Thanks to Chad for inviting me to write the third part in this series on Bible translations. As happens from time to time in the Biblioblogoshpere, I may be a bit of an odd one out. As a Roman Catholic, I’m likely writing a post about a translation that many readers will dismiss, the New American Bible. So, humor me …
There are only two Bible translations that I read with any kind of consistency, namely the NRSV and the NAB. I generally use the NRSV in academic settings and the NAB in parish settings. That is not to say I don’t use other translations. In fact, when I am studying a particular passage I almost always compare translations using either BibleWorks or Logos. I don’t believe that there is any one translation that is adequate taken on its own. Be that as it may, there are three underlying reasons why I primarily use the NAB for daily reading and in parish settings: canon, community, and liturgy.
From the standpoint of canon, I use the NAB because it contains the deuterocanonicals. I doubt anyone would read a version of the Harry Potter series that left out all or part of book three. In the same way, I don’t read Bibles that leave out books that I believe to be canonical. If you are a Protestant, would you read from an NIV that was missing the Book of Esther or Job? Doubtful. In the same way, I wouldn’t expect an Orthodox Christian to consistently read from the NAB.
Let me give you one illustration where this would play an important role. My NAB is a study Bible, as most of them are. In its cross-references and notes it sometimes refers to the deuterocanonicals. A translation that doesn’t contain these books cannot do so. I think this is a major weakness even in Bibles where these texts are not taken as canonical (i.e. perhaps they could be included as an appendix somewhat like the NRSV). At the very least, the deuterocanonicals do shed some light on the New Testament, even for the Protestant. The inability to cross-reference these texts or refer to them in notes such that the reader can easily look them up without going to another text is problematic.
Now, I have no intention of arguing about issues of canon here. This is not my blog. I’m only explaining to you why I read a particular translation.
Against that backdrop, one might say that there are a number of texts that include the deuterocanonicals other than the NAB. This is certainly true, which brings me to the point of community. To be quite honest, many Catholics are not entirely happy with the NAB. I’m not always happy about the translation decisions either. I hate the way it sometimes handles text critical issues. But, the fact of the matter is that it is what most people in my church parish read. So, if I am teaching my adult Sunday School class on Sunday morning and read from anything other than the NAB, I am likely to cause confusion. Therefore, I read the NAB as a part of my community and point out possible translation issues as I am teaching.
I remember what it was like being in an evangelical Protestant church and everyone using a different translation. I could walk into church on Sunday morning and find people reading from the NIV, the NLT, the ESV, the NASB, the KJV, the NKJV, the Message, or the HCSB. And, then there was the continual interjecting in Sunday School class: “but mine says …” and me thinking “well that’s nice” ;-). It is refreshing not to have to deal with that so much anymore. Of course, some people in my church parish do have different versions, but I would say that over 90% of the people who come in for any teaching that I do in my parish use the NAB. And, any time I listen to another person in my parish teach, they use the NAB. So, do I love it? No. I love Hebrew and Greek texts. Is it adequate? Yes. And, most people in my community use it.
Finally, and tied to the aspect of community, is liturgy. The NAB is the text used in the lectionary from which my church and most others in North America read. When I do devotional reading I generally read from the lectionary. I always try to interact with the lectionary texts in Hebrew and Greek when I have time, but that is a bit idealistic considering everything I’m currently doing. Whether I study the lectionary readings in Greek and Hebrew or English I always go to the United States Council of Catholic Bishops website or to iMissal to find where the lectionary readings are. If I read the lectionary in English, I am reading the NAB. If I do that, then I am seeing the same readings from the same translation as any Catholic in North America who has attended mass that day or who has read from the lectionary. And, I think there is something really wonderful about that – Christians reading the Bible together in some unified way.
I love the lectionary. In the tradition of which I was a part, the usage of scripture was somewhat myopic. Rarely were there sermons on the Old Testament or the gospels. Our preachers spent most of their time in the epistles. The lectionary forces me to remove my blinders to some degree because I am not choosing what I want to read. I get an Old Testament reading (usually), a psalm, and a gospel reading. I must interact with readings that I might ordinarily overlook. And, I believe that is important. At the very least, I think it humbles me. It makes me realize just how difficult it is to do theology considering the variety of perspectives found in the text of the Bible. Some may believe that all of the Biblical authors are saying similar things only in different ways, but even still, that is a lot to sort. I am thankful that lectionary makes me ever more aware of this. And, the Bible version that makes it easiest for me to experience these benefits of the lectionary is the NAB.
With all this said, I am not recommending that everyone read the NAB. For me, it just makes sense. I would recommend though that we should all take into account canon, community, and “liturgical” context when making decisions about which translation we read from, even if you don’t use a lectionary – God help you ;-).