NABRE and Matthew 19:9


I suggest the NABRE as the bible for use by RCIA students, because it is the bible used in Daily Mass Readings at most American parishes.

The front matter tells us it is “Translated from the Original Languages with Critical Use of All the Ancient Sources AUTHORIZED BY THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES of the CONFRATERNITY OF CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE and APPROVED BY THE ADMINISTRATIVE COMMITTEE of the UNITED STATES CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS”.

The NABRE has a ***Nihil Obstat ***and Imprimatur.

Granted there has been some criticism over the translation, and clearly some of the footnotes are problematic, but by and large the semantic differences cannot be overcome.
However, I’m beginning to wonder if I have given the NABRE a pass in my criticism.

NABRE’s Matthew 19:9 is a verse I just found really troubling:

"I say to you, whoever divorces his wife **(unless the marriage is unlawful) **and marries another commits adultery.”

Now compare it to the RSVCE2:

"And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery; and he who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery.”

The NABRE parenthetical addition of ***“unless the marriage is unlawful”, ***seems to be making a statement on Church teaching on annulments. The addition of “unless the marriage is unlawful” seems to give scriptural reference for the definition of what is a valid marriage, and whether the dissolution of such a marriage can be based on the belief that the marriage was not “lawful”, and therefore give justification for remarriage by or to a divorced person.

My argument **is not **with Church teachings on divorce, remarriage, or the validity of a marriage in the eyes of the Church, but as a bible student, I find the insertion in the NABRE as wrong; similar to how the Jehovah Witnesses freely edited scripture in their bible to support their believes.

Any thoughts?


I’m no Greek scholar, but from what I have heard, it is a legitimate translation of the Greek word porneia (which is the word that is always at issue in understanding this “exception” clause).

The Ignatius Study Bible (which uses the RSV2CE) has an essay on this verse and includes three possible interpretations for it. The second one backs up the NABRE’s translation:

2. Levitical Law View

This position interprets “unchastity” in Mt 19:9 as invalid marriages where the spouses are too closely related. Thus, “except for unchastity” (Mt 19:9) means “except where unlawful unions exist”. Such unions ought to be severed because of the impediment posed by near blood-relations. A divorce under these conditions does not sunder a true marriage bond because a valid marriage never existed. It is equivalent to an annulment. This view is supported by two NT instances where porneia refers to incest. In Acts 15:20, 29, the apostles charge Gentile Christians to abstain from blood and unchastity. The OT background for this decision in Lev 18:6–18 suggests that unchastity refers to prohibited marriages between closely related kinsfolk. In 1 Cor 5:1–2 (translated “immorality”), porneia clearly refers to an illicit union of a man and his father’s wife.

  • The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: The New Testament (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010), 41.

It seems to me that it is a legitimate rendering of the Greek.

Just an aside, but the NABRE isn’t exactly the same text that we use at Mass (just compare the Gospel for December 8th with Luke 1:28). There are a few such differences, though it is mostly the same.


I think the NAB’s translation can be defended in a way that the Jehovah’s Witnesses can’t. If I understand it correctly, the Greek word translated “marriage is unlawful” in the NAB and “unchastity” in the RSV can refer to any kind of sexual immorality. If that is true, then I think the verse can be legitimately interpreted as referring to an immoral or illicit sexual relationship between the spouses. Thus, I think the Greek word, at least in this context, is capable of a meaning that is synonymous with either “unlawful marriage” or “unchastity,” or both. If I’m right about all that, these passages can be used to support annulments because if the couple’s relationship is unchaste from the start, then their marriage is invalid and they have an obligation to separate.

I hope that explanation makes sense. Please let me know if it was helpful.


Yeah, I agree with both of you on many points, and don’t think it is a hill worth dying on…

However, in regards to the translation from Greek, while adultery might negate a marriage, in the event adultery post facto to the marriage, that marriage would still have been lawful when the covenant was entered into no?

If that is correct, “unless the marriage is unlawful” would not be precise, but I suppose it could be argued that the meaning was that adultery made an otherwise lawful marriage unlawful…so maybe I address my one apprehension on the verbiage.

And, Joe, I did consider the “hail Mary full of grace” as opposed to “most favored one”. That opened a new can of worms for me, after you raised it…mainly with the USCCB…they sanctioned and accepted the NAB and the Lectionary for use in the US…why would they not have left “full of grace” alone…what makes it problematic is one could argue that a cafeteria style approach to translations ( “unless it is a lawful marriage” and “full of grace”) is sloppy, in that the parenthetical in Mark 9:19 and the ignoring the NAB in Luke is an effort to make scripture somehow “more Catholic” (I’m playing devil’s advocate here).

Also, I am a fan of Ignatius Press’s NT Study Bible, but only as a starting point…obviously it would be difficult to have a real in depth analysis of the entire NT in one small volume, and my personal thoughts are it has the heavy hand of Dr. Scot Hahn, who I do not have issues with his academic credentials, but his mainstream published works seem to be what I call “exegesis for the masses” (which is not meant in a pejorative sense).

And finally, most Catholic exegists (including Hahn), in addition to referencing early church NT and old Jewish texts, point to the RSVCE…Benedict XVI is but one example. It just baffles me why, then, the USCCB felt a need for an NAB.

Again, its certainly not a show stopper to faith, but it is an interesting discussion.


Well, the whole point of contention is whether the Greek word porneia should be translated as “adultery”/“unchastity” OR “unlawful union.” If it is translated as “unlawful union”, then adultery does not necessarily enter into the picture at all.

The NAB has been around for a long time. I’m not sure of all the history that went into it’s completion, nor do I know much about how much editorial control the bishops have over it beyond the fact that the USCCB holds the copyright. The RSVCE, though, was largely a Protestant translation at its origin. The NAB was a Catholic project from the outset. That may be part of it.

Why the NAB goes with “favored one” over “full of grace”, I do not know, but most of the modern English translations go that route. I believe the differences between the NAB and the Lectionary only came about 15-20 years ago when Liturgiam Authenticam came out and necessitated the tweaking of some passages for liturgical use.


It is technically correct to call the RSV a “largely protestant translation” but it really isn’t fair to do so.

The translation was started by the International Council of Religious Education which became the National Council of Churches. The Catholic Church is not a member of this organization but the scholarship producing it was excellent and it is widely accepted inside and outside of the Catholic Church.

The NRSV which came from the RSV is the standard in acedemia. Most of the Sacra Pagina commentaries use the NRSV.

Evenyone wants a literal translation and the RSV family is about as literal as you can get in modern(ish) english. Again, the scholarship was excellent. It really isn’t fair to label it as a Protestant translation.



Why the NAB goes with “favored one” over “full of grace”, I do not know, but most of the modern English translations go that route.

“full of grace” is a rendering of the Vulgate’s gratia plena, presumably preserved in accordance with tradition, whereas “favored one” is a rendering of the Greek κεχαριτωμενη, and thus going back to the source text.


In Greek, πορνεια is essentially “sex with someone other than your lawful spouse”, but, in the biblical Greek of the Septuagint, it is used metaphorically for Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. As such, “unchastity” expresses the field of meaning better in English than “unlawful marriage” does, not least because the former can overlap the latter. Still, I will start worrying about a perfect translation when someone invents a perfect language to translate texts into.


Thank you for the clarification. I was more or less trying to make the point as to why the NAB might exist at all. I could have chosen my words better.


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