Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Guest Post: The NABRE: A Masterpiece in the Making?

A Review of and Prediction for the New American Bible, Revised Edition

When you walk up to it where it currently stands on display in the Art Institute of Chicago, it is the amazing color that strikes you. Not so much vivid as they are ordinary, the realism of the tones (as they dance between the shades and sunlight upon the subjects pictured) make you wonder how the artist mixed and developed the colors he used and made sure they would not lose their effect due to the brushstrokes he employed.

But as you walk closer and closer to the painting, the colors begin to wash away. Then the shapes begin to lose their integrity, and when you find yourself standing right before the painting you realize that there are neither brush strokes nor any of the colors you saw from afar. Nothing but a network of dots of primary colors swimming in what appear to be a structure of nonsense stands before your nose. It was all an illusion—a powerful combination of science and imagination. A masterpiece.

The work, of course, is George Seurat’s famous impressionist piece, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” It is an amazing example of pointillism, a technique which employs the use of small dots of tones that, when viewed from afar merge together in the brain to form images and colors, much like a newspaper photograph or the screenshot on a television are composed of minute specs of color and light.

Seurat’s work is so well done that one might find it hard to imagine how rejected it originally was. Many were outspoken on both the technique and the result when it was presented in the mid-1880s. Critics sneered at it and compared its graceful poses to stiff “tin soldiers.” So depressed by the horrible things people said about both the creator and the work, Seurat hid it from public sight. It would not be until after he had passed away that its rediscovery made “Sunday…” into the cherished piece it is now. So popular today, it is the most reproduced piece of art in history…ever.

Such is the life of a masterpiece.

A Catholic Bible Comes of Age

People with complaints will always find a way of getting others to hear them, while people who are satisfied generally exercise their contentment in silence.

This is characteristic of those who use the official Bible of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States of America. Despite there being a very vocal, often quite loud cry of dissatisfaction regarding this translation of Scripture (and admittedly there is more than a little validity to the concerns often expressed), the New American Bible is widely accepted and admittedly the popular choice not only for American Catholics but many English-speaking Catholics around the world. So popular is this Bible that upon the release of its 2011 revision, the New American Bible Revised Edition or NABRE (pronounced like the word “neighbor”) became a best seller. While precise numbers are very hard to come by, to date the 2011 revision alone is by one market estimate to have surpassed 150 million copies in circulation.

Now each of us has our favorite Bible translation, and each of these translations has their merits, but there is a significant reason to reconsider what has been done to the NAB text in its 2011 revision. While most of the changes can be rightly labeled as small and compared to adding but tiny nuances to a painting, sometimes the addition of just a few readjustments can take something which was mediocre and turn it into a masterpiece. The newly revised NABRE is very much on the cusp of this.

Little Things Mean a Lot

A good rendition of the Bible will do more than give you God’s Word in a fashion you are accustomed to or that delights your ear. It will challenge you to examine for yourself its accuracy and move you to compare it with other versions. It will be suitable not only for personal reading but public proclamation such as at Mass. The text should be easy to compare with other versions and easily matched with the original text such as via an interlinear translation for in-depth study. It should be easy enough to understand but not so “hip” as to lose dignity as God’s Word. The NABRE is a Bible that does all this.

While space does not permit a complete overview of all the improvements to the New American Bible Old Testament text that appear in the 2011, NABRE, here are three examples that are characteristic of what you will find throughout this latest revision.


 Most translations, such as the original NAB and the RSVce, rendered Genesis 1:24 as follows:

And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth…”
—RSVce 2nd Edition.

But the new NABRE renders the same verse with a thought-provoking and accurate update:

Then God said: Let the earth bring forth every kind of living creature: tame animals, crawling things, and every kind of wild animal.—Italics added.

“Cattle” has now become “tame animals,” and “beasts of the earth” are more accurately rendered as “every kind of wild animal.” “Cattle” on the other hand are not necessarily the opposite of “beasts,” but in the original text the Hebrew word for “tame animals” is meant to oppose the word for “wild animal.” Through Genesis the NABRE’s improved precision is definitely one its best features.

Hebrew is Detailed, and in the Details

The same precision occurs throughout the rest of the NABRE, but especially in Exodus where improvements in the text include not only accuracy, but a delicate rendition of the specific shades of meaning that the original Hebrew is endowed with.

