Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Guest Post: The Revised English Bible (Part 3)

Many thanks to Timothy for allowing me to share a review of the Revised English Bible (REB). Almost two years ago, Rolf (a commenter on this blog) piqued my curiosity with his praise for the REB. I asked questions in the comments and discovered other blog readers who are REB fans. I ordered a used, inexpensive, hardcover REB to check it out. It quickly became my favorite translation, and I have used it as my primary bible for well over a year and a half. I'm excited to share it with all of you.

Catholic Involvement and Approval Status
The Catholic approval status of the REB has been an interesting puzzle to solve. The Catholic bishops in the British Isles officially sponsored the translation, Catholic scholars were involved in the translation process, and an auxiliary bishop of Westminster (Bishop Christopher Butler) sat on the joint committee of church representatives which sponsored the translation. In spite of all this, I cannot find any evidence that an imprimatur was ever granted to the REB.

The UK edition of the Divine Office uses excerpts from the NEB (the REB’s direct predecessor) for some scripture readings, even though the Catholic bishops were only observers during the NEB translation process. I also cannot find any evidence that the NEB received an imprimatur.

Trying to make sense of all this, I contacted the Conference of Catholic Bishops for England and Wales to inquire about the approval status of the REB. They assured me that the Catholic Church’s participation in the translation process would have involved a desire for the resulting translation to be acceptable to the Church.  They also pointed me to the Vatican directive Guidelines for Interconfessional Cooperation in Translating the Bible promulgated in 1987. In section 2.8, it states, “In some circumstances, it may be wise to consider a preface including a joint recommendation by ecclesiastical authorities instead of a formal nihil obstat and imprimatur.” In the case of the REB, the translation preface from the Joint Committee of the Churches commending the translation to their readers would certainly satisfy this provision.

Printed Editions of the REB
The Joint Committee of the Churches granted the copyright for the REB jointly to Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press. Since its publication in 1989, the popularity of the REB has been overshadowed by wide acceptance of the NRSV and the NIV for public worship in protestant churches and continued use of the JB, NAB, and NRSV in Catholic churches. As such, demand for the REB has waned since its publication, and very few editions are still in print.

Cambridge University Press no longer publishes any editions of the REB with the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical books. They publish a stand-alone hardcover binding of the Apocrypha, along with hardcover and imitation leather bindings of the protestant canon. I had a chance to buy the imitation leather edition at a deep discount on Overstock.com a year ago, and I must say, it’s one of the nicest imitation leather covers I’ve felt:

Out-of-print hardcover editions of the REB with and without the Apocrypha are easy to find used online. My first copy of the REB was a used Cambridge hardcover (shown below). I should note that the REB Apocrypha contains all books in the Catholic canon, as well as a few others that are part of the protestant Apocrypha: 1 and 2 Esdras, The Prayer of Manasseh, and Psalm 151. It does not contain 3 and 4 Maccabees.

Oxford University Press publishes only one edition of the REB: a paperback version of the Oxford Study Bible with Apocrypha. This edition contains succinct study notes, similar in scope and detail to the New Oxford Annotated Bible NRSV second edition. Hardcover editions of this bible are no longer in print, but they are readily available used on a variety of websites.

It’s also occasionally possible to find out-of-print editions of a pocket-sized REB New Testament (published by Cambridge). These editions have an attractive single-column text layout.

Monday, February 27, 2017

NABRE's On Sale from USCCB

Follow this link for the discount.  Offer expires 11:59 PM ET on March 4, 2017.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Guest Post: The Revised English Bible (Part 2)

Many thanks to Timothy for allowing me to share a review of the Revised English Bible (REB). Almost two years ago, Rolf (a commenter on this blog) piqued my curiosity with his praise for the REB. I asked questions in the comments and discovered other blog readers who are REB fans. I ordered a used, inexpensive, hardcover REB to check it out. It quickly became my favorite translation, and I have used it as my primary bible for well over a year and a half. I'm excited to share it with all of you.

Revision Details and Translation Philosophy:
The revisers updated all archaic language to contemporary (“you”) usage, and they quickly realized that this was more than a simple find-and-replace process. Sentences that were originally translated with archaic language contained verbs and language structure that sounded fitting in context, but once the archaic pronouns were updated, the rest of the language seemed mismatched. The revisers attempted to rephrase this language while maintaining translation accuracy.

The NEB also contained a number of non-traditional renderings of difficult or uncertain language based on the most recent scholarship at the time which seemed too speculative in hindsight. The revisers updated these accordingly. They further revised British expressions that were unfamiliar to readers in the US. The REB retains occasional words that are unfamiliar in American vocabulary, but they are few and far between. 

Finally, the revisers also attempted to make limited use of inclusive language in a way that was faithful to both the original text and normal English style. If either English style or the original text were not easily consistent with inclusive language, the revisers did not attempt a change. As such, the REB is quite sparing in its use of inclusive language compared with the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) or the New Jerusalem Bible (NJB). It often renders the original subject inclusively, but subsequent references to the same subject will use the “he” pronoun rather than making the entire sentence plural (a common solution in the NRSV). The first two verses of Psalm 1 illustrate this:

Happy is the one
who does not take the counsel of the wicked for a guide,
or follow the path that sinners tread,
or take his seat in the company of scoffers.
His delight is in the law of the LORD (Psalm 1:1-2a REB)

Compare the NRSV and the NJB:

Happy are those
   who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
   or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the LORD (NRSV)

How blessed is anyone who rejects the advice of the wicked
and does not take a stand in the path that sinners tread,
nor a seat in company with cynics,
but who delights in the law of Yahweh (NJB)

The REB is a dynamic equivalence translation, in the same league as Msgr. Ronald Knox's translation of the Vulgate and the Jerusalem Bible. To quote the translators' introduction to the Old Testament, “the guiding principle adopted has been to seek a fluent and idiomatic way of expressing biblical writing in contemporary English. Much emphasis has been laid on correctness and intelligibility, and at the same time on endeavouring to convey something of the directness and simplicity of the Hebrew original.” The preface to the New Testament adds, “This version claims to be a translation rather than a paraphrase, observing faithfulness to the meaning of the text without necessarily reproducing grammatical structure or translating word-for-word.”

While some dynamic translations like the Good News Translation (GNT) and the Common English Bible (CEB) place great emphasis on making the text accessible and simple, the REB retains a broad vocabulary and greater dignity in tone (similar to the JB and the Knox). Its command of the English language is impressive. Poetic passages sing and touch the heart in a visceral way that cannot be paralleled by intellectual study of a literal translation. Consider a short section of God's answer to Job (Job 38:12-18):

In all your life have you ever called up the dawn
or assigned the morning its place?
Have you taught it to grasp the fringes of the earth
and shake the Dog-star from the sky;
to bring up the horizon in relief as clay under a seal,
until all things stand out like the folds of a cloak,
when the light of the Dog-star is dimmed
and the stars of the Navigator's Line go out one by one?

Have you gone down to the springs of the sea
or walked in the unfathomable deep?
Have the portals of death been revealed to you?
Have you seen the door-keepers of the place of darkness?
Have you comprehended the vast expanse of the world?
Tell me all this, if you know. (REB)

Interestingly, this is a passage where one of the unusual renderings of the NEB remains in the REB. The references to the Dog-star are generally translated “the wicked” in other translations. Sir Godfrey Driver, who chaired the translation team for the NEB Old Testament, argued that the Hebrew words were a reference to astronomical markers. It is a speculative rendering, but it seems to fit the context better than the literal reference to the wicked. For comparison, consider the NRSV:

Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
   and caused the dawn to know its place,
so that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
   and the wicked be shaken out of it?
It is changed like clay under the seal,
   and it is dyed like a garment.
Light is withheld from the wicked,
   and their uplifted arm is broken.

Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
   or walked in the recesses of the deep?
Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
   or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
   Declare, if you know all this. (NRSV)

The vividness of the REB continues in the New Testament. Consider John's vison of Jesus in Revelation 1:12-16:

I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me; and when I turned I saw seven lampstands of gold. Among the lamps was a figure like a man, in a robe that came to his feet, with a golden girdle round his breast. His hair was as white as snow-white wool, and his eyes flamed like fire; his feet were like burnished bronze refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of a mighty torrent. In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword; his face shone like the sun in full strength. (REB)

Consider also the beginning of Jesus' agony in the garden in Mark 14:32-36:

When they reached a place called Gethsemane, he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” And he took Peter and James and John with him. Horror and anguish overwhelmed him, and he said to them, “My heart is ready to break with grief; stop here and stay awake.” Then he went on a little farther, threw himself on the ground, and prayed that if it were possible this hour might pass him by. “Abba, Father,” he said, “all things are possible to you; take this cup from me. Yet not my will but yours.” (REB)

The other area where the REB truly shines is the New Testament letters. Paul's diction, when translated literally, can be a challenging intellectual exercise to parse and untangle. Of course, there is a strong argument for maintaining that difficulty in an English translation if a fluent Greek speaker would have a hard time deciphering it. But there is also value in allowing the power of his argument to be transmitted in natural English, touching the heart of a reader more viscerally and immediately than would be possible through intellectual study of difficult sentences. Consider Paul's discourse on the law, the flesh, and the spirit in Romans 8:1-6:

It follows that there is now no condemnation for those who are united with Christ Jesus. In Christ Jesus the life-giving law of the Spirit has set you free from the law of sin and death. What the law could not do, because human weakness robbed it of all potency, God has done: by sending his own Son in the likeness of our sinful nature and to deal with sin, he has passed judgment against sin within that very nature, so that the commandment of the law may find fulfillment in us, whose conduct is no longer controlled by the old nature, but by the Spirit. Those who live on the level of the old nature have their outlook formed by it, and that spells death; but those who live on the level of the spirit have the spiritual outlook, and that is life and peace. (REB)

Note that the REB uses a variety of English alternatives for the Greek word which is commonly translated “flesh” in more literal translations. Compare the REB's rendering with the 1986 New Testament in New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE), which strove for literal accuracy, even preserving Greek word order where possible:

Hence, now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has freed you from the law of sin and death. For what the law, weakened by the flesh, was powerless to do, this God has done: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for the sake of sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the righteous decree of the law might be fulfilled in us, who live not according to the flesh but according to the spirit. For those who live according to the flesh are concerned with the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the spirit with the things of the spirit. The concern of the flesh is death, but the concern of the spirit is life and peace. (NABRE)

A final useful example comes from Hebrews 7:17-24. Here, the writer is contrasting the priesthood of Jesus in the tradition of Melchizedek with the Levitical priesthood under the law:

For here is the testimony: “You are a priest for ever, in the order of Melchizedek.” The earlier rules are repealed as ineffective and useless, since the law brought nothing to perfection; and a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. Notice also that no oath was sworn when the other men were made priests; but for this priest an oath was sworn in the words addressed to him: “The Lord has sworn and will not go back on his word, 'You are a priest for ever.'” In the same way, God's oath shows how superior is the covenant which Jesus guarantees. There have been many Levitical priests, because death prevents them from continuing in office; but Jesus holds a perpetual priesthood, because he remains forever. (REB)

Compare this with the NABRE's translation.

For it is testified: “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” On the one hand, a former commandment is annulled because of its weakness and uselessness, for the law brought nothing to perfection; on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. And to the degree that this happened not without the taking of an oath – for others became priests without an oath, but he with an oath, through the one who said to him “The Lord has sworn, and he will not repent: 'You are a priest forever'” – to that same degree has Jesus [also] become the guarantee of an [even] better covenant. Those priests were many because they were prevented by death from remaining in office, but he, because he remains forever, has a priesthood that does not pass away. (NABRE)

The NABRE preserves a double-negative expression from the Greek (“not without the taking of an oath”), and the subsequent long parenthetical expression and convoluted grammar make it very difficult to parse this sentence without interrupting the flow of reading. The REB sacrifices the double-negative and renders the ideas in much more natural English.

Overall, I find the REB to have a flowing, natural turn of phrase with powerful language that surprises me and sheds new light on passages that I've heard countless times. In many ways, it lives up to Msgr. Ronald Knox's ideal of expressing the language of the bible in a way than a native English speaker would. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Guest Review: Oxford Notre Dame NRSV-CE

Thank you to Rolf for this short guest review!  I have a similar edition, without the ND affiliation, in burgundy leather.  You can see that review here.

I saw this NRSV Bible on the Fans of the NRSV facebook group. It is published by Oxford University Press for Notre Dame and is sold through the Notre Dame bookstore.

It is a Catholic edition (Anglicanized) and has a navy blue genuine leather cover with a gold ND seal on the front cover. It is a nice size: 8 1/4 x 6 inches and has a well spaced approx. size 9 print. The text block appears to be sewn and has one gold ribbon marker. The paper though thin, controls bleed through very well.
This Notre Dame edition has 64 in text maps and 12 graphs in text. It has a concordance and a list of the Sunday and Weekday readings for Mass. Though it does not have references.  The cost is $75.00.  

