Neuhaus on the NAB Translation

I agree completely with Richard John Neuhaus:

The NAB is a banal, linguistically inept, and misleading translation. Why did the bishops force it upon the Catholic people, demanding that it and it alone be used in the readings of the Mass? Various answers are given: Because it was produced by the guild of Catholic biblical scholars and, while it may not be very good, at least it is ours. Because the bishops hold the copyright, and charges for using the NAB in Mass guides and elsewhere is a cash cow for the financially strapped bishops conference. Because the bishops really don’t care whether Catholics use a worthy and reliable translation of the Bible.

Whatever the reason, it is a continuing scandal that the bishops do not permit the use of other translations that are more reliable, readable, intelligible, and worthy of the written word of God. The best of them is the Revised Standard Version (RSV), but there are others. (For personal and group Bible study, the Catholic edition of the RSV, published by Ignatius Press, is recommended.)

It is worth noting that the NAB, unlike a number of other translations, is used only by Catholics in the United States and used only by them because they are required to use it in the liturgy. In their own writings, Catholic biblical scholars and other writers generally avoid the NAB. Not surprisingly, the NAB is defended by those who are responsible for producing it, and people who choose to do so are free to use it. It is quite another thing for the bishops to impose the exclusive use of a grievously flawed Bible translation upon the Catholic faithful at Mass.

Update: Mere Comments has some comments about Neuhaus’ article, and links to an earlier article of his on the same subject. In that article, Neuhaus said:

Everyone who has sung or listened to Handel’s “Messiah” knows the words: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6, KJV). Magnificent. Here, as of this week’s amended Missalette, is the New American Bible: “For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” Try singing that. Whether under the rules of literal accuracy or of what, taking liberties, translators call “dynamic equivalence,” that is no more than a pedantic transliteration of the Hebrew. It is not a translation. It is a string of possible signifiers. It is not English. To be fair, the passage is not representative. Most of the NAB is English, albeit of a down-market variety.

Mere Comments’ comments:

How especially unfortunate that these particular words, on that particular occasion–the one moment of the year when all the pews are full, and when even the most jaded hearts present are open to the incomparable mystery and wonder of Christ’s birth–so signally fail to express the moment’s full majesty, but instead offer something that sounds like an anthropologist’s earnest, literal-minded rendering of Stone Age deity names. Fortunately, there is more on offer than just that, and it is not enough in itself to empty the pews. But it all seems a remarkably unnecessary self-inflicted wound. One hopes that the complaints of Neuhaus and others will eventually be heard and acted upon. Until then….how many time-units, O Sky-Sovereign?

One thought on “Neuhaus on the NAB Translation

  1. Bill,

    Fr. Neuhaus should have known better to complain. He was taught a long time by his ex-Lutheran folk that the Magisterium could be wrong.

    Now I guess, he just has to suffer the curse of NAB.

    But there is an underlying philosophy running below why the Bishops are indifferent towards the problem of the NAB and this is just my guess— only the Magisterium is allowed to inteprete the Bible anyway so, what if the people is reading a bad translation? They are not going to interpret it if it is a good translation anyway, right? So what?

    I thought Fr. Neuhaus should have thought about this possible reason, apparently he didn’t.

    My $0.02


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