As a catechist, I often feel pulled in different directions when it comes to the Scriptures. My own favorite translation for everyday use is the Revised Standard Version Second Catholic Edition (hereafter, RSV-CE2), but there’s also the beautifully traditional language of the Douay-Rheims (DR), what with its connection to our Latin heritage. Nevertheless, my classroom is equipped with the translation used in the Mass, the New American Bible (NAB), which is no longer available online at the USCCB website, where the new New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE) has replaced it. For purposes of scholarship, I also have handy a Clementine Vulgate and a Greek New Testament. Of course, when I use the Psalms, I prefer to use them as they appear in the Liturgy of the Hours, for the sake of plugging my students into the liturgical tradition of the Church, and that means using the Grail Psalter, which has in the last few years been revised by the monks who once taught me back in my seminary days, so that now we have the Revised Grail Psalter.
“The U.S. Bishops have announced a plan to revise the New Testament of the New American Bible so a single version can be used for prayer, catechesis, and liturgy.”
Greeeeeeeeeaaat. Just what we needed.
Really, it’s a great idea. One of the reasons we American Catholics use so many different sources is that prayer, catechesis, and liturgy have different demands. We tend to prefer our prayer texts to have a blend of formality and accessibility that both reaches out to us and elevates us in our meditations. In liturgy, we have similar needs, although I think it needs a touch of the academic for the purposes of homiletics. Catechists long for a Bible that is clear in meaning, but also uses specific language that can be built upon catechetically.
Take, for instance, Genesis 1:2 (yes, I know this is an extreme example of cherry-picking). The Hebrew says, “tohu wabohu,” described by Dr. John Bergsma in his recently reviewed book as “a rhyming phrase that describes a situation of chaos, like our phrase ‘higgledy-piggledy.’ More specifically, ‘tohu’ means ‘formless,’ that is, ‘unformed’ or ‘unshaped.’ ‘Bohu,’ on the other hand, means ‘void’ or ’empty'” (p. 11).
Let’s compare translations:
Douay-Rheims: “And the earth was void and empty, and darkness was upon the face of the deep, and the spirit of God moved over the waters.”
New American Bible: “The earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the water.”
New American Bible – Revised Edition: “And the earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters.”
RSV-CE2: “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.”
Now, take my polls:
Here are my own thoughts:
The Douay-Rheims only really reflects the emptiness of creation, and while beautiful, does not lend itself to my catechetical work. The days of creation are ordered by God in response to that formlessness and emptiness. As a catechist, I want a translation from which I can frame the paradigm that structures the entire creation account. The Douay-Rheims would, however, be lovely material for prayerful meditation and liturgy.
The New American Bible does a little better in expressing the duality of tohu wabohu, but it isn’t grammatically clear. Rather than having “formless” and “empty” both modify “earth,” the NAB equates the earth to a wasteland which happens to be empty. Reducing the two adjectives to one noun and one adjective seems, in a sense, to keep the duality from striking quite as hard as it could.
The New American Bible – Revised Edition, for all its improvements over the NAB, reverts back to paralleling the Douay-Rheims rendering, with who adjectives for formlessness (the Douay-Rheims emphasized the emptiness).
Only the Revised Standard Version – Second Catholic Edition gets full credit. It emphasizes both the formlessness and the emptiness factors, and renders them both as descriptions of the earth. Plus, if you use the RSV-CE2, you don’t get the heavily modernist-influenced, let’s-all-pretend-Moses-was-secretly-a-pagan commentary that comes free with your copy of the NAB!
So, with these small observations noted in the eternal and completely reliable interwebz, I relay my hopes that the new translation of the New Testament will be better suited to all three – prayer, catechesis, and liturgy – than any of the old translations of this Old Testament passage.
What would you like to see in a new translation of the New Testament?