The New American Bible

by Jimmy Akin

in Bible

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]

HUH???

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!

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{ 34 comments }

mark January 12, 2005 at 10:33 am

Are you familiar with Robert Sungenis’ critical edition of Matthew? What do you think of it?

Paul H January 12, 2005 at 11:44 am

Jimmy, are you familiar with the “Ignatius Study Bible” series by Scott Hahn & Curtis Mitch? If so, what do you think of it? I have read several of the volumes, and it appears to be much more orthodox than the NAB Study Bible that I have.

Michael Forrest January 12, 2005 at 11:54 am

Personally, I use the NJB. The footnotes and introductory notes are exceptional, and it is in English. I have three other versions if I want to do verse comparison.
Personally, I wish we in the States would just move to the NJB. It is widely used internationally. The complaints over the gender inclusive language in this edition seem to relate more to people not liking the venacular change in this country (and others) of men no longer meaning women too than to a feminist-ization of the text.

Joe January 12, 2005 at 12:03 pm

Jimmy,
Can you recommend any outstanding, faithful commentaries? (Whether or not they are still in print)
Thanks.

Dale Price January 12, 2005 at 1:13 pm

Joe:
The Orchard commentary Jimmy (I hate the informality, but…) is referring to is renowned for offering an informed orthodox view. It is nothing short of superb. The full title is “A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture”, and is edited by Dom Bernard Orchard. Alas, it’s no longer in print (published in 1953) and it ain’t cheap–I got mine for $20 at a used bookstore, but that was an amazing discount by the usually astute seller (he hasn’t made the same mistake since). Try http://www.bookfinder.com to see if you can get a copy.
Not quite as good, but still useful is the sequel, “A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture,” published from 1969-84 (it was revised in 1975). It’s more beholden to modern historical critical theories, but still has useful material. Some teeth-grinding will ensue, but not as much as, say, the New Jerome Biblical Commentary.
I have heard some good buzz about the New International Bible Commentary published by Liturgical Press in 1998. For example, it holds to the priority of Matthew as the solution to the Synoptic problem. That’s quite a boat rocker in the dogmatic world of scholarship, so that’s a plus. But I haven’t actually held a copy in my hands, so I can’t make an actual recommendation. Look for it at local libraries (probably your local Catholic college will have a reference copy).
A.E. Breen’s General Introduction to Holy Scripture (1908, but available in expensive reprint) is reputed to be a decent source.
A good NT resource is Alfred Wikenhauser’s “New Testament Introduction”, published in 1958. Not a commentary per se, it still is loaded with useful information about textual issues, authorship questions (it holds to traditional authorship on virtually all the books, waffling some on 2 Peter, understandably).
The sad fact is, there isn’t much out there–yet.

Jon January 12, 2005 at 1:33 pm

Jimmy,
What is your impression of the Navarre Bible available through ScepterPublishers. I think it is the RSV-CE text with additional commentary.
Thanks,

Christopher Meisenzahl January 12, 2005 at 3:15 pm

What do you guys think of the DR bible? That’s the one my family uses.
Chris
http://amateureconblog.blogspot.com/

Ben Douglass January 12, 2005 at 6:05 pm

Mr. Akin and anyone else interested,
I’ve actually written a very lengthy expose of the various heresies contained in the NAB. Along with the reapeted insinuations that Jesus could not predict the future, it teaches that Mary doubted God at the Annunciation, that 1 Samuel puts evil into the mouth of God, that Judges errs in its theology by failing to distinguish between primary and secondary causes, that Matthew repeatedly made mistakes in his application of OT prophecies, that John put anti-Jewish polemics which belonged to the late first century into Our Lord’s mouth, etc. You can read my essay at http://www.catholicintl.com/catholicissues/nab1.htm . In addition to just quoting the NAB, quoting the Magisterium, and pointing out that they are in contradiction, I use historical, linguistic, and logical arguments to refute what the NAB says.
In case anyone doesn’t want to spend hours staring at a computer screen, you can purchase the tape set of the second annual conference of Catholic Defending Biblical Inerrancy from http://www.gerrymatatics.org and this will include a condensed version of the essay online at CAI. Also, the essay will be published in a ew months as part of an anthology of orthodox Catholic Scripture scolarship under the general editorship of Robert Sungenis. The other contributors are Fr. Brian Harrison, Msgr. John McCarthy, Msgr. George Kelly, Fr. Paul Driscoll, Salvator Ciresi, David Palm, and Jacob Michael.

