to drink of the waters of divine assistance, and then go on to new victories. Cf Is 8, 6; Jer 2, 13. 17f.
In a review article published in 1956, one prominent Catholic scholar (Bruce Vawter) objected to all of this, and speculated that the editors of the new version must have “believed that a true picture of modern Catholic interpretation would be to the scandal of the weak.” He writes:
Canon 1391 requires vernacular editions of Scripture to be supplied “cum adnotationibus praecipue excerptis ex Sanctis ecclesiae Patribus atque ex doctis catholicisque scriptoribus.” The reviewer does not believe that the letter or spirit of this law was well served in the introductions and footnotes of the first volume. He does not believe that they are well served in the present instance by such a statement (p. 83) as “the Davidic authorship of some of [the Psalms] is confirmed in the NT and, at least in these cases, cannot prudently be called into question”—implying, as it does, that not a few docti catholicique scriptores are neither the one nor the other, and imprudent in the bargain.
Granted that footnotes do not take the place of a commentary, they should reflect a stage of Catholic scholarship in keeping with that of the translation. In the first volume they certainly do not: the principle of literary forms is almost totally ignored (as in the statement just cited), along with any interpretation unknown to Bishop Challoner. This can hardly be by chance; the effect appears to be studied. If the editors really believed that a true picture of modern Catholic interpretation would be to the scandal of the weak, they could at least have kept silence and refrained from scandalizing those who “have knowledge.” (10)
Vawter’s complaint must have been heard, because in the 1970 edition the offending sentence was changed to read: “The Davidic authorship of some of these is taken for granted in the New Testament.” Moreover, in the revision of the Psalter published in 1991, some very significant changes were made in Psalm 110. The subject heading for the psalm reads “God Appoints the King both King and Priest” instead of “The Messias: King, Priest, and Conqueror,” and we find a completely different set of notes, in which the validity of the New Testament interpretation is practically denied:
Ps 110: A royal psalm in which a court singer recites three oracles in which God assures the king that his enemies are conquered (1-2), makes the king “son” in traditional adoption language (3), gives priestly status to the king and promises to be with him in future military ventures (4-7).
110, 1: The Lord says to you, my lord: literally, “The Lord says to my lord,” a polite form of address of an inferior to a superior. Cf 1 Sm 25, 25; 2 Sm 1, 10. The court singer refers to the king. Jesus in the synoptic gospels (Mt 22, 41-46 and parallels) takes the psalmist to be David and hence “my lord” refers to the messiah, who must be someone greater than David. Your footstool: in ancient times victorious kings put their feet on the prostrate bodies of their enemies.
110, 3: Before the daystar: possibly an expression for before the world began (Prv 8, 22). Like the dew I begot you: an adoption formula as in Pss 2, 7; 89, 27-28.
110, 4: Like Melchizedek: Melchizedek was the ancient king of Salem (Jerusalem) who blessed Abraham (Gn 14, 18-20); like other kings of the time he performed priestly functions. Heb 7 sees in Melchizedek a type of Christ.
110, 7: Who drinks from the brook by the wayside: the meaning is uncertain. Some see an allusion to a rite of royal consecration at the Gihon spring (cf 1 Kgs 1, 33, 38). Others find here an image of the divine warrior (or king) pursuing enemies so relentlessly that he does not stop long enough to eat and drink.
Throughout the 1970 edition, the annotations display the usual preoccupations of liberal scholars. They tend to offer purely speculative Source Criticism, Tradition Criticism, Form Criticism, Redaction Criticism, etc., instead of any edifying exposition of the text. For example, we see a note has been added to Genesis 18:20.
Israelite tradition was unanimous in ascribing the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah to the wickedness of these cities, but tradition varied in regard to the nature of this wickedness. According to the present account of the Yahwist, the sin of Sodom was homosexuality (19, 4f), which is therefore also known as sodomy; but according to Isaiah (1, 9f; 3, 9), it was a lack of social justice; Ezekiel (16, 46-51) described it as a disregard for the poor, whereas Jeremiah (23, 14) saw it as general immorality.
Here the annotator supposes that different things said about the sinfulness of Sodom and Gomorrah must indicate mutually exclusive “traditions” about it. But why not suppose instead that the different authors are all drawing upon a more complete story known to them, which included all these elements (wealth, complacency, sexual immorality, selfishness), and that each author mentions those things that pertain especially to his purpose? There is no good reason to suppose that the biblical authors would disagree with one another concerning the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah. The cited passages do not in fact contradict one another. But perhaps the annotator himself wishes to contradict and discredit the Genesis account, out of some sympathy for the modern “gay rights” movement. We notice that in the other passages there are no similar notes alleging a contradiction.
The attitude of the annotators often seems downright captious. For instance, on Genesis 12:16 we are told concerning the “camels” of Abraham that “domesticated camels probably did not come into common use in the ancient Near East until the end of the millennium B.C. Thus the mention of camels at the time of the patriarchs … is seemingly an anachronism.” There are some very competent scholars who disagree. (11) But even if the NAB annotator’s assertion about this were correct, we would ask why a note discussing such a trivial point of fact would be included in an edition produced for the edification of Catholic laymen. For it serves only to undermine the credibility of the text.
In the 1970 New Testament we find some really astonishing things in the notes. The annotator of Matthew gently informs the reader that the story of the Magi is fictitious: “The future rejection of Jesus by Israel and his acceptance by the Gentiles are retrojected into this scene of the narrative.” Likewise, the flight to Egypt is explained as a fictitious story that was designed to associate Jesus with Moses: “Biblical and nonbiblical traditions about Moses are here applied to the child Jesus.” And what is even more shocking from a Catholic standpoint, concerning the words of Mary in Luke 1:34 (clumsily translated “I do not know man”) we find the explanation: “Scholars generally explain this verse as a literary form emphasizing the faith of the first-century church in the virginal conception and birth of the Messiah.” It never seems to occur to these annotators that the biblical text presents a true record of what was said and done. Their whole approach seems utterly contrary to the hope expressed in the encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu: “Thus has it come about that confidence in the authority and historical value of the Bible, somewhat shaken in the case of some by so many attacks, today among Catholics is completely restored.”
The annotations of the 1986 New Testament are mostly carried over from the 1970 edition. It contains the same notes on the story of the Magi and the flight to Egypt mentioned above. But some changes were made. The annotations on Luke chapter 1 have been rewritten, and so at 1:34 we find a completely different note: “Mary’s questioning response is a denial of sexual relations and is used by Luke to lead to the angel’s declaration about the Spirit’s role in the conception of this child (Luke 1:35). According to Luke, the virginal conception of Jesus takes place through the holy Spirit, the power of God, and therefore Jesus has a unique relationship to Yahweh: he is Son of God.” This is in some respects less objectionable than the 1970 note, yet we notice the same tendency to disbelieve that the narrative simply tells us what happened. The words of Mary are “used by Luke to lead to the angel’s declaration.” The teaching that the “conception of Jesus takes place through the holy Spirit” is strangely hedged by the phrase “according to Luke,” as if this were merely his idea or opinion. We might also criticize this note for recklessly attributing to Luke the heterodox notion that Christ is the Son of God as a consequence of the virginal conception, instead of explaining in careful orthodox fashion that his sonship is eternal, and preceded the virginal conception as a precondition. (12) But such criticism would be naive, because it is obvious enough that the promotion of orthodox theology is not the purpose of these notes.
1. For example, the Holy Bible, New American Catholic Edition (New York: J.J. Little & Ives, 1960), which incorporated the new translation of eighteen Old Testament books, and the Saint Joseph Edition of the Holy Bible (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Company, 1963), which included the new translation of 33 Old Testament books.
2. Francis T. Gignac, The Revision of the New Testament of the New American Bible. Gignac, who was chairman of the board of editors for the revision of the New Testament, further explains, “The  translation was one of dynamic rather than formal equivalence. Dynamic equivalence attempts to express the thought of the original in a linguistic structure suited to the target language, even though this structure may differ greatly from the corresponding Greek structure. While it often results in fresh renderings, it has the strong disadvantage of causing a more or less radical abandonment of traditional terminology and phraseology; further, it tends to degenerate into paraphrase and leads to expansions of the text to include what more properly belongs in notes or commentaries.”
3. Between 1970 and 1998 the lectionary in use was published as Lectionary for Mass: English Translation Approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and Confirmed by the Apostolic See (New York: Catholic Book Publishing, 1970; Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1970). Beginning in 1998 the lectionary in common use was published in four volumes as Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, in which the readings from the New Testament are based upon the 1986 NAB New Testament.
4. Published as “Criteria for the Evaluation of Inclusive Language” in Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy Newsletter 26 (October/November 1990), p. 231.
5. See “Vatican Translation Norms Reject ‘Inclusive Language’,” Adoremus Bulletin, July/August 1997.
6. Liturgiam Authenticam. On the Use of Vernacular Languages in the Publication of the Books of the Roman Liturgy. Vatican, 2001.
