Thursday, April 30, 2009

St. John's Bible

The St. John's Bible is an exciting project that began in 1999 and has continued to this day. The project's goal is to produce a completely new hand-written and illuminated Bible, one of the few since the advent of the printing press.

The project is being led by well-known calligrapher Donald Jackson, who is the official scribe to Queen Elizabeth II. Many of the illuminations, like the one on the left that depicts the genealogy of Jesus, are quite stunning. The main goal of those involved in The Saint John’s Bible project is to ignite the spiritual imagination of all peoples throughout the world by commissioning a work of art that illuminates the Word of God for a new millennium, in a way that is relevant to the 21st century. When completed, the Bible in seven volumes will be large for liturgical and exhibition purposes (15 3/4" wide by 23 1/2” tall when closed).

As the website states: "This is the first time in 500 years that a Benedictine Monastery has commissioned a handwritten, illuminated Bible. Its construction parallels that of its medieval predecessors, written on vellum, using quills, natural handmade inks, hand-ground pigments and gold leaf while incorporating modern themes, images and technology of the 21st century."

In our digital age, I think the St. John's Bible is truly a breath of fresh air. I hope to purchase some of the prints at some point in the near future.

One of the interesting decisions that Jackson and the team had to make was on which Bible translation to use as the base text. With the goal of providing a 21st Century work of art, it seems necessary that a more recent translation would be desirable. In my mind, that leaves the options as being only the NAB, NJB, or NRSV. (Keep in mind the RSV-2CE was not published when the project began.)

Ultimately, they decided on the NRSV: "The translation of the Bible known as the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) was chosen for The Saint John’s Bible for a number of reasons. Its predecessor, the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, had the distinction of being officially authorized for use by all major Christian churches: Protestant, Anglican, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox. Also, NRSV is a modern English translation with a strong literal tradition. It employs gender-inclusive language for references to men and women, usually done in a non-obtrusive manner."

Also, it is interesting to note that each hand-written page contains the textual notes of the NRSV as well. The whole project is slated to be completed some time this year.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Catholic Commentary of Sacred Scripture Review

