Nearly two decades in the making, a newly revised edition of the New American Bible will allow Catholics to read the Old Testament and Psalms in language that is a more literal translation of ancient texts.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announced earlier this month that the New American Bible, Revised Edition, was approved for publication last fall, and will be available beginning March 9, Ash Wednesday.
The NABRE has been approved for personal use and study, and will not be used in the Lectionary at Mass. It will include the 1986 edition of the New Testament along with the revised Old Testament and Psalter.
The revised edition employs the best manuscripts that are available today, many of which were discovered after the 1970 edition of the NAB was translated, with an emphasis on consistency in translating words and rendering the text in modern English.
Our Sunday Visitor spoke with Mary Elizabeth Sperry, associate director of permissions and Bible utilization for the New American Bible, about the NABRE, the challenges of revising it, and the USCCB’s plans for promoting the new edition in the hope of improving Catholics’ biblical literacy and appreciation of the Old Testament.
Our Sunday Visitor: How dramatic are the revisions?
Mary Elizabeth Sperry: Some are more dramatic than others. Since 1970, we’ve found manuscripts that are significantly different [than the manuscripts used in the previous edition]. For the Book of Sirach, for example, the critical text being used is significantly different. But it’s not a different text. It’s like reading the Bible in high-def television instead of regular TV. You’re not seeing a different program, but you’re seeing it more precisely; you’re seeing the context.
OSV: Now that the NABRE has been approved, what are the next steps? How many publishers are licensed to publish the NABRE? Will it be available as an e-book?
Sperry: We have more than 25 publishers licensed to release the NABRE in a variety of settings. It will be available in large print, audio and Braille, which takes a long time to produce. Yes, there will be an NABRE e-book available in multiple download formats soon after March 9.
OSV: The NABRE uses the 1986 edition of the New Testament. Why wasn’t the New Testament revised? Are there any plans to revise it?
Sperry: None is under way at the present time. It is a very good translation. It’s very literal. It keeps to the formal Greek very closely.
OSV: This revision will not be used in the Lectionary, correct?
Sperry: There are no plans at this point to revise the Lectionary. Our primary goal will be making people aware of this text and improving Bible literacy.
OSV: How do you plan to do that?
Sperry: We will have a series of media articles that can be used in parish bulletins, on how families can pray the Old Testament and how to pray the Psalms.
We’ll also offer lectio divina resources for Lent in an audio format on the USCCB’s Lent website. We have a NABRE Facebook page where people can ask questions and get sneak peeks of the text.
We want people to go back and really revel in some of the most brilliant literature in the history of mankind.
Sarah Hayes is OSV’s presentation editor.
Sample of Translation (sidebar)
Psalm 23, NABRE
A psalm of David.
The LORD is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.
In green pastures he makes me lie down; to still waters he leads me;
he restores my soul. He guides me along right paths for the sake of his name.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me.
You set a table before me in front of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Indeed, goodness and mercy will pursue me all the days of my life; I will dwell in the house of the LORD for endless days.
Psalm 23, NAB
A psalm of David.
The LORD is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.
In green pastures you let me graze; to safe waters you lead me;
you restore my strength. You guide me along the right path for the sake of your name.
Even when I walk through a dark valley, I fear no harm for you are at my side; your rod and staff give me courage.
You set a table before me as my enemies watch; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Only goodness and love will pursue me all the days of my life; I will dwell in the house of the LORD for years to come.
Bible and Lectionary (sidebar)
Have you ever heard that if you attend Sunday and daily Mass, you’ll hear the entire Bible over the three-year cycle? That’s not remotely true, especially when it comes to the Old Testament. Jesuit Father Felix Just has analyzed the Lectionary and his research generated these statistics:
3.7 percent of the Old Testament is used in the readings for Sundays and major feast days.
13.5 percent of Old Testament is proclaimed Sundays and weekdays.
Long, Involved Process (sidebar)
Back in 1993, when work began on the New American Bible, Revised Edition, Bill Clinton was U.S. president, people were just learning about email and “Seinfeld” was among the top shows on television. Why did it take 18 years for the NABRE to be completed and approved?
It’s a more complicated process than most people realize, said Mary Elizabeth Sperry, associate director of permissions and Bible utilization for the New American Bible, who gave Our Sunday Visitor a rundown.
It started with the New American Bible Board of Control making a recommendation to revise the Old Testament. The Confraternity of Christian Doctrine then had to make a proposal to the bishops. The next challenge was finding translators; the revision had 10 editors and 50 translators — men and women, clergy, vowed religious and laypeople, Catholics and non-Catholics. “The vast majority are active scholars,” Sperry said, and had other duties aside from translating the text.
The first task was to identify the critical text to use for each book. Then the translators went to work. “The Bible’s an incredibly complex text; a lot of the Hebrew is obscure,” Sperry said, adding that, among the many challenges, “you have to make it sound like English.”
Once the text was translated, it went to editors, then the editorial board for review. “Everyone got together and went through the whole text,” she said. The text was then sent to the U.S. bishops’ Ad-Hoc Committee for the Review of Scripture Translations (now the Subcommittee on the Translation of Scripture Text), which then sent it to censors. Once the censors were finished reviewing the text, the material went back to the subcommittee. By 2008, it was decided the Psalter needed to be revised, which was a two-year process.
Before the revised edition could go to the bishops for final approval, there was one final review.
“Every single word, every single word of notes and every single cross-reference is reviewed,” Sperry told OSV. “I don’t think they missed a comma.”