Ben Douglass January 12, 2005 at 6:08 pm

I for one love the DR Bible, especially the Haydock study edition. You can purchase it from Catholic Treasures in Monrovia, CA. The commentary was compiled by a priest in the early 1800s, and it has the approval of just about every bishop who reigned in America at that time.

Ben Douglass January 12, 2005 at 6:12 pm

Here is the online page for the Douay-Rheims Haydock Bible: http://www.catholictreasures.com/cartdescrip/11050.html

Jason January 12, 2005 at 7:09 pm

I can’t read the Douay Rheims. It’s too convoluted in the way it presents English sentences. If someone were willing to publish it, I’d revise the entire Douay Rheims myself. I love the translation, the sentences just kill me. The RSV-CE is much much smoother.

Paul Hargadon January 13, 2005 at 3:57 am

Dom Orchard fans,
The long out of print commentary is online. Check this out:
http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=99240475
Questia Media America, Inc. http://www.questia.com
Publication Information: Book Title: A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. Contributors: Bernard Orchard – editor. Publisher: Nelson. Place of Publication: New York. Publication Year: 1953. Page Number: i.

Rosemarie January 13, 2005 at 8:07 am

+J.M.J+
We have the Orchard commentary, Haydock, Navarre, Ignatius Study Bible (the latter two are unfinished, of course) and the Catena Aurea (a patristic commentary on the Four Gospels compiled by St. Thomas Aquinas). All are excellent. We also own an NJB, but don’t refer to it very much. We don’t own the NAB “Catholic Study Bible”, because I don’t see the point in buying it. :-) (though we do own OSV’s “The Catholic Answer Bible”, which contains the NAB)
Other fine commentaries: “A Commentary on the New Testament” prepared by the Catholic Biblical Association (1942), most likely out of print yet available in used book stores. The recently-reprinted “A Practical Commentary on Holy Scripture” (available from TAN) provides Catholic insights into general biblical events, but does not exegete specific verses. It’s still a fine resource, though.
There are also many Catholic books dedicated to individual books of Scripture, such as “The Song of Songs” and “The Book of Destiny” printed by TAN (the latter tackles the Apocalypse/Book of Revelation). I’d love to get a copy of St. Robert Bellarmine’s “Commentary on the Psalms”, but it’s a bit too pricey for us right now.
In Jesu et Maria,

Rosemarie January 13, 2005 at 8:18 am

+J.M.J+
Incidentally, I got my Haydock Bible through http://www.AllCatholicBooks.com, which has the cheapest price on Haydock I’ve yet seen – and no, I don’t work for them or get a commission for recommending them [nice as that would be if I did ;-) ]. They do tend to have decent bargains there.
In Jesu et Maria,

Terry January 13, 2005 at 1:24 pm

My primary problem with the NAB is that the Mother of God is merely highly favored rather than being full of grace in the Gospel According to St. Luke.
I have the Baronious Douay-Rheims and love it. It’s a little bit cheaper than the Haydock, but still has some great notes by Bishop Challoner. The aforementioned All Catholic Books sells it as well, and at a much cheaper price than most other vendors.

