Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The New American Bible, St. Joseph Edition

As a follow up to Boniface's Ten signs you have a bad Bible commentary, I would like to draw your attention to the St. Joseph Edition of the New American Bible. I'm sure you've seen this one before. The parish at which I worked for a time had hundreds of them in the parish center.

Inside the cover are three imprimaturs, two nihil obstats, and an apostolic blessing from Pope Paul VI. Quite impressive. And then you read the introduction, called How to Read Your Bible. Ben Douglass and Jacob Michael aptly refer to this section as How Not to Read Your Bible in their article: The New American Bible: Is It Good for Catholics? (This used to be available online at Catholic Apologetics International but I have been unable to locate it again after first reading it). Here are some samples of the poisonous commentary contained therein:

God Himself guided (inspired) the Hebrew genius in its searching out of the mysteries of the human condition... When this restless searching for truth and meaning culminates in unfolding one of God's mysteries, we speak of divine revelation... Sometimes inspired searching for meaning leads to conclusions which cannot be qualified as revelation from God. Think of the "holy wars" of total destruction, fought by the Hebrews when they invaded Palestine. The search for meaning in those wars centuries later was inspired, but the conclusions which attributed all those atrocities to the command of God were imperfect and provisional. See Judges 1:1-8. [The Saint Joseph Edition of the New American Bible. (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Company, 1992) p. 18]

The Allegory: A figure story with a veiled meaning. Read Genesis 2, 3, 4:1-16, 6-8, 11, 19. For centuries these chapters have been misunderstood as inspired lessons in science. The Bible does not teach science; it teaches religious values. It uses these folktales to teach a lesson. Again, the point of the allegory (not the details) is God's message to you. [p. 19]

The ancient Hebrews saw the earth as a large plate with a huge vault over it. Above the vault is God's place. This outlook conditioned Genesis 1. [p. 20]

[B]iblical poems in particular can easily be misunderstood. Read them as poems and not as scientific or historical reports, in which one tries to explain every detail as a revelation from God. See [the commentary on inspiration and revelation quoted above] and read Psalm 137: "Ballad of the Exiles," paying special attention to verses 8 and 9. The feeling, the thought, the total poem is inspired (guided) by God, though it is not necessarily revealed truth! Read some Psalms! [p. 20]

Like all peoples, the Hebrews had their sages or philosophers. In the Bible we find their thoughts mainly in the Wisdom Books. The ancient wisdom is a remarkable mixture of philosophy and poetry. Read it as an inspired search for meaning in life. Do not expect too many ready-made answers. See this literature more as a challenge to a faithful searching for meaning in your own human condition! [p. 21]

A remarkable fact is that for a long time Christians misunderstood the literary genre of the four Gospels. Until recently they thought that the Gospel writers wanted to present us with a biography of Jesus. After much research, Bible scholars agree that the Gospel writers wanted to write catechisms or digests of Christian teaching concerning the risen Lord Jesus... The writers took [oral traditions] and frequently even remolded and refashioned them to bring out the lesson they wanted to teach... In the conflict stories of the Gospels it is usually Jesus who is in conflict with His opponents... Was Jesus involved in these conversations? Did He answer exactly as related in the Bible? It is not certain... Bible scholars tell us that a horoscope of the expected Messiah circulated during the time of Jesus' birth. Astrologers (wise men from the East) were watching the sky for the appearance of the Messiah's star. King Herod, superstitious and upset by these people, killing children of two years and under, is extremely probable... People leaving Bethlehem to escape the massacre, is equally probable. This would be the historical background to this tradition. The rest is interpretation... Since we do not possess a biography of Jesus, it is difficult to know whether the words or sayings attributed to him are written exactly as He spoke them. True, the Gospels are based on sound historical facts as related by eyewitnesses, but both deeds and words of Jesus are offered to us in the framework of theological interpretation... Can we discover at least some words of Jesus that have escaped such elaboration? Bible scholars point to the very short sayings of Jesus... Remember the golden rule: keep historical facts distinct from their theological interpretation. [pp. 21-24]

How does one know whether one deals with history or some form of figurative speech? To begin with, we should always be disposed to follow the teaching authority of the Church. We should also consult renowned Bible scholars who are experts in Hebrew literature. Sometimes, it is secular science which gives Christians the lead to reconsider their Bible understanding... Most scientists hold that the human species has developed somehow from lower kinds of life. This knowledge helped Christians to understand that Genesis 2 and 3 is not a lesson in Anthropology, but an allegory, teaching us that sin is the root of all evil... You may hear interpreters of the Bible who are literalists or fundamentalists. They explain the Bible according to the letter: Eve really ate from the apple and Jonah was miraculously kept alive in the belly of the whale. Then there are ultra-liberal scholars who qualify the whole Bible as another book of fairly tales. Catholic Bible scholars follow the sound middle of the road... The signature of a bishop in your Bible assures you that opinions, expressed in footnotes and introductions, reflect what is generally accepted as sound doctrine in the Catholic tradition. [pp. 24-25]


Jeffrey Pinyan said...

You may hear interpreters of the Bible who are literalists or fundamentalists. They explain the Bible according to the letter: Eve really ate from the apple and Jonah was miraculously kept alive in the belly of the whale.

... and Jesus really was "raised" from the dead as a matter of historical fact.

Anonymous said...

I myself find that the new American bible fits its name. It is new in comparisson to the true Bible and it is American in its unswerving message of distortion. Not unlike certain bishops we all know of. In fact, this bible (and I refuse to capitalize when refering to this particular version) is truly the cause of the protestantizing of our Faith. St. Jerome wrote the first Latin version some century and a half ago (about) and until 1969 the Bible has virtually been unaltered. But with the "schism" of 1969 our bishops have felt a need to lead the flock astray. After all, just look at the movie critic they have.

Anonymous said...

I appologize for my error and I think the reviewers missed it as well. A century and a half ago would have placed St Jerome in the middle of the industrial revolution, give or take. I meant to say a "millenium" and a half.

Anonymous said...

actually, over a millinium and a half ago.....

But distortions were becoming the norm with the advent of the KJV. Can you imagine if "King" Clinton were to decide today that a new version was necessary.. and the appointments of, say, Kerry, Kennedy, Polosi, etc were charged with producing it?

I keep telling my Baptist friends that it is OUR Bible. They have chosen to abuse it against us and they WILL answer for it.



Anonymous said...

"Since we do not possess a biography of Jesus..."

Except for the four biographies they are considering of course. How many biographies do the Herods, Caiaphas and Pilate have?

Anonymous said...

I though that looked a little funny... I was going to let it slide though since I knew you meant to say a millenium and a half. I think that to speak precisely we would have to regard as the "true" bible those inspired books in their original words/original languages.

The Vulgate is clearly the most authoritative translation of the Bible and is the only one of which the Church has ever taught that it's doctrine is free from all error.

As an interesting aside, St. Augustine believed the Septuagint translation of the O.T. to be just as inspired by the Holy Spirit as the original Hebrew/Aramaic/Greek writings (See City of God).

Anonymous said...

What do you recommend? The NAB seems "glossed over", especially when I read literal translations over at WDTPRS. Is there a sound Catholic bible out there that's close to a literal translation of the Latin Vulgate?

Boniface said...

I was in a Protestant bible book store the other day picking up a CD and I overheard this guy asking the salesman for which Bible was the oldest, most authentic. The salesman said, "Oh, well you're definitely going to want to go with the Old King James then," and then proceeded to talk about all the benefits of the KJV.

How can people even think for a moment that the KJV (1611)is the oldest and most authentic? I am always baffled by this Protestant adherence to the KJV.

I should have said something, but my kids were with me and they were whining and being naughty so I just let it slide.

Boniface said...

By the way, I think a good Bible is the Jerusalem Bible, or the for commentaries, Navarre is pretty good...Mr. S has a sweet one that consists of just quotations from the Church Fathers on any given passage. I can't recall it's name...I think Sungenis put it together.

Anonymous said...

Actually the Sungenis work is a 13 volun work in progress.

It is called the Catholic Apologetic Study Bible.

Matthew, Revelations, Romans&Jamems, are out, and Genesis 1-11 is due

See more at

I will highly recommend it to the point of buying your used copy if you don't like it.

Merry Christmas

Anonymous said...

Well said.

Anonymous said...

The article referred to can be found here: