The footnotes of the New American Bible have a really complicated story behind them. Some of them are great – when I read the Book of Revelation with the New American Bible’s footnotes, I was left wondering not what the Book means but wondering why people think it’s confusing at all.
So it depends on what footnotes you’re looking at. The reason many of them are bad is because the scholars they chose to write the footnotes were not teachers of Catholic tradition but of modern historical critical research methods. Historical criticism is fine, but the emphasis on that is so heavy that you don’t get Catholic tradition almost at all in the Bible’s footnotes, and a lot of good Catholic info gets left out. Here are a few examples:
The footnote on Genesis 1:26 says: Let us make: In the ancient Near East, and sometimes in the Bible, God was imagined as presiding over an assembly of heavenly beings who deliberated and decided about matters on earth. This scene accounts for the plural form here."
Now traditional Catholic interpretation says that the phrase “Let us make” refers to the Trinity. It uses a plural personal pronoun because there is a plural number of persons in the Godhead. But an even deeper problem is that it almost suggests that the text is just a primitive way of thinking that we shouldn’t believe in in modern times. “Oh, this was an ancient way of imagining God in a sort of polytheistic way.” Um, no, Catholic tradition doesn’t suggest that polytheistic thinking is halfway endorsed in the Bible. Especially not in the Creation account.
Another example is in Matthew 16:23, where Jesus tells the disciples that He is going to be handed over to the Pharisees and crucified. The footnote says, “Neither this nor the two later passion predictions (Mt 17:22–23; 20:17–19) can be taken as sayings that, as they stand, go back to Jesus himself. However, it is probable that he foresaw that his mission would entail suffering and perhaps death, but was confident that he would ultimately be vindicated by God (see Mt 26:29).”
Now why the heck does it say these statements can’t go back to Jesus Himself? The idea that Jesus couldn’t have said this makes no sense. One would think that the author was suggesting that Jesus didn’t know the future. But the very next breath says that it is “probable” that He did. It looks like the editor of the footnotes disagreed with the author of the footnotes and added a clarification, but it weakens the first remark, “neither this nor the two later passion predictions…go back to Jesus,” and makes it look contradictory and silly. Not to mention that it’s not based on Catholic tradition but on modern historical critical scholars, who so often are ready to assume that any prediction of the future is impossible.
Anyway those are two quick examples from the top of my head. Another one would be that, somewhere in the Old Testament, there was a Protestant footnote writer who wrote that the Old Testament forbids images to be made. Which is not only not Catholic tradition, it’s a classic Protestant heresy. Why the heck is it taught in a Catholic Bible? But I can’t find the footnote that says that right now after an internet search, so take that as it stands. Anyway, the footnotes are basically a mixed bag. And it would just be nice if they were based on Catholic tradition more than they currently are.