To illustrate, the original NAB had God saying the following at Exodus 3:5:

Remove the sandals from your feet,
for the place where you stand is holy ground.—Italics added.

But the NABRE now reads:

Remove your sandals from your feet,
for the place where you stand is holy ground.—Italics added.

Not much of a difference, no? But the NABRE is now matched with the way God says this in the Hebrew text. The sandals in question are those of Moses, and in Hebrew the expression is “your sandals” and not “the sandals” as if Moses borrow them from someone else.

A tiny change you say. Well, almost each sentence in the NABRE introduces precision-changing terms like this throughout. It adds to the flow and literary style of the text. Compare the words, experience the adjectives, and note the new rhythms these changes make by reading Exodus chapters 1-4. Compare them with either the previous NAB or another Bible of your choice. These tiny details make for a text that is now quite alive and rich, even making you see something new that perhaps you don’t see in other versions. The Israelites are no longer “dreaded,” (RSVce; NAB) they are “loathed” by the Egyptians. (NABRE, Ex 1:12) No longer are they made to “serve with rigor” (RSVce) or left to “the whole cruel fate of slaves.” (NAB) They are instead “cruelly oppressed in all their labor.” (Ex 1:14, NABRE) And the angel of the Lord no longer appears to Moses “in a flame of fire” (RSVce) or “in fire flaming out of a bush.” (NAB) But as the NABRE is now careful to explain the Hebrew thoroughly, we read: “The angel of the LORD appeared to him as fire flaming out of a bush.” (Ex 3:2, italics added.) The Theophany does not take place in a burning bush, the Theophany IS the flame of fire in the bush.

Making the Beautiful Even More So

Perhaps the star of the Old Testament in the NAB has been the poetry. The NABRE is no different. Job is startlingly new via its many tiny improvements (though one might find challenging the new expression “the satan” introduced here—a totally new expression for the English language; see the NABRE footnote to Job 1:6).

Another shining example of majestic employment through improvements is the Song of Solomon. Finally a translation of the Canticle of Canticles that is both clear and literary!

But the masterstroke of the NABRE is Isaiah. While the previous NAB version was also strikingly beautiful, the new revision is definitely a work of translation perfection. While some take issue with Isaiah 7:14 or the very accurate rendering of the Hebrew of 9:6b  (I understand from reports that the 2025 update will change 7:14 as the NABRE is updated to meet the requirements of Liturgiam Authenticum), the work as a whole is both powerfully accurate and notably rhythmic.

The best of the best is Isaiah 55 which seems to be endowed with the “sprung rhythm” of the Grail Psalter throughout. Again the improvements are like tiny dots here and there, but compare Isaiah 55 from the NABRE with any other version currently available and feel the difference. There is a cadence, meter, a rare merging of academia and art. It reads like no other version, ever faithful to the original, ever faithful to its target language. The work put into verses 10 and 11 of this chapter are my favorite. They dance with almost the exact same steps that one comes across when reading the original Hebrew. It is beautiful, so very beautiful.

Yet just as from the heavens
the rain and snow come down
And do not return there
till they have watered the earth,
making it fertile and fruitful,
Giving seed to the one who sows
and bread to the one who eats,

So shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
It shall not return to me empty,
but shall do what pleases me,
achieving the end for which I sent it.

--Isaiah 55:10-11, NABRE.

Back to the Future

Of course many may not see what I, a Jewish Catholic, see here. Hebrew can seem foreign even to me, though I grew up speaking it in Ladino and pray the Shema in the original tongue of the Jews every day. So I don’t know if I can give justice to what gems I find in our new official Catholic Bible. Like “Sunday in the Park…” that hangs in Chicago, you have to make the examination for yourself.

There is also the question of what will be done in the revision of the New Testament due out in 2025. If the work done to the New Testament is similar, if attention will be given to fleshing out the detail and making it more literary like the NABRE Old Testament has become (and once the principles of LA are applied to the main text, which will make many a Catholic very happy), something tells me we will have as close to a masterpiece on our hands as we could ever expect.

