This is the second in a two-part series on the Confraternity Version — the predecessor of the New American Bible.
My apologies to anyone who saw a rough draft of this post appear on Thursday night. The final draft is below!
I’ve had a chance to spend some quality time with the Confraternity Version this week, reading through the Gospel of Mark and Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, as well as exploring parts of the Old Testament, which is largely the same as the 1970 NAB Old Testament.
In the New Testament, the Confraternity Version sounds somewhat formal in style, at least to my modern ears. It also contains a variety of phrases and words that were probably more commonly used in the 1930s and 1940s but rather uncommon today. On nearly every page in Mark, I came across a phrase or word that caught my attention, either because of its quaintness or because it was unfamiliar. Most of these were fun and intriguing, not detracting from the reading experience. Consider the description of the commotion outside Jairus’ house when Jesus arrived to heal his daughter in Mark 5:38-40:
And they came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue and he saw a tumult, people weeping and wiling greatly. And going in he said to them, “Why do you make this din, and weep? The girl is asleep, not dead.” And they laughed him to scorn.
Another key feature of the New Testament is its use of “thee” and “thou” as well as “you” in a grammatically differentiated sense. Traditionally, “thee” was a singular pronoun. It refers to only one person. On the other hand, “you” was a plural pronoun referring to a group of people. In modern English, “you” can be used in either a singular or plural sense, but some dialects might say “you all” or even “you guys” as a way of denoting a plural. The Confraternity Version uses both “you” and “thee” to distinguish singular and plural pronouns in the Latin. As an example, consider Mark 11:22-24:
But Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God. Amen I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Arise, and hurl thyself into the sea,’ and does not waver in his heart, but believes that whatever he says will be done, it shall be done for him. Therefore I say to you, All things whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you shall receive, and they shall come to you.
Interestingly, the quote above also reveals another fact: the NAB’s verbose phrase “answered and said to them” goes back to its predecessor, the Confraternity Version!
In 2 Corinthians, the Confraternity Version does not paraphrase Paul in places where it would be very tempting to do so. Consider 2 Corinthians 1:3-4:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our afflictions, that we also may be able to comfort those who are in any distress by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted by God.
On the other hand, once I grew accustomed to the cadence and rhythm of the translation, I found Paul to be quite readable in the Confraternity Version. There are some truly beautiful passages and unique word choices that made me pay attention to passages I had glossed over before. Here are a couple samples:
Having therefore such hope, we show great boldness. We do not act as Moses did, who used to put a veil over his face that the Israelites might not observe the glory of his countenance, which was to pass away. But their minds were darkened; for to this day, when the Old Testament is read to them, the selfsame veil remains, not being lifted to disclose the Christ in whom it is made void. Yes, down to this very day, when Moses is read, the veil covers their hearts; but when they turn in repentance to God, the veil shall be taken away. Now the Lord is the spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. But we all, with faces unveiled, reflecting as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed in to his very image from glory to glory, as through the Spirit of the Lord. — 2 Corinthians 3:12-18
Behold, this is the third time that I am ready to come to you. And I will not be a burden to you; for I do not seek yours, but you. For the children should not save up for the parents, but the parents for the children. But I will most gladly spend and be spent myself for your souls, even though, loving you more, I be loved less. — 2 Corinthians 12:14-15
Introductions and Notes
This edition contains introductions and footnotes, but they are very limited compared to modern editions of the NABRE. In the Gospel of Mark, there are often only 1-3 brief footnotes per page. In 2 Corinthians, the number increases to about 7-10 footnotes per page, but the notes remain very brief.
Both the introductions and notes approach the text from a perspective of faith seeking understanding. Notes often clarify how a passage should be understood with respect to other Church teaching. In Mark 3:21, the translation reads: “But when his own people had heard of it, they went out to lay hold of him, for they said, ‘He has gone mad.'” The corresponding footnote reads:
Our Lord’s relatives did not yet believe in Him (cf Jn 7, 5), However, it is not clear that they said, “He has gone mad.” The Greek text means, “He was beside himself.” The Blessed Virgin was with them on this occasion (vv 31-35), but she had no misconception of His nature and mission.