On the right sidebar of this page is a link to the site for the new Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture series which began publication last year. Its first two volumes were on the Gospel of Mark and the Pastoral Epistles of St. Paul. These first two volumes were published specifically for this year, since it is both Year B liturgically, which means the Gospel of Mark is read in the lectionary for the Sunday Masses, and of course it is the Year of St. Paul. I wanted to spend at least one post giving some of my thoughts on the series as a whole, as well as some of the features of the individual volumes. Let me just point out at the top that the General Editors of the Series, Peter S. Williamson and Mary Healy, both teach scripture at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, in Detroit, where I just finished up graduate work. While I have never had Dr. Healy for class, I have been fortunate to take three courses taught by Dr. Williamson.
While much of this info can be gleaned from the website, I do want to point out some aspects of this new commentary series which I think are important. First off, I like the fact that they are using the NAB as their base text. While I have been critical of the NAB for its various shortcomings, in my eyes, I do think it is great to see the NAB have a solid commentary keyed to it. While the series does use the NAB, it does point out in the commentary where other translations on a given text from the RSV, NRSV, JB, NJB, and NIV may be better. Therefore, it is possible to use whatever translation you prefer with this commentary series.
Secondly, I am really impressed with the scholars who are a part of this project. Outside of the general editors, whom I mentioned already, the editorial team also includes the following people:
Associate Editor:
Kevin Perrotta - Award-winning Catholic journalist and editor of the Six Weeks with the Bible series. (I have and continue to use his studies with young adults)
Consulting Editors:
Scott Hahn (Franciscan University of Steubenville)
Daniel J. Harrington, SJ (Weston Jesuit School of Theology)
William S. Kurz, SJ (Marquette University)
Francis Martin (Dominican House of Studies)
Frank J. Matera (Catholic University of America)
George T. Montague, SM (St. Mary’s University)
Terrence Prendergast (Archbishop of Ottawa)
It seems to be a wonderful balance of scholars, all of whom have made important impacts on Catholic Biblical scholarship over the past thirty years. I have personally benefited by the works of Dr. Hahn, Fr. Harrington, and Fr. Montague.
In addition to the editorial staff, the project has contributions from various scholars on the different New Testament books:
Volume Authors:
The Gospel of Matthew by Edward Sri and Curtis Mitch
The Gospel of Luke by Timothy Gray
The Gospel of John by Francis Martin and William M. Wright IV
The Acts of the Apostles by William Kurz, SJ
Romans by Scott Hahn
First Corinthians by George T. Montague, SM
Second Corinthians by Thomas D. Stegman, SJ
Galatians by Ronald D. Witherup, SS
Ephesians by Peter S. Williamson
Philippians, Colossians, Philemon by Dennis Hamm, SJ
Hebrews by Scott Hahn and Mary Healy
First and Second Peter, Jude by Daniel Keating
Revelation by Peter S. Williamson
Again, I think this series has the benefit of having contributions from a wide-range of Catholic Biblical scholarship. This can certainly be seen by the large list of endorsements that the series has already garnered.
Thirdly, the series is meant to "serve the ministry of the Word of God in the life and mission of the Church." The goal of the series is to provide "accessible yet substantive commentary" on each book of the New Testament. This certainly is a major need in the Church. Too often Catholic Bible commentaries are either too academic or too devotional. From my experience of using the volumes that have been published so far, this series clearly meets the intended goal.
I also want to say a few things about the volumes themselves. Each volume has considerable introductory material, explaining important issues like authorship, dating, themes, etc... The Biblical text is presented before each section of a given commentary, along with OT and NT cross-references and important references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In addition, there are Bible maps, photographs, as well as illustrations included throughout the work. Overall, the layout is very pleasing to the eyes and easy to navigate.
Also included are helpful sidebars that present historical, literary, and theological information. Many of these sidebars have quotations from the Church Fathers, Church Councils, or the Catechism. Some, however, give further depth and context to the text. For instance, there is an extended sidebar, in 1 Timothy 4, which explains "Athletic Training in Paul's Greek World". It includes an interesting quote from Isocrates (400BC) on athletes.
One last feature I want to point out is the index of pastoral topics found at the end of each volume. Since I work in campus/young adult ministry, I have found this little index to be very helpful. It has topics listed from "apostasy" to "youth", covering a variety of topics which are helpful for anyone in pastoral work.
If you would like to see some excerpts, you can see them on the Catholic Commentary of Sacred Scripture site. I highly recommend picking up these commentaries. They provide a wonderful mix of scholarly and pastoral aids which help to provide greater understanding of the Word of God, which will no doubt foster our daily walk with the Risen Lord!

Monday, April 27, 2009

B16 and the Bible

Courtesy of

Pope Benedict XVI met on April 23 with members of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, which had recently concluded a meeting devoted to discussion of "Inspiration and truth in the Bible." In his address to the group the Holy Father mentioned the three criteria for proper interpretation of the Scriptures, as identified by the teaching of Vatican II: the unity of the Bible; the living tradition of the Church; and "the cohesion of the individual truths of faith, both with one another and with the overall plan of Revelation and the fullness of the divine economy enclosed in that plan." A detached, academic approach is not adequate for understanding the Bible, he stressed; exegetes must read the Scriptures "within the faith of the Church."

When I lead a Bible study, I always spend the first meeting talking about the relationship between the Bible and the Church. The best, and most concise, document that I have found which deals with this is found in the section on Sacred Scripture of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Lately, I have also referred to the foreword of Benedict XVI's Jesus of Nazareth. Here, the Pope emphasizes the importance of the historical-critical method, which he describes as an indispensable tool. Yet, the historical-critical method can never be used alone, but rather must be used in "the unity of the Bible; the living tradition of the Church; and the cohesion of the individual truths of faith, both with one another and with the overall plan of Revelation and the fullness of the divine economy enclosed in that plan."

