Skip to comments.Catholic Caucus: It's the Church's Bible
Posted on 05/06/2006 11:42:13 AM PDT by Salvation
by Dr. Jeff Mirus, special to CatholicCulture.org
May 5, 2006
One of the examples Fr. Neuhaus used was Genesis 1:1-3. What has been traditionally rendered as In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth has recently been changed to In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, which fails to capture the full force of the Christian understanding of the beginning. Of course, this is not so much a quarrel over the translation of a particular verse as over a trend. For example, we see a similar loss of force in the Christian understanding of Psalm 23:6. In this verse, I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever becomes I will dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come.
Richard J. Clifford, SJ of the Weston Jesuit School of Theology, the defender of the NAB in this instance, argues that scholars rightly based their new Genesis translation on such things as the phraseology of comparable Near Eastern cosmogonies, and the Masoretic vocalization of the text. He further notes that at the time of the psalms, Israel had no belief in life after death in a modern sense, and one cannot push later interpretations onto early texts. Tradition, says Fr. Clifford, should not determine biblical translation. This seems quite sound.
A Unique Text
But is it really? It is certainly true that a translator ought not to impose on the text a meaning that it cannot bear, no matter what his theological presuppositions lead him to prefer the text should say. But when the language used can admit of a variety of interpretations, or when the meaning simply isnt completely clear, translators face an unusual challenge with Scripture. The challenge is to remember that the Holy Spirit is the primary author. It is, therefore, the Holy Spirits mind the translator must ultimately try to read, not the mind of the human agent who drafted the text.
With apologies to Fr. Clifford, tradition can and must affect how Scripture is translated. Tradition is reflective of Faith which, in turn, is reflective of the mind of the Holy Spirit. Knowing more about the truths the Holy Spirit wishes to convey than did the original human authors of the Old Testament, the Church sometimes comes to see a particular fullness of meaning in a Scriptural verse which a good translator is bound to respect. In other words, the role of the translator is not to do his best to return us to the understanding of reality held by the human agent who penned each ancient book. Rather, the translator must attempt to translate in such a manner that the greatest possible range of meaning inspired by the Holy Spirit is conveyed.
This is a daunting but not an impossible task. It is possible precisely because it is the Churchs Bible, not the Bible of the academic guild. In other words, what may sound to some like petulance on the part of Fr. Neuhaus is not petulance at all. It is, in fact, the sine qua non of Biblical translation. Without this precise attitude, the Bible becomes just another book, one of a great many interesting products of the human mind.
For Years to Come
Take the translation of Psalm 23:6. The verse employs a Hebraism perhaps best translated as for length of days, which is not an idiomatic expression in English, though it can be (and has been) translated that way, with perhaps not unsatisfactory results. Now, among many possible choices for translation of this Hebraism, let us consider two: forever (the traditional translation) and for years to come (in the NAB). Which is better?
Admittedly, the question is not simple. It seems reasonable that the Hebrew refers to a great length of time. But if we consider the sketchy understanding of the after-life in those days, we naturally think a little harder about whether it really means forever. Given the Hebrew propensity for poetic intensification or even hyperbole, however, we can see that forever might well have been understood at the time in an accommodated sense, even without a full theological understanding. Thus, for example, on our wedding days we all expect to be married forever. Even, perhaps, forever and a day.
What to do? Well, the Church knows something about the mind of the Holy Spirit that the human author didnt know. The Church knows that we will ultimately dwell in the house of the Lord forever in the fullest eschatological sense, and the Church also knows that this is one of several layers of meaning the Holy Spirit intended in this text. Because the Church knows this, as reflected in the tradition of her interpretation, it is the translators job to select a phraseology which is faithful to the literal text without unnecessarily obscuring this richer meaning.
Clearly, then, the translation for years to come fails. And it fails precisely because it divorces Scripture from the mind of the Holy Spirit, insisting instead that its meaning is exhausted by the conceptual limitations of the human agent who penned the words in a particular time and place. The translation forever, in contrast, leaves the text open to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to whom all the sequential stages of Revelation are equally present. And it does this without imposing upon the actual words a meaning which they cannot bear.