Moving on to verse 31, which speaks of Jesus’ brethren, a further footnote reads:
Brethren: relatives of Jesus, not blood brothers. This wider use of the term was common among the Jews. Jesus does not disclaim the bonds of physical relationship, but He seizes the opportunity to give a lesson on the greater dignity of spiritual relationship. Cf Lk 11, 27. St. Augustine says that Mary was more blessed in that she believed in Christ than in that she had given Him birth. (“De virginibus,” III)
Similar to this note, there are others that reference saints or fathers of the Church. Here’s one I found in the Gospel of John (John 2:23-25 to be exact) that references St. John Chrysostom:
The faith of those attracted to Christ was imperfect, and He knew it. Hence He did not reveal Himself to them (Chrysostom), or admit them to a more intimate understanding of His teaching and Person. The conversation with Nicodemus grows out of this situation.
The introduction to Mark definitively connects the author of Mark with St. Mark and provides some details about his life:
The second Gospel was written by St. Mark who, in the New Testament, is sometimes called John Mark. Both he and his mother, Mary, were highly esteemed in the early Church, and his mother’s house in Jerusalem served as a meeting place for Christians there. He was associated with St. Paul and St. Barnabas (who was Mark’s cousin) on their missionary journey through the island of Cyprus. Later he accompanied St. Barnabas alone. We know also that he was in Rome with St. Peter and with St. Paul. Tradition ascribes to him the founding of the Church in Alexandria. His feast falls on April 25.
It is historically certain that St. Mark wrote the second Gospel, that he wrote it in Rome sometime before the year 60 A.D., that he wrote it in Greek for the Gentile converts to Christianity…
A Few Thoughts on the Old Testament
As Biblical Catholic explained in his knowledgeable comments on part one of this series, most of the Old Testament books published in this Confraternity Bible were only lightly edited to produce the 1970 NAB. Thus, most comments on the Confraternity Old Testament will apply equally to the 1970 NAB. The 1970 Old Testament is the basis for the current Lectionary readings at Mass in the United States, so many Catholics are familiar with it.
Paging through the Psalms, I was struck by their lyrical rhythm. These are the same Psalms used in the current Lectionary, but in many cases, musical settings use the new Revised Grail Psalms, which have been approved for liturgical use. I have never perused the 1970 NAB Psalms at any length outside of Mass. They actually remind me of the NABRE Psalms in their rhythmic quality. Consider Psalm 139 (numbered Psalm 138 in the Confraternity Version), verses 13-18:
Truly you have formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother's womb. I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made; wonderful are your works. My soul also you knew full well; nor was my frame unknown to you When I was made in secret, when I was fashioned in the depths of the earth. Your eyes have seen my actions; in your book they were all written; my days were limited before one of them existed. How weighty are your designs, O God; how vast the sum of them! Were I to recount them, they would outnumber the sands; did I reach the end of them, I should still be with you.
Overall, my impression from casual exploration is that the tone is dignified and not vulgar or pedestrian, contrary to many common criticisms of the 1970 NAB. One notable exception is Jeremiah 20:7, where the Confraternity Version is the same as the 1970 NAB:
You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped; you were too strong for me, and you triumphed.
The notes are few and written from a perspective that integrates analytical reasoning and faith. Consider this note from Psalm 22:17 (numbered 21:17 in the Confraternity Version. This same note also appears in my edition of the 1970 NAB):
They have pierced my hands: so in the ancient versions. The current Hebrew text reads, “Like the lion my hands,” which hardly makes good sense. This passage finds its complete fulfillment in the nailing of Christ’s hands and feet to the cross
In closing, I found the following words near the end of the translators’ preface to the Confraternity Version, which gave me a chuckle. No doubt many Bible translators would like to say the same thing!
In the appraising of the present work, it is hoped that the words of the encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu will serve as a guide: “Let all the sons of the Church bear in mind that the efforts of these resolute laborers in the vineyard of the Lord should be judged not only with equity and justice, but also with the greatest charity; all moreover should abhor that intemperate zeal which imagines that whatever is new should for that very reason be opposed or suspected.”