Welcome to the fourteenth week of comparing the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE) with the Revised English Bible (REB) for the second reading at Sunday’s Mass. This is a chance to compare a strongly literal translation like the NABRE New Testament with a much more dynamic translation like the REB. As the translators continue to work on revising the NABRE New Testament, it also provides a chance to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of the current translation (which was completed in 1986).
Sunday, September 16th, 2018 — Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)
Second Reading: James 2:14-18
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
Indeed someone may say, “You have faith and I have works.” Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.
What good is it, my friends, for someone to say he has faith when his actions do nothing to show it? Can that faith save him? Suppose a fellow-Christian, whether man or woman, is in rags with not enough food for the day, and one of you says, ‘Goodbye, keep warm, and have a good meal,’ but does nothing to supply their bodily needs, what good is that? So with faith; if it does not lead to action, it is by itself a lifeless thing.
But someone may say: ‘One chooses faith, another action.’ To which I reply: ‘Show me this faith you speak of with no actions to prove it, while I by my actions will prove to you my faith.’
7 thoughts on “REB vs. NABRE: New Testament Letters (24th Sunday in OT)”
I think the REB is effective in this passage. It avoids words with theological meaning but doesn’t lose any clarity.
No, I don’t like REB’s rendering of this passage at all, it seems similar to the NIV’s, which is not a compliment. To use words like ‘action’ instead of the loaded word ‘works’ (which is indeed the correct translation) in this passage seems designed to make it appear that James is not contradicting the Protestant notion of justification by faith alone, it’s a kind of evangelicalization of the passage, an attempt to make it consistent with evangelical theology.
I would very much like to compare how the REB renders the passages involving ‘works’ in the letters of Saint Paul. If, as with the NIV, the REB uses the word ‘works’ whenever it is being used negatively, and ‘actions’ whenever the word is being used positively, then this is clear case of bias.
Interesting point, BC. From my perspective, the use of the word “actions” instead of “works” doesn’t automatically indicate bias, as long as it is consistent. As you noted, a big indicator of bias is inconsistency. I remember reading a criticism of the original NIV (published in 1978 with a minor revision in 1984), which pointed out that in every verse that seemed to support the sola fide (salvation by faith alone) doctrine, the NIV used the word “works.” (i.e. Ephesians 2:8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.”) But when the passage supported Catholic doctrine, the NIV used “deeds” or “actions.” (i.e. James 2:17-18: “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.”) Both of those quotes are taken from the revised 2011 NIV, so they have not been fixed in the latest update!
I checked a few famous faith/works verses in the REB, and it looks more consistent than the NIV to me. Here they are side-by-side:
Verses that would support Sola Fide:
For it is by grace you are saved through faith; it is not your own doing. It is God’s gift, not a reward for work done. There is nothing for anyone to boast of – REB
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. – NIV 2011
For our argument is that people are justified by faith quite apart from any question of keeping the law. – REB
For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. – NIV 2011
But if it is by grace, then it does not rest on deeds, or grace would cease to be grace. – REB
And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. – NIV 2011
yet we know that no one is ever justified by doing what the law requires, but only through faith in Christ Jesus. So we too have put our faith in Jesus Christ, in order that we might be justified through this faith, and not through actions dictated by law; for no human being can be justified by keeping the law. – REB
know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified. – NIV 2011
Verses that support the Catholic view:
As the body is dead when there is no breath left in it, so faith divorced from action is dead. – REB
As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. – NIV 2011
You see then it is by action and not by faith alone that a man is justified. – REB
You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. – NIV 2011
They profess to know God but by their actions deny him; they are detestable and disobedient, disqualified for any good work. – REB
They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good. – NIV 2011
If we are in union with Christ Jesus, circumcision makes no difference at all, nor does the lack of it; the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. – REB
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. – NIV 2011
The NIV (even in its latest revision!) tends to use “works” whenever a verse appears to be denouncing works as important for salvation and “deeds” or “actions” when it appears to be saying that works are important. The REB more consistently uses alternatives to “works,” regardless of the tenor of the passage.
“The NIV (even in its latest revision!) tends to use “works” whenever a verse appears to be denouncing works as important for salvation and “deeds” or “actions” when it appears to be saying that works are important. The REB more consistently uses alternatives to “works,” regardless of the tenor of the passage.”
Consistency is good, but I am inclined to think that avoiding the word ‘works’ is not a particularly good translation.
One thing I don’t like about the REB’s usage here is that they take sides in a longstanding debate among Biblical scholars over just what Paul meant by ‘works’. Some think he is referring to the moral law, the 10 Commandments, and others think it refers only to the Mosaic law, the ceremonial laws. The REB seems to be taking the latter view, which is unfortunate, not necessarily because I think that view is necessarily wrong but because I think it is good to try to preserve the ambiguity of the original.
I see both sides of the word choice here. The REB has structured the sentenances so that they read very smoothly using ‘actions’. The words “supply their bodily needs” were added to help bring across that this is a significant action, a giving of time and supplies.
I really like the word ‘works’, which has a much fuller set of connotations. Works are planned, organized, the purpose / goal is guiding the effort. Each individual in a parish can contribute in a way that their help is most effective based on time, skills, resources, etc. actions can be spontaneous, works are something you weave into how one conducts his life. A little familiarity with this style of language goes a long way.
Another completely different example I have seen several times in the OT prophets: that we should follow the Lord’s statutes and ‘walk in his ways’ or ‘walk in his path’. I love this turn of phrase. It means so much more than simply ‘obey the rules’. Rules are for the mind, taking each step like our savior is of the heart. A good definition for a Christain.
I really like the word ‘works’, which has a much fuller set of connotations. Works are planned, organized, the purpose/goal is guiding the effort. Each individual in a parish can contribute in a way that their help is most effective based on time, skills, resources, etc. actions can be spontaneous, works are something you weave into how one conducts his life. A little familiarity with this style of language goes a long way.”
But there is another more important reason why the word ‘works’ should be used here: James is intentionally using the exact same word as the one used by Saint Paul in order to combat a false interpretation of Paul’s writings. Some commentators are willing to go a little further than that and to assert that James is actually rejecting Paul’s teaching entirely. In any case, James is deliberately referencing Paul’s epistles, which he expects his readers to be familiar with. This fact is obscured if translators use one word when translating Paul and a different word when translating James.
The compare/contrast between Paul’s teaching and James’ teaching, namely that Paul says ‘we are justified by faith’ while James says ‘however we are not justified by faith ALONE’ is important. This kind of thing, and it happens in the Bible A LOT, is a very strong argument, I think, against the entire theory of dynamic equivalence.
Of course, I don’t know if the REB uses the word ‘works’ in the letters of St Paul or not. If the word ‘works’ doesn’t appear in St Paul either, then it is more a case of a bad translation than a deliberately deceitful one (like the NIV).
Thank you once again. I’m going to keep this in mind when I advance to the NT in a few months.