A reader writes:
Jimmy~Thanks for all you do.Two small easy ones:1. I am partial to the NAB
because of the footnotes. Are the footnotes in the NAB
particularly bad, or just not particularly good?2. I know you recommend the RSV:CE, which is
lacking in footnotes. Is this where the commentaries (Orchard’s, etc.) that
you recommend come into play?
In regard to the first question, there are three reasons I don’t like the NAB. First, there are the footnotes. In some editions these are likely worse than others, but even the better ones still have some bad notes (not all are bad, but some are). The notes, apparently, have been cleaned up somewhat since the 1970s, but there are still clunkers that will misinform, disturb, or even challenge the faith of readers. For example, consider this note on Matthew 16:21-23:
[21-23] This first prediction of the passion follows Mark 8:31-33 in the main and serves as a corrective to an understanding of Jesus’ messiahship as solely one of glory and triumph. By his addition of from that time on (Matthew 16:21) Matthew has emphasized that Jesus’ revelation of his coming suffering and death marks a new phase of the gospel. Neither this nor the two later passion predictions (Matthew 17:22-23; 20:17-19) can be taken as sayings that, as they stand, go back to Jesus himself. However, it is probable that he foresaw that his mission would entail suffering and perhaps death, but was confident that he would ultimately be vindicated by God (see Matthew 26:29). [SOURCE]
Jesus couldn’t actually predict the future? He wasn’t a true prophet? He didn’t know about his death and resurrection? He could only foresee that "his mission would entail suffering and perhaps death?"
Sorry, but this is flatly inconsistent with the Christian faith.
Second, the book introductions to the NAB rush willy-nilly to embrace modern higher critical theories that, while some may be tolerable or even correct, are by no means certain. These introductions present these higher critical theories as The Truth, when in fact many of these are speculative at best. (They also have a faith-undermining tendency for many who are not secure in their faith.)
The third problem is that I just think the NAB is a lousy translation. There was a period in which I would tense up at Mass every day, worried about what the NAB would get wrong today. There are so many squishy, tone-deaf, and way-beyond-the-text translations in the NAB that anyone with a knowledge of the Greek and Hebrew has to cringe when it’s read at Mass.
That’s not to say that it never gets it right. In fact, I’m using the NAB as the Bible translation I’m quoting in a booklet I’m writing for Catholic Answers right now. The reason is that, in this case, the NAB happens to better render the passages I most need to quote. But this is an exceptional situation. In general, I can’t recommend it.
Also, if you’re wanting to do Bible study (as opposed to simply Bible reading) then you don’t want a dynamic equivalence translation anyway. You want a formal equivalence or "literal" translation, as these preserve more of the data from the original text, even though they are a bit harder to read.
With regard to the second question, actually the RSV:CE does have notes, but they’re endnotes (at the end of each testament) rather than footnotes (at the foot of the page). But yes, commentaries like Orchard and others are a great supplement to it. Orchard will add far more data to your study of Scripture (good, orthodox data at that, even if some of it is a little out of date) than will be found in any edition with footnotes. That’s the way it always works: Commentaries add more data than can be fit into a Bible via footnotes.
Hope this helps!