This will be a Bible I will take to seminars and next weeks Religious Congress!

You can purchase this edition, via the ND Bookstore, here.  

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Guest Post: The Revised English Bible (Part 1)

Many thanks to Timothy for allowing me to share a review of the Revised English Bible (REB). Almost two years ago, Rolf (a commenter on this blog) piqued my curiosity with his praise for the REB. I asked questions in the comments and discovered other blog readers who are REB fans. I ordered a used, inexpensive, hardcover REB to check it out. It quickly became my favorite translation, and I have used it as my primary bible for well over a year and a half. I'm excited to share it with all of you.

A Brief History:
The REB is a British translation sponsored by a consortium of major Christian denominations in the British Isles. As its name suggests, it is a revision of the earlier New English Bible (NEB), which was published in 1970. The NEB project began after World War II with a narrow goal in mind. The King James Version (KJV) enjoyed wide acceptance for worship and private reading throughout the protestant world, and this seemed unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. The language of the KJV represented the traditional language of the bible for generations of people. On the other hand, as churches reached out to non-religious people after World War II, they found many people who were unfamiliar with the KJV and found its language difficult. A new translation of the bible in contemporary language could help them to better understand the language of the KJV.

During the course of translating the NEB, though, the culture was changing quickly. The Catholic church, after the Second Vatican Council, was implementing vernacular liturgy throughout the world, and as soon as the NEB was released, protestant churches began using it in their weekly services. It was more popular than expected. During the translation process, the NEB scholars had followed the same convention as the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of preserving archaic language (“thee” and “thou”) in prayers addressed to God. By the time of publication in 1970, this solution was already out-of-date. A few years after publication, the Joint Committee of Churches which sponsored the NEB agreed to sponsor a thorough revision. The Catholic bishops conferences of England and Wales, Scotland, and Ireland joined the committee as official sponsors of the revision (they had been observers to the committee in the final years of the NEB translation). 

A special thanks to Marc who authored this three part examination of the REB.  I know that a number of you read and love the REB.  The other two parts will be published over the next two weeks.

Monday, February 13, 2017


My parish recently purchased a one year subscription for every parishioner for the Augustine Institutes's online streaming site FORMED.  I registered on the site and was very happy with the content.  According to the Augustine Institute: "Bring some of the most compelling and trustworthy in the Church today in the homes (and lives) of your parishioners. Formed can be compared to Netflix or Amazon for Catholics. Now the best Catholic video studies, movies, audio presentations and eBooks are all just a click away!"

FORMED contains movies, audio, and books from the Augustine Institute, Ignatius Press, Lighthouse Catholic Media, Word on Fire, the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, and the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology.  This includes full-length movies, documentaries, kids programing, etc...

It is a subscription service, but there is a a free trial offering as well.  Definitely check it out, it is worth your time and consideration.  I will certainly be using this with my family, as well as my students.   There is quite a bit of biblical content too!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Knox on Translation

"I don't say that it is easy to bring out the general sense of a Biblical passage. Sometimes, for example, in the Prophets, you have to give up, and admit that these passages may have been intelligible to the people they were written for, but certainly aren't to us. But in St.Paul's epistles, for example, or in the Book of Job, it is quite clear that there is a thread of argument running all through, though it is very far indeed from lying on the surface. To present your material so that this thread of argument becomes apparent is no easy matter; but you have got to do it if the Bible is to be read as a book, and not merely studied as a lesson." -Trials of a Translator

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

New Cambridge NRSV's in 2017

The fine folks at Cambridge University Press announced on their Facebook site that they will be publishing some new editions of the NRSV in 2017.  The quote from Facebook is as follows:

We have exciting plans for our NRSV Reference Edition. In response to customer feedback, we'll be introducing some premium binding styles, in a choice of colours. There will be some styles without the Apocrypha as well as with.
We will also be publishing new text editions using the Anglicized NRSV – a Large-print Edition and a Compact. The large-print edition will be available both with and without the Apocrypha; the Compact will be just Old and New Testaments.
When specifications are settled, we’ll announce the new styles on our website and on Facebook.

This is fantastic news for those of us who like the NRSV.  Cambridge has been one of the few places where a fan of the NRSV could find an edition in decent leather which contained both the apocrypha/deuterocanonicals and cross-references.  I'll post more news when release dates are announced.