New American Bible to be Revised

First there was the NAB in 1970, the New American Bible for U.S. Catholics. Then the New Testament was revised in 1986 – the RNAB. In 2011 the revised edition with revised Old Testament appeared – NABRE.

Meanwhile, the U.S. lectionary saw the light of day in 1998. Its production was a politically sordid story. The Scripture text in the lectionary (still in use) is RNAB, sort of. Seems that lots of changes were made to the translation, on questionable scholarly grounds, with the involvement of Msgr. James Moroney. Hmmm, that reminds me of … oh, never mind.

Some of you might remember the howls of objection to contemporary scripture translations from Fr. Richard John Neuhaus at First Things. He didn’t like the “Altered Revised New American Bible” (ARNAB) of the US lectionary at all. (That’s a made up term, btw, and RJN got it from me.) Near as I can tell, RJN favored the RSV because of the principle that Bible translations should be The Version I Grew Up With.

Many have regretted that the US lectionary uses a translation (“ARNAB”) not found in any published bible. Sure would be nice if Bible study, catechetics, and liturgy could all use the same version.

And now we hear the good news that all this will be fixed. CNA reports:

The U.S. bishops have announced a plan to revise the New Testament of the New American Bible so a single version can be used for individual prayer, catechesis and liturgy.

“The goal is to produce a single translation,” said Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, D.C. on June 14.

It will take a long time, of course, since so many considerations come into play.

Let’s hope the process works. I predict it will. I predict the bishops and the Roman officials will consult with the best scholars, work collegially, take pastoral considerations seriously, listen to all the voices, and carry out the work with transparency and a sense of accountability to the People of God. The final product will unite the Church, renew our liturgical spirituality, and enhance the credibility of the hierarchy. Surely??



  1. A practical question: any idea (or guesses) how long it might be before a new lectionary is implemented? Many parishes are in the process of replacing their hardbound hymnals, oftentimes including the Sunday readings. If a hardbound hymnal lasts 10-15 years, will it take at least that long before a new lectionary rolls out?

  2. Well, count me in the group that finds the various iterations of the NAB to be sorely lacking from the perspective of euphony. I have other translations I vastly prefer, including the RSV (but there are others).

    It would be nice (but I know not to hold my breath) if the USCCB decided to move past the 20th century industrial copyright model for dealing with the sharing of the Bible. Since it is the US, and therefore can take advantage of the work-for-hire regime in US copyright law (which does not exist in some other jurisdictions, like England and Wales), the USCCB could work out a structure that results in more open commons licensing than it currently does.

    1. Amen! The same goes for the translation of the Catechism — I know some Catholic mobile app developers have asked for access to both the New American Bible and the Catechism in order to produce iPhone and Android-compatible versions, but they have been rebuffed. The new online Catechism is a good first step, but the fact that it requires an internet connection makes it unusable in parts of my rural diocese.

      But that’s a soapbox for a different day!

  3. I wish they would just ditch the NAB all together. The Confraternity version (which morphed into the NAB) was already lackluster. I wonder how we took the Douay-Rheims and mucked it up that bad while Protestants could take the KJV and make something more up to date yet still pleasing to the eye and ear.

    For my own reading I prefer the Douay-Rheims and RSV-CE. As the Douay would not be accepted as a NO liturgical translation (which is fine), I’d say we should just go with the RSV-CE.

    As to copyright issues, maybe the USCCB should get out of the bible business anyway. They’ve shown that they can’t come up with a translation worth the paper its printed on anyway.

    1. From my own translating (Greek, at least), I know that the RSV seems quite close to what the original language says. I used it as a standard for when I translated. It also uses language accessible to my parishioners. The NAB, however, is hard to follow unless you have a master’s degree.

      1. I don’t think I’ve found the NAB so difficult to follow.

        One problem I have with the NAB is that it is difficult to use in ecumenical situations particularly in the places that it rearranges chapters and verses (e.g. Ezekiel).

    1. Precisely, Sam.

      I readily understand that you favor the NAB, Fr. Ruff, but I’m disappointed that you don’t at least give Fr. Neuhaus the respect of at least engaging (even if briefly) his concerns about the NAB.

      As it is . . . I can’t help one aside, which is to observe my perplexity with people who find the new Roman missal to be clunky and awkward in its language (which, I grant, at points it is), but who somehow can’t see the same problem in the NAB translation. (“I have competed well”?)

      Unfortunately, we’re stuck with the NAB, at least in North America, if for no other reason than that the NCCB makes a good deal of money off requiring its exclusive use.

  4. “A not uninteresting sidelight is that St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, sometimes described as a training camp for liturgical terrorists…”

    Ooh…snap. I’m guessing Fr. Neuhaus (RIP) touched a nerve.

