Reflections on the Soon to Be Released New American Bible (Revised Edition)

We have talked before here about some concerns in regard to the New American Bible. Both the translations, and especially the footnotes, are matters of concern. Now comes the news that a revised version is being issued March 9. Here are excerpts of  the press release:

The New American Bible, revised edition (NABRE), the first major update to the New American Bible (NAB) translation in 20 years, has been approved for publication…..The NABRE will be available in a variety of print, audio and electronic formats on March 9, Ash Wednesday.

            The new translation takes into account advances in linguistics of the biblical languages, as well as changes in vocabulary and the cultural background of English, in order to ensure a more accurate translation. This issue is addressed in the apostolic exhortation of Pope Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini, in which the pope says, “The inculturation of God’s word is an integral part of the Church’s mission in the world, and a  decisive moment in this process is the diffusion of the Bible through the precious work of translation into different languages.”

            The new translation also takes into account the discovery of new and better ancient manuscripts so that the best possible textual tradition is followed. The NABRE includes the first revised translation of the Old Testament since 1970 and a complete revision of the Psalter. It retains the 1986 edition of the New Testament. Work on most books of the Old Testament began in 1994 and was completed in 2001. The 1991 revision of the Psalter was further revised between 2009 and 2010.

More here:

I have seen a few samples of the text and there are things to affirm.

1.  The dreadful 1991 Psalter is gone. So significant were the problems with the 1991 Psalter that the Vatican rescinded approval for its use in the liturgy. Among the problems with the older Psalter was  an excessive use of “inclusive” language. One of the main problems with this is approach is that it shreds the messianic psalms of their reference directly to Christ. For example, in certain Psalms the text, “Blessed is the man” is often a reference to Christ who alone fulfills the psalm perfectly. Man,  in such cases, does not merely mean, “the person who.”  However, the 1991 Psalter in current NAB versions renders this phrase,  Blessed is the Man as Happy those. In so doing, they  lose, not only the gender, (for Christ is male), but they also make the reference plural. Hence a reference to Christ is wholly obscured.

The new Psalter looks to have resolved this problem. I do not have access to the whole new Psalter so I cannot say if it will wholly resolve things. However, one psalm in the sample set  is psalm 8. The 1991 version crudely rendered verse 5-6 as What are humans that you are mindful of them, mere mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them little less than a god, crowned them with glory and honor. The new text says, What is man that you are mindful of him, and a son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him little less than a god, crowned him with glory and honor.

2.  As for inclusive language in general the press backgrounder (found HERE) states the following:

Does this Bible use inclusive language?  This edition reflects the original meaning of the texts. Much of the original material, especially in thee narrative books, was gender specific and remains so. All references to God retain the traditional use of masculine pronouns. Where the original reference was gender neutral, the translation reflects that.

This is hopeful, for although some support “inclusive” language, we must remember that we are dealing with a sacred text. It is dangerous to claim to be “more enlightened” than the sacred texts, and then set about editing the text. Hebrew and Greek make greater use of nuance in grammatical gender than English and we ought to respect that fact since,  it was in these languages that God chose to set forth his relevation. We conform to the text, we do not merely conform it to us.

3.  It’s time for a new translation. A lot has happened since 1970, to which most of the current NAB Old Testament translation dates. Biblical scholarship has clarified texts. In English usage certain usages have change.  Of this last point the press release gives a few examples:

Samples of longer text changes are at the end of this document, but some words that no longer appear include “booty” (replaced with “plunder”), “cereal” (replaced with “grain”), and “holocaust” (replaced with “burnt offering”). That is because they have taken on new meanings for modern readers and could distract from the original intent of the Scripture. [1]

All this said, there remain some on-going concerns remain.

1.  The 1986 New Testament remains unchanged. There are significant issues in regard to that translation. For example, it renders Gabriel’s salutation to Mary as Hail favored one! (Lk  1:26) instead of the usual and traditional (and probably more accurate) Hail full of grace!  There is also the tendency to render the Greek word porneia (sexual immorality) as merely “immorality” (which could mean anything). This is a consistent problem in the Pauline corpus. We have discussed more on these issues here:

2. There may be an interpretive key in the new translation of the Old Testament that many do not favor. In a text I was not given access to it would appear that a historicist approach is being taken. Here is an excerpt from the USA Today article that describes the problem:

One change may set off alarms with traditionalists, in a passage many Christians believe foreshadows the coming of Christ and his birth to a virgin. The 1970 version of Isaiah 7:14 says “the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” The 2011 text refers to “the young woman” instead. It elaborates that the original Hebrew word, almah, may, or may not, signify a virgin.[2]

Now what this seems to indicate is what I call here a historicist approach. In this approach the interpretive key seeks to answer the question “How would a Jew of the 8th Century BC (in this case) understand this verse?” It is possible, and even probable, that a Jew of that era would think merely that a young girl would grow up, get married and have a baby.

But, frankly, I am not all that concerned with how a Jew of the 8th Century BC would understand it. For, as a Christian, I read the Old Testament in the light of the New Testament. And this text is clearly a reference to Mary and Christ. Almah signifies virgin, or young woman in Hebrew because, in that culture, young women were virgins (imagine that!).

New Testament Christians have rightly translated this verse as virgin because its reference to Mary is clearer and virgin is a perfectly acceptable way to translate Almah. But it looks like the editors of the NABRE want us to see it more as a Jew of the 8th Century BC would see it.

Catholic principles allow this interpretation but many do not prefer it since allusions are lost. St. Paul said regarding the Old Testament, these things were written for our instruction (Rom 15:4; cf 1 Cor 10:11). Jesus told the Jewish people of his day regarding the Old Testament: You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me (Jn 5:39).

Hence it seems more proper to read the scriptures not in an historicist sense, but as historical texts fulfilled in the New Testament, and understood in the light of the New Testament. I wish the NABRE would have used this approach which, at least according to this text, it did not.

3. The Footnotes of the New Testament are extremely problematic in places. At times they seem to directly question Catholic doctrine and the scriptural roots of it. We have talked more about that here:  I raised one problem, and commenters raised many other issues in the footnotes of the NAB New Testament.

It is my presumption that these bad footnotes will remain in the NT, even though the OT has been revised. Let us hope that the bishops will choose to pull the bad notes and replace them with better ones. Then the NAB will be “safer” for use by the inquiring faithful. Frankly, I struggle to hand it to the faithful with those footnotes. I have not seen the footnotes for the Old Testament in the NABRE and hope they will better annunciate the roots of Catholic teaching.

In the end, there is hope for this new translation. More will be known to us of this new translation next Wednesday when it goes live at the USCCCB website:

The NAB remains the most widely used Catholic Bible and is tied to the liturgy. This new version will require further review at the Vatican before it is approved for liturgical use,  but it is likely to take its place in the Catholic liturgy in the next few years. I look forward with hope to on-going improvements in the New Testament sections and will receive the revised Old Testament with great and hopeful expectation this Wednesday.

Photo Credit: USCCB (right click for poperties)


56 Replies to “Reflections on the Soon to Be Released New American Bible (Revised Edition)”

  1. Would you recommend the NRSV CE for an accurate, readable translation then?

      1. Do you recommend a Douay Rheims Bible? I have one and while the language takes some time for me to get used to, I believe it is more accurate. Is this a correct assumption?

        1. Douay is still good. There are some text issues that have been resolved since it’s last revision but they are largely minor. Many, who unlike you are less familar with the old text DO find Douay harder. Also many of the Books have allternate names (e.g. 3 & 4 Kings)

        1. I think it may be. The Vatican had given provisional approval for the NRSV and later rescinded it. By the time of the recension the Candaians were already using the text in liturgies and the Vatican may have permitted a time to transition away from the NRSV. But my recollection here may be a bit fuzzy.

    1. If you mean the Ignatius RSV 2nd Catholic Edition (CE), I really like it. I didn’t know there was an NRSV, but if there is, I’d avoid anything NRSV like the plague.

      1. No the NRSV is different from the RSVCE. (All these acronyms! 🙂 ) The RSVCE is the Old RSV (Catholic Edition) and it is not plagued with indiscriminate use of inclusive language

    1. Me, too. I think the translation in the language I understand best. The Rsv-ce is too stuff; I do enjoy the New Jerusalem Bible for it’s stye. And the Duoay Rhimes may be theologically accurate, it does not translate well.
      The best Bible is the one we read…if this is written in a way that I understand best as a common, non-Greek, non-Hebrew speaking American, I think this will be quite welcome.
      I am also looking forward to the new Mass translation…

  2. What’s your take on the Duoay Rhimes bible? And which version of the bible would you reccomend for an authentic catholic translation?

