Thursday, November 3, 2011

New NABRE Responses

Thanks again to Mary Sperry for taking the time to respond to these questions:

1. I know that the process of Bible translation is often an ongoing process. Are there any plans for either minor revisions or major revisions of the NAB/NABRE or its notes in the coming few years?
At present, nothing has been firmly determined. I would expect that a plan for the future will be developed in 2012.

2. A number of readers have noted that since the NAB NT notes quote the older NAB OT, they no longer are in harmony with the NABRE OT. (For example, the note to Matthew 24:15 now misquotes Daniel 12:11). Are there any plans to make at least minor updates to the NAB NT notes so they refer to the NABRE text?
While these updates seem minor, they would require complete reprinting (and likely some resetting) by the publishers. As such, they are unlikely to take place in the near future.

3. When will the revised edition of the Textual Notes on the New American Bible (promised in the NABRE introduction) appear?
We are hoping to post them on the USCCB website soon. There are two reasons for the delay: 1) We are still working out major bugs in the principal elements of the site. 2) The files of the textual notes are in a somewhat outdated computer program which we need to convert to make sure that the symbols and diacritical markings are retained. Obviously, that’s not a task we can hand off to a temp. Realistically, I’m hoping for early 2012. In addition, the Catholic Biblical Association will be offering a print edition for people who want a copy for their bookshelves.

4. Were the cross-references in the NABRE substantially revised from the NAB OT cross-references?
Yes, they are far more extensive.

5. Some readers have concerns that the cross-references in the NAB are not very extensive. Are licensed publishers permitted to integrate more extensive cross-references in an edition, or are they contractually limited to only use the existing NAB/NABRE cross-references?
Usually, the complaint I hear is the opposite: that the NAB helps are far too extensive! That being said, publishers may, if they wish, add to these materials as long as they are distinguished rom what comes as part of the “official” NABRE.

6. The decision was made to not use traditional Catholic phrasing in places such as Luke 1:28 and Isaiah 7:14. Is there a chance of an update rectifying these problems?
It is unlikely that either of these will change soon as they are accurate renderings of the underlying Greek and Hebrew, respectively. Though I am aware of debates about translating the Greek of Luke 1, I am far more knowledgeable about Isaiah 7:14 as I was in the office for most of the translation process on the OT. (During the NT translation, I was in high school and college and blissfully unaware of how heated translation debates can become!) In the case of Isaiah 7:14, the Hebrew word “almah” is accurately translated as “young woman.” Hebrew has a different word for “virgin” (“bethulah”) which Isaiah uses in 62:5. The NABRE uses different renderings following different Hebrew words in the original.

Are there any plans for an update of the New Testament?
Not at present.

8. If so, try to add "full of grace" somewhere, and please, please don't go the way of many other translations and add more "inclusive" language.
If the NT is updated (a multi-year process at best), I would expect (and this is just my informed opinion based on the OT translation experience) that “full of grace” would likely appear (at least) in a note as an alternative reading. Any revised translation will strive to preserve the distinctions made in the original between gender-specific group nouns and gender-inclusive group nouns to the extent possible given modern English’s lack of a human yet gender-neutral third person singular pronoun.

9. Along these lines, is there any chance the Bible will be brought in to conformity with the liturgy?
Translations of Scripture follow different rules than do liturgical translations. Bible translators are called upon to translate the best available critical editions of the original texts. Liturgiam authenticam sets out different standards that are, in some cases (most sepcifically the reliance on the Nova Vulgata), in conflict with the Bible translation directions established by Pope Pius XII in Divino Afflate Spiritu in 1942.

10. Is there a set schedule for review and revision of the text and notes?
No. The bishops of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine consult with a board of scholars to determine when a review and/or revision is needed.

11. If there is an update of the notes, is there any chance the tone will be substantially altered, rejecting at least the wholesale preaching as a foregone assumption the debated two-source Q-theory in the gospels? Or even a move to bring the notes back in to (greater) continuity with the sacred Tradition of the Church?
I would have to disagree with the underlying assumption of this question. Among other things, the NABRE introduction to the Gospel of Matthew clearly identifies the Two-Source theory as “The one now favored by the majority of scholars.” In addition, the notes are part of the canonical review.

12. Many people do not like the NAB notes, finding them far too critical/skeptical and in discontinuity with sacred tradition (cf. the Holy Father's comments on the proper use of the historical-critical method, esp. those found in the prologue of "Jesus of Nazareth"), but can't find an edition of the NAB with different ones. Is there any way that different notes could be included, as long as they received imprimatur and were licensed, as the myriad commentaries and annotations that can be found in many different versions of the RSV? The "New Catholic Answer Bible" already has inserts that amount to essentially additional theological annotation, granted a separate imprimatur from the Bible itself.
No. The NABRE notes are a constitutive part of the text and cannot be eliminated apart from very special circumstances (most notably parallel Bibles and audio Bibles). The notes are part of the text as reviewed for the approval to publish.

13. Some publishers have gone half-way to having end-notes, but this is not a satisfactory solution to the "note problem", as one ends up with what amounts to a text edition.
Permission to move to end notes is granted rarely and will become even more rare in the future as it tends, effectively, to eliminate the notes.

14. The note of Matthew 19:13-15 comment of an understanding of some scholars who think of that passage of the Bible as a justification for the practice of infant baptism. I would be important to me to know more about that, and I want to know where I can find more information.
I would recommend a good commentary on the Gospel of Matthew.

15. Will the NT be revised to reflect the Lectionary, i.e., "hail full of grace", "Christ" rather than "Messiah", etc.
Answered above, #9.

16. It would also be nice if the footnotes and commentary could be revised to show less of a critical stance, and more of a faith based POV. Perhaps develope two sets of footnotes: one for editions marketed to history buffs, and one for editions for the average Catholic that inspire faith rather than put cracks in it.
Preparing a second set of notes is certainly a possibility. While any notes will, of course, reflect the best available biblical scholarship, there are reasonable concerns that the present notes presume a theological sophistication that may not be widely present. The language used in many of the notes is hard for many NABRE readers to understand, limiting the utility of these resources.

17. How were the footnotes and commentaries in the NABRE formulated? I'm just curious as to the whole process all the annotations had to go through. I'm wondering whether there are any parallels with the story of the new Mass translation.
I can’t speak to the process of the new Mass translation beyond the requirements of liturgical law. The canons require separate paths for approval for Bible translations and liturgical translations. Liturgical translations must be approved by a two-thirds majority of the bishops of an episcopal conference and confirmed by the Holy See’s Congregation for Divine Worship. A Bible translation must be approved by either the Holy See or the conference of bishops. In practice, the Holy See tends to refer such approvals to the local conference. The USCCB established a process for such approval in the late 1980s. This process was applied to the OT revision. In accord with that policy, any revision of the NAB is reviewed by the Subcommittee on Scripture Translations and proposed to the Administrative Committee which is asked to recommend that the Conference President approve its publication. Other Bible translations need not be presented to the Administrative Committee.

Now, as to the more specific question of the introductions and notes: These materials are developed in the same way as the rest of the translation. The editorial board identifies possible translators who are approved by at least the chairman of the bishops’ subcommittee. Those translators who agree to undertake the task create the translation and accompanying materials using the best available critical edition (noting any especially significant alternative readings). When submitted, the translator’s work includes the text plus an introduction, notes, and textual notes. That work is reviewed by an editor who engages in dialogue with the translator as necessary. The editor then presents the book to a group of editors who make comments and changes. Ultimately, each book is presented to the full editorial board for final review and comment. Then the text is submitted to the Subcommittee on Scripture Translations. The subcommittee assigns one or two censors to each book. Each censor submits comments, queries, and recommended changes to the subcommittee. The subcommittee reviews these recommendations and passes some of them on to the editorial board for further consideration. To clarify, the censors and the subcommittee review the notes and and the introductions as well as the text. The subcommittee and the editorial board then discuss the suggested changes until all parties are in agreement. Only then does the full text move to the Administrative Committee for a vote. (And yes, that takes as long as it sounds!)