The NABRE is not perfect. There are things I don’t necessarily like about the choices that make it up in all places. But there is nothing inaccurate in it. The footnotes can stand improvement, not in the information given but in explaining to the Catholic readership how the data supplied can be made to work with Apostolic Tradition. The tiny changes throughout the Old Testament (which I pray will be made to the New), minor of course here and there, can only be appreciated if one steps back and looks at the work as a whole. It’s very different when one stops picking at the details and takes it all in as one extremely large and powerful work. The NABRE is far more than the “dots” that make it up.

With the fact that most Catholics in the United States use the NABRE now and that the upcoming revision of the New Testament will include adjusting the entire text to read the same in our hands as it does in the Liturgy (and giving a little more time to get people used to what has been done so far), I think American Catholics as well as many other English-speaking people will find in its pages a new standard. Generations from now when the 2025 NABRE has become dated and preparation is being made for its revision, Catholics will protest. By then the NABRE will be considered what it is just beginning to become right now, a masterpiece of Scripture transmission and a faithful rendition of the Holy Word of God.

CARL HERNZ is an award-winning graphic designer and copy writer. Gifted with a high IQ, Carl began studying languages at a young age, learning and speaking as much as eleven by age 18. A stereographic photographer and artist at age 10, he is best known for discovering that the 1925 silent film classic, The Phantom of the Opera starring Lon Chaney, was originally captured on film in 3D. He is an international advocate for persons living with Parkinson’s (like himself) and a humorist on the subject. Along with the 3D restoration of Phantom, Carl is currently producing “All Monsters Have PD,” a comedic short to help raise awareness of both the disease “and bad monster movie-making in general.”


Jeff B. said...

The NABRE is the farthest thing from a masterpiece. Clunky and embarrassing is more like it.

The RSV:SCE, there is the masterpiece.

Tom said...

Provocative and interesting. Who knew the NABRE had such a stalwart defender?

Certainly the staying power of the translation is impressive even if it reminds me of the second half of Isaiah 53:2: "He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him." And yet if we look at it pointillistically, perhaps...

Definitely the examples he cites, especially the one from Genesis, are potent, and he prompts a new view of the NABRE.

--- Commenter Tom is an award-winning blogger and slighlty above average husband. Gifted with a high IQ, Tom began studying baseball statistics at a young age, successfully memorizing the complete roster of the '75 Cincinnati Reds.

Steve Molitor said...

Great review! I developed a preference the RSV or NRSV (depending on my mood), but that was before the NABRE came out. While I still read the RSV, I do like the NABRE old testament, and I have high hopes for NABRE 2015.

Timothy said...

Please remember that we are free to critique and praise translations, but let's make sure we provide some examples to counter or support an argument. And in particular with the NABRE, lets try something besides the old, tired polemic against the notes or the usual targets of Is. 9:6/Genesis 1:2/Luke 1:28. Lets try to dig a little deeper.

Biblical Catholic said...

I find that most who criticize the NABRE have never even read iit and never attempted to compare it to prevous versions, and focus their critique on passages that have since been changed in the 2011 revision.

Please, if I read one more person attacking the NAB rendering of Psalm 23, which is radically different and much improved in the NABRE, or Psalm 1 (the same) I think i will flip out.

Let's at least make an effort to criticize the current OT text, not the 1970 or 1991 Psalms.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful review, Carl. The NABRE really is an excellent translation. But now I have to start saying "neighbor" instead of "nabbry."

Dominic1752 said...

Carl, I have a lot to say, but I'll just sum it up in one word: Awesome!

Daniel said...

Thank you Carl for that great review of the NABRE. Thought provoking insights!

Just wanted to add one of my absolute favorite things about the NABRE (and NAB) translation. One thing that the NABRE gets better than most other translations, in my opinion, is the way it handles the Prologue to John's Gospel. That is among my favorite parts of scripture and I think these poetic words should be written on the page in poetic verse form as they are in the NABRE:

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.
What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race,
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it...

The short sentences, to me, scream out to be written in verse as they are in the NABRE. The Jersusalem Bible is the only other one that I know that does this too. Every other translation that I have personally seen has these words run together, one after the other without the poetic stops.

I know it makes absolutely no difference in terms of the actual words but I think it reads so much better on the page than having these words run together one after the other without the pauses that force you to reflect on the magnitude of what each line says. I know we are supposed to read all scripture slowly and reflectively but I just think the impact of this verse form is wonderful. I wish every translation would do this for John's Prologue.

