Friday, November 16, 2012

Longenecker on Bible Translation

Fr. Dwight Longenecker, whose book Catholicism Pure and Simple I recommended recently, penned at short essay back in 2003 entitled "How to Choose a Bible" for the UK charismatic magazine Goodnews.  In it, he recommends the NJB:

Recently so many further updates and revisions have come out that it is difficult to keep track of them all. The New Jerusalem Bible is the most up to date, scholarly Catholic version. Other new versions or updates are The New Revised Standard, The New King James Version and the New American Standard Version. Many of the newest 'translations' attempt to 'correct' gender-biased mistakes in the Bible and are therefore biased in their own way as they attempt to be politically correct. Other new translations like the Ignatius Study Bible try to correct the 'liberal' slant with their own more conservative stance. This one as yet has only produced individual books of the bible and not the whole thing, although this will be the final goal.There are still more versions that offer varied presentations of the older translations. These are often abridged or adapted versions to make the Bible more attractive to a particular set of readers or have notes for young people or some particular category. One very accessible down to earth bible that has become popular in recent years, which a fellow parishoner drew my attention to, is the Community Bible which comes out of the lived experience of the basic Christian communities in Latin America. As might be expected while not of the highest scholarship it has very useful pastorally oriented footnotes.

I can hear you thinking, why doesn't he cut through all that and simply recommend a Bible version? Okay. Go for The New Jerusalem Bible. Get as good a one as you can, and by 'good' I don't mean fancy leather covers or giltedged pages. Invest in a solid, hardback edition with lots of study notes. It may cost thirty pounds or so, but it will be a treasure trove forever. It will be readable and clear, and the study notes will keep you awake looking up fascinating details and digging out interesting tidbits from the cross references.

Of course, this was written for a British audience almost ten years ago.  I wonder if he feels the same about the NJB today?  I also enjoy his advise about getting a solid hardback edition.  Something to consider!


Diakonos said...

I would love to know what Fr. Longendecker, whose writings I veru much admirem thnks about translations today in 2012. I was surprised he recommended the NJB and praised the CCB... would have put all my money on him recommending the RSV-CE (original or 2). I wonder if he reads this blog? If so tell us what you think today, Father.

Thom said...

Yay NJB! Good to hear.

stitchinrose said...

I try to always buy a good hardback edition, why, because I always put my bibles in a cover to protect them, they last much longer this way. Maybe you could send him an email and ask him which bible he would recommend, maybe he could do a guest article, would be interesting to hear what he thinks now.

Matt said...

I had high hopes for the Christian Community Bible until I bought one. The notes are faith-oriented but frankly many are disgusting and anti-Catholic. There are decent and good examples mixed in. However, the NAB notes, as bad as they are, do not contain nearly as much error and downright distaste for the Catholic tradition as the CCB.

I really enjoy the NJB translation. The Saints Devotional NJB is one of my favorites. While I'm a moderate on these issues generally, I do think the CCBs should be gathered and burned.

Biblical Catholic said...

That doesn't surprise me, the New Jerusalem is the most popular modern translation in the Catholic English speaking world outside the United States....but as those countries begin to move to the new lectionary using the English Standard Version I wonder if that will remain the case....if Crossway authorized a Catholic Edition of the ESV, I bet it would become the most popular Catholic Bible very quickly.

Leonardo said...


There is a "Nueva Biblia de Jerusalén Latinoamericana"

which I bought the last month. Some years ago, I read another pastoral version of the NBJ (Nueva Biblia de Jerusalén Edición Pastoral), which I really liked. This new version is very nice in its materials, the size of the text, and the overall format. But the originally "Nueva Biblia de Jerusalén" is not easy to read in a fluent way.

I read some parts of the NABRE and I liked it. I din't find its comments out of a catholic view, and for an average reader like me, I consider it part of my education.

Jason Engel said...

An NJB study Bible would be a good addition to your library, though I tend to think it's handy to have a couple such books available because no single study Bible can contain all possible perspectives.

I am somewhat amazed and left wondering why Catholics would want to use the ESV, considering Crossway is about as anti-Catholic as you can get without affecting the sales of their evangelical Protestant material. For example, of all the books the currently publish, only one is about Catholicism, and it's a criticism. I live a short drive from their main office in Wheaton, IL, and the evangelical Wheaton College with whom they are closely associated. One of the two churches I regularly attend has a lot of people with close ties to both of those organizations, and have personally witnessed anti-Catholicism from several of those people. So, yeah, I just don't understand why the ESV is becoming popular with Catholics given that situation.

Timothy said...


