11 March 2011

New American Bible, Revised Edition

Remember how excited I got a couple of months ago about a new translation of the Bible coming out? Do you remember my disappointment the next day when I realized I had missed the sentence, "It retains the 1986 edition of the New Testament"? Well, it came out two days ago, and yesterday I found time to make an inquiry over the phone about it. However, it wasn't until today that I found time to write about it.

I didn't want to take up too much of the customer support person's time, so I just asked two questions: How does Genesis 1:27 read? And, is Pope Paul VI's letter of endorsement in it?

This is how Genesis 1:27 reads in the New American Bible, Revised Edition:
God created mankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.

For comparison, this is how the 1970 New American Bible reads:
God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.

There are three differences: "mankind" vs. "man"; "image of God" vs. "divine image"; and, "them" vs. "him".

"mankind" vs. "man":

For this one, I'm going to quote the Norms For The Translation Of Biblical Texts For Use In The Liturgy published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1995:
6/3. Thus, the word "man" in English should as a rule translate 'adam and anthropos (ανθρωπος), since there is no one synonym which effectively conveys the play between the individual, the collectivity and the unity of the human family so important, for example, to expression of Christian doctrine and anthropology.

The word here is אֶת־הָאָדָם (’âdâm) and the only faithful translations is "man", which implies all mankind, but is also specific of the person of the first man. The Revised Edition translation  only gives the implied meaning and completely excludes the specific meaning. The Revised Edition fails this first comparison.

"image of God" vs. "divine image"

The Hebrew here is בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים (tselem elohiym), which literally translates as "image of God". On this point, the Revised Edition is an improvement.

"them" vs. "him"

The word in question here is אֹתוֹ (hîy’) and can translated as the singular "him", "her" or "it". The gender of this word is ambiguous. Greek also has an gender ambiguous word that the Septuagint uses here, αὐτόν (auton). However, both Latin and English do not have gender ambiguous equivalents; thus, the convention in these languages is to use the masculine and rely on the context to determine the gender or ambiguity of the gender. The Nova Vulgata (Neo-Vulgate) uses the word illum here, to which the English equivalent is "him."

Note that in the next clause the word אֹתָם is used. My Hebrew dictionary doesn't say how to pronounce this word; however it does say that it is the plural of (hîy’). Thus the Revised Edition disregards the original Hebrew here, not to mention the Septuagint and Nova Vulgatata, and puts forward not a translation but an error.

This error has negative theological implications because it does not reflect the Trinitarian nature of God: a single God that is a plurality of persons. According to the 1970 version, the first part says, “in the divine image he created him,” which reflects the singularity of the Trinity. The second part says, “male and female he created them,” which reflects the plurality of persons in the Trinity. The New American Bible, Revised Edition uses the plural in both places; making this verse void of Trinitarian content.

The answer to my second question was, "No." I was told that Pope Paul VI's letter of endorsement is not found in the New American Bible, Revised Edition. This is a very good thing. Pope Paul only endorsed the 1970 version, not the Revised New Testament in 1986, nor the Revised Psalms in 1991. However, the bibles with these revisions still published Pope Paul's endorsement; even though he was dead when these revisions were made. I view this as deceitful. There appears to be no such deceit in the New American Bible, Revised Edition.

If you want a good translation of the Bible that is faithful to the original text, don't buy the New American Bible, Revised Edition. When an electronic version comes out, I will likely buy it as a reference; however, this is only because I'm a real Bible nerd that includes heterodox and even heretical bibles in my collection. I only use these bibles as references, and I never read them for inspiration.

What Bibles do I read for inspiration? Read my Weekly Thought for April 7, 2007.