    Regardless, I remember seeing the Collegeville illuminated bible and thought it was a magnificent idea and really a beautiful rendition-until I read that awful translation being used. A pity, really.

    1. LOL – I had forgotten he said that in there!
      He consulted with me when he wrote the article – these were the days when he and I planned and plotted all sorts of things. So we were on good terms.
      Which is to say, you guessed wrong.

      1. I’m aware of this history, which you’ve written about before on Pray Tell, which makes it all the more puzzling that you don’t seem to be able to articlulate his view on why he preferred the RSV, something that he wrote about many times in sources that are still easily available. Even if you disagree with his reasoning, he had reasons that went far beyond “RJN favored the RSV because of the principle that Bible translations should be The Version I Grew Up With.”

      2. Samuel, RJN never dealt with the inadequacies in RSV or responded to the scholars on that, as far as I know. He wasn’t a Scripture scholar and he made unfair and inaccurate broadsides about Scripture scholarship. His claims about the NAB were unfounded. He never took into account what Pius XII said in 1943.

        I came away with the impression that RJN had some good points about stability and memorability, but didn’t really engage the scholarly issues. Which suggests he liked what HE was familiar with and didn’t want to hear the arguments.

        But you and I can agree to disagree on our appraisals and impressions – sometimes it’s OK to let the differences stand as they are. Which is to say, I’d rather not getinto a long spar with you about nitpicking and scoring points.


      3. Hell Fr. Ruff,

        I never quite shared all of Fr. Neuhaus’s enthusiasm for the RSV, but I am curious why the possible defects of the RSV would make those of the NAB less problematic?

        Not all (reputable) Catholic Scripture scholars are fans of the NAB. (Some, I grant, are.) But however problematic the translation might be, the footnotes are probably more egregious – though that is, of course, only an issue for catechesis and private study, not liturgical use.

  5. it would be asking too much, I suppose, to work with the Anglicans, Lutherans and UCC on a common Bible and Common lectionary.

    1. Hello Brigid,

      I have to wonder what the value would be in such a project. More to the point, I wonder if whatever minimal ecumenical good feelings might result would be worth the theological compromises necessary – to all the parties. The ELCA might go along, but I seriously doubt that the LCMS or the LCWS would.

      If we did so, however, I would make a plea for the English Standard Version (ESV) as a good place to start. Come to think of it, I’d make a plea for it as a starting point, period, regardless of ecumenical connections.

      1. So……are you suggesting that a translation could be slanted to reflect a pre-existing bias? Who would have thought!

      2. Richard, are you really asking what would be the value in such a project? The answer is straight out of Dei Verbum:

        22. Easy access to Sacred Scripture should be provided for all the Christian faithful. . . . But since the word of God should be accessible at all times, the Church by her authority and with maternal concern sees to it that suitable and correct translations are made into different languages, especially from the original texts of the sacred books. And should the opportunity arise and the Church authorities approve, if these translations are produced in cooperation with the separated brethren as well, all Christians will be able to use them.

        Or, to put it in different terms, “That they may be one”. The same would apply for a common lectionary. There is, in fact, a Revised Common Lectionary, that has been adopted in whole or part by a number of Protestant churches. I think they would be happy to work with the Catholic Church on creating a truly common lectionary for Sundays and weekdays that all Christian churches could use.

      3. Hello Bill,

        That’s a fair point. The Council did explicitly call for it.

        I have to state right up front that I have always been dubious about Dei Verbum’s prescription. Without deprecating the value of ecumenical endeavour, I think the costs outweigh the advantages. But that’s fodder for a separate discussion.

      4. To implement DV 22 fully the separated brethren would have to come to an agreement first among themselves.

    2. promotes its bible by saying:
      Created by a committee of scholars from all three branches of the Christian church—Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox—the NRSV is the least sectarian translation compared to most other popular versions.Further, more denominations have chosen the NRSV as their official translation than any other translation on the market. Trustworthy, readable, and ecumenical, the NRSV is the Bible for everyone.

      The NRSV was sponsored by the National Council of Churches. Jewish scholars assisted with the translation of Hebrew. The US bishops approved its use except for liturgy, though Canadians have adapted it for liturgical use there. England and Wales too? It is also used liturgically by Methodists, Lutherans, Anglicans, Reformed, and more, though most of these groups allow a variety of translations to be used.

  6. I’ve heard several monks say that the NRSV is poetically inferior to the RSV. Perhaps the revisers went too far. But the inadequacies of the RSV remain. A turning point for me was the book “The Making of the New Revised Standard Version” by Robert Dentan, Walter Harrelson, and Bruce M. Metzger. It lays out the scholarly case for and the absolute necessity of a revision.