Kevin Miller January 13, 2005 at 5:07 pm

The NAB NT was a lousy translation, but the RNAB NT is much better – except for the introduction of “inclusive language” – and of course there are still a few problems (no translation is perfect, including because of human fallibility). Interestingly, at least one of those problems is shared with the RSVCE: The translation of the Greek en emoi as “to me” rather than (correctly) as “in me” in Gal. 1:16 (cf. the same Greek words in 2:20). (The Vulg. gets 1:16 right – it uses in me – and the NJB translates it correctly into English as “in me.”)
As for the footnotes – I tend to find more of the NAB’s notes helpful than harmful, though I’m able to read them critically. The RSVCE does have endnotes, but it has very few of them. As for the note on the passion predictions, I don’t think it’s as bad as Jimmy does – I don’t think the main point is that Jesus can’t predict the future, but rather that Matthew has modified Mark’s (allegedly earlier) wording (and I do think it’s likely that one of them is a modification of the other; I’ll let readers decide between the 2DH and Griesbach). After all, there isn’t a similar footnote to Mark 8. (The “perhaps death” is more problematic, though.)

John A Best January 13, 2005 at 8:15 pm

Jimmy: Just few comments on Bible Translations a; The Late Father John A Hardon SJ was very particular about Bible Translations and he was an extraordinary Scholar He was competent in at least 25 He said we need a new translation of the Scriptures in Modern English. He was of the firm conviction that it mattered what Faith the translator had! A modern understanding of ancient languages is not enough Ones Faith or lack there of influiences how one reads Sacred Scripture, and in important cases, what words one is inclinded to use in translating them and how one understands them. The ancient Languages in some cases are not clear ie “virgin or young maiden”
The Tie Breaker is the Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium. THE Language that is indicated by the Magisterium is the Latin as the Norm in the Case of Contraversy. A side note Father Hardon related he had been asked to work on The Navarre Bible AS A TRANSLATOR OF THE Neo Vulgate which was the Original plan for the That work, However his other Duties took priority at the time.

John A Best January 13, 2005 at 8:22 pm

Just a clarification about the Mysterious statement in posting, he was competent in at least 25, I failed to add word( Languages )
Also Father Hardon worked on a commentary which was a Doctrinal Commentary Called the “Catholic Understanding of the Bible” which as I write is not yet in Print but God Willing will be soon(in the Next few years)

Seamus January 14, 2005 at 10:56 am

“I just think the NAB is a lousy translation.”
Amen to that. When my then-fiancee was studying New Testament Greek in the mid-80s, she would sometimes check her translation against the various English translations I owned, as well as against the Vulgate. She quickly found that the NAB was totally unreliable and was better characterized as a paraphrase-cum-exegesis than as a translation at all.
(One ironic thing about the NAB is that it was commissioned by the U.S. bishops, who abandoned the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine’s project to translate the Bible from the Vulgate because it was thought that a translation directly from the Hebrew and Greek would be a more faithful one, yet what emerged from the process was a decidedly *less* faithful translation than the old Confraternity version.)

Rosemarie January 14, 2005 at 2:41 pm

+J.M.J+
The Confraternity Version is probably my favorite Catholic translation in English. It is close to the DR but in more understandable, modern English. Too bad it was never completed!
My second favorite would be the RSV-CE (though its rendering of Isaiah 7:14 and St. John 2:4 annoy me a bit.) The DR is a fine translation though a bit hard to read at times – and that’s the Challoner revision; the original 1609 DR is even harder to read!
My opinion of the NAB is not very high; I can’t really add to what has already been said above. Anyone here familiar with the Knox Bible?
In Jesu et Maria,

oludundas June 5, 2005 at 4:47 am

i want to get more information

Timothy O'Keefe July 18, 2005 at 12:36 pm

The reason Protestants are so proficient at
Bible verse memorization is that they generally
adhere to one version. It may be, for example,
the KJV or the NIV. From worship service to
Christian instruction to personal reading, they
use one single version, and repeatedly hear,
therefore, its familiar phrasings and wording
over and over. This is conducive to
memorization, even when one is not trying to
memorize.
Then there is the Catholic Church. How many
versions are we up to now? The variety of
versions makes memorization nearly impossible.
And when the serious student engages in his
biblical/theological/apologetical studies, he
will invariably use a version other than the
NAB, which he hears at Mass.
If we had one official English version, which
we all heard at Mass each day, which was literal
enough to make it worthy of serious study, and
whose footnotes actually were true to Church
teaching (rather than offensive to faith), then
Catholics quite naturally would begin to
commit Holy Scripture to memory. And those of us
who engage in serious daily study would find
our memories constantly refreshed at the Holy
Sacrifice of the Mass.
The Catholic Church needs an official literal
translation of the Vulgate in modern, though
traditional, biblical English, with copious
soundly Catholic footnotes. Please God!!!