The Churchs Bible
Ive emphasized several times in other contexts (with no originality whatsoever) that the Bible must be interpreted in the heart of the Church. Because no language, especially no ancient language, can be translated into another with exact correspondence, translation is in part an act of interpretation. The richer the text, the more difficult it becomes to convey in the new language all the shades of meaning present in the original. This task becomes even more difficult when the translator himself, perhaps inevitably, does not perceive all the meanings the text contains.
In dealing with the works of a living author, of course, the translator should consult the author. But this is also possible with Scripture, for which purpose there is only one way to consult the Holy Spirit. Now we understand what Fr. Neuhaus means when he says: Its the Churchs Bible.
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Dr. Jeffrey A. Mirus has been a leader in Catholic education and the dissemination of Catholic information for over 30 years. He has co-founded a Catholic college, authored and published books, pioneered Catholic Internet services, founded a non profit corporation to advance the Catholic Faith through education and the media (Trinity Communications), and established a computer consulting enterprise (Trinity Consulting).
In addition to his apostolic and career accomplishments, Dr. Mirus is the father of six children. He and his wife Barbara currently reside in Northern Virginia.
|1985-Present:||Founder and Director of Trinity Communications
Purpose: To advance the Catholic Faith through communications
|1977-85:||Co-founder of Christendom College
Professor and first Director of Academic Affairs
Founder of the Apologetics Program
Founder and Director of the Christendom Press
|1978:||Book The Divine Courtship published by Franciscan Herald Press|
|1975:||Founded and edited the Catholic interdisciplinary journal Faith & Reason|
|1973:||Ph.D. in Intellectual History from Princeton University in 1973, with a dissertation focusing on Dominican Reform & Defense of the Papacy (prior to the Protestant Revolt)|
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KJV-only attacks begin in 5-4-3-2...
Dear Freepers in Christ,
Just my two cents here. I hope and pray that there will not be another "Anti- Catholic Flame War" on this Thread.
I for one, am immensely fed up with the Anti- Catholic Flame Wars I have either experienced, observed, or read here on FR Since January 2006.
I am still recovering from some or rather a series of Anti-Catholic Comments made by a Freeper to me regarding "Prostitution and the Catholic Church in Germany".
Why is it that "The Catholic Church is painted constantly as some Big Bad Wolf or werewolf so to speak ?
I just cannot understand some Folks here at FR ?
While, living in Atlanta some years back-- I had a number of Conservative Baptist and Presbyterian Friends who were either younger or a bit older than me and they always respected my Catholic Faith and taught me much about the Bible specially "The Old Testament".
I will just pray that no nasty comments will be posted on this Thread today. I am weary and tired as a result of Chronic pain and Health Issues and from stuff I have seen in the last week on a number of Threads.
IN THE RISEN LORD JESUS CHRIST,
LOL! That's why I marked it Catholic Caucus -- so it could be a Catholic Discussion.
**Why is it that "The Catholic Church is painted constantly as some Big Bad Wolf or werewolf so to speak ? **
Because the Catholic Church has stood firm for over 2000 years on issues of abortion, contraception, euthanasia, etc. And many put the Catholic Church down, thinking they might succeed in raising their denomination up.
However, the Catholic Church is still here and growing!
You are the best. You are on the money as always.
Yes, you are quite right with regard to the Anti- Catholicism that exists not only on FR but also on other Public Forums and in the Pagan Secular World.
I do agree with your last statement that the Catholic Church is still here and growing and I can certainly witness to that fact not only in India but also in a host of countries in Asia like Vietnam, Myanmar, even in Communist China -- The Catholic Faith it seems is spreading like wild fire.
I strongly believe that in 2-5 years "Vietnam will become a Major Bastion of Catholicism in South- East Asia".
Conversions to Catholicism in Vietnam are taking place at a quick pace or should I say that the Catholic Faith is spreading like "Wild Fire There".
In the United States too, I know that the Catholic Church is growing in mnay areas even in some areas in the Southern United States.