    1. my humble opinion:

      I’m native Spanish speaking, so I always compare English translations to my Spanish Bibles, yes I have many precisely because of translation issues.

      In Spanish one of the best Study Bible is Jerusalem (Desclée de Brouwer) – you can find it here (you may want to use Google translate as it is in Spanish)

      In English I use Jerusalem, New Jerusalem, NAB, NRSV CE, Douay Rheims – I also use LXX, Vulgata, and Hebrew Bible just in case

      I also have non-Catholic Bibles (still Christian ones) to compare, again, translations.

      Usually if you want to Study Bible, it could be better if you get something like Ignatius has, 1 to 4 books per volume and then you’d have about 8-15 books of the Bible, that is because it includes tons of comments

      Another good source for Bible Study is Catena Aurea (The Gold Chain by St. Thomas Aquinas).

      Sorry for the long reply… I really enjoy, like, Bible Study… that doesn’t mean I know It at all! =)


  3. Msgr. – I have the Confraternity version copy right 1958, the New American Bible copy right 1978, the Revise Standard Version by Ignatious Press and finally the Douay Rheims version revised by Bishop Richard Challoner. By a large margin I prefer to read Douay not only for its poetic appeal but I believe I am getting a much more accurate rendition. I understand that Douay is a translation of a translation but frankly I trust St. Jerome and Bishop Challoner far more than the modern scholars today. What are your thoughts on the Douay Rheims version.

    1. Again, I like it. But I understand the difficulties some have in reading it easily. I like to read it especially since the modern ones as you say, tend to err more on the readable and less on the exact hebracisms and Greek idoms. I like to refer to it in terms of that particular accuracy.

  4. I grew up with the King James Bible, so I’m more comfortable with the Douay Rheims. I’m not aware of any real problems with the text of the Douay Rheims, other than the fact that the language and vocabulary are distinctly old-fashioned. For all the moaning and wringing of hands in response to that, I can simply point to the ease with which young people communicate by txt msgs.

  5. As a note: Is 7, 14 is more accurate when translated as “young woman” as it was that intention and as you said “young woman” was sort of a synonym of “virgin” when it was written, usually “young woman” implies many attributes in Hebrew (virgin, ready to marry, not divorced, not widow, etc)

    It is the LXX translation which takes the word virgin as well as Matthew 1, 23 who interpreted that Is 7, 14 referred to a virgin, Virgin Mary. Matthew gives us light of what the Holy Spirit meant in Is 7, 14… if you may, the “revision” of that time =)

    1. I think “more accurate” is in the eye of the beholder. If we are getting in a time machine and going back to 8th Century BC then you are right, young woman is the best translation. If we are claiming, as I do, that the meaning of OT texts is disclosed most fully by the NT then I am right and virgin is the best translation for 7:14 refers to Mary. I obviously prefer the “looking back” approach for the reason that I think is also how Jesus and Paul understood the OT.

      1. agree and well taken… one more comment: would that be more an interpretation rather than a translation?… like I said on a previous post, I’m a Spanish speaker, I’m fairly familiar with translations and interpretations using different words to describe “the same” or what is intended to be said… there are of course some words that don’t have translation at all in some other languages, so in that case we use the best/closest one to try and describe what is the actual meaning of what it is said… just me thinking out loud =)


        PS great posts, I really enjoy your articles and comments, keep us (bloggers) in your prayers, (I)we’ll keep you in ours, deal? =)

    2. And what a powerful sign of something out of the ordinary it would be, too, when “the young woman shall be with child, and bear a son….” Something on par with, “Hear ye therefore, O house of David: Is it a small thing for you to be grievous to men, that you are grievous to my God also? Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold the sun shall set in the west, after which the sky shall be dark.”

  6. C.S. Lewis recommended the transalation by Mgsr. Ronald Knox. Are you familiar with this version? and would you recommend it?

    1. I do have a copy of the Knox Bible and find it interesting to read for a whole different take on the text. However, I find it a bit too idiosyncratic, almost as if he were trying to be different.

  7. Thank you for posting the video … such an interesting history. I have several Bibles besides the NAB. I have to admit that I like the older language better (I grew up on the KJV and find it more poetic and full of mystery). Ex. “knowledge of man” vs. “she had relations” or in some translations it is “she had sexual relations” — the former is more beautiful whereas the latter reduces it to just the physical. I didn’t know about these other books until I began reading it front to back. I’m looking forward to getting a copy of the new Bible.

  8. I think the NRSV is pretty good if the comparison is between it and the NABRE. And don’t forget the NAB was also rejected by the Vatican for liturgical use which is why our lectionary differs in some passages. And I believe that the Catechism of the Catholic Chuch uses the NRSV as one of the translations cited for reference.

    As for me, as long as the NABRE continue to have the same NT footnotes (which is indeed the case with the new edition coming out next week) then I will pass on purhasing one. Ok, not completely true. I will mostl likely need for for parish ministry and classes I teach BUT I will but the cheapest one I can find that will suit the purpose.

    1. OK. I still have doubts about the NRSV in terms of its use of inclusive language (for the reasons stated in the post). In terms of a readable and fairly accurate protestant production I would tend to prefer the NIV

      1. For a Protestant translation, the NASB is probably better than even the pre-2011 NIV. One famous quirk of the latter is that the same Greek word is always translated “tradition” when the context is negative but as “teachings” when the context is positive. After all, every good Protestant knows that Sacred Tradition is an evil and un-Scriptural invention of Catholics.

        “Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you.” (1 Corinthians 11:2, NASB)

        “I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the teachings, just as I passed them on to you.” (1 Corinthians 11:2, NIV pre-2011)

        Oddly enough, the 2011 revision of the NIV gets this verse right:

        “I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you.”

        However, look at what has happened to Psalm 1:1

        “Blessed is the one
        who does not walk in step with the wicked
        or stand in the way that sinners take
        or sit in the company of mockers, ….”

        The new NIV is “gender neutral”.

  9. Howard – Great analogy, I was wondering the same thing about the “sign” when I was reading the article.

    What’s the big deal with the psalter, though? Most parishes I have been to completely disregard it anyway in favor the psalms set to music. I remember reading something once that allowed certain variations to be introduced for the sake of musicality. Unfortunately, Marty Haugen, et. al. have taken this as a license to change whatever they don’t like so it fits their theology and melody. The psalm that is sung every Sunday (not changed weekly) might say Psalm ABC, but if you pick up any approved translation, you aren’t going to find it.

    1. The 1991 psalter was rejected for liturgical use and so you won’t hear it at Mass anyway. With its removal from the NABRE it is officially a dead letter.

      1. My point is that while the 1991 was rejected, it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference if the musicians are allowed to use “musical” versions of the psalms that are not word-for-word with one of the approved translations. The Church is saying you can’t “read” this version because it’s no good (true), but so many places weren’t reading it anyway. They are using unapproved musical lyrics that make the 1991 version look like a faithful translation. Are there any regulations coming out that says you can set the words to music, but don’t mess with the words at all? You’d never get away with changing the gospel to the extent the psalms are changed, but their all still scripture.

  10. I use the NRSV a lot, but I like the NAB and use The NRSV Greek-English Interlinear when I read the New Testament. I also use the Septuagint and I use the Greek and Hebrew lexicons books. I always read in context, not isolating verses. There’s a lot to be said for the New Jerusalem Bible. Reading it along with the other translations will really open your eyes. Isn’t it great being Catholic! Amen!

  11. I prefer formal equivalence to functional equivalence in translation. There is great joy in reading a text and saying to myself, “I heard that before somewhere.”

      1. I think what John is trying to say is he (and I) prefer that the words used in the translation be as close to the original “word” as possible. Too many translation take the individual words or phrases and then try to figure out what they mean and use the modern equivalent of that. It would be better to use the original words and then use the homily to put it in modern language.

  12. Dear Monsignore, I would like a bible where the wrath of God comes across in full fury without watering it out.
    Totally free of political correctness or inclusive language of any kind.

    Where The Whore of Babylon is called a whore and not an unfortunate sex-worker pressed into human trafficing by male-misogynists, or something like that.