Timothy O'Keefe July 18, 2005 at 12:38 pm

The reason Protestants are so proficient at
Bible verse memorization is that they generally
adhere to one version. It may be, for example,
the KJV or the NIV. From worship service to
Christian instruction to personal reading, they
use one single version, and repeatedly hear
its familiar phrasings and wording
over and over. This is conducive to
memorization, even when one is not trying to
memorize.
Then there is the Catholic Church. How many
versions are we up to now? The variety of
versions makes memorization nearly impossible.
And when the serious student engages in his
biblical/theological/apologetical studies, he
will invariably use a version other than the
NAB, which he hears at Mass.
If we had one official English version, which
we all heard at Mass each day, which was literal
enough to make it worthy of serious study, and
whose footnotes actually were true to Church
teaching (rather than offensive to faith), then
Catholics quite naturally would begin to
commit Holy Scripture to memory. And those of us
who engage in serious daily study would find
our memories constantly refreshed at the Holy
Sacrifice of the Mass.
The Catholic Church needs an official literal
translation of the Vulgate in modern, though
traditional, biblical English, with copious
soundly Catholic footnotes. Please God!!!

Matthew Dunn November 5, 2006 at 4:49 pm

Sorry, but Timothy O’Keefe’s post is just not accurate. Catholics, in fact, have very FEW translations: Douay-Rheims, NAB, RSV-CE, NRSV-CE, NJB, and the (ugh!) Jerusalem Bible.
Frankly, I don’t think the RSV/NRSV should be included since they are clearly Protestant-influenced translations that only made a bow of the head to Catholic readership: For example, the Catholic canon is not even properly respected in the RSV, which places the deuterocanonical books at the end (!) of the whole Bible. Also, Bruce Metzger does a nice job in his article dismissing the deuterocanonicals as interesting, but not really authoritative. The NRSV — as lousy translation in my opinion, even _without_ the inclusive language — does better, at least including the deuteros in the OT. (Though, NOT in the traditional order of Catholic Bibles. C’mon, guys! Would it have killed ya?!) One could also include the Nova Vulgata. But, even the Vatican seems to consider it a “lame-duck,” useless translation.
Compare that with the small library of Protestant translations: KJV, NKJV, Contemporary KJV, RSV, NRSV, English Bible, NEB, NIV, ASB, NASB, New English Version, Good News for Modern Man, New Century Bible, etc. etc. Then, throw in the plethora of Study Bibles.
The Haydock can be extremely interesting in its notes. Although, it can also be extremely silly, like its explanation of the famous “Abiathar problem” in Mark 2 by saying that Abiathar the High Priest and his father must have had exactly the same name (i.e., Abiathar Ahimelech), either of which was used at different times. So, Abiathar son of Ahimelech at one time and Ahimelech son of Abiathar at another — and, we’re STILL talking about the same person in each instance. Except that, Mark mentions the blind man Timaeus son of Timaeus later on in Chapter 10. So, Haydock’s explanation needs some work.
For some reason, it seems to me that, when it comes to biblical scholarship, conservative Catholics become Baptist literalists in their exegesis, rather than level-headed Thomistic Aristotelians! ;-)

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Sim Tuter June 20, 2007 at 6:33 pm

peace and love to those who do good in His ways.
DR Challoner or otherwise. Wake up and smell the translation. All the others (except the RSV- yep the RSV-Igatius version) are weak. NAB – WHAT? The USCCB or whatever that org is should be ashamed of claiming THAT thing as the official WORD OF GOD! CMON!!>!>!>!>!>!>>