I share your concerns about the ESV. Do we really know whether the Bishops are obtaining the rights to adapt it from Crossway or Oxford, who published it with the Apocrypha? What will this adapted ESV look like? Will there ever be a printed ESV-CE? We assume so, but I am not certain as of yet. And yes, a number of the more prominent proponents of the ESV tend to be anti-Catholic, most notably John MacArthur.

Biblical Catholic said...

It is my understanding that part of the agreement for using the ESV in the lectionary is that they will be allowed to publish their revised version as a 'Catholic Edition' in 2014....this was a part of the original announcement that everyone seems to have missed.

Further, estimates vary depending upon whom you are reading, but somewhere between 90 and 95% of the ESV is identical to the text of the 1971 RSV. Some have said as much as 98% of the RSV text remains unaltered.

Moreover, when you make the comparisons, you see that the kinds of changes they made to the RSV are really quite minor, they did stuff like changing 'myself' to 'me', changing 'unto' to 'onto' and changing 'shall' to 'will' that sort of them...really penny ante stuff.....honestly, I'm actually quite skeptical of the claim that the ESV is even a translation. Based on my own analysis and comparison of the text of the ESV with the RSV, I think all they did was say 'get rid of all the thees and thous and polish it up a bit'.....

I mean...they first got permission for the revision in 1997, then began work in 1998, and it was published in 2001.

Can you translate the entire Bible from scratch in a mere three years? I don't think you can, at the very least it can't be done competently that quickly.

And the fact that Crossway has never publicly released the names of the 'translators' (the names of the committee are, we are told in a note at the beginning of the ESV 'available upon request'....why does one need to make a special request? This is very odd.)

Moreover, reading the marginal notes in the ESV, it is clear that at least some of the people responsible for making the revisions did not know the Biblical languages, as they make 'corrections' to the RSV notes which actually introduce errors.

Crossway's claims to the contrary, I don't think the ESV is anything more than a spit polish made to the 1971 RSV done by people who were either unable to unwilling to refer to the original Biblical languages.

And I've read through the ESV at least 3 times cover to cover, and in my opinion there is nothing in it that a Catholic can reasonably object to....Crossway may very well be an anti-Catholic company, the translation however is fairly innocuous.

ThisVivian said...

Biblical Catholic is correct, and for this reason: the circumstances of a translation, or of any argument, are not affected by the men who put it forth, but only by the quality of the finished work.

The most anti-Romish-Papist fundamentalist can put forth a good argument: its truth is not affected by the man setting it forth. (One could count this under either argumentum ad hominem or an inverted argumentum ad auctoritas.)

John MacArthur and R Albert Mohler have some very worthwhile things to say. (I've not found it to be so much the case with RC Sproul.) One can evaluate their arguments and statements on their own merit, ideally forgetting from whence they came.

If the ESV was released in a decent edition, even with the Apocrypha in the back (it was in the back in the "ecumenical" 1977 Expanded Apocrypha NOAB RSV), let alone a proper Catholic edition, I believe it could become the standard English version, and, of all modern versions, I believe none but the NKJV and NASB are more worthy.

(My original comment on reading this article was, "I started out with [for use as my main Bible; I have used several translations throughout most of the below list, and is why translations like NASB do not make it] the NJPS for a short while [before my conversion to Christianity], then the NRSV, then to the NJB for a short while, then to the RSV-*/ESV series for another short while, then to the NKJV and ESV, then to the DRC and KJV - working almost precisely in reverse.)

losabio said...

I love the JB, you guys. Check out Psalm 8 between NJB and OJB.

1 Yahweh our Lord, how majestic is your name throughout the world! Whoever keeps singing of your majesty higher than the heavens, 2 even through the mouths of children, or of babes in arms, you make him a fortress, firm against your foes, to subdue the enemy and the rebel. 3 I look up at your heavens, shaped by your fingers, at the moon and the stars you set firm— 4 what are human beings that you spare a thought for them, or the child of Adam that you care for him? 5 Yet you have made him little less than a god, you have crowned him with glory and beauty, 6 made him lord of the works of your hands, put all things under his feet, 7 sheep and cattle, all of them, and even the wild beasts, 8 birds in the sky, fish in the sea, when he makes his way across the ocean. 9 Yahweh our Lord, how majestic your name throughout the world!

The New Jerusalem Bible. 1985 (Ps 8:1–9). New York: Doubleday.

(Old) Jerusalem Bible

Psalm 8

Yahweh, our Lord,
how great your name throughout the earth!

Above the heavens is your majesty chanted
by the mouths of children, babes in arms.
You set your stronghold firm against your foes
to subdue enemies and rebels.

I look up at your heavens, made by your fingers,
at the moon and stars you set in place --
ah, what is man that you should spare a thought for him,
the son of man that you should care for him?

Yet you have made him little less than a god,
you have crowned him with glory and splendour,
made him lord over the work of your hands,
set all things under his feet,

sheep and oxen, all these,
yes, wild animals too,
birds in the air, fish in the sea,
travelling the paths of the ocean.