18. Also, is a Catholic required to believe in the verbal inerrancy of Sacred Scripture?
Catholics are not required to believe in plenary verbal inerrancy. I would refer you to the excellent resources from the Pontifical Biblical Commision: On the Historicity of the Gospels and The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church

19. Why is there no Imprimatur or Nihil Obstat for the NABRE OT? Is this forthcoming?
According to the canonists, the canonical rescript replaces the imprimatur. As I am not a canonist, I cannot explain this in any further detail.

20. Why is the Imprimatur for the 1991 Psalms listed at the beginning of the NABRE?
That’s actually an error caused by a contractual inconsistency. Hopefully, it will be corrected on reprints.

21. How many years can we expect to see the modified 1991 NAB Psalms in the liturgy instead of the Revised Grail Psalter?

Has the format and approval process to integrate the NABRE OT into the Lectionary began yet (or is this on a tentative back-burner?)

Has the format and approval process to integrate the NABRE OT and NT into the Breviary began yet (or is this on a tentative back-burner?)
I put all these questions together because they have the same answer. That decision rests with the Bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship. Of course, the Confraternity will ensure that they have access to the text files if they would find them helpful.

22. Are there any future plans at this time for a more literal and/or traditional english Bible translation that meets the requirements for Liturgiam Authenticam or is it the general concensus of the USCCB that the NABRE can stand indefinitly?
Answered above, see #9.

23. The NABRE website is a big improvement over the old NAB website! It's really nice! The only issue I've run into is that it isn't as easy to hyperlink directly to a notes as it was with the old website. Do you have any advice about how to do that?
If you can explain exactly what you want to do, I’ll pass that on to the developers and see what’s possible. (I know even less about web design than I do about canon law.)

24. Who is the intended audience of the NABRE notes? Several commenters on this blog have noticed that the notes are sometimes pretty academic and might be unclear to anyone without a college-level understanding of Biblical scholarship. For instance the note at Job 13:15 says, "Many translations adopt the Ketib reading, “I have no hope.”" The term "Ketib" doesn't appear anywhere else in the NABRE and is left unexplained. It seems that the note assumes that the reader knows Hebrew spelling and the quirks of the Masoretic text, which most people do not.
See the response to #16 above.

25. Now that the NABRE is complete what is going to happen to all the translators/editors? What are they currently working on?
Some of the translators and editors have passed from this life. (In this month of All Souls, prayers would be most appreciated.) Some have retired. (Keep in mind that this revision project began in 1992.) The majority continue teaching and writing at universities and seminaries in the US and around the world. If you Google their names, you can catch up with most of them.

26. Was there an effort to de-emphasize marriage in the revised Song of Songs? For instance the introductory essay now reads: "It represents an inspired portray of ideal human love, a resounding affirmation of the goodness of human sexuality that is applicable to the sacredness and the depth of marriage." In the original NAB this was two sentences that read: "While the Song is thus commonly understood by most Catholic scholars, it is also possible to see in it an inspired portrayal of ideal human love. Here we would have from God a description of the sacredness and the depth of married union." Also, the speakers are identified as "W", "M", and "D" (Woman, Man, and Daughters of Jerusalem) in the NABRE, but they were "B", "G", and "D" (Bride, Groom, and Daughters of Jerusalem) in the NAB. Another example of this is the way that the note to Song 4:12 was revised, where "Lover" was "Bridegroom" and "fruitful, committed relationship" was "fidelity".

I don't read the Song of Solomon, but this is ridiculous. It's already too pornographic as is: the only thing that saves it is a very strong metaphorical interpretation, and it looks like it's getting less metaphorical by the minute.

I wonder if it has anything to do with the newish train in Catholic thought that says, "Celibacy is not inherently better than the alternative, just a different vocation", compared to the older, traditional, Patristic, "celibacy is a higher calling than marriage".