And I think the inclusive language in this passage (human race instead of men) is the absolute ideal way inclusive language should operate. "And this life was the light of the human race" is a majestic rendering of scripture. Of course "the light of men" sounds great too (and is more literal I think) but if you are intent on using inclusive language, I think this rendering is absolutely perfect. Much more dignified than "the light of all people" as in the NRSV. Small difference in word choice but a big difference in style.

rolf said...

Thanks Carl for your review!
I agree with you about the flow of the NABRE OT over the past NAB OT. There is a big difference in readability. I am a big RSV-2CE fan (and still am). I have repeatedly supported and defended this translation on Timothy's blog and the Catholic Answers forum since 2008. The RSV-2CE has been my main translation from 2006 until 2011 when the NABRE was released. I even purchased the Ignatius Catholic Lectionary (which uses the RSV-2CE) and have used it for my daily Mass readings for many years. I have read the RSV-2CE and the NABRE side by side for 4 years, and over this last year I have found that the NABRE (more often than not) flows much better than the RSV-2CE), especially in the readings from the OT. I really started noticing this as I began the 'Read The Catholic Bible In One Year' reading plan on Jan.1 of this year! Since then I have read Genesis- 1 Kings, and I started out for the first 3-4 months with the Didache Bible (RSV-2CE) but was following along at times with the NABRE. I found out the the NABRE is much more pleasant to read through these long stretches of the OT than the RSV-2CE (which can get very choppy). I am not knowledgeable in original languages like Carl and others, but for me overall the NABRE reads better! It is now my main translation and I still use the RSV-2CE (especially the Didache Bible) almost every day.

Unknown said...

All this chatter about the NABRE and yet it's the Jerusalem Bible that is used in most of the rest of the English speaking world. If we want to use the word "masterpiece" I would definitely be quicker to apply that word to the 1966 Jerusalem bible before any other translation. Why has this translation (and it's fabulous notes!) faded when it is so obvious after reading it that it is literarily superior to the other "big three" (nabre, nrsv, rsv2ce)??? Thoughts??

Steve Molitor said...

The NABRE rendering of John 1 is nice. The phrase "human race" always grated on me though in the NAB. It sounds too, I don't know, clinical, scientific, academic? I'm guessing the original Greek was something simple like men, which if you used inclusive language would be something plain like 'people' or similar.

I haven't noticed the phrase "human race" yet in the NABRE Old Testament yet though. Does anyone know if it's used in the OT?

Jason W. said...

The NABRE is nothing close to a masterpiece, regardless of the attempts to spin it as such. As for the footnotes, they are even worse. Not only do they need "explaining to the Catholic readership how the data supplied can be made to work with Apostolic Tradition", they need to be completely redone. It's not like they are simply vague or confusing in some areas, they are flat out heretical in many places. The fact that you cannot see this, or are simply unwilling to say it, is troubling to say the least.

Jason W. said...

No. Those old tired polemic against the notes or the usual targets, as you put it, are the problems. And those problems have not gone away.

Timothy said...


Why don't you cite a few examples from the revised OT of the NABRE so that we can discuss it?

MD said...

He won't cite any examples because he'd have to admit he's wrong.

My pastor needs to read this blog post. He hates the NABRE because he hated the NAB. I don't think he owns an actual NABRE besides what is found in the lectionary.

wxmarc said...

I join the other commenters in thanking you for an excellent review, Carl! I haven't spent a lot of time with the NABRE, since I have been using the NRSV as my main translation for the past year or so. One of the few places were I compared the NRSV with the NABRE was the vision of the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37:1-14. In that case, my experience was similar to Rolf's. The NABRE reads more smoothly to me than the NRSV. Here's just a short sample of Ezekiel 37:7-8, which gives a good idea of the difference:

"So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them."

"I prophesied as I had been commanded. A sound started up, as I was prophesying, rattling like thunder. The bones came together, bone joining to bone. As I watched, sinews appeared on them, flesh grew over them, skin covered them on top, but there was no breath in them."