7. “Bible Babel,” First Things 113 (May 2001), p. 67. See also Neuhaus’ criticism of the NAB in “More on Bible Babel,” First Things, January 2006.
8. The first half of this sentence is a verbatim repetition of one that appeared in the preface of the Index Librorum Prohibitorum of the Council of Trent, 1564. “Inasmuch as it is manifest from experience, that if the Holy Bible, translated into the vulgar tongue, be indiscriminately allowed to every one, the temerity of men will cause more evil than good to arise from it, it is, on this point, referred to the judgment of the bishops or inquisitors, who may, by the advice of the priest or confessor, permit the reading of the Bible translated into the vulgar tongue by Catholic authors to those persons whose faith and piety they apprehend will be augmented, and not injured by it; and this permission they must have in writing. But if any shall have the presumption to read or possess it without any such written permission, he shall not receive absolution until he have first delivered up such Bible to the ordinary. Booksellers, however, who shall sell, or otherwise dispose of Bibles in the vulgar tongue, to any person not having such permission, shall forfeit the value of the books, to be applied by the bishop to some pious use; and be subjected by the bishop to such other penalties as the bishop shall judge proper, according to the quality of the offence. But regulars shall neither read nor purchase such Bibles without a special license from their superiors.” (Regula IV.) It may be observed that in the Tridentine decree the consequence is that readers must be approved and licensed, but in the more liberal decree of Leo III it is only the books.
9. English translation from Edward N. Peters, The 1917 or Pio-Benedictine Code of Canon Law: in English Translation with Extensive Scholarly Apparatus (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2001).
10. Bruce Vawter, review article published in Theological Studies 17 (1956), pp. 238-9.
11. See Richard W. Bulliet, The Camel and the Wheel (Cambridge Mass., 1975), p. 56; Frederick E. Zeuner, A History of Domesticated Animals (London and New York, 1963), p. 344.
12. The virginal conception is really a manifestation of his sonship, as John Calvin explains: “Heretics, who imagine that he became the Son of God after his human generation, seize on the particle therefore as meaning that he would be called the Son of God, because he was conceived in a remarkable manner by the power of the Holy Spirit. But this is a false conclusion: for, though he was manifested to be the Son of God in the flesh, it does not follow that he was not the Word begotten of the Father before the ages. On the contrary, he who had been the Son of God in his eternal Godhead, appeared also as the Son of God in human flesh.”
“Inspired by the Divine Spirit, the Sacred Writers composed these books which God, in His paternal charity toward the human race, deigned to bestow on them ‘for teaching, for reproving, for correcting, for instructing in justice; that the man of God may be perfect, equipped for every good work’ (2 Tm 3, 16f). This heaven-sent treasure Holy Church considers as the most precious source of doctrine on faith and morals. No wonder therefore that, as she received it intact from the hands of the Apostles, she has kept it with all care, defended it from every false and perverse interpretation, and used it diligently as an instrument for securing the eternal salvation of souls” (Pope Pius XII, encyclical letter Divino afflante Sptritu, September 30, 1943).
In conformity with the spirit of this encyclical of Pope Pius XII, and with the encouragement of His Excellency the Apostolic Delegate to the United States, the Episcopal Committee of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine requested members of the Catholic Biblical Association of America to translate the Sacred Scriptures from the original languages or from the oldest extant form of the text, and to present the sense of the Biblical text in as correct a form as possible.
The first printed English Catholic version of the Bible, the Douay-Rheims version, and its revision by Bishop Challoner were based on the Latin Vulgate. Today, however, when the science of textual criticism has attained great perfection, it is desirable that a new English version of the Sacred Books be prepared, combining due reverence for the text with strict observance of the rules of criticism.
The use of the original texts as the basis of a new translation does not derogate from the decree of the Council of Trent concerning the Latin Vulgate. The Council does not forbid “translations into the vernacular tongue even directly from the original texts themselves, for the use and benefit of the faithful and for the better understanding of the divine word, as We know to have been already done in a laudable manner in many countries with the approval of the Ecclesiastical authority” (Divino afflante Spiritu).
The text of the eight books (Genesis to Ruth) contained in this volume is but the first part of a completely new translation of the Bible. This translation is based on the original and oldest texts of the Sacred Books. It gives the translators opportunity to convey directly the thought and individual style of the inspired writers. A better understanding of Hebrew and of the science of textual criticism, which has been the fruit of earnest and patient study since the time of St. Jerome, can now be reflected in the translation itself. The translators and editors intend to draw constantly on all material available to obtain in every instance a translation which represents, as far as possible, what the Sacred Author actually wrote.