Finally, Yes -- The Catholic Church has stood firm while a lot of denominations have changed rules on a host of issues.
I don't use the NAB for personal reading or study, because I've had the RSV since I learned to read. However, I thought Fr. Neuhaus's criticisms in the recent "First Things" were goofy.
You say tomAYto, I say toMAHto ...
I hate the NAB's awkward translations which sometimes undercut Catholic teaching or at least the long term interpretation of things.
They sold out to a modern critical approach (whose scholarly proponents often don't believe in God) a touch of inclusivism, and had a tin ear to the sound of the language, to boot.
We are growing...
I've lived all over the nation due to my long-tenure in the US Army. This has taken me to Wisconsin, New Jersey, Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia, Washington (state) and California. I've also lived in North Carolina and Texas (where I live now -- and hopefully forever).
While the Church is "down" in the "blue state" areas I've lived in -- just like every other denomination -- it's booming in the red states...just like every other denomination.
Mass is always standing room only...get there early to get a decent spot. We're doing fine...despite what seems to be a focused attack strategy.
RSV is my main study bible, but I will use all of them sometimes to shed light.
A couple of online favorites (both with the deuterocanonical books:)
This is a reworking of the ASV, using the Byzantine Majority Text as its stanardized text, which is cool, I think.
The NET bible (which has lots of translators notes and is elegantly worded, although I don't always agree with their decisions on interpreting)
RVS is online at:
Thanks! I'm not usually at the computer - more likely on the sofa feeding the baby.
I have gotten to where I don't do much bible reading unless I am online with a keyword search any more...shame on me, but it's true...Of course I have something like 25 or 30 copies of the Bible in different translations floating around, being compulsive...so I am always within easy reach of one.
(And don't begin to ask me how many rosaries I have. We won't even talk about me buying the cheapie ones in 50 count packages from Autom to keep and give away.....)
Many Thanks for your message. I strongly feel that the Catholic Church is growing to a considerable extent in the Southern United States as well as in the South- West United States.
Since, you are Minnesota born and raised and a Proud Catholic -- May I add you to my Ping List for the Homilies of Father Robert Altier that I have been posting for the past month here on FR.
Father Robert Altier is a Conservative/Orthodox Catholic Priest who preaches awesome Homilies on the Blessed Sacrament, Our Lady, The Spiritual Life, etc.
He is also the Assistant Pastor of Saint Agnes Catholic Church in Minneapolis, Saint Paul.
Their web site http://www.stagnes.net
CCC 113 Read the Scripture within "the living Tradition of the whole Church". According to a saying of the Fathers, Sacred Scripture is written principally in the Church's heart rather than in documents and records, for the Church carries in her Tradition the living memorial of God's Word........
I own the NAB and read it. Before I bought it one of the verses I looked at was Lk 1:28. That told me all I needed to know about the translation.
I had just read an article about the title, in Greek I believe it is kecharitomene, that Gabriel uses when addressing Mary. Apparently, it's a unique word.
I sort of hold it at arm's length if there is a phrase I find disconcerting. Possibly a translation choice that might not be quite on the mark. And the notes? Once they get past basic definitions of words it is pretty swampy.
Maybe I should get a copy of the RSV. I also like the Douay-Rheims on line.
**I hate the NAB's awkward translations which sometimes undercut Catholic teaching or at least the long term interpretation of things.
They sold out to a modern critical approach (whose scholarly proponents often don't believe in God) a touch of inclusivism, and had a tin ear to the sound of the language, to boot.**
Agree with the sound of the language and the awkwardness of the translations. Many prefer the Douay-Rheims for that reason.
Also, I detest the inclusiveness language.
Where do you get your side by side tanslations of the Bible? D-R and Vulgate, correct?
St. Augustine had the Holy Spirit in mind when commenting on those places in Scripture where the Greek Septuagint and Hebrew differed.
In any event, my preferred English text is the RSV-CE. The NAB is flat. The RNAB is horrible.
Thank you for the CCC reference. Sometimes we forget about the heart of the message and get all bothered by some little details. I know I am guilty of that.