Both translations convey the same meaning, but the NABRE is more vivid, and it uses active verbs rather than passive verbs: "sinews appeared on them" rather than "there were sinews on them," for example. I don't know Hebrew, so I can't make an informed judgment on the accuracy of the translation, but since the two convey the same message, the NABRE strikes me as a more successful translation. It conveys the message in a way that is more natural to an English speaker. If this passage is similar to the rest of the NABRE Old Testament, I would be very happy with it indeed.

I do find the 1986 New Testament revision (which is included unchanged in the NABRE) to be frustrating at times. One of the more grating things to my ear is the constant use of the phrase "in reply" when it makes little sense in English. For example, in Matthew's account of the transfiguration, the NABRE says (Matthew 17:3-4):

"And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, 'Lord, it is good that we are here...'"

Who is Peter replying to? To me, that additional phrase is distracting when I read. I enjoy the NRSV better in this case:

"Suddenly, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, 'Lord, it is good for us to be here...'"

Perhaps it is technically accurate to include the "in reply," but in many cases, I don't think it adds anything to the meaning of the passage, and it sounds clunky in English. I will look forward to the New Testament revision.

Steve Molitor said...

When I picked a translation I was influenced by a lot of bad things I read about the NAB and the NABRE. However, as I read it, I don't find those criticisms to be valid.

The notes are fine to me - helpful in most cases, a little dry in others, and never heretical (but I haven't read them all). It would be helpful to augment them as Carl points out. Or open it up to competition - allow other editions to supply different notes. Not because the notes are bad, but just because competition is a good thing. Still, I have no major problems with the notes.

The translation, especially the OT, does seem very good to me. I read another translation, but I respect NABRE, and may choose it as my primary translation in the future, who knows. It's in my top 3 or 4 translations.

Anonymous said...

For the most part, I don't have a lot of complaints when it comes to the NABRE. I do prefer the Grail Psalms but that might be because I'm so used to them from the Office. The only NABRE translation choice that I will never like - regardless of it's possible merits - is:

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us;
upon his shoulder dominion rests.
They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero,
Father-Forever, Prince of Peace. - NABRE

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. - KJV

As far as I'm concerned there's no contest; it's the KJV all the way with the NABRE coming in dead last!


Ps Rolf, thanks for the Olive Tree tip concerning ebook study bibles!

Anonymous said...

I have no particular issue with the NABRE translation or the footnotes. My issue with the NABRE is that it is not available in a "reader's edition" without the footnotes. I like to have the option to read the bible without the clutter of footnotes, study notes, etc. and I can't read the NABRE without them because the footnotes must be printed in every edition.

Michael P.

Anonymous said...

I had still high hopes for the NABRE 2025. The 2011 Psalms are already a glimpse of what the 2025 NABRE would appear. It should be remembered that the 2011 Psalms were already aided by Liturgiam Authenticam. So if you find the 2011 Psalms impressive, the 2025 NABRE will be a great work for you.

And personally, I like the 2011 Psalms. One big improvement is the tratment of the Hebrew hesed as "mercy" all throughout the Psalter.

And for the inclusive language, I have no issues with this one as long as it is done very carefully and is applied on a case-to-case basis, not as a mechanical substitution like how the NRSV did it. Perhaps ESV can be lauded for handling inclusive language carefully. Especially that the 2025 NABRE is aimed to be used at a liturgical setting, inclusive language is a concern.

For those who are complaining about the most common rants on the NABRE, Liturgiam Authenticam will accommodate you. So keep calm and trust the Church.

Being in the Philippines, we would be also definitely affected by this progress.

The work on the Missal was a magnificent work, we must thank the Vatican for giving the Vox Calara committee as a great help. Since the 2025 NABRE is aimed at liturgy, we may perhaps expect the helping hand of the Vox Clara committee in producing this version.

Instead of continuous rant, we, as well, continuously pray that our translators be guided by the wisdom of God through the intercession of St. Jerome.

Fratres in Christo,

Leighton said...

I always appreciate Carl’s insights, which are always intelligent and well articulated.

Carl’s admiration of the NAB(RE) may not be shared by some of the readers, but he makes some really interesting points. I appreciate his fresh look and fresher perspective on the matter, and though the NAB(RE) is not my favorite translation (like David I appreciate the JB), it doesn’t bother me one iota that Carl finds it so satisfactory.

I have heard plenty on the side of those who seem express disgust at the NAB(RE), amateur and scholar alike, and it is refreshing to hear the other side’s thoughts and have my mind stretched a bit.

My opinion on the NAB(RE) is not scholarly, but based on personal preference concerning the flow of language, etc. I need to give the NAB9RE) more of a reading in that regard. I am more concerned with the notes, as some seem problematic; I simply see inconsistencies compared to more orthodox commentaries (interestingly, I have seen examples in the new Didache NAB(RE)Bible, where the Didache notes seem to conflict with the NABRE scholarship on the same page, so far on non-binding issues such as authorship of certain books, and interpretation of passages (cf. Rev. 12, for an example, and the interpretation of the Woman).

There are certain NAB(RE) notes that would be laughable if not so disturbing to me (cf. Matt 16:21-23, where the notes say that Jesus could not have predicted His passion so his words on the matter must have been added later… come on). I always try to remember that they are commentary made by fallible scholars, not the sacred text itself, and afford them far less authority than the sacred texts.

Strangely, I mostly appreciate the tension between the two sets of notes in the Didache NAB(RE), because it gives me more than one perspective. I believe it was Carl, in fact, who pointed out elsewhere the difference between philology and theology, and I try to remember that.

I have seen some very respected biblical scholars laud the accuracy of the NAB(RE) and others denigrate it. I assume both sides are sincere and devoted scholars who simply have different views on the matter.

For me, while I prefer the text of the RSV-CE 2nd edition, there are places where the NAB(RE) seems better: John 8:24, for instance (NABRE’s “I AM,” as opposed to RSV-CE 2’s “I am he,” if I recall correctly).

The bottom line for me is that this was a great post, and gave me a different perspective to ponder. Thanks, Carl, for taking the time to write it, and Tim, for posting it.

Anonymous said...


That just can't happen. The Canon Law requires the notes. However, you may argue on the quality of those.

Keeping "I AM" in the New Testament is packed with much power. In Exodus 3:14, where the LORD (YHWH) was suppose to give his name, he replied with an "I AM". Though in the Hebrew text that would be the Tetragrammaton YHWH. So keeping Jesus as "I AM" in the New Testament alludes to their oneness with the God the Father, as he explicitly said in the John.

Timothy said...

The Oxford large print and compact are an option since the notes are endnotes at the end of each book.

Carl Hernz said...

I would like to thank everyone for the compliments and comments. Feel free to ask specific questions of me if I don't get back to them here. And thanks, of course, to Tim.

Please remember this a review. My article was neither an opinion piece nor a defense of the translation. I did a three-year research project on the NABRE, and this article condenses some of the more notable results.

I’m also not claiming the NABRE to be a masterpiece now. If you read carefully I am saying it is on the cusp of being one, especially if the upcoming NT revision is handled in a similar fashion to the way the 2011 revision of the OT was. If that fails then that variable will change things. This prediction is as much based on the quality of the text as it is on the psychology that historically makes up the “masterpiece” phenomenon.

I am very proud of what the Catholic Biblical Association and the USCCB have done in producing the NABRE. It is far from perfect, but no translation will ever be that. What I am predicting in this article is that it will be viewed as a standard some day and already is for some who are growing up behind me (I am currently 48).

I do highly recommend it because I have tested it. Like any good scientist would, my test results were verified by others. Only after three years of much research, work, and learning from scholars and academics could I write what you read here. I had to severely chop things down and choose basically one issue to cover to do this article.

This review is not meant to suggest the NABRE is better than other versions or that you should change your preferences or that your own convictions are incorrect. It is a commentary on what is happening in American Bible culture as well as a review, and like a strong surge of water I believe the tide is running in favor of the NABRE becoming the standard that many never thought it ever would be.

My preference is not to use a translation at all, but that is not always practical. If I could have the perfect version in English, it would read with the traditional majesty of the RSVce, with some of the Catholic language of the D-R, the scholarship of the NRSV, the poetry of the NABRE, and the prose of the JB/NJB. Alas, that does not exist.

rolf said...