Yahweh, our Lord,
how great your name throughout the earth!

Biblical Catholic said...

I think the NJB does an exceptionally good job handling 'inclusive language' issues, much better than any translation made since frankly...and it avoids horrible things like the endless use of the word 'mortals' in the NAB and NRSV....or the NRSV's atrocious translation of John 2:24.....

Anonymous said...

I think his recommendation for a hardback edition was specifically for the NJB instead of a general statement of preference because only the NJB hardback has all the study note to which he refers.

Most translations translates some passage better then all the rest, so choosing a translation based on how it renders one particular passage is not a great method, in my opinion.

I like the NJB, but it I don't particularly care for the use of "Yahweh" instead of Lord and I don't like it's use of "corn" instead of "wheat" or "grain" throughout the bible (I don't think corn was introduced to that part of the world until Christopher Columbus brought it back from the Americas). If not for complaints like these, I'd probably use it more often than just devotional use with my Saints Devotional Edition.

Could the NJB be improved? Yes (see above), but it's still a solid translation worthy of trying.

Michael P.

ThisVivian said...

I don't like the NJB's regendered language, but, I will happily admit, it does it as well as can possibly be done, with few exceptions, insofar as regendered language can be done well (it can not), if it is demanded that a translation have such.

A much, much better job than the NRSV. (The NRSV did a much better job than the 1991 NAB Psalms, too, and the 1991 NAB Psalms did a much better job than "The Inclusive Bible".) The problem behind door number one is, with the exception of the less-egregious regendering, the NRSV is quite (in the American sense) superior as a translation as can possibly be, with few exceptions. (Going for a chiasm there, and failing.)

Diakonos said...

Not a real big deal but I don't care for the choice of "community" instead of "church" in the NJB in Mt 16 when Simon is renamed Peter. I had read somewhere that in Matthew "church" has a role unique among the synoptics and that this verse is one of the rare instances of Jesus using this word. Also, where does the NJB stand now in the eyes of the Church since B16 proscribed the use of Yahweh? I am asking all this because I have a chance to score a decent NJB edition with all the notes but if its now out of favor I don't want to spend the money.

Biblical Catholic said...

There is currently in production a third edition of the Jerusalem is currently called 'The Bible and its Traditions' (I really hope they come up with a better name than that by the time it is published) who know how long it will be before it is published, if you go to the website you will see that they are advertising for translators....which seems a little odd, and indeed, not just odd, but amateurish.....but I guess they don't have much choice, there is no 'Jerusalem Bible committee' and they really have no other way to recruit translators because the translation is not owned by a Church or religious order but is really more of a vanity project.....and the previous two editions were equally amateurish productions, unfortunately. Indeed, it is clear that parts of the original Jerusalem Bible were translated directly from the French by someone who was either unwilling or unable to read the Biblical languages. Frankly, it is a little amazing that the first two editions were ever printed at all.

ThisVivian said...

Diakonos: I believe the NJB has been out of favour for quite a while, between the regendered language and use of "Yahweh". The Original Jerusalem Bible when recently reprinted, according to this blog, had "Yahweh" subbed out for "the LORD".

However, whether it's in favor or not, if you've never read the NJB, I'd still buy one. It has some interesting turns of phrase, and the notes are similar to the NAB, but they are quite a bit less antagonistic to the faith and there are quite a few less of them. The main reason one should buy it, though, is for the layout. The layout is one of the three or four best ever used in a Bible, along with the OJB (which is identical), the Old Cambridge Paragraph Bible, the Clarion, the hardback NEB, and the Confraternity (the New Cambridge Paragraph Bible comes in a distant whatever-eth due to the overlong paragraphs).

Remember that only the hardcover edition comes with notes, and that you shouldn't spend more than $15-20 at most on a very good, pretty-much-to-completely-unmarked copy of it, because that's what one goes for on Amazon. (The Salvador Dali NJB goes for quite a bit more, in the $100+ range.)

Biblical Catholic: I'll have to see if they'll let me send in my manuscripts of the "Revised Catholic Bible" and have them call it the "Revised New Jerusalem".

And, you mean the Psalms, right? Because those sure as Hell weren't translated out of Hebrew.

Zenkai said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ThisVivian said...


Get a Bible bound in Calfskin (not calf split/top grain), Goatskin, or Highland Goatskin, and, even better, with a yapped or semi-yapped cover, and you'll find the Bible's cover is, well, its cover itself.

(And they feel really nice in the hand, lay open flat, last forever - I'm talking decades upon decades upon decades if read regularly and not stored improperly, unlike bonded leather, which disintegrates - and are probably an occasion for pridefulness.)