Friday, April 24, 2009

Catholic Bible Poll at 300+

Well, here are the results as the Catholic Bible Poll reaches over 300 votes. Of course, this poll is in no way scientific, but it may help indicate which translations are being read. Here are the results after 321 votes cast:

1) Revised Standard Version 30% with 95 votes
2) New Revised Standard Version 19% with 62 votes
3) New American Bible 19% with 61 votes
4) Douay-Rheims 13% with 43 votes
5) New Jerusalem Bible 8% with 26 votes
6) Jerusalem Bible 7% with 22 votes
7) Good News Bible 2% with 8 votes
8) Christian Community Bible 1% with 4 votes

So, what do these "results" indicate. Well, the RSV remains the clear favorite. The NRSV jumped into the second spot, overtaking the NAB by one vote. I think the most interesting thing to watch in the future is the back and forth between the NAB and NRSV. The Douay-Rheims remains in the fourth spot, however it continues to garner more votes each time I update the poll. Perhaps more people from the Catholic Answers scripture forum have been stopping by and voting. Another interesting change is that the NJB has retaken fifth place back from its "parent" translation the JB. The GNB and CCB continue to take up the rear.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

More on my choice of the NRSV

Well, with the STB comprehensive exam and my final two graduate classes completed, I now have a lot more time to devote to this blog. Thanks to all of you who have stopped by to check it out from time to time! I always appreciate the feedback. One of my hopes has always been to provide a site where Catholics, and non-Catholics, could talk about the various Bible issues that come up. There doesn't seem to be many Catholic blogs solely devoted to Biblical issues, which I hope will change in the future. So perhaps I can fill in the need until something better comes along.

So, in my last post I explained why I chose the NRSV as my day-to-day Bible. I hope to now provide a few more reasons as to why I made that choice. Before I begin, let me restate that I don't think the NRSV is vastly superior to the other options that I had to choose from, namely the NAB, RSV, NJB, or DR. I tried to follow a basic criteria which was based on my needs for day-to-day use, including ministry work, study, and personal prayer. After evaluating the translation options, it seemed pretty clear that the NRSV was the best choice. Let me explain a few more reasons why:
1) Use in ministry work: I tend to lead on average two young adult/campus Bible studies per week. What this means is that I come into contact with Catholic and Protestant young adults/students who often have different translations. In off-campus Bible studies, which are attended mostly by Catholics, I tend to come into contact with the NAB and RSV-CE. No real surprise there, but it is interesting to note that the two translations are usually evenly represented. When I am doing on-campus Bible study, which is attended by mostly Protestant students although there are always one or two Catholics, the NIV is clearly the translation I come into contact the most. From time to time, however, someone will come to the Bible study with an NASB or ESV. Therefore, I have spent the last few years using different translations at these different Bible studies in order to see which one was the most useful in these settings as a whole. The NRSV was easily the best option. The fact that it is an ecumenical Bible translation, which includes all the Catholic and Orthodox OT, is a major plus. The NRSV is also formal enough to be used to help clarify a particular verse or word during a meeting, if the need arises. The NRSV also contains many textual notes, which is also a major advantage when in a study with different translations being used. I have also found that its translation philosophy is close enough to the RSV and NAB NT, which really helps during the off-campus Bible studies.
2) Future: One of the other things I looked at when deciding which translation to go with was to consider the big picture and see whether or not a particular translation would be around in twenty years. This is, of course, a very difficult task. But with the available options, there again wasn't much of a choice. The NAB would seem to be the best option. In many ways I wanted it to be the NAB, since it is the official translation of the American Church. The fact is, however, that it seems to always be in a state of flux, with new revisions projected to be released, and the uncertainty of Vatican approval always an issue. I think the NAB NT is quite good, but the OT is uneven, soon to be revised, and '91 revised Psalms are not particularly good. I am just unwilling to make a commitment to a translation that seems so uncertain about what it wants to be. The RSV-CE, or really the RSV-2CE, would have been the other choice. However, the RSV-CE, even in its "updating" by Ignatius Press, remains a fifty plus year old translation. Its longevity into the future, in my mind, is uncertain. Plus, there are very few editions or genuine leather covers available. Of course a completed Ignatius Study Bible would help, but its final publication is still unknown. That leaves the NRSV, which has been getting a boost in publishing by HarperCollins, which has even been developing Catholic-specific editions. Also, there are others who publish the NRSV, like Oxford or Cambridge or Hendrikson, who do provide editions of the NRSV with the Deuterocanonical books. Let me also mention that I have noticed more Catholic works, particularly in Bible study, which use the NRSV as the base text. So, at least in my mind, the NRSV has a brighter future.
3) Resources:The NRSV clearly has more resources keyed to it than the NAB or RSV-CE combined. The vast majority of the scholarly books I own, both Catholic and Protestant, refer to the NRSV. (I have even found more spiritual books using the NRSV as well.) I also have a concordance, multiple Bible dictionaries, two interlinears, and other study Bibles that use the NRSV. Even some of the RSV resources can easily be used with the NRSV. So there really is not doubt that the NRSV is superior to the others in this area.
I hope to begin showing some of those resources over the next few weeks.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

More posts soon...

