We have discussed before some concerns about the New American Bible (NAB) and how it vaguely translates the Greek word πορνείᾳ (porneia) which specifically refers to sexual immorality, but which the NAB translates only as “immorality.” Of course immorality could mean just about anything. You can read more of this rather serious problem here: NAB and Porneia
In this post I’d like to explore another problem with the NAB that was also called to my attention by one of you. There are problematic footnotes which do not always reflect Catholic teaching. One I’d like to look at is a flawed footnote on 1 Corinthians 3:15. The issue concerns how this text has been understood to refer to purgatory. The footnote in the current NAB denies that it is a reference to purgatory. Let’s look at the text and then the footnote.
No one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there, namely, Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, the work of each will come to light, for the Day will disclose it. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire (itself) will test the quality of each one’s work. If the work stands that someone built upon the foundation, that person will receive a wage. But if some one’s work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Cor 3:12-15)
Here then is the footnote in the NAB
[Verse 15] Will be saved: although Paul can envision very harsh divine punishment (cf 1 Cor 3:17), he appears optimistic about the success of divine corrective means both here and elsewhere (cf 1 Cor 5:5; 11:32 [discipline]). The text of 1 Cor 3:15 has sometimes been used to support the notion of purgatory, though it does not envisage this.
Now it is strange, to say the least, that a Catholic Bible would so categorically set aside any reference to purgatory in this verse. There are many ways down through the ages that the Fathers of the Church and other authoritative teachers, as well as modern day apologists, see in this text a possible reference to purgatory. It is also true that some scholars (especially Protestants) have differing opinions. Further there are also Catholics and even some of the Fathers who saw this text as referring to purification in this life as well. If the NAB had reported that some have seen a reference to purgatory here, whereas others include other notions as well, that would be understandable. But the NAB seems quite dismissive of any claim that the text refers to purgatory at all. It does this without explanation and does not report the fuller Catholic tradition. Further, it refers to purgatory as a “notion” rather than the dogma it is. Strange for a Catholic Bible.
So 1 Corinthians 3:15 gives no support to the “notion” of Purgatory?
Funny, St. Augustine never got the memo, for he sees Purgatory as one understanding of 1 Cor 3:15:
Lord, rebuke me not in Your indignation, nor correct me in your anger…. In this life may You cleanse me and make me such that I have no need of corrective fire, which is for those who are saved, but as if by fire….For it is said, “He shall be saved, but as if by fire” (1 Cor 3:15). And because it is said, “he shall be saved,” little is thought of that fire. Yet, plainly, though we be saved by fire, that fire will be more severe than anything man can suffer in this life. (Explanations of the Psalms 37.3 – Quoted in Jurgens @ 1467)
And it is not impossible that something of the same kind [purification by fire] may take place even after this life. It is a matter that may be inquired into, and either ascertained or left doubtful, whether some believers shall pass through a kind of purgatorial fire, and in proportion as they have loved with more or less devotion the goods that perish, be less or more quickly delivered from it. (Commentary on 1 Cor 3 in the Enchiridion, 69)
St Cyprian Never got the memo for he alludes to 1 Cor 3:15 in referencing Purgation.
It is one thing, when cast into prison, not to go out thence until one has paid the uttermost farthing; another thing to instantly receive the reward of faith and courage. It is one thing, tortured by long suffering for sins, to be cleansed and long purged as by fire; another to have purged all sins by suffering [martyrdom]. It is one thing, in the end, to be in suspense till the sentence of God at the day of judgment; another to be at once crowned by the Lord(Epistle 51.20 comparing Martyrdom to purgation).
Apparently St. Thomas Aquinas Never got the memo either for he too sees purgatorial fire as one understanding of 1 Cor 3:15
We must therefore say that the very venial sins that insinuate themselves into those who have a care for earthly things, are designated by wood, hay, and stubble. For just as these are stored in a house, without belonging to the substance of the house, and can be burnt, while the house is saved, so also venial sins are multiplied in a man, while the spiritual edifice remains, and for them, man suffers fire, either of temporal trials in this life, or of purgatory after this life, and yet he is saved for ever. (Summa, I, IIae 89.2)
The First Council of Lyons (1245) never got the memo either for it refers to 1 Cor 3:15 in its Decree on Purgatory:
…..it is granted that certain sins….are forgiven in the the future life and, since the Apostle says that, “fire will test the work of each one, of what kind it is,” and “if any man’s work burn he shall suffer loss, but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire” (1 Cor 3:13,15),….we indeed, calling it purgatory according to the traditions and authority of the Holy Fathers, wish in the future that it be called by that name. For in that transitory fire certainly sins, though not capital or criminal,….are cleansed. (Lyon # 23, Denz 456)
Apparently the Catechism of the Catholic Church never got the memo from the NAB either for it too uses 1 Cor 3:15 as a reference to purgatory:
The tradition of the Church by reference to certain texts of Scripture speaks of a cleansing fire (cf 1 Cor 3:15; 1 Pet 1:7) (CCC # 1031)
Well, you get the point. The NAB footnote is in disagreement with some pretty big and clear Catholic Teachers. It is possible to understand 1 Cor 3:15 in a wider way that would include the fire of suffering here as well. But to exclude the “notion” of purgatory and to say that the text does not “envisage” it is simply to contradict long Catholic understanding and teaching that does include purgatory in the understanding of this text.
Why has the NAB done this? Here too, I find it troubling that one of the primary and best selling Catholic Bibles in America, the one used in our liturgies, has an error such as this that can easily mislead Catholics. It is true, purgatory does not rest on this one text. But it is wrong to contradict long Catholic exegesis with a wave of the hand.
I am interested in what you think and if you have discovered other bogus, incomplete or misleading footnotes in the NAB. I have grown accustomed to this translation over the years and do not wish merely to denigrate the it. Perhaps it is my closeness to this translation that makes me even more upset when I see things like this. It’s a kind of family squabble if you will.