On the NAB again Mr.


On the NAB again

Mr. McManus has left a couple of wonderful posts, both very insightful and thought-provoking. I quote one in full here to comment on it somewhat better than would be allowed by a comment box.

Comment by Mr. Frank McManus

I'm not entirely convinced by your discussion of submissive vs. subordinate. I can't see how the latter could possibly be more politically correct than the former, so I'm disinclined to attribute sinister motives to the translators. Whichever option is more accurate depends wholly on the meaning of the original, and you do not address this question.

I'm certainly no expert, but my overall impression is that the revised NAB NT is a considerable improvement over the original NAB NT. (The revised Psalms are another story.) The old NT was often a virtual paraphrase, and a very klutzy one at that, on a par with the Good News Bible.

I'm not defending the NAB; I prefer Bibles that sound more traditional, such as the RSV. For this reason I think that, until Ignatius finally issues a complete study Bible, with a "revised" Catholic RSV (which I assume will mean eliminating the archaic language) - until that long-awaited day, check out the new English Standard Version (ESV). It's excellent - what the NRSV should have been. Unfortunately there's no Catholic edition, nor even an edition with the "Apocrypha". Apart from that, it's my favorite translation. Fans of the NKJV in particular should take a look - the ESV cleans up many of the infelicities of the NKJV.

First, addressing Mr. McManus directly: Thank you for that respectful questioning of the point. You are correct that I haven't fully presented the case, and perhaps I have been foolish in presenting this much of it. But my reaction isn't to this single passage or element, it is to a number of things embodied in many passages that I have heard over time, liberties taken with the text, which while not as damaging, lead me to suspect the motive behind what is going on.

As to the translation: I am not expert in Greek myself; however, I have consulted every interlinear translation I have (5) and the Latin Vulgate and in every case the word involved is indeed "submit" or "submissive." Here, I know I'm relying on other translators, but I do think it notable that in the history of translations claiming to be other than paraphrases, this substitution does not occur. The RSV uses subject, which I suppose has the same flavor as subordinate, but certain has less of the boardroom or the military about it.

But I think this translation is "the straw that broke the camel's back." For example, every fragment of a letter is introduced with the phrase, "Brothers and Sisters." Now, those words are interpolations into the text--nothing wrong in themselves, but they do constitute tampering with the text "for the sake of understanding." However, if the reading is announced as it usually is,"A reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians," why is the interpolation necessary? And if an interpolation IS deemed necessary, why don't we use the words of St. Paul in Ephesians 1:1: "To the saints who are also faithful in Christ Jesus?" This would be a more effective announcement and continuation of the notion that we are all called to be Saints.

While at Mass I have observed other "softer" wordings in the Gospels and in the Letters. The Old Testament readings seem to be less tampered with. I should not impute some subversive motive; however, this is not the conclusion of a moment it is the culmination of a series of observations. When the translation is so deliberately counter to tradition, one must wonder what other reason might underlie the change. Accuracy is possible, but I have noted that all the harsh or hard words seem to have been softened in this translation.

Admittedly, I am conveying an impression. Nevertheless, I find the NAB a seriously flawed translation on a number of fronts. The language is dull, flat, and unmemorizable. This last would seem to be a trivial concern, and yet, if we are to lead scriptural lives, without our noses stuck in a book all day long, we need to carry with us some portion of scripture that lives in the memory. The NAB doesn't even live as it is being pronounced. Add to that that in many cases the sense of what is being said is no more clear than it is in the older translations. I will readily acquiesce that there are passages in the older translations that are incomprehensible but most of the changes in the NAB do nothing to facilitate translation while depriving the translation of all the glories of the old.

I have pointed out before that the NAB are sometimes inane. For example St. Paul's famous, "We see now as in a glass, darkly," becomes "At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror. . ." Tell me how that makes sense to any child learning scripture today. They can look in a mirror and see for themselves that what they see is not indistinct. In fact, in some mirrors what one might see is more distinct than everyday reality. Any high-school student knows that mirrors are used for gathering light in a great many telescopes, including Hubble. Suddenly, we have moved from mere infelicity to a disorientation and perhaps alienation of the alert student. (I was this kind of nit-picker in my time, and guess I still am). The KJV, "In a glass, darkly," makes less sense to a child who has not been given the opportunity to see either the Elizabethan version of a looking glass or what passed for mirrors in Roman time. Once this has happened though, there is a fairly clear understanding of the enormous difference between a "glass" and a "mirror." I spend overmuch time on the point.

Yes, perhaps the fault can be attributed to simple incompetence and lack of liguistic ability. Perhaps it is due to a poor sort of pedagogy that has permeated the modern sensibility (largely based in a chronological chauvinism), a distorted pedagogy that desires the elimination of all objects that do not have correlatives in the modern world. It may stem from any number of reasons, but the combined result is that the NAB is an entirely unsatisfactory Bible to have proclaimed from the Ambo. It offers neither greater clarity nor more euphonious translations; it can be read as satisfying the agendas of dissident groups (although, as Mr. McManus points out, in charity we should not rush to that assumption); and it can be disorienting, confusing, and alienating to intelligent readers.

Ultimately, we are in agreement that, for whatever reasons it is generally a poor translation. Perhaps I am incorrect, but I thought that the rubrics in the U.S. allowed for one of two different translations--either this or the RSV-CE. I guess some of my questions were, if this is so, how does one go about making the case for the RSV-CE? If it is not, how does one go about making the case for adding it as a possibility?

Now that I have rephrased an argument all are probably tired of, I must once again thank Mr. McManus for asking the questions or, more correctly, stating the propositions that led to this post. I truly appreciate being forced to clarify my own thought and to back away from merely reacting to trying to give substance to the reaction.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on October 27, 2002 8:02 AM.

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