I am in the midst of finals week at the seminary, which has followed on the heels of the STB exam I took two weeks ago. Therefore, my posting this week will be a bit light, as I get caught up on Trinity/Christology and Prophets. But until then, perhaps you would enjoy a humorous video from my favorite movie action hero:

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A choice is made..for now..

...and hopefully for a long time. Well, perhaps until another translation with great potential appears! :) (See, I can always leave the door open just a little!)

Seriously, though, I mentioned in the previous post about struggling with using multiple translations for various uses each day. For example, in any given day I may use the RSV for seminary work, while referring to the NRSV for personal reading, while also hearing the NAB at Mass and reading a different version of the NAB in the Liturgy of the Hours which I pray everyday. That's a lot of translations in my mind. Indeed, I think too many!

I contrast that with the contacts I have made over the past few years in ministry work with Catholics, as well as Protestants, who use just one Bible translation. As a matter of fact, they may only have one edition from which they read. Their Bible, which has clearly been read and loved over many years, is an obvious witness to the relationship which they have developed with the Word. I was reminded of this recently while watching the Catholic program "The Choices We Face" which is produced by Renewal Ministries out of Ann Arbor, Michigan. On the program, Debbie Herbeck, whom I have had the pleasure of talking with on a number of occasions and whom I also invited to speak at last years Young Adult Scripture Conference in Detroit, talks about her conversion to Christianity. One of the great witnesses of Christianity that she encountered was a Catholic girl on her floor at the University of Michigan who had truly devoured her Bible. Through the comments, questions, and prayers that were written in her friends Bible, Debbie was able to encounter someone who was truly in dialogue with the Lord. What a wonderful witness!

Isn't that what I am being called to do as well? I am always amazed at how many comments I get, from Christians and non-Christians, who will come up to me at a place like Panera or Starbucks and ask me a question after seeing that I have a Bible (or 2 or 3) on the table. It reminds me of that often quoted line, attributed to St. Francis, which says: "Preach the Gospel always, when necessary use words." There is certainly some real truth to that quote, which brings me back to the question of having a primary Bible that truly becomes my "companion" Bible. I think it is time to witness, like that college girl at UM, with a well-read primary Bible of my own.

The question then becomes which is the best version to use as my primary Bible? Ah, that perpetually frustrating question that in some ways has no answer. Let it be said that I do not have a firm grasp of Greek or Hebrew. (Although I do know a bit of Latin.) I recognize that knowing the original languages is ideal, but that will have to wait a few years until I can take one of those intensive summer Greek courses.

So, then, what are the choices? Well, as a Catholic it comes down to a few options: NAB, RSV-CE, NRSV-CE, NJB, or DR. Without getting into a full critique of each of these translations, let me just point out a few of my own criteria in determining which translation to go with:

1) I do not want archaic language in my primary Bible. I do not speak with archaic language, nor do I want to see it in the Bible I am going to read every day.

2) I want a translation that can be accepted in both the academic setting, i.e. seminary, as well as in ministry work, like leading Bible studies and prayer groups. It also should be Church approved.

3) I want a translation that can be found in an edition which has the basic essentials which should found in any Bible edition which are IMHO: cross-references, textual notes, and maps. It is also important to have this edition be made of premium leather, not bonded leather which seems to just fall apart over time.

4) I want a translation that has other support materials, like concordances, interlinears, dictionaries, etc..., that are made for it.

5) Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I want a translation that I enjoy reading. One that keeps me engaged with the text, no matter if I am reading the Gospel of Mark or 2 Samuel or Leviticus. Well, Leviticus might be stretching it a bit..... :)

In a perfect world, the NAB would be the choice. It fits a number of the criteria, but since it always seems to be in a state of flux, I just cannot committ to the NAB. I have tried to make the NAB my primary Bible on a couple of occasions, primarily because of the fact that most Catholics use it, but it just never seems to work for me.

My choice is the NRSV. It meets all of the criteria that I established above, and I have an edition of the NRSV which I really like. Is the NRSV perfect? By no means! I do have problems with some of the inclusive language choices, not so much in the "brothers and sisters" renderings, but in the "Son of Man" renderings in Daniel, Ezekiel, Psalms, and Hebrews. However, this is somewhat mediated by the fact that there are textual notes at the bottom of each page that indicate such changes. There are some other minor things that bug me, but that is OK. I think part of the process of choosing a translation as a primary Bible is to accept the odd renderings which you may not like. I also like the maxim which the NRSV Committee follows: "As literal as possible, as free as necessary". That seems to me to be the best way to go. Of course, people could argue how that maxim was followed in the NRSV, but overall I think that is the best way to translate the Sacred Text.

Over the next few weeks, I hope to provide some additional insights as to why I am deciding to go with the NRSV. In particular, I may begin a series of posts which highlight the various study tools that are keyed into the NRSV translation.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Is it good to use different Bibles?

This thought came to my mind as I read the fine post and responses at Better Bibles Blog concerning the question of best uses for different Bible versions. While I certainly recognize the need to have different translations, knowing that none is perfect, I wonder if it is good to use a particular Bible for prayer and reading, while another for study, and yet another as an all-purpose Bible. I am really not sure what the answer is to this question. Ideally, it would be best to utilize one Bible translation for prayer, daily reading, study, and ministry work, however is this realistic?

I know that this is an issue that I have struggled with for a number of years. Perhaps this is why I tend to oscillate between two or three translations over a given period of time. (Although I think I may have decided on one version, which I plan to talk about in a future post.) If a person constantly changes or refers to different translations on a regular basis doesn't this in a way hinder that person's interiorization and memorization of the Sacred Text? Hmmm......

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter!

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
-Luke 24:13-35

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Holy Triduum

So when he had washed their feet and put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them, "Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me 'teacher' and 'master,' and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do."
- John 13:12-15

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Some Recommendations on Revelation?

Well, with my STB examination firmly behind me, it is now time to look forward! One of the things I have coming up is a 6 week introductory Bible study for young adults on the Book of Revelation that I will be leading starting in mid-May. So, as I begin preparing to lead this study, I thought I might request any recommended commentaries that may prove to be helpful. So, what can you recommend?

We are going to use the Loyola Press Six Weeks with the Bible study on Revelation: God's Gift of Hope. I am using this study since it seems to be a good introduction to the main parts of Revelation. It doesn't go too overboard with technical language and interpretation, but it does provide a reasonable amount of depth for the beginner to the more experienced.

Below is a list of other commentaries that I own and plan to consult:

Breaking the Code - Metzger
IBS: Revelation - Pender
Coming Soon - Barber
Collegeville Commentary: Revelation - Cory

I should also mention that I do own various one-volume commentaries on the Bible, including the Navarre and New Jerome Biblical Commentary.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Holy Week Begins!

‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
-Mark 11:9-10

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Anniversary of JPII's Death

John Paul II will always be remembered, by me, with great affection. I know that the work I do now and the life I live has been formed by the words and witness of John Paul II. Even though I never met him, he was one of the first to truly introduce me to the love of Christ. Thank you Lord Jesus for the life and dedication of your servant Karol Wojtyla.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Flash Drive Bibles

So, I received an email alerting me to a new product which ACTA Publications is selling. They are calling it the God on the Go flash drive. It comes in two different editions, one is the NAB New Testament (with notes) and the second is the NRSV (without Deuterocanonicals). I don't know much else about this product, but I thought I would let you know about its existence. There is additional information about the product's producer, Soul-Centered Enterprises, on its site. The site states: "We are proud of our affiliation with both the Archdiocese of Chicago and Mobile Gabriel." There is also a short video about the product which can be viewed here.

This is the first I have heard of ACTA Publications, although they say:
"ACTA Publications began in 1957 as a publisher of books and audio/video resources for the Catholic market. It has since broadened its editorial scope to include a wide variety of materials for those attempting to live out the Christian faith in their daily lives, on their jobs, with their families, and in their communities. While some of ACTA's material is specifically Catholic in nature, most of the company's products are aimed at a broadly ecumenical audience."
So, if you are looking for a flash drive Catholic Bible, then you might want to check out this product.