Pat July 19, 2007 at 10:49 am

Jimmy,
Can I publish, online, quotes from the NAB, RSV-CE etc without their permission?
In Christ and Mary,
Pat

Servus Dei November 9, 2007 at 8:54 pm

I have both a Challoner-DOUAY-Rheims, and a Confraternity of Christian Doctrine Bible (called on it: “New Catholic Edition”) I love, it, it has an index, that direct one to most of the major tenets of the Catholic Faith, that are expressed primarily in Scripture, but also, very good footnotes. The New Testament is a revised D-R,—revised to conform with the Latin Vulgate, The Psalms where translated faithfully by order Pope St. Pius XII, (Yes, Pius the Twelfth) with the Old Testament being the Douay portion of the Challoner Bible. Unfortunately the USSCB did not finish translating the Old Testament in the Confraternity Version, so it’s still in archaic English—but still readable English, although a bit awkward to read. I love it. I highly Recommend it.
What’s with this RSV-CE Navarre Bible, I’ve heard it’s an Orthodox Translaton with an Excellent Commentary, (with the commentary in one volume in combination with a stand-alone New Testament, so how good or “orthodox” is the Navarre/ RSV-CE

John Breslin August 22, 2008 at 6:12 am

The only Catholic translation that really is able to satisfy is the Douay-Rheims. The NAB’s footnotes and chapter introductions are horrendous. The RSV-CE isn’t really Catholic, as the RSV really comes from the King James. The NRSV is just a joke. You can’t take a non-Catholic Bible and make it Catholic by pasting in a couple Catholic attributes (“full of grace” etc.). The Jerusalem Bible doesn’t feel even slightly Catholic in its renderings. The Douay-Rheims is the only one that feels written by the Holy Spirit.

Tim J. August 22, 2008 at 6:24 am

“The NRSV is just a joke.”
Well, who can argue with reasoning like that?
I’m convinced! It’s clearly subversive and un-Catholic to read anything but the Douay-Rheims bible.

bill912 August 22, 2008 at 6:44 am

Well, if it “feels” right, it must be.

SDG August 22, 2008 at 8:11 am

The only Catholic translation that really is able to satisfy is the Douay-Rheims. The NAB’s footnotes and chapter introductions are horrendous. The RSV-CE isn’t really Catholic, as the RSV really comes from the King James. The NRSV is just a joke. You can’t take a non-Catholic Bible and make it Catholic by pasting in a couple Catholic attributes (“full of grace” etc.). The Jerusalem Bible doesn’t feel even slightly Catholic in its renderings. The Douay-Rheims is the only one that feels written by the Holy Spirit.

“Catholic Bible” and “non-Catholic Bible” are misleading terms. Sacred scripture is the word of God. Any reasonably accurate translation is fundamentally and substantially “Catholic.” The RSV, even without the CE edits, is a very good translation. For the time, so was the KJV, which has been argued to have been influenced by the Rheims NT, and which in turn significantly influenced the mid-eighteenth century revision of the Douay Rheims published under Bishop Richard Challoner.
What you think of as the Douay-Rheims’s “Catholic”-ness or “feeling written by the Holy Spirit” may reflect the fact that it renders the Latin Vulgate rather than available original language texts. This is not to say that extant original language texts are always the best witness to the original texts; sometimes a translation text such as the Latin may preserve an earlier and more faithful textual tradition than a variant text in the original language. However, an edition such as the Douay-Rheims that is based solely on a translation text is critically inadequate today.
There is no reason to view any post-apostolic text as “written by the Holy Spirit.”

The Masked Chicken August 22, 2008 at 9:09 am

Of course, the best solution is to get a dual translation Bible that contains both Douay-Rheims and RSV. They are two different text streams and I don’t see why such an edition isn’t more common, as it gives a much more complete view of scripture translations and sources.
The Chicken

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