And even the marital overtones are being lost! The above poster certainly seems justified after a glance at the Song of Solomon in my NABRE - it's starting to sound a lot more "significant other"-ish instead of Bride of Christ-ish or even the Sacrament of Matrimony-al.

What's next, the Catholic Church saying, "the spread of fornication is inevitable, we must justify it" like other denominations (when they said, "birth control is on the rise, so we better accommodate it or lose parishioners"). I love the Catholic Church as a bastion against such relativism, as a staunch defender of the natural law morality!

Since this whole comment deals with Song of Songs, I thought I’d handle it in a single response. First, the marginal notes identifying the speakers are not part of the Hebrew text. They were added in a later Greek recension. The revised text follows the Hebrew very closely. The Hebrew text most commonly describes the speakers as lovers or beloveds. (Some translations use “darling” which I personally find a bit cloying in modern English.)

I must, however, strongly object to the statement that the Song of Songs is pornographic. Pornography is typically defined as work that has no meaning or value apart from its ability to arouse. To characterize a book of the Bible as pornographic would seem to cast aspersions on the Church’s decision to include this book in the canon of Scripture by saying is has no theological import.

Without question, the language of Song of Songs is graphic and erotic. (In some places, the Hebrew is even more graphic than the English rendering. The revisers were careful to avoid vulgarity here and in other places.) However, the language does speak to the fact that human sexuality is a gift of God which has great value and, as such, deserves appropriate expression. The text can be read metaphorically. You may wish to read Bernard of Clairvaux’s commentary which is probably the landmark metaphorical reading of the text.

I would dispute that the revised text downplays marriage. The marital imagery is mentioned frequently in the introduction and the text includes many references to the faithful, committed, and fruitful union that is marriage.

27. I'm curious if the notes on St. Paul's letters, especially Romans, will reflect any development in that area given all the recent focus on what Paul meant by "law" and "works".
Any future revision of the NABRE will reflect the best available scholarship on the text.

28. Has the Confraternity given thought to proposing to the Canadian bishops to take the NABRE for their Lectionary instead of the NRSV? Or the UK bishops?
As a matter of course, the Confraternity does not propose, though we stand ready to respond to any queries or requests from episcopal conferences.

29. An Anglicianised version would be nice.
Such an edition is being prepared by Pauline Publications Africa for distribution in Africa. This edition will be accompanied by introductions and notes commissioned by the Kenyan Episcopal Conference to situate the scriptural text in the African context.

30. I did find much of the American country-bumpkin vernacular in the original NAB to be terrible (such as "dilly-dally" in the Binding of Isaac), but it seems most has been removed in the NABRE (of which the OT still has a lion's share of problems, but at least not that one, which made the Bible read like it took place in Tennessee instead of the Near East).
I’m not sure what text you are reading, but the NAB translation of Genesis 22 does not use the word “dilly-dally.” You may be thinking of the word “yonder” which is a viable English word, though no longer in frequent usage. Just another sign of how language changes over time.

I want to thank Tim for the opportunity to respond to these question and thank you all for your excellent questions and for your obvious love of God’s Holy Word.


Theophrastus said...

I would like to thank Mary Sperry for her patient replies to the questions. I found the comments (particularly about the the publication of the Textual Notes, the possibility of an alternative set of notes, and the phasing out of end notes) to be fascinating.

However, the 1970 NAB does contain "dilly-dally" at Genesis 43:10:

Had we not dilly-dallied, we could have been there and back twice by now!

Mary Elizabeth Sperry said...

I'll be honest. I only reviewed the Binding of Isaac. I didn't search the whole NAB (or even all of Genesis) for dilly-dally. In the NABRE, that is rendered "delay."

Diakonos said...

Thanks to Mary and to Timothy for this post. "Theological sophistication" is used to explain the notes of the NAB?NABRE? Geeze then how do you explain +-clergy and university professors who can be found among those who are anti-NAB/NABRE notes?

I for one cannot wait for the African Anglicized edition which condsidering its source should be an excellent edition with solid notes.

Chrysostom said...

Thank you very much for your time; it has been most illuminating, even if I respectfully disagree with some of the positions taken.