In most matters pertaining to format and manner of presentation this new translation will follow the pattern set by the Confraternity revision of the New Testament. In only one respect do circumstances require an addition. Where the translation supposes the received text (Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek, as the case may be), which is ordinarily contained in the best-known editions, as the original or the oldest extant form, no additional remarks are necessary. But for the benefit of those who are happily able to study the original text of the Scriptures at first hand, a supplementary series of Textual Notes has been added in an appendix. These furnish a guide in all cases in which the editorial board has judged that either manuscripts in the original language, or the evidence of the ancient versions, or some similar source, furnish the correct reading of a passage, or at least a form more true to the original than that customarily printed in the available editions. As regards the matter of English style, it will be seen that the deliberate compromise with earlier usage frequently retained in Bible translations has here been given up.
The work of translating the Bible has been characterized as “the sacred and apostolic work of interpreting the word of God and of presenting it to the laity in translations as clear as the difficulty of the matter and the limitations of human knowledge permit” (His Excellency A. G. Cicognani, Apostolic Delegate, in the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 6, 1944, 389f). In the appraising of the present work, it is hoped that the words of the encyclical Divino afflante Spiritu will serve as a guide: “Let all the sons of the Church bear in mind that the efforts of these resolute laborers in the vineyard of the Lord should be judged not only with equity and justice, but also with the greatest charity; all moreover should abhor that intemperate zeal which imagines that whatever is new should for that very reason be opposed or suspected.”
Conscious of their personal limitations for the task thus defined, those who have prepared this text cannot hope that it will be perfect, but only that it may deepen in its readers “the right understanding of the divinely given Scriptures,” and awaken in them “that piety by which it behooves us to be grateful to the God of all providence, who from the throne of His majesty has sent these books as so many personal letters to His own children (Divino afflante Spiritu).
On September 30, 1943, His Holiness Pope Pius XII issued his now famous encyclical on scripture studies, Divino afflante Spiritu. He wrote: “We ought to explain the original text which was written by the inspired author himself and has more authority and greater weight than any, even the very best, translation whether ancient or modern. This can be done all the more easily and fruitfully if to the knowledge of languages be joined a real skill in literary criticism of the same text.”
Early in 1944, in conformity with the spirit of the encyclical, and with the encouragement of Archbishop Cicognani, Apostolic Delegate to the United States, the Bishops’ Committee of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine requested members of The Catholic Biblical Association of America to translate the sacred scriptures from the original languages or from the oldest extant form of the text, and to present the sense of the biblical text in as correct a form as possible.
The first English Catholic version of the Bible, the Douay-Rheims (1582-1609/10), and its revision by Bishop Challoner (1750) were based on the Latin Vulgate. In view of the relative certainties more recently attained by textual and higher criticism, it has become increasingly desirable that contemporary translations of the sacred books into English be prepared in which due reverence for the text and strict observance of the rules of criticism would be combined.
The New American Bible has accomplished this in response to the need of the church in America today. It is the achievement of some fifty biblical scholars, the greater number of whom, though not all, are Catholics. In particular, the editors-in-chief have devoted twenty-five years to this work. The collaboration of scholars who are not Catholic fulfills the directive of the Second Vatican Council, not only that “correct translations be made into different languages especially from the original texts of the sacred books,” but that, “with the approval of the church authority, these translations be produced in cooperation with separated brothers” so that “all Christians may be able to use them.”
The text of the books contained in The New American Bible is a completely new translation throughout. From the original and the oldest available texts of the sacred books, it aims to convey as directly as possible the thought and individual style of the inspired writers. The better understanding of Hebrew and Greek, and the steady development of the science of textual criticism, the fruit of patient study since the time of St. Jerome, have allowed the translators and editors in their use of all available materials to approach more closely than ever before the sense of what the sacred authors actually wrote.
Where the translation supposes the received text — Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek, as the case may be — ordinarily contained in the best-known editions, as the original or the oldest extant form, no additional remarks are necessary. But for those who are happily able to study the original text of the scriptures at firsthand, a supplementary series of textual notes pertaining to the Old Testament is added in an appendix to the typical edition published by the St. Anthony Guild Press. These furnish a guide in those cases in which the editorial board judges that the manuscripts in the original languages, or the evidence of the ancient versions, or some similar source, furnish the correct reading of a passage, or at least a reading more true to the original than that customarily printed in the available editions.
