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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I wouldn't have said anything bus since you brought it up...There are well over 100 English translations of the bible already...Makes sense to me that if the people haven't got it by now, it's time to give up...
It is interesting to me that the King James bible is known as the Reformation bible...And scores after scores of bibles make the claim that they are an improvement over the King James, and they keep trying and trying...
Excellent points. My family memorizes from the RSV, and the kids often mention how strange the NAB translations sound, when we hear a passage we know during Mass.
I use Unbound Bible for all analytical work.
The NAB translation is in my opinion pretty bad. It basically follows the Protestant obfuscatory model in several key passages; I very much hope the Church moves away from it to something more reflective of the original Gospel.
Thanks, It wasn't there at the very beginning of that FR of the Day thread. dansangel had it saved with another company as I recall and was able to retrieve it.
Thanks, annalex, for the links.
**I very much hope the Church moves away from it to something more reflective of the original Gospel.**
Agree with you completely here.
Useless. It's their baby even though it has two heads. The bishop who heads the liturgical committee is fighting like heck to keep Rome from changing its diaper.
Sorry, I have no idea. It's been quite a while.
I'll have to look for the commentary.
Though I appreciate your attempt, we've been down this road several times, nothing new here. If the Catholic church was the same church that existed in the event of Christ death I would have no problems with this, but I see several deviations from fundamental base Christian doctrine. Most of these taking place with the confirmation of Constantine, the only documents any of you ever bring to dispute these concepts is Catholic writings which lost credibility with me when these deviations took place. The concepts of kneeling before, praying to, and even worshiping Mary and the saints. The Bible is clear that all of our worship, and allegiance belongs to Christ alone. Even Peter himself told the early saints not to kneel to him. several of the sacraments, and traditions of the Catholic church have been taken from pagan religions, and most of these go against the Holy scriptures upon which the very church is supposed to be based. Not only do we see Catholics kneeling before Mary and "the saints", but we see them kneeling before Graven images of these. The scriptures themselves say that we should not make unto ourselves and graven images. Once again my friend I don't deny authority of the church, I just don't believe that the sole authority lies in the Catholic church, but lies in the God head, and is governed among all churches that follow the scriptures, and call upon the name of Christ.
"The concepts of kneeling before, praying to, and even worshiping Mary and the saints. "
When you take a line like: Hail, Full of Grace, and turn it into You who have found favor with the Lord (or however the NAB renders it-I can't bear to look) you do violence to Catholic Tradition for no good reason. There is no valid reason to reject translating kecharitomene as Full of Grace whatsoever, and thousands of years of tradition to argue against it. Will they be changing the Rosary next?
Is it possible it is willful violence? Sure. Should we be surprised?
Catholics do not worship Mary or the Saints. Long ago, St. Augustine responded to these accusations by demanding those making that charge prove it.
So, prove it. There are countless old Missals, new missals, you can go to any Catholic Liturgy/Mass and use the missals there to prove your charge.
Like a lot of bigots they will attack you online but haven't the courage to do so to your face.
Every word of the New Testament was written by members of the Church, but I have just given my reasons I don't identify that church solely with the modern catholic church.
Catholics do not worship Mary or the Saints. Long ago, St. Augustine responded to these accusations by demanding those making that charge prove it. So, prove it. There are countless old Missals, new missals, you can go to any Catholic Liturgy/Mass and use the missals there to prove your charge.
why then do many Catholics kneel before, and pray to Graven Images of past "saints" and Mary?
were we, or were we not commanded by the very Peter you claim to be the first pope not to kneel before any man?
as well were we not commanded no to make to ourselves any graven images?
I think it's "Oh favored one," and I agree that it's a bad choice to change it.
I think we'd agree, though, that every translation of the Bible has its own agenda. The KJV is not immune from this criticism.
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