    Kind of hard to defend Douai-Rheims at this late date – after Pius XII’s Divino Afflante Spiritu. But such unscholarly (anti-scholarly?) defenses of it are part of a larger dynamic whereby the Catholic far-right wavers between wanting to go back to 1962 or 1955 or 1942 or 1910 or…

    No choice is perfect and there are things I don’t like about NRSV, but I suspect it was the best of all available options. Calling it “awful” is a bit extreme.


    1. Fr Ruff

      What are the chief inadequacies of the RSV from your perspective (understanding that all translations have their inadequacies, of course)?

      I choose my translation not so much for scholarship but for a much more elemental reason: does the rendering of the text invite or discourage me from delving more more deeply?

      1. Mistranslations or nonsensical translations in some passages. I don’t have the book at hand but I recall the list being rather long of passages that were obscure or incomprehensible, but scholarship in intervening decades has made so many breakthroughs in what manuscripts said and what some difficult terms meant in contemporary culture.

        I think the use of “Thee, Thou” when addressing God but “you,your” forhumans is an unworkable inconsistency. Fr. Neuhaus felt the same and thought RSV should be adjusted to eliminate the “thees” and “thous.”

        But I hear your aesthetic concern and share it.


      2. I think the use of “Thee, Thou” when addressing God but “you,your” forhumans is an unworkable inconsistency. Fr. Neuhaus felt the same and thought RSV should be adjusted to eliminate the “thees” and “thous.”

        Ah – there is indeed common ground between Neuhausland and Ruffland…

        And that *is* a flaw of the RSV. Pick one or pick the other, and be consistent. Neuhaus would pick hieratic usage; Ruff would pick modern. Either would be preferable to the RSV’s awkward attempt to use both.

    2. I certainly do not think the RSV is perfect, its just better than what else is generally available.

      Who’s “defending” the DR? I said I like to use it for my personal reading and I said it is fine that it would not be accepted for NO liturgical use. It was revised itself a number of times.

      I would think we Catholics could come up with a good translation that keeps all the properly Catholic translations (i.e. Luke 1:28, etc.), is poetic, and is (slightly) updated as to aid in reading without political inclusive language.

      1. Inclusive language is not necessarily political.

        It’s a matter of where usage ultimately goes. Right now, we are in an era of mixed common usage on this point; inclusive and non-inclusive usage coexist as a matter of fact, even if prescriptivists (of either bent) would prefer not to acknowledge that. I don’t think the translation process can lead ahead of usage; the process just can’t credibly bear that burden. That said, if in time usage clearly moves out of the coexistence phase into a a phase where one usage has become marginal and nearly archaic, then translation will eventually follow. There’s no schedule for that kind of thing. (For me, the fact that translations ultimately need to reflect evolution of usage is a feature, not a bug, because it forces us to stay attentive, instead of putting sacred and ritual texts into the comforting stasis of amber.)

      2. It is not necessarily (as in a Kantian imperative sense) but it certainly comes off that way. I would agree with you to a point that translation can generally follows usage, but with “inclusive” language, that change is being pushed. I do not see “inclusive” language used outside of screwy theological circles and feminists. The man on the street might not use “man/men” for people in general exclusively, but they certainly do not go out of their way to make it “unoffensive”.

        I am for a “sacral” version of the vernacular for liturgical and biblical texts. I do not think that sacred texts should follow the banal and ugly path that modern langauge takes, ala dynamic equivalence and the poor state of literacy and grammar amongst the “regular” (whomever they are) people. This is said with full knowledge that my own hurried combox entry is probably full of glaring errors…

      3. Dominic

        My observations of current usage are different than yours (I am in New England, FWIW). But they are also different from those in academia and the media. It’s an issue I pay a lot of attention to observing, for reasons I will forego here.

  7. The question over inclusive language could run across lack from strict grammarians. Increasingly, I see the use of “they/their” in reference to a single person of unknown or either gender. “Each person is responsible for cleaning up their own mess”.

    1. Yes. Well, you see, there is an interesting issue there. The prescriptive rules for agreement of this sort are of relatively recent vintage in English – they arose in the dictionary era. English is not French; it’s an unruly language by nature (and that’s why many of us love it). Thus, it’s natural that more recent “rules” are vulnerable to being more readily thrown over. This takes time to work out, naturally, in common usage. We don’t know where things will coalesce, but I suspect that particular issue will coalesce in that way. (People who were good English students may subconsciously feel their good efforts are losing value; meanwhile, there are much bigger battles for clarity to fight. This is not one of them. We know what is meant. As things go, it’s an easy one.)

      1. Except that there are plenty of examples where we do not know what is meant, in Greek as well as English.

      2. Jim,

        I was referring to the specific example of agreement that Brigid used.