Chrysostom said...

Also, I was actually complimenting the NABRE on removing some of the more jarring vernacular (I used "dilly-dally" as an example, but I misremembered the passage it occurred in: indeed, it was Gen 43:10), and, overall, obtaining a much more dignified prose than the NAB OT.

Jonny said...

I must say I am pleased with the changes I have seen in the NABRE, but I still cannot make this my primary Bible for devotion and study. Don't get me wrong, I do see the advantages of having a translation that is easier to read, understand, and publicly proclaim (sort of like a Catholic equivalent to the NIV, if you will excuse the bad analogy), even if the translation style is more dynamic than some of the more formal ones.

But what I hear over and over from Catholics who love the Scriptures, is that they want a Traditional Catholic translation with Traditional Catholic notes. But yes, that is available now, it is called the Haydock Douay Rheims Bible, and it is massively wonderful (yet portable enough to take a Bible study.) For those who have not the time or patience to get a grasp on the older English in this edition, the next closest type of thing is the Ignatius RSV-2CE Study Bible (not yet completed.) But even here, still, I struggle within the spectrum of not always traditional interpretations included in some of the notes (like the NABRE.)

I particularly have difficulty in seeing the notion that the stories in Genesis are adaptations of fictitious pagan folklore (and further tainted by the erroneous presumption that the earth looks like a giant snow globe sitting on a coaster.) I have always viewed the stories in Genesis to be derived from a combination of handed down tradition and Divine Revelation. I have always seen the actual scientific round earth surrounded by atmosphere and outer space in the description of creation in Genesis chapter one. If this was not given by Divine Revelation, why would the author describe the light as being created before the sun (as if he did not realize it gets dark at sunset?) I do not even see the story of creation in Genesis in chapter 1 and the story of the creation of Eden in chapter 2 to be irreconcilable. Is it not well within the realm of possibility that these stories resemble the prehistoric stories of other peoples because they are true!? If man originated from one man and one woman, what else would it be that they passed on to their children (and please don't say monkey grunts.)

I personally am not holding my breath in seeing any official Bible from a conference of Bishops that is going to hold a candle to the Haydock Douay Rheims Bible. I do expect that there will eventually be an official Hebrew/Greek/Latin norm Biblical text with notes in Latin, mandated by the Holy See for conformity in all Bible translations for private study and liturgy in every language of the world, but I don't expect to see it in my lifetime. Here, translations could be made from the original languages, but the official Latin interpretation would serve as the guideline, and the notes would help explain the meanings of difficult passages in light of the historic cultures and the Magesterium.

Leonardo said...


I like the NABRE, which at least, suggest the different points of view of scholars.

I was expecting the names of other scholars, so I can learn why the phrase "Let the children com to me..." appears in the same way in Mathew, Mark and Luke, as an insertion, and gives the impression that the children are the ones who want to be close to Jesus, but the reading says of the fathers who bring them to Jesus.

We in the catholic church practice the baptism as the people of Israel practiced the circumcision in the Bible, when a name was provided.

We are catholic as the Jews were Jews, thous the different parties, views, problems inside the communities.

Francesco said...

I would like to echo those before me who thanked Mary for answering more of our questions!

I think I've figured out how to link to individual notes & verses directly to the USCCB website. Not only each verse, but each note seems to have its own hyperlink that can be accessed from the outside. They seem to follow this format:<2-digit number for each book><3-digit number for each chapter><3-digit number for each verse>-<1-digit note number>

I assume that there are no verses with more than 9 notes!

So a hyperlink to the note to Gen 1:1 would point use the following target:

Interestingly links to cross-references are more complicated because you need to know the letter that the NABRE uses to identify it. The cross reverences for that verse are found at:

There also seems to have been a re-labeling of the cross-references. Do they re-start at "a" every chapter now in the print editions as well as the online version? For instance, the cross-reference at Mt 2:2 in my NABs pick up at "m" because the last cross-reference in Mt 1 is "l". But online and on my Kindle NABRE that note is marked "a".