    Could you recomend a translation that better captures the thundering rage of the allmighty?
    One that puts the F in the FEAR OF GOD?

    Witch one has got the most Fire and Brimstone?
    It does not matter what year it is from.

    Thank you.



  13. Can somebody float me a small loan to purcchase all these Bibles. Please make your checks payable to… (just kidding). I just thought I’d add a little humor to the conversation. Now how about that loan? Signed – A disciple in the making.

    1. Here you go jj, (and everyone else)
      an online bible-site containing what I believe to be most translations available, and in every language:



  14. This is depressing. How have we come to this?

    That we cant even get a faithful translation with good notes in the last 50 years. That we dont even have a single bible that completely matches the modern english lectionary.

    That *they* have completely abandoned the Latin in favor of a greek primacy despite being part of the Latin Church.

    As an aside, Matthew was also penned in hebrew and available to Jerome when he translated. So was the Latin version of Mark available because it was copied into the Origens Hexapla(who issued it in Latin, Greek and Hebrew according to the Liber Pontificalis). Also, the ancient gospel of Mark located in Venice ends by saying it was issued in the language of the Romans. Greek Primacy of the Gospels is a myth used to attack the Church. If anything, greek is a first among equals:) but no more. The Vulgate needs to stay as our reference for translation because it is free from error as infallibly decree’d by both council and pope. And for good reason.

    I will stick with the Douay Rheims.

    Thanks God for the TLM!! where I dont have to be reminded of NAB every week.

  15. The 1970 NAB is the one approved for liturgy, correct? At least the Psalms. Why not just use it?

  16. The video is direct and to the point. Quite good. However, it refers to the “Council of Jamnia” where the Jewish canon was closed. Gary Michuta in his book “Why Catholic Bibles are Bigger,” states that this was not in any sense a formal council, but rather a rabbinical school that rejected the deuterocanon. Your thoughts…

  17. I have several versions of the bible I like to read, as long as they’re Catholic. I like to refer to different translations because I find each one has qualities I enjoy. As to liturgical usage: I understand the frustration many feel over various schools of thought and translation, but the Catholic Church has never been hasty or hurried in these matters, and I fully trust in the Magisterium to keep the sheep on the right path. I’ve always been so thankful and impressed with the long and patient labors of the Church in updating, while always preserving, the authentic teaching of Christ, the apostolic Tradition, the Sacred Liturgy, and the living Word of God. As Catholic christians, we should give thanks; we are the recipients of a tremendous gift, and the bearers of a glorious light.

  18. I’m a convert. I’m former Protestant clergy. I am grateful for this translation and for the accompanying notes. It’s a shame that a prince of the Church would denigrate what his brother bishops have given the Imprimatur. It’s also a shame to see the fundamentalists rush to join in the trashing and to show the www their arrogance and ignorance. and that they are encouraged to do so by virtue of this post.

    I’ve read many of the NABRE notes, especially the particular ones that always seem to raise a fundamentalist’s hackles and my my faith in Christ and in his Church nothing but strengthened. I had really hoped that becoming Catholic meant leaving fundamentalism behind but that is not so.

    1. I am not a prince of the Church, just a lowly monsignor. The problems with the footnotes remain significant despite your casting of me as a bad guy or “fundamentalist” which I am not. Anyway, its not about me, its about the notes that remain a significant problem. Please address the issue and avoid personal labels

  19. I understand that is a longstanding interpretive tradition that certain scriptures in the Old Testament prefigure Christ, and/or are “types” that reference the future (Moses lifting up the serpent to heal the people as a precursor to Jesus being lifted up on the cross), but I disagree with your critique of the language of the 1991 translation of the Psalms. The translator should focus on the original author’s (the human one) intended meaning. He or she should not retroject Christian theology into a Hebrew text. The Psalmist clearly did not reference Christ when he said “happy the man”, and I don’t think one can argue the Psalmist intended to exclude women from the wisdom of the message…

  20. As an alumni of Catholic University and former charismatic catholic I still enjoy using my 1971 NAB. I’m disappointed that I can’t find the old NAB online, I wasn’t aware it had changed until I looked at Psalm 103 today, and was dismayed that “those who fear Him” was changed to “toward the faithful” in verse 11. Are the new translators implying that God’s great love now only applies to faithful Catholics?

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