New American Bible

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The origins of the New American Bible (NAB), which was first published in 1970, began with what was previously called the Confraternity Version.

Confraternity Revisions Catholics were becoming increasingly aware of the need of revising the Douay-Rheims-Challoner Bible. There were discrepancies in its numerous editions introduced by private typographers and publishers; there were instances of lack of identification of the ecclesiastical authority approving the editions. The need of revision was intensified by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine's (CCD) promotion of Bible instructions and study clubs throughout the U.S. Accordingly on Jan. 18, 1936, the chairman of the Bishops Committee of the CCD, Edwin V. O'Hara, proposed to Biblical scholars meeting at the Sulpician Seminary in Washington a revision of the Douay-Rheims-Challoner Bible. The meeting resulted in a twofold decision: to undertake the revision of the Catholic English Bible in use and to form an association of Catholic Biblical scholars that would promote scientific and popular Scripture studies and publications. The Bishops' Committee of the CCD offered its patronage to the association and its work. Oct. 3, 1936, was the founding date.

New Testament. At this time the principles of revision for the NT were drawn up. It was agreed to adhere to the Latin Clementine Vulgate and to render its sense exactly and in clear and simple English. Recourse to the Greek was made for the sense of the Latin but not for deviation from the vulgate. Variants between Latin and Greek were treated in footnotes. Diction, style, and rhythm of the current text were retained as far as possible; mistakes were corrected; obsolete words modernized; and words introduced for sense were italicized. "Thee" and "thou" were retained; first words of sentences, rather than of verses, were capitalized; long and involved sentences were broken up without detriment to sense. The text was arranged in paragraph form; chapter and verse numbers were indicated in the margin. Cross-references were placed between the text and footnotes; poetic passages were printed in verse form. Divisions, subdivisions, and boxed paragraph headings enhanced the format and readability of the text. The names of the revisers and editors appeared on the final page.

The NT revision was completed in 1941. It was published by the St. Anthony Guild Press of Paterson, N.J. The Holy Name Society undertook the task of distribution. More than one million copies were sold in the first year. Though the work had been planned as a revision, the amount of independent translation was such that it was aptly regarded as a new translation.

Old Testament. The revision of the OT Vulgate presented its own special problems. Not all the books were translated by St. Jerome from the original languages into a uniform Latin version. The Psalter of the Vulgate is Jerome's revision of the Old Latin version from the LXX. Sirach, Baruch, Wisdom, and 1 and 2 Maccabees are from the revised Old Latin. The principles governing the revision of the OT [see Catholic Biblical Quarterly 1 (1939) 267269] followed those for the revision of the NT as far as they could be applied. Proper names translated by St. Jerome were restored.

Sample portions of the OT revision were printed, not published; e.g., the minor Prophets and the first 40 Psalms. Though the OT revision was well under way by 1944, the project was abruptly terminated in favor of a complete change of plan, as explained in the following section.

Confraternity Version. A response of the pontifical biblical commission (Aug. 22, 1943) favored translation of the Bible from the original into modern languages [Acta Apostolicae Sedis 35 (1943) 270]. The encyclical of Pius XII divino afflante spiritu (1943) urged the study of Oriental languages and literatures and recourse to the original texts. These directives caused the committees for the OT and NT translations to choose the original texts of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek as the basis of an entirely new translation called the Confraternity Version (CV). The Bishops' Committee of the CCD was in agreement with this. Edward Arbez, SS, notified the Catholic hierarchy of the change in a letter dated April 22, 1944.

Old Testament. The new principles of translation of the OT [see Catholic Biblical Quarterly 6 (1944) 363364] prescribed the use of the Kittel-Kahle edition of the Hebrew and Aramaic texts for translating the protocanonical books and the Swete edition of the OT in Greek for the deuterocanonical books except for the parts of Sirach that have been preserved in Hebrew. Textual corrections were made on the basis of the ancient versions. Conjectural emendations were kept to the minimum. St. Anthony Guild was the publisher. The final board of editors consisted of Louis F. Hartman, CSSR, Msgr. Patrick W. Skehan, and Stephen J. Hartdegen, OFM, all members of the Catholic Biblical Association. These were authorized to pass final judgment on all the OT books. In harmony with the ecumenical spirit of vatican council ii, some outstanding non-Catholic scholars were engaged to edit 1 and 2 Samuel (F. M. Cross) and 2 Kings (J. A. Sanders) and to revise Genesis (D. N. Freedman). In the interest of uniform Bible usage, the completed OT adopted the Hebrew name forms instead of the Vulgate forms previously used.

New Testament. The CV NT, translated from the original Greek, was entrusted to a separate committee headed by Msgr. Myles M. Bourke, assisted by R. E. brown, SS; D. Stanley, SJ; J. A. Fitzmyer, SJ; R. Kugelman, CP; T. Halton; E. F. Siegman, CPPS; B. Vawter, CM, J. Quinn, and the Protestant scholars W. D. Davies and John Knox. The first portions appeared in the form of scriptural readings in the Roman Missal. The OT translation principles also guided the NT translation as far as applicable. The same applied to its external form. Confronted with the variety of style of the various books, the translators strove to reflect this variety and to render the text faithfully, even in its informal, conversational, and derogatory nuances. Before publication of the entire NT, the work was submitted to the critical examination and judgment of a literary editor.

The final volume of the CV OT appeared in 1969. The following year saw the completion of the NT, translated by a separate group of scholars. After some revision of the OT, both were published together in 1970 under the name New American Bible (NAB).

The New American Bible Revised. A project to revise the New American Bible began with the New Testament books. In 1978 a five-member steering committee chaired by Rev. F. T. Gignac, SJ, undertook to formulate principles to guide the revision, assembled collaborators, and subsequently served as the editorial board. About a dozen translators submitted initial drafts of revised translations together with introductions, notes, and cross references. The editorial board devoted six years to a careful review of this material to insure consistency and accuracy, in dialogue with the translators, other consultants, and an episcopal committee chaired by the Most Rev. John F. Whealon. The revised NT was approved both for publication and for liturgical use in 1986 and was issued early in 1987 by several publishers.

In reality, this thorough revision constitutes a new translation. The introductions, notes, and cross references are almost all new, and are much more extensive and consistent than in the first edition. The original threefold purpose of the NAB (liturgical use, private reading, and study) was maintained, but special attention was given to its suitability for public proclamation. The revision is more literal than the first edition, reflecting an approach to translation that tends more to formal equivalence. The language is more traditional, seeking a dignified level of speech appropriate to liturgical usage, though without archaisms. The editors were concerned to maintain lexical consistency wherever appropriate, thus responding to a frequent criticism of the 1970 version, especially in regard to parallel passages in the Synoptic Gospels.

The revised NAB NT takes a moderate approach to the contemporary concern about discriminatory language. Care was exercised to avoid expressions in English that could be taken as tendentious or offensive to any minority. The editors tried to render gender-inclusive expressions by similar terms in English to the extent that this could be done without violation of other principles.

In 1986 a project was initiated within the Catholic Biblical Association of America to produce a translation of the psalter more suitable for liturgical use. The revision committee finished the project in 1991. After some changes recommended by the episcopal committee, the translation was approved by the Administrative Conference of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) in September 1991 and was approved for liturgical use by the full body of the NCCB at the November 1991 meeting. In May 1992, the lectionary which included the revised psalter was approved and sent to Rome, where its approval was confirmed by the Congregation for Divine Worship. But the confirmation was revoked by the same congregation in June 1994 because of concerns over inclusive language.

In 1990 the Catholic Biblical Association of America passed a resolution to produce a revision of the rest of the Old Testament of the New American Bible. The reasons for this were the length of time since the Confraternity version was originally completed (195269), the fact that the notes were very sparse in the Old Testament sections and often in need of complete rewriting, the list of inaccuracies noted in the Old Testament translation, the discovery of new Hebrew texts for many of the individual Old Testament books, and a concern for the integrity of the version in view of the revised New Testament translation and the recent revision of the psalter. It was noted that the New American Bible represents a significantly different version from other translations such as the New Revised Standard Version (which remained rooted in the tradition ultimately of the King James Version). As a fresh translation from the original languages into contemporary English, it represents a cross between formal and dynamic equivalency. And as the only American Old Testament translation done exclusively under Catholic auspices, it allows the Catholic Church in the United States to have a translation of its own. The project was formally approved by the Administrative Conference of the NCCB in 1993.

Bibliography: j. barr, "After Five Years: A Retrospect on Two Major Translations of the Bible," Heythrop Journal 15 (1974) 381405. w. harrelson, "The New American Bible," Duke Divinity School Review 44 (1979) 124136; repr. l. r. bailey, The Word of God: A Guide to English Versions of the Bible (Atlanta 1982). s. kubo and w. f. specht, So Many Versions? (rev. ed. Grand Rapids 1983) 213221.

[s. j. hartdegen/

c. j. peifer/

f. t. gignac]