New American Bible with Revised New Testament and Revised Psalms

Copyright: 
1991
Publisher: 
Various
Subject(s): 
Review: 

The New American Bible with Revised New Testament and Revised Psalms (RNAB) has several problems that prevent my recommending it for Bible study or devotional reading. These can be classed into three major groups: (1) failure with regard to dignity, beauty, and doctrinal precision, (2) bowing to the externally-imposed linguistic norm of so-called “inclusive language,” and (3) a skeptical attitude toward the Sacred Scriptures. Not incidentally, the second problem contributes significantly to the first, and shares roots with the third. Further, the Sacred Scriptures and the Sacred Liturgy are demeaned when turned into a vehicle for an ideological agenda in this manner.

While the original New American Bible (NAB) of 1970 was not particularly beautiful or dignified in its language, the remaining problems largely originate in the revisions made since. To give a single, but very representative example of the kind of problems introduced, let’s look at the scenes of the Annunciation and the Visitation in the first chapter of the gospel according to St. Luke.

In the original NAB, v35 (“The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you ...”) carries a footnote that begins: “The overshadowing of Mary recalls the cloud that covered with glory the Meeting Tent (Ex. 40:34f) and the temple of the Lord (1 Kgs. 8:10; Hg. 2:7).” That offers a beautiful and profound connection between the New Covenant and the Old.

The RNAB, however, has other ideas. The footnote above has been removed, and instead, a new note to verses 46-55 (the Magnificat) offers the following commentary on the origin of this prayer: “Because there is no specific connection of the canticle to the context of Mary's pregnancy and her visit to Elizabeth, the Magnificat (with the possible exception of v 48) may have been a Jewish Christian hymn that Luke found appropriate at this point in his story. Even if not composed by Luke, it fits in well with themes found elsewhere in Luke: ...” (!) So, in the RNAB, not only is Mary’s authorship of the Magnificat casually dismissed, but Luke is accused of putting it in because, essentially, it fit well with other stuff he’d written.

In contrast, let me share what scholar Catherine Brown Tkacz has lately written: “Only in recent decades have some biblical scholars ... asserted that Mary 'could not' have composed the Magnificat herself. ... It is worth noting that for nearly 2,000 years Christians had no difficulty in crediting Mary with the ability to understand her religious tradition and its scripture and to praise God in terms expressive of them.” (“Is the Education of Women a Modern Idea?” pp. 16-21, This Rock, Mar 2008)

The fact that the revisers of the NAB would have thought this new footnote to be more edifying than the one they removed is very telling.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated problem. Indeed, the Holy See rejected the revised Psalms of the RNAB as unusable even as a base text for the Lectionary, because the revisions introduced doctrinal problems. And while the revised New Testament was used as a base text, hundreds of “amendments” (i.e. corrections) were required.

I’ll provide just a handful of examples from the RNAB demonstrating some of its problems. Fr. Neuhaus has written that 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." (Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, "Bible Babel," First Things, May 2001)

One verse that illustrates his point is 1 Cor. 12:28, which reads: “Some people God has designated in the church to be, first, apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers; then, mighty deeds; then, gifts of healing, assistance, administration, and varieties of tongues.” There is something very odd about “people” designated to be “mighty deeds,” “gifts of healing,” etc.

A gloss in place of a faithful rendition of the original creates a more serious problem in Ps. 103:11,13. In these verses, the phrase "those who fear Him" has been transformed into "the faithful." This change was most likely made merely to eliminate the reference to the Lord as “Him,” but it has also eliminated the concept of “fear of the Lord” from Psalm 103. Forced removal of the masculine pronoun has compromised doctrinal precision.

A similar situation in the revised New Testament occurs in 1 Pt. 1:22, in which “sincere love of the brethren” (RSV) or “genuine love of your brothers” (1970 NAB) has been remodeled into “sincere mutual love.” It doesn’t take a linguistic expert to see that the RNAB rendition does not mean at all the same thing as the others. Mutuality or reciprocity is not the point here; rather every Christian is called to love his fellow Christians as brothers. Once again, doctrinal clarity is compromised.

My final example comes from the footnote to Psalm 58, verse 2. Readers may be familiar with this psalm, in which, as the NAB explains, “judges are called ‘gods’ in the sense of ‘possessing godlike power’ or of ‘taking God’s place in pronouncing judgment.”

The RNAB, however, provides a novel and frankly stunning explanation: “Gods: the Bible sometimes understands pagan gods to be lesser divine beings who are assigned by Israel's God to rule the foreign nations. Here they are accused of injustice, permitting the human judges under their patronage to abuse the righteous.”

Oh, my!

Perhaps not surprisingly, given its inadequacies, the RNAB is used only by Catholics in the United States – and then largely because its use is mandated, e.g. in the liturgy. The USCCB does use the RNAB for its publications. The Holy See, however, employs a more worthy English translation, for example using the RSV for the Catechism of the Catholic Church as well as the more recent Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. So should we.

Resources for further investigation:
Liturgiam Authenticam, the Holy See’s latest instruction on translation, May 2001. Though it applies primarily to the Sacred Liturgy, it also strongly encourages the Bishops’ Conferences to produce a complete Bible in accordance with its principles. (Summary here)

“Jesus, Son of Humankind: The Necessary Failure of Inclusive-Language Translations,” by Paul Mankowski, S.J., Touchstone, Oct. 2001 (This is a great article, and this reprinted version is easier to read than the original, which appeared in The Thomist, July 1998.)

“Can Bible English Be Only Half Emasculated?” Adoremus Bulletin, May / June 1996.

“More on Bible Babel,” by Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, First Things, Jan 2006.

Many more resources on the translation of Sacred Texts

Perspective: 
Catholic
Additional notes: 

Copyrights 1970 - Old Testament, 1986 - New Testament, 1991 - Psalms

The Imprimatur was granted before the Holy See found portions of the text to be defective.

Review Date: 
4-14-2008
Reviewed by: