Translation Question (if you know Greek)



I hope not to simply rehash all the previous debates about “I like the RSV,” and “The NAB stinks” that have appeared over the years. I would truly like to ask a question of those who have at least some experience and knowledge of the original languages (Greek, Hebrew).

I am NOT a Greek student. I would consider myself an “armchair Bible scholar.” But that being said, I do own and read many translations and have read a lot about translation theory and methods. I also own an interlinear New Testament which I consult often when I encounter differences between various translations.

It is my understanding that the RSV, as well as the protestant ESV, is basically a revision of a revision, of the King James Version, which itself was a combination of previous Latin and English translations into a cohesive whole. That’s great and I love the KJV.

But if we seek a “fresh” translation from original languages into English, we see numerous protestant efforts (NIV, HCSB, NLT, etc) or the only Catholic effort, the NAB.

As I read through the various translations, I am gaining more and more respect for the NAB, which I had previously thrown out due to some horrible footnotes. Time and again, I am surprised when I encounter an unusual (to my ear) reading, only to break out the interlinear and find that it is the NAB which is rendering the passage most literally, not the other way around.

Even in the case of so-called inclusive language, where some translations (NRSV!) bend the words around to remove gender at the expense of accuracy, the NAB seems to only use neutral pronouns where the Greek truly indicates “you guys” or “those believers over there,” as opposed to wiping the pages of any gender reference.

So let me ask you, especially those who know Greek: Is the NAB, especially the NABRE, really a poor translation or has it simply been misunderstood and poorly marketed?



I haven’t had too much experience in translating the Greek to the English as I’m not as proficient in Greek as what I should be, but personally I believe that the translations between the NAB and NABRE are quite odd. When you look at the exact same versus together, they don’t match up hardly at all. Yes, some words can be translated differently by different people, but some sentences are completely changed to the point where you wonder “alright, which one is right?” I’m not trying to point fingers or anything of the sort, but it is strange to me about how the NAB was translated/written. I tend to read the NABRE more than the NAB, and I will leave my response at that, as I do not have enough experience with the RSV to give an informed answer.


Read the second half of the Preface to the Revised New American Bible (Old Testament) at the beginning of the NABRE OT. It explains where translators in some instances have departed from the received texts and used the Septuagint or the Qumran manuscripts instead of the Masoretic texts in certain Books. This could be the reason for some of the changes between the NAB and the NABRE.


I find the NABRE to be a fine translation. There are always issues with any translation, the NABRE being no exception. I find that some dislike it due to 1) The notes & 2) The fact that it reads differently than the more KJV related translations. The notes are generally harmless and informative, but there are half a dozen stinkers, which most people complain about. (If you look at the original RSV-CE note concerning the Manna in Exodus, you’ll discover one there too.). The language of the NAB(RE) is translated in an idiom that is contemporary and American. Again, some do not like that, and of course, not all renderings are as good as they might be. However, this does not mean it is any less accurate than the RSV.

Here are a couple examples:

The first was is I in 1 Kings 3:4-11, where Solomon asks for a “listening heart” instead of the more typically translated “understanding mind”. Not only is the translation of “heart”, as found in the NABRE, instead of “mind” more literal, it also helps to maintain the parallel with verse 6 where Solomon says to the LORD that “You have shown great kindness to your servant, David my father, because he walked before you with fidelity, justice, and an upright heart.” We also know that David is describes as being a “man after his own heart” throughout 1-2 Samuel. Solomon’s “heart” remains an important theme throughout 1 Kings, where by the time we get to 11:9, we see that “The LORD became angry with Solomon, because his heart turned away from the LORD.”

The second is found in 1 Kings 4, which describes the domestic organization of the Solomonic kingdom. 4:1-6 lists the “officials” that Solomon had in his service, most likely high officials of Solomon’s central government in Jerusalem. (The RSV refers to them has “high officials”.) Then in verses 7-20, we are given the twelve administrative districts of the kingdom. The RSV and NRSV refers to those who are put in charge of these districts as “officers” while the NABRE translates it as “governors”. As Jerome T. Walsh points out in his volume on 1 Kings in the Berit Olam series: “The NRSV (RSV) calls them “officials”, but this is misleading, since the word is entirely different from the “high officials” of 4:2 (87).” I admit that this is a very subtle difference, but I do believe it is important nevertheless.


I would have to agree with all your points here Mccorm.

Especially in John (my favorite gospel), I see many instances where the NAB is simply transmitting the original more transparently than the traditional KJV, RSV line.

The “I am” statements are one example. Not only are they often left literally rendered as “I am,” instead of “I am he” or “It is I,” as many other translations do but they are often (or always) in caps, which I find useful because it tips me off to the fact that it is another true “I am” revelation of Our Lord and not other words being translated with those particular English words.

(Ouch- Hemingway, or my old newspaper editor, would shoot me for that run-on sentence. But alas, I am on my way out and running late… peace to you.) :blush:


Faulkner would have been ok with that sentence. :wink:

The NAB does a nice job in John. Besides what you mentioned, there are the “Amen” sayings and John 1:14,18 in the prologue.

I also remember a post I did on my blog a few years back comparing some passages in Exodus:


Faulkner would have been ok with that sentence

Ha! LOL as they say! I agree.

I didn’t notice that was your blog. Outstanding. I have spent many hours reading articles and reviews on there. It’s a great resource.

  • Dodge Pursuit,

Lover of Jesus, Bible nut, catechist, EM, hopefully heading to seminary someday soon…

closed #8

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit