Tuesday, February 10, 2009

New Jerusalem Bible Review

"Still, I am telling you the truth: it is for your own good that I am going, because unless I go, the Paraclete will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you." - Jn 16:7 NJB

In my opinion, the New Jerusalem Bible is the best beginner Bible for someone who is new to the Catholic faith or has had a re-conversion back to the faith. Now, when I say that it is a great beginner Bible, I do not mean to suggest that the NJB translation is itself simplistic or easy to read like the Good News Translation for example. My point is that this one Bible has the best collection of Bible study tools and page lay-out in any one volume Catholic Bible currently available. The fact that it was published over 20 years ago is a sad indictment of the poor quality of Catholic Bibles on the market. Before looking at some specifics, let me just say one thing: If you are going to get the NJB, make sure it is the large hardcover edition shown here. Do not waste your time with the other editions that are out there, since those do not include all the study helps that the regular edition does.

The NJB contains the complete text of the ancient canon of scripture, along with up-to-date (as of 1985) and extensive introductions and notes. Eight pages of color maps and indexes, including biblical themes, personal names, and major footnotes.

The NJB is a translation directly from the Hebrew and Greek, unlike, at times its predecessor which did consult the original French edition of the JB. The NJB made use of the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece 25th edition and Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia with close reference to the LXX. The NJB is a mediating translation, which leans towards functional equivalence. An informative essay by the NJB's chief editor, Dom Henry Wansbrough, can be found here. In it, he states that the five main principles to his work were:

1) To improve the accuracy of translation, introductions and notes. I was acutely aware that the rationale of the NJB was somewhat different from that of the JB. Alexander Jones had conceived the translation primarily as an underlay to the introduction and notes, that is, as a study Bible. But whereas in 1966 there was no modern translation of the whole Bible into English by 1985 several were available. The study aspect had therefore become all the more important.

2) To remove elements which were narrowly Roman Catholic, such as references in the notes to passages used in the Roman Catholic liturgy.

3) Where possible to use the same English word throughout for the same Hebrew concepts. With some concepts I abandoned the attempt to find a modern English equivalent which would serve to translate all instances of a word, e.g. ‘flesh’.

4) In the synoptic gospels and other parallel sets of texts (e.g. the Books of Kings and of Chronicles) to show the differences between the text, in order to make possible a study of the redactional changes made by the authors.

5) Where possible to go some way towards using inclusive language. I did not estimate that this was necessary at all costs, as the NRSV subsequently did. However, Bruce Metzger was kind enough to write to me to say that NJB solutions had been most helpful to the Committee for the NRSV in the closing stages of their work.

The NJB, like its predecessor, is also the only Catholic translation that uses "Yahweh" instead of "LORD" consistently in the Old Testament. It will be interesting to see if it is used in future editions, particularly with Pope Benedict's recent comments about its use in liturgy.

Positive Features:

1) The NJB is a solid translation. It fits nicely right in the middle of the translation philosophy spectrum. I would generally place it close to the NIV/NAB, though leaning more towards dynamic equivalence. Where I find the NJB to excel is in its use of inclusive language. In many ways, I think the NJB is the model. It is used consistently throughout the Old and New Testament, unlike the NAB, yet it does not go overboard like the NRSV. The NJB retains the use of "sons" in important passages in Galatians 4, does not obscure "Son of Man" references in the OT, and doesn't use the plural "you" to make a passage inclusive.

2) The standard hardback edition is a wonderful study Bible. It has copious notes and lots of cross-references. The intros are also helpful, without forcing you to accept various modern theories as fact.

3) The page layout is single-column, which means it is a pleasure to read and there is plenty of room to make notes. It is a real shame that the NJB is the only Catholic Bible, that I am aware of, that has a single-column layout.

Negative Features:

1) There aren't many editions of the NJB available. I have seen some used leather editions of the standard NJB online, but it seems that they are not in print anymore. Therefore, if you like the NJB with all the study helps, you can only get it in hardcover.

2) With the rumors that a 3rd edition of the New Jerusalem Bible is in the works, I am not sure how much longer this edition will be needed.

3) There are no additional study/reference helps available in the NJB translation. One of the great reasons to use a translation like the NRSV is that you can get interlinears, concordances, dictionaries, and other tools that reference the NRSV. This is simply not the case with the NJB.


Meg said...

I bought this Bible last year. I was deep into my Hebrew studies and was very unhappy with the accuracy and the English of the NAB and was looking for another Catholic -- and readable! -- translation.

The NJB does NOT use the Tetragrammaton!!! If only! It uses the word "Yahweh" that combines the 4-letter unpronounceable Name of God with the vowel marks added by the Masoretes.

I tried.

I really did.

I cannot read it with that word in it. I don't know if it's the Hebrew study or the reaction to the guitar hymns of my youth, but I do not think that the Lord God Almighty has a personal first name by which I may address him. That's what Jesus is for. ;-)

I hope and pray that a new edition will either use a translation of the Tetragrammaton (YHWH) or a euphemism like LORD.

Other than that, I agree, lovely translation and I do like the single column format.

But to get my dollar, I would need to see this book printed in a larger font. I appreciate that the copious notes make it a big book as it is, but how about a 2- or 3-volume slipcover edition?

Timothy said...


I will adjust from Tetragrammaton to just Yahweh! Thanks!

Biblical Catholic said...

So do you plan on comparing the New Jerusalem Bible with the original one?

The New Jerusalem Bible is much better. The English is more natural, it 'flows better' and seems less awkward.

The original Jerusalem Bible is influenced too much by the French, whereas the New Jerusalem Bible breaks away from the French text almost if not completely. The result is a much easier and more natural translation.

Timothy said...


Yeah, I am not sure I am going to compare the JB with the NJB. I know that there are a number of people who love their original JB, but like you, I think the NJB is superior in almost every way. With that said, if the 3rd edition of the Jerusalem Bible comes out in English sometime while I am still blogging, then I may have to do a comparison of the three. That would be pretty interesting.

Kevin A. Sam said...

Tim...This is a great review of the NJB. I have this edition and I just love it. I read from the Psalms during my personal devotions and find that it flows very well. I would also add that it's not only good for those new to the Catholic faith but also for anyone who wants good study notes. That was the reason why I bought mine.

Anonymous said...


Were you aware of the following misprints in some printed editions of the NJB?

Gn. 14:13 A survivor came to tell Abram, and Aner the Hebrew, who was living at the Oak of the Amorite Mamre, the brother of Eshcol; these were allies of Abram.

The words "and Aner" are misplaced; it should read "A survivor came to tell Abram, the Hebrew, who was living at the Oak of the Amorite Mamre, the brother of Eshcol and Aner; these were allies of Abram."

Is. 5:1 Let me sing my beloved the song of my friend for his vineyard.

The sentence is missing either punctuation or a preposition.

Ex. 2:24 God heard their groaning; God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

The above verse, which is rendered correctly, is from the online edition; my hard copy has "Joseph" instead of "Jacob".

Manfred from CAF

Chuck @ Mission Lawrence said...

I think that the NJB has been a great bible to use for a "change of pace". I believe it is much more responsible in its use of inclusive language than the NRSV. At times it's vocabulary is unfamiliar to modern US readers and I suspect to modern UK readers.

I too have wondered what the subsequent edition will be like. This bible is a refreshing change. I fear that work to "update" it will go overboard in the direction of political correctness.

I also lament nothing better than the big blue edition is available.

david said...

another typo, i believe, is found in jeremiah 12:5 "to race against me on foot" should be "to race against men on foot" like every other translation.

Anonymous said...

I've liked NJB for years -- but one thing I've always hated, far more than its use of Yahweh, is its use of "sweetheart" in Song of Songs.

By the way, a nice leather pocket edition is available from DLT in England.

Joseph Michael said...

I was curious as to where the NJB got its authority for the use of the word "ecstasy" in Rev 1:10.

I'm also curious as to why Revelation is in this Bible in the first place since it really isn't recognized as part of the Canon by its own Authority -- Vaticanus.

Also, how did "Jerusalem" fit into the name of this version? Was it translated in Jerusalem or did the translators come from there or ... what's the connection?

hoshie said...


I can't answer your first question, but the Jerusalem in its name comes from the city were the translators worked. The École Biblique is located in Jerusalem.

As for me, the NJB was the first catholic Bible I used about 20 years ago. I've always wondered why it hasn't been used in the liturgy for all these years.

MikeLo628 said...

Is there a JB or NJB New Testament with the footnotes and study helps?

Simon Ho said...


Yes, there is. You can find a New Jeeusalem Bibke New Testament with footnotes at https://www.amazon.com/Testament-Jerusalem-Complete-Introductions-Textual/dp/0385237065/ref=sr_1_6?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1483884546&sr=1-6&keywords=new+jerusalem+bible+new+testament

However, be forewarned that the production quality is nowhere near that of the regular NJB. The footnotes are also shifted to the end of each book of the NT, rather than at the bottom of the page, and for some reasons, the cross-references are missing.