The Massoretic text of 1 and 2 Samuel has in numerous instances been corrected by the more ancient manuscripts Samuel a, b, and c from Cave 4 of Qumran, with the aid of important evidence from the Septuagint in both its oldest form and its Lucianic recension. Fragments of the lost Book of Tobit in Aramaic and in Hebrew, recovered from Cave 4 of Qumran, are in substantial agreement with the Sinaiticus Greek recension used for the translation of this book. The lost original Hebrew text of 1 Maccabees is replaced by its oldest extant form in Greek. Judith, 2 Maccabees, and parts of Esther are also translated from the Greek.
The basic text for the Psalms is not the Massoretic but one which the editors considered closer to the original inspired form, namely the Hebrew text underlying the new Latin Psalter of the Church, the Liber Psalmorum (1944, 1945). Nevertheless they retained full liberty to establish the reading of the original text on sound critical principles.
The translation of Sirach, based on the original Hebrew as far as it is preserved and corrected from the ancient versions, is often interpreted in the light of the traditional Greek text. In the Book of Baruch the basic text is the Greek of the Septuagint, with some readings derived from an underlying Hebrew form no longer extant. In the deuterocanonical sections of Daniel (3:24-90, 13:1-14, 42), the basic text is the Greek text of Theodotion, occasionally revised according to the Greek text of the Septuagint.
In some instances in the Book of Job, in Proverbs, Sirach, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Amos, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zechariah there is good reason to believe that the original order of lines was accidentally disturbed in the transmission of the text. The verse numbers given in such cases are always those of the current Hebrew text, though the arrangement differs. In these instances the textual notes advise the reader of the difficulty. Cases of exceptional dislocation are called to the reader’s attention by footnotes.
The Books of Genesis to Ruth were first published in 1952; the Wisdom Books, Job to Sirach, in 1955; the Prophetic Books, Isaiah to Malachi, in 1961; and the Books, Samuel to Maccabees, in 1969.
In the present edition of Genesis to Ruth there are certain new features: a general introduction to the Pentateuch, a retranslation of the text of Genesis with an introduction, cross-references, and revised textual notes, besides new and expanded exegetical notes which take into consideration the various sources or literary traditions.
The revision of Job to Sirach includes changes in strophe division in Job and Proverbs and in titles of principal parts and sections of Wisdom and Ecclesiastes. Corrections in the text of Sirach are made in 39:27—44:1-17 on the basis of the Masada text, and in 51:13-30 on the basis of the occurrence of this canticle in the Psalms scroll from Qumran Cave 11. In this typical edition, new corrections are reflected in the textual notes of Job, Proverbs, Wisdom, and Sirach. In the Psalms, the enumeration found in the Hebrew text is followed instead of the double enumeration, according to both the Hebrew and the Latin Vulgate texts, contained in the previous edition of this book.
In the Prophetic Books Isaiah to Malachi, only minor revisions have been made in the structure and wording of the texts, and in the textual notes.
The spelling of proper names in The New American Bible follows the customary forms found in most English Bibles since the Authorized Version.
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The New Testament translation has been approached with essentially the same fidelity to the thought and individual style of the biblical writers as was applied in the Old Testament. In some cases, however, the problem of marked literary peculiarities had to be met. What by any Western standard are the limited vocabularies and stylistic infelicities of the evangelists cannot be retained in the exact form in which they appear in the originals without displeasing the modern ear. A compromise is here attempted whereby some measure of the poverty of the evangelists’ expression is kept and placed at the service of their message in its richness. Similarly, the syntactical shortcomings of Paul, his frequent lapses into anacoluthon, and the like, are rendered as they occur in his epistles rather than “smoothed out.” Only thus, the translators suppose, will contemporary readers have some adequate idea of the kind of writing they have before them. When the prose of the original flows more smoothly, as in Luke, Acts, and Hebrews, it is reflected in the translation.
The Gospel according to John comprises a special case. Absolute fidelity to his technique of reiterated phrasing would result in an assault on the English ear that would be almost unendurable. Yet the softening of the vocal effect by substitution of other words and phrases would destroy the effectiveness of his poetry. Again, resort is had to compromise. This is not an easy matter when the very repetitiousness which the author deliberately employed is at the same time regarded by those who read and speak English to be a serious stylistic defect. Only those familiar with the Greek originals can know what a relentless tattoo Johannine poetry can produce. (A similar observation could be made regarding other New Testament books as well. Matthew and Mark are given to identical phrasing twice and three times in the same sentence. As for the rhetorical overgrowth and mixed figures of speech in the letters of Peter, James, and Jude, the translator must resist a powerful compulsion to tidy them up if only to enable him to render these epistles intelligibly.)