  8. Well, there should be no problem about a revised Scripture translation ever again although I’m surprised that no comments above have yet noted that, after all, we have the authoritative Liturgiam Authenticam divine commandments, which gave us the universally acclaimed new English Missal, which in turn has been shed for you and for how many with felicitious turns of circumlocutions and with everlasting sentences, so that by God’s grace and mercy, I may have learned to cope with Eucharistic Prayer I before the final trumpet sounds to summon us to the kingdom where all these things will have passed away.

  9. Question (1) What is the point of revising NAB? This translation, full of militaristic language, is never going to be used anywhere else in the English-speaking world. (See Question (4))

    Question (2) Why go with RSV? Thee-thou and non-inclusive language have already been mentioned. But the fact is that modern scholarship says RSV doesn’t cut the mustard.

    Question (3) Is the fact the USCCB continues with NAB solely due to the fact that it owns that translation and therefore derives income from it?

    Question (4) Is USCCB ever going to embrace ICPEL (International Commission for the Preparation of an English Language Lectionary) ? All other English-speaking countries except the US have signed up to this.

    Question (5) How many people know that ICPEL has now abandoned NRSV as a translation (even though it is inclusive and the scholars tell us that it is the best version around) because Rome has made so many demands on the copyright holders that they have given up trying to accommodate the requirements of CDWDS (which mostly concern the psalms, which would not even be used in the Lectionary, since RGP would be used instead — grrrr!) and have said “No more changes to our copyright text” ?

    Question (6) Or that ICPEL (and Rome) are now looking at ESV as a possible version? ESV has been produced by Calvinist Evangelicals in the US. The reason Rome likes it is because (in line with LA) it is a good literal translation; but it is mostly non-inclusive, is less poetic, and also does not include the Apocrypha. For those, you have to go to the supplement produced by Oxford University Press with a completely different team of translators.

    Question (7) The US Conference has agreed on RGP as a translation of the psalms to be used in future, and in an ideal world this would be adopted worldwide. However, there are significant snags. One is that some of the modifications from Grail 1963 have altered the rhythmic structure of some psalms to the point where they can no longer be used with the Gelineau tones. See Psalm 23 for a particularly obvious example. The reason this has happened is (a) because Abbot Gregory Polan and Conception Abbey have never used the Gelineau tones, preferring instead their own homegrown products, and (b) because CDWDS has no musical savvy whatsoever. Because of these snags, other episcopal conferences are not nearly so keen on approving RGP for the psalms. It may be that a compromise will have to be reached, whether Rome likes it or not.

    The whole area is a total minefield, and in this context fiddling with NAB appears very small beer indeed. Estimates of the date of the appearance of a new lectionary in any English-speaking country vary from 10 years to never.

    1. Paul

      In the US, at least, the GIRM has long had and retains (in #61) a grandfathering of previously approved translations of the Psalter for sung use. An eminently practical solution. (For recitation, the approved translations are the Lectionary version of the NAB and the RGP – and the USCCB has indicated it will be 10-20 years before the Lectionary is revised down to the RGP version.)

      1. Yes, Karl, I’m aware of that. My real point is why bother with revising NAB at all when the US could be making a real contribution to what ICPEL is up to. If USCCB could sign up to RGP, as they have, that shows some kind of willingness to leave isolationism behind.

      2. Paul

        It’s not isolationism. It’s, um, how shall I say it? Cupidity is overstrong a word, but the issue involves monetization of a monopoly.

  10. If the revision of the NAB repairs the lamentable translation of “I am unworthy to loosen the THONG of his sandal…” then I am all for it.

  11. Perhaps I am missing something (and bumping a two day old thread), but why not the ESV (English Standard Version)? It is a revision of the RSV, perhaps coopted by evangelicals, but at the same time is used by many mainstream Protestants. It reads rather well.

    The biggest problem with the NAB to me is its lack of beauty. I know such things are very subjective, but honestly, the psalms in particular are very, very wooden in any of the NAB variants. They are hard to set musically, the phrases are often awkward, and there are many needless archaic expressions.

  12. Haha, nothing “surely” about this, Anthony, as you know from intimate, painful experience. So now they will set about destroying the language of our common Scripture translation as they have destroyed the language of our common prayer. Nice to see that they have the people’s best interests at heart, as usual. I knew this would be coming. They simply cannot let go of their lust for power and control. I pity them, when I am not positively aching with sadness myself over what has happened to our liturgy.

    I was thinking that maybe we could send them a plain, simple English dictionary so they could look up some of the words they seem to be unfamiliar with—-e.g., collegial, collaborative, pastoral, accountable, transparent, etc., but realized that we don’t have a Webster’s in the original Latin. So that won’t work. Shucks.

  13. The NRSV lectionary used by Canadians is superior in many ways to the NAB. The present lectionary has done an especially terrible job in translating the writings of St. Paul. Lectors have a huge challenge at times in reading them intelligibly.

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