Timothy I agree. I use the Oxford Large Print NABRE for my prayerful readings because all notes, references, etc are at the back of the book. There is nothing on the page but the scripture text, headings and the page numbers. This is actually refreshing! I use my study Bibles when I need the notes and references at hand.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. Very interesting. I could not help but be reminded of a (thoroughly secular) BBC4 Documentary on the KJV that I recently watched on Netflix or YouTube or someplace. The most interesting part was when they were discussing the then available English translations--clunky, at best--and how the attention to detail and accuracy improved (subjective, I know) the overall readability and "hearability" (if there is such a word) of the KJV text. I sometimes wonder if translations aren't sometimes too rushed.


Leighton said...


I agree. That's one of the instances where I prefer the NAB(RE) for certain. I think back to the video Tim posted recently in which the scholar made a good case showing how some translations deemed as dynamic equivalence translations are more literal in some instances. While the NAB(RE) has been considered slightly less literal than the RSV, i the case of the "I am" statements, it gets it right over the RSV.

To me it always gets back to what Bible you can read most profitably (as long as it is considered a decent, scholarly translation), personally. I do like that the NAB(RE) is so close to the Mass readings.

If the NJB is your cup of tea, you will be more invested in reading it; if the NAB(RE), then you will do better with it, etc. One of the gifts of the modern age is that there are choices.

tihald said...

I'm a former NAB hater. Former because I do like the NABRE OT. While I still disagree with some of the notes I understand better now the thought behind them. I'll admit I'm even growing to rather like

"They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero,
Father-Forever, Prince of Peace"

simply because it seems to me more like a name. Personal preference. I do hope that eventually they allow the NABRE to be published without these particular notes. Perhaps an alternative set of notes that were more accessible?

I prefer to use a rotation of translations depending on my mood. While the NAB never really made that rotation the NABRE did. Can't wait for 2025 and the Grand Unified NAB as I'm calling it.

Neil Short said...

I don't care for the study notes. Textual notes are fine ... and the crossreferences; but I don't want a Bible that is 20% thicker just because it is loaded with "helpful" study notes.
I am a Protestant and I am doing my daily reading this year from the NABRE. I am getting a lot out of it (spiritually and intellectually). I really enjoy it a lot.

Neil Short said...

I totally appreciate this article. It is refreshing and pertinent.

Neil Short is no genious but he is the best husband he can be. He can read and write exactly one human language. In his youth he wasted a great deal of time memorizing PI to the 50th digit past the decimal point - when he could have been memorizing the Sermon on the Mount or the Book of Colossians.

Anonymous said...

Carl, thanks for the excellent article. I for one would not complain if you wrote more on the NABRE or the Bible in general, as I've never failed to learn from your posts. I've been reading the RSV-2CE all year, and tonight decided to read from the NABRE instead. A huge difference in readability, especially in 1 Kings! I think I will begin reading from that translation far more often, and I intend to aquire a Didache Bible when I can afford one, since reading on a computer equates to a less than enjoyable reading experience and I don't own a hard copy of the NABRE (just two old NABs).

MAX was an award-winning pianist in a past life. Gifted with an IQ, he is fluent in one language, but can understand at least four more, because all Romance languages sound the same anyway. In his youth, he memorized many Beethoven sonatas, all sadly forgotten now.

Unknown said...

I really enjoyed this guest post! It was nice to read something that didn't involve the usual NAB(RE) things read on a certain forum that shall remain nameless and in the past of Internet surfing, or what some professional apologists have to gripe about it. This was much more balanced, and hopeful. A refreshing break from the chronic gripe-itis that's floating around on the WWW.

Personally, the whole "my favorite translation is better than yours" attitude that goes on in so many Bible "discussions" looks plain ridiculous and is about as useful as bras for bulls. Thankfully (again), that was lacking in Mr. Hernz's review.

It might be a good time for me to look for a nice large print NABRE to put on the wish list for when my NAB (with revised Psalms...199?) wears out.

rolf said...

Ed, when you decide to buy that large print NABRE consider the Oxford Large Print NABRE. It has size 12 font, bold print and all the textual notes are placed at the end of each book. The page is clean and free of all notes and references which makes this Bible good for prayerful reading. The notes are still there if you want them. This Bible is thumb indexed but does not have maps or other helps. It comes in paperback, imitation leather and genuine leather.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the recommendation, Rolf. It's been found and added to the wish list. My little budget NAB hasn't worn out... yet. That one from Oxford looks like a definite step up in quality for when the time comes.

Timothy said...


Email me.