Without seeking refuge in complaints against the inspired authors, however, the translators of The New American Bible here state that what they have attempted is a translation rather than a paraphrase. To be sure, all translation can be called paraphrase by definition. Any striving for complete fidelity will shortly end in infidelity. Nonetheless, it must be pointed out that the temptation to improve overladen sentences by the consolidation or elimination of multiplied adjectives, or the simplification of clumsy hendiadys, has been resisted here. For the most part, rhetorically ineffective words and phrases are retained in this translation in some form, even when it is clear that a Western contemporary writer would never have employed them.
One other matter should be mentioned. Despite the arbitrary character of the divisions into numbered verses (a scheme which in its present form is only four centuries old), the translators have made a constant effort to keep within an English verse the whole verbal content of the Greek verse. At times the effort has not seemed worth the result since it often does violence to the original author’s flow of expression, which preceded it by so many centuries. If this translation had been prepared for purposes of public reading only, the editors would have forgone the effort at an early stage. But since they never departed from the three-fold objective of preparing a translation suitable for liturgical use, private reading, and the purposes of students, the last-named consideration prevailed. Those familiar with Greek should be able to discover how the translators of the New Testament have rendered any given original verse of scripture, if their exegetical or theological tasks require them to know this. At the same time, the fact should be set down here that the editors did not commit themselves in the synoptic gospels to rendering repeated words or phrases identically.
This leads to a final consideration: the Greek text used for the New Testament. Here, punctuation and verse division are at least as important as variant readings. Nestle-Aland’s Novum Testamentum Graece (25th edition, 1963) was followed. Additional help was derived from The Greek New Testament (editors Aland, Black, Metzger, Wikgren), produced for the use of translators by the United Bible Societies in 1966. However, the editors did not confine themselves strictly to these texts; at times, they inclined toward readings otherwise attested. The omission of alternative translations does not mean that the translators think them without merit, but only that in every case they had to make a choice.
Poorly attested readings do not occur in this translation. Doubtful readings of some merit appear within brackets; public readers may include such words or phrases, or omit them entirely without any damage to sense. Parentheses are used, as ordinarily in English, as a punctuation device. Material they enclose is in no sense textually doubtful. It is simply thought to be parenthetical in the intention of the biblical author, even though there is no such punctuation mark in Greek. The difficulty in dealing with quotation marks is well known. Since they do not appear in any form in the original text, wherever they occur here they constitute an editorial decision.
The work of translating the Bible has been characterized as “the sacred and apostolic work of interpreting the word of God and of presenting it to the laity in translations as clear as the difficulty of the matter and the limitations of human knowledge permit” (A. G. Cicognani, Apostolic Delegate, in The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 6, , 389f). In the appraisal of the present work, it is hoped that the words of the encyclical Divino afflante Spiritu will serve as a guide: “Let all the sons of the church bear in mind that the efforts of these resolute laborers in the vineyard of the Lord should be judged not only with equity and justice but also with the greatest charity; all moreover should abhor that intemperate zeal which imagines that whatever is new should for that very reason be opposed or suspected.”
Conscious of their personal limitations for the task thus defined, those who have prepared this text cannot expect that it will be considered perfect; but they can hope that it may deepen in its readers “the right understanding of the divinely given Scriptures,” and awaken in them “that piety by which it behooves us to be grateful to the God of all providence, who from the throne of his majesty has sent these books as so many personal letters to his own children” (Divino afflante Spiritu).
The New Testament of The New American Bible, a fresh translation from the Greek text, was first published in complete form in 1970, together with the Old Testament translation that had been completed the previous year. Portions of the New Testament had appeared earlier, in somewhat different form, in the provisional Mass lectionary of 1964 and in the Lectionary for Mass of 1970.
Since 1970 many different printings of the New Testament have been issued by a number of publishers, both separately and in complete bibles, and the text has become widely known both in the United States and in other English-speaking countries. Most American Catholics have been influenced by it because of its widespread use in the liturgy, and it has received a generally favorable reception from many other Christians as well. It has taken its place among the standard contemporary translations of the New Testament, respected for its fidelity to the original and its attempt to render this into current American English.
Although the scriptures themselves are timeless, translations and explanations of them quickly become dated in an era marked by rapid cultural change to a degree never previously experienced. The explosion of biblical studies that has taken place in our century and the changing nature of our language itself require periodic adjustment both in translations and in the accompanying explanatory materials. The experience of actual use of the New Testament of The New American Bible, especially in oral proclamation, has provided a basis for further improvement. Accordingly, it was decided in 1978 to proceed with a thorough revision of the New Testament to reflect advances in scholarship and to satisfy needs identified through pastoral experience.
For this purpose a steering committee was formed to plan, organize, and direct the work of revision, to engage collaborators, and to serve as an editoral board to coordinate the work of the various revisers and to determine the final form of the text and the explanatory materials. Guidelines were drawn up and collaborators selected in 1978 and early 1979, and November of 1980 was established as the deadline for manuscripts. From December 1980 through September 1986 the editoral board met a total of fifty times and carefully reviewed and revised all the material in order to ensure accuracy and consistency of approach. The editors also worked together with the bishops’ ad hoc committee that was appointed by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1982 to oversee the revision.
The threefold purpose of the translation that was expressed in the preface to the first edition has been maintained in the revision: to provide a version suitable for liturgical proclamation, for private reading, and for purposes of study. Special attention has been given to the first of these purposes, since oral proclamation demands special qualities in a translation, and experience had provided insights and suggestions that could lead to improvement in this area. Efforts have also been made, however, to facilitate devotional reading by providing suitable notes and introductory materials, and to assist the student by achieving greater accuracy and consistency in the translation and supplying more abundant information in the introductions and notes.
The primary aim of the revision is to produce a version as accurate and faithful to the meaning of the Greek original as is possible for a translation. The editors have consequently moved in the direction of a formal-equivalence approach to translation, matching the vocabulary, structure, and even word order of the original as closely as possible in the receptor language. Some other contemporary biblical versions have adopted, in varying degrees, a dynamic-equivalence approach, which attempts to respect the individuality of each language by expressing the meaning of the original in a linguistic structure suited to English, even though this may be very different from the corresponding Greek structure. While this approach often results in fresh and brilliant renderings, it has the disadvantages of more or less radically abandoning traditional biblical and liturgical terminology and phraseology, of expanding the text to include what more properly belongs in notes, commentaries, or preaching, and of tending toward paraphrase. A more formal approach seems better suited to the specific purposes intended for this translation.
At the same time, the editors have wished to produce a version in English that reflects contemporary American usage and is readily understandable to ordinary educated people, but one that will be recognized as dignified speech, on the level of formal rather than colloquial usage. These aims are not in fact contradictory, for there are different levels of language in current use: the language of formal situations is not that of colloquial conversation, though people understand both and may pass from one to the other without adverting to the transition. The liturgy is a formal situation that requires a level of discourse more dignified, formal, and hieratic than the world of business, sport, or informal communication. People readily understand this more formal level even though they may not often use it; our passive vocabulary is much larger than our active vocabulary. Hence this revision, while avoiding archaisms, does not shrink from traditional biblical terms that are easily understood even though not in common use in everyday speech. The level of language consciously aimed at is one appropriate for liturgical proclamation; this may also permit the translation to serve the purposes of devotional reading and serious study.
A particular effort has been made to insure consistency of vocabulary. Always to translate a given Greek word by the same English equivalent would lead to ludicrous results and to infidelity to the meaning of the text. But in passages where a particular Greek term retains the same meaning, it has been rendered in the same way insofar as this has been feasible; this is particularly significant in the case of terms that have a specific theological meaning. The synoptic gospels have been carefully translated so as to reveal both the similarities and the differences of the Greek.
An especially sensitive problem today is the question of discrimination in language. In recent years there has been much discussion about allegations of anti-Jewish expressions in the New Testament and of language that discriminates against various minorities. Above all, however, the question of discrimination against women affects the largest number of people and arouses the greatest degree of interest and concern. At present there is little agreement about these problems or about the best way to deal with them. In all these areas the present translation attempts to display a sensitivity appropriate to the present state of the questions under discussion, which are not yet resolved and in regard to which it is impossible to please everyone, since intelligent and sincere participants in the debate hold mutually contradictory views.
The primary concern in this revision is fidelity to what the text says. When the meaning of the Greek is inclusive of both sexes, the translation seeks to reproduce such inclusivity insofar as this is possible in normal English usage, without resort to inelegant circumlocutions or neologisms that would offend against the dignity of the language. Although the generic sense of man is traditional in English, many today reject it; its use has therefore generally been avoided, though it is retained in cases where no fully satisfactory equivalent could be found. English does not possess a gender-inclusive third personal pronoun in the singular, and this translation continues to use the masculine resumptive pronoun after everyone or anyone, in the traditional way, where this cannot be avoided without infidelity to the meaning.
