William Oddie on Getting Jesus’ Words Right

William Oddie is, to put it mildly, opinionated. After last Sunday’s Mass he posted at Catholic Herald,We are all used to the banality of the Jerusalem Bible readings at Mass: but on Sunday the translation of the gospel was simply impossible to bear.” (Yes, all that is the title of his article.)

The rest of us get the benefit of his idiosyncratic opinions from afar, via internet. His spouse gets the benefits up close, and during the liturgy:

My unfortunate wife has to sit next to a husband gently spluttering away — and occasionally quietly exploding (she says it’s not so quiet, and would I kindly contain myself) — during the readings. This Sunday, I fear, my explosion was not properly contained…

The most recent cause of his spluttering and uncontained exploding was this line of Jesus from the Gospel for the Baptism of the Lord, as the Jerusalem Bible has it: “Leave it like this for the time being” (Mt 3:15).

There are a few factual problems along the way with Oddie’s argument. He seems to think that Catholics in America have the RSV translation at liturgy –it’s the NABRE in the US and the NRSV in Canada; and he seems to think that the scripture readings in English are in the missal, 1962 or 2011 – but the 1962 missal only has Latin readings, and the 2011 Missal is for use with a separate book with Scripture readings which could be revised at any time, the lectionary.

Oddie’s argument is that the uncultured “philistines ” (you and I call them bishops) and their “creatures,” infected with the “spirit of Vatican II,” have “conceived an image of Our Lord which was in their own image.”

The better translation, we are given to understand, is the King James Version, which Oddie quotes: “And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him.”

By using 17th century English, we avoid cultural influences causing us to remake the Lord in our own image. Today’s philistines are influenced by the culture of the day, but 17th century translators were not. Surely anyone who appreciates the King James Version can see that.

I dare say, the problem already began here before the argument was taken up. When the emotional response during Mass is that out of proportion, it’s a good indicator (I’ve been there enough myself to know) that one’s attachments are idolatrous.

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14 comments

  1. After his impossibly long title, the very next sentence says “There is now only one solution: permission must be given for the use of other authorised translations for the readings”

    In his ignorance, Oddie clearly does not realize that a number of other translations apart from the Jerusalem Bible have already been authorized for liturgical use in England and Wales for many years, including Douay-Rheims, Knox, RSV, NRSV and more. They just don’t happen to be printed in the Lectionary (although the 1970 Lectionary was published in both JB and RSV versions, the decision was taken to use only JB in the 1981 revision). Oddie could have stopped his article right there.

    Then he attacks “the philistinism of the English bishops”, none of whom were actually in office 45 years ago when the decision was taken to use the JB and RSV translations on the grounds that, at the time, they were the best available in the opinion of scholars. Tilting at the wrong target there.

    But then, only a tiny minority of English Catholics read the Catholic Herald these days, let alone take it seriously. Oddie and his extreme views must single-handedly bear the responsibility for decimating the readership of a once reputable Catholic periodical.

    1. @Paul Inwood (#1): [T]ranslations apart from the Jerusalem Bible have already been authorized for liturgical use in England and Wales for many years, including Douay-Rheims, Knox, RSV, NRSV and more.

      As far as I am aware, the Liturgy Office of England and Wales says that only the RSV and JB are authorised for liturgical use in England and Wales, along with the Grail psalter. (Note that the NRSV, NJB and revised Grail psalter can only be used to produce a lectionary with the explicit permission of the CBCEW. GNT can be used in Masses with children, for what it’s worth.) I’d love to know when and where our bishops have allowed the use of D-R and Knox at Mass!

      [A]lthough the 1970 Lectionary was published in both JB and RSV versions, the decision was taken to use only JB in the 1981 revision.

      So there’s not exactly a ‘free market’ in terms of what scripture translation is available for use at Mass, is there? If an RSV lectionary was in print, our parish would probably switch over to it, and I’m sure other parishes across England and Wales would. But, lamentably, we are de facto stuck with the JB.

      [O]nly a tiny minority of English Catholics read the Catholic Herald these days, let alone take it seriously.

      Only a tiny minority of English Catholics read any Catholic newspaper these days! Catholic Herald: c. 20,000; Catholic Times: c. 17,000; The Universe: c. 35,000; The Tablet: c. 24,000. Total circulation between them of less than 100,000, out of a weekly Mass attendance in England and Wales of about 850,000, i.e. 11.3% of Catholics purchase any weekly Catholic newspaper/periodical. (I wonder what the equivalent figure for blogs and websites would be!)

      I’ll also note, anecdotally, that our parish orders the Catholic Herald and the Universe: these days we sell all the Heralds almost every week, but we always have copies of the Universe left over.

      1. @Matthew Hazell – comment #10:

        As far as I am aware, the Liturgy Office of England and Wales says that only the RSV and JB are authorised for liturgical use in England and Wales, along with the Grail psalter. (Note that the NRSV, NJB and revised Grail psalter can only be used to produce a lectionary with the explicit permission of the CBCEW. GNT can be used in Masses with children, for what it’s worth.) I’d love to know when and where our bishops have allowed the use of D-R and Knox at Mass!

        Read the page again. The following translations are listed:

        RSV
        JB
        NJB
        NRSV
        GNV
        Knox
        NEB

        Only the JB may be used to produce a Lectionary, but that is not the same thing as using another translation at Mass. In other words, there is a difference between what can be printed in an official book and what is actually permitted for liturgical use. A number of parishes still use their 1970 RSV Lectionaries because they don’t like JB, and others have been known to use Good News, etc, when JB proved particularly incomprehensible.

        The reason that Douay-Rheims is not listed on the Liturgy Office page is because the memory of current staff does not go back far enough, and the evidence is buried somewhere in the archives which are apparently inaccessible in the basements of Eccleston Square. It is no good asking the Liturgy Office for chapter and verse of anything in the 1970s because the files are, for all intents and purposes, now lost. It seems that only those who were around in those days can remember what happened. Douay-Rheims was approved at the same time as Knox.

      2. @Paul Inwood (#11): Knox and NEB are listed under the versions used in the UK Divine Office, but I’m not sure that means they can be used at Mass. I didn’t read the list in that way.

      3. @Matthew Hazell – comment #10:

        As far as the future is concerned, for a number of years we knew that a revised international Lectionary for the English-speaking world (except the USA, who are too financially dependent on NAB to give it up) would be produced using NRSV, which scholars agree is the best translation currently available. It has been used in Canada for a number of years.

        Rome, however, did not agree with the scholars (how unusual it that in recent times?!). Their problems with the text mostly concerned the psalter, which would not even have been an issue since the new Lectionary would use revised Grail. The owners of NRSV bent over backwards in an attempt to accommodate the unscholarly revisions that the CDWDS wanted made, but in the end agreement could not be reached and the NRSV owners gave up.

        More recently, CDWDS has been eyeing ESV (English Standard Version) as a possibility. Produced by American Evangelical Protestants, it is a very literal translation and thus chimes in nicely with the position of Liturgiam Authenticam. It seems, however, that things have changed again, so it is anyone’s guess what translation a new English-speaking Lectionary would use.

        Curiously, the US Conference have approved the Revised Grail Psalter for liturgical use (it does not currently appear in their Lectionary but many parishes are using recent music settings of it) and for the version to replace NABRE psalms in a future Lectionary, but other Conferences are not so enthusiastic, particularly because the new version has in some places changed the rhythms so drastically that existing musical tones can no longer be used, and because of the appearance of a number of Americanisms that do not work in other cultures.

      4. @Paul Inwood – comment #12:
        Well, in the US, translations previously approved for liturgical use remain authorized for *sung* responsorial psalms under GIRM 61 as adapted in the USA.

  2. “the 2011 Missal is for use with a separate book with Scripture readings which could be revised at any time, the lectionary.”

    … which begs the question of why we’re being told to call it a missal now.

  3. Well, I for one find the NAB renderings to be deeply depressing; they actively repulse any urge to read Scripture. I offer it up.

  4. I have a British Missal (bought there because they weren’t available here yet when the new translation came out), complete with the readings. He doesn’t quote the whole verse to which he is objecting, which makes the translation sound more “off” than it is. The entire verse is

    But Jesus replied, ‘Leave it like this for the time being; it is fitting that we should, in this way, do all that righteousness demands. At this, John gave in to him. (JB)

    Perhaps he should just carry a Greek NT and follow along, in which case he might have noticed that the Greek translated so objectionably as “Leave it like this for the time being” in the JB or as “Allow it now” in the NABRE or as “Suffer it to be so now” in the KJ version is pretty banal in the Greek: αφες αρτι (more literally “let it/you now”)

  5. The Douay-Rheims is as bad as the KJV: And Jesus answering, said to him: Suffer it to be so now. For so it becometh us to fulfill all justice. Then he suffered him.

    “Suffer”, to mean “allow” or “let”, is not only an archaic use but a positively misleading one — hence the jokes about “Suffer little children”. Most people, including educated readers, will struggle to work out who “suffered” whom.

    And Michelle’s point is very good: the Greek text is short and direct. The Jerusalem Bible translation also makes it clearer that αρτι has more of a sense of “for now” than of “immediately” or “right now”.

  6. As I see it Dr. Oddie has had the blessing of being so inundated in the language of the King James that no other translation will do. Alas, most people have not been so fortunate.

    Long ago I remember reading in “Liturgy and Worship” something to the effect that the Englishman could not be far from the language of the prayer book and the KJV. Evidently that is no longer so, with the notable exception of Dr. Oddie.

  7. Paul Inwood : But then, only a tiny minority of English Catholics read the Catholic Herald these days, let alone take it seriously. Oddie and his extreme views must single-handedly bear the responsibility for decimating the readership of a once reputable Catholic periodical.

    Quite. I cancelled my subscription within a couple of weeks of Oddie taking over as editor. The effective “loss” of the Catholic Herald left a gap in the market that has never been successfully filled, for all that the Tablet is much more readable these days.

  8. I am not sure if this will be helpful, but…

    Matthew 3:15

    JB: But Jesus replied, ‘Leave it like this for the time being…’

    KJV: And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him.

    NJB: But Jesus replied, ‘Leave it like this for the time being; it is fitting that we should, in this way, do all that uprightness demands.’ Then John gave in to him.

    RSV: But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.” Then he consented.

    NRSV: But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.

    NABRE: Jesus said to him in reply, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed him.

    NIV: Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

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