Mark in Spokane said...

The NABRE OT is a significant improvement over the 1970 edition, and I think that the review is correct that it is probably the best current English translation of the OT available, despire some problems (Isa 7:14 springs to mind). The problem with the NABRE remains the 1986 NT revision, plagued by inclusive language, introductions and notes that downplay traditional views of authorsip and the meaning of certain key texts, and some truly strange translation choices (e.g., "holy Spirit" instead of "Holy Spirit"). If the planned revision corrects those problems and improves the translations along the lins of LA, then I think then the enitre NABRE2.0 will serve he Church well. Until that point, though, it is hard to recommend the NABRE as "the only Bible to use" because of the problems with the NT.

Unknown said...

Email sent.

Douglas J said...

It's great to see an in-depth look at the NABRE once in a while. I've always found it mysterious that such a prolific work, that took so many years and effort to produce, seems to soldier on in silence, while revisions of revisions like the ESV are the subject of books and articles galore!

I have my complaints with the NAB. But I must admit, the more I use it, the more I like and respect it.

Douglas J said...

Just wanted to add (and it was too late to edit previous comment):

I'm no expert but I believe two of the most common complaints aimed at the NAB are a bit illogical.

First, one often hears that the translation is "clunky" or "tone deaf." Well, if one wants a sweet-sounding work of poetry, one may not be happy with an essentially-literal rendering like the NABRE. However, if you are sitting down to write a sermon or study, an accurate rendering is what you need. I agree with one blogger who suggested that the NAB is criticized for some of the same reasons the original Douay-Rheims was- it sounds odd because it parrots the original languages too much! We want readable but accuracy is paramount.

Second, regarding those much-maligned footnotes... I have often warned a bible-reader about the commentary since it can be easily misunderstood. However, I would say the majority of notes provide valuable, reliable historical and linguistic clarification that can be a great aid to the catechist, student or preacher. That being said, I still think it was risky dumping those notes in a bible that the bishops knew would soon be on the shelves and in the classrooms. They are only safe if one understands they are the findings and/or opinions of scientists and translators, NOT the authoritative voice of the Magisterium.

OK, I think I'm done...

Be blessed.

rolf said...

Douglas I agree with your comments. I think the NAB OT was greatly improved with changes made in 2010, resulting in the current NABRE. The 1991 Psalms were one big part of the complaints there were mentioned on different forums. The notes are the biggest complaint, they have never bothered me because I converted to the faith using the historical-critical notes and commentary. But that said, I think the NABRE notes in the average Catholic's Bible should be a little more theologically based and save the historical critical based notes in another version such as the current Catholic Study Bible for theology students, and others who study the Bible.

Douglas J said...

rolf said:

"But that said, I think the NABRE notes in the average Catholic's Bible should be a little more theologically based and save the historical critical based notes in another version such as the current Catholic Study Bible for theology students, and others who study the Bible."

Bingo! Too bad we can't have an NAB "Catholic Life and Learning Bible" and a "USCCB Catholic Study Bible" aimed at different audiences.

I suppose one could say we do, with the new NAB edition of the Didache Bible (with Catechism notes) and the current NAB (with its historical/critical notes).

As always, let's give thanks that we have so many bibles we can be picky about which is best! Amen?

Anonymous said...

(Very) Late to this article, but I took have become a fan of the NABRE... and I'm not exactly a Catholic (for now, consider me a catacomb Christian). Maybe I should be. I appreciate their bible scholarship at least.

One thing I also find endearing is the Traduction liturgique officielle (France) from it's own official association of Catholic bishops is very similar in translation choices and language approach. Same goes for the German "Einheits├╝bersetzung" (Unity) translation. I love this. They're actually even better, from what I can tell (same with the Italian translation too), as they still retain Isaiah 7:14 leaning towards Jewish rather than apostolic reading (hopefully the NABRE will change this). You'd think those apparently "left" wing areas like Germany and France would sound more like other left leaning believers, but not so! They keep it real.

Unknown said...

Carl.. I know this is an old entry but I’ve been reading through all the comments and understand that this review is about anticipated excitement for 2025. But now, in 2018, do you think it’s still worth it to dive into the NABRE as it stands now with its current NT? Or do you think one would be better served using a different translation until the fu full 2025 edition comes out?