The translation of the Greek word adelphos, particularly in the plural form adelphoi, poses an especially delicate problem. While the term literally means brothers or other male blood relatives, even in profane Greek the plural can designate two persons, one of either sex, who were born of the same parents. It was adopted by the early Christians to designate, in a figurative sense, the members of the Christian community, who were conscious of a new familial relationship to one another by reason of their adoption as children of God. They are consequently addressed as adelphoi. This has traditionally been rendered into English by brothers or, more archaically, brethren. There has never been any doubt that this designation includes all the members of the Christian community, both male and female. Given the absence in English of a corresponding term that explicitly includes both sexes, this translation retains the usage of brothers, with the inclusive meaning that has been traditionally attached to it in this biblical context. Since the New Testament is the product of a particular time and culture, the views expressed in it and the language in which they are expressed reflect a particular cultural conditioning, which sometimes makes them quite different from contemporary ideas and concerns. Discriminatory language should be eliminated insofar as possible whenever it is unfaithful to the meaning of the New Testament, but the text should not be altered in order to adjust it to contemporary concerns. This translation does not introduce any changes, expansions, additions to, or subtractions from the text of scripture. It further retains the traditional biblical ways of speaking about God and about Christ, including the use of masculine nouns and pronouns.
The Greek text followed in this translation is that of the third edition of The Greek New Testament, edited by Kurt Aland, Matthew Black, Carlo Martini, Bruce Metzger, and Allen Wikgren, and published by the United Bible Societies in 1975. The same text, with a different critical apparatus and variations in punctuation and typography, was published as the twenty-sixth edition of the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece in 1979 by the Deutsche Bibelstiftung, Stuttgart. This edition has also been consulted. When variant readings occur, the translation, with few exceptions, follows the reading that was placed in the text of these Greek editions, though the occurrence of the principal variants is pointed out in the notes.
The editors of the Greek text placed square brackets around words or portions of words of which the authenticity is questionable because the evidence of textual witnesses is inconclusive. The same has been done in the translation insofar as it is possible to reproduce this convention in English. It should be possible to read the text either with or without the disputed words, but in English it is not always feasible to provide this alternative, and in some passages the bracketed words must be included to make sense. As in the first edition, parentheses do not indicate textual uncertainty, but are simply a punctuation device to indicate a passage that in the editors’ judgment appears parenthetical to the thought of the author.
Citations from the Old Testament are placed within quotation marks; longer citations are set off as block quotations in a separate indented paragraph. The sources of such citations, as well as those of many more or less subtle allusions to the Old Testament, are identified in the biblical cross-reference section at the bottom of each page. Insofar as possible, the translation of such Old Testament citations agrees with that of The New American Bible Old Testament whenever the underlying Greek agrees with the Hebrew (or, in some cases, the Aramaic or Greek) text from which the Old Testament translation was made. But citations in the New Testament frequently follow the Septuagint or some other version, or were made from memory, hence, in many cases the translation in the New Testament passage will not agree with what appears in the Old Testament. Some of these cases are explained in the notes.
It is a further aim of the revised edition to supply explanatory materials more abundantly than in the first edition. In most cases the introductions and notes have been entirely rewritten and expanded, and the cross-references checked and revised. It is intended that these materials should reflect the present state of sound biblical scholarship and should be presented in such a form that they can be assimilated by the ordinary intelligent reader without specialized biblical training. While they have been written with the ordinary educated Christian in mind, not all technical vocabulary can be entirely dispensed with in approaching the Bible, any more than in any other field. It is the hope of the editors that these materials, even if they sometimes demand an effort, will help the reader to a fuller and more intelligent understanding of the New Testament and a fruitful appropriation of its meaning for personal spiritual growth.
The New American Bible is a Roman Catholic translation. This revision, however, like the first edition, has been accomplished with the collaboration of scholars from other Christian churches, both among the revisers and on the editorial board, in response to the encouragement of Vatican Council II (Dei Verbum, 22). The editorial board expresses gratitude to all who have collaborated in the revision: to all the revisers, consultants, and bishops who contributed to it, to reviewers of the first edition, and to those who voluntarily submitted suggestions. May this translation fulfill its threefold purpose, “so that the word of the Lord may speed forward and be glorified” (2 Thes 3:1).
The Feast of St. Jerome – September 30, 1986
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