The giant print edition of the New Catholic Bible (NCB) organizes the footnotes at the end of each biblical book. There are no separate cross-references, although the footnotes frequently refer to parallel passages or cross-references. Similar to most editions of the NABRE, the NCB uses an asterisk (*) in the text to indicate a footnote.
On the whole, there are fewer footnotes in the NCB than the NABRE for the Gospel of Luke and St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. The content of the notes is also very different, revealing differing goals that the editors of each translation were trying to achieve.
The NCB notes routinely focus on personal and spiritual aspects of a passage. Many of the notes come across as “mini-homilies.” They offer historical background and highlight important passages in the Old Testament, but they also explicitly draw conclusions from the passages for personal and Church life. They are written from the perspective of a modern Catholic evangelist, who sees the biblical writings in the broader context of Catholic theology and draws insight from them for living the Catholic faith.
The NABRE footnotes follow a more limited objective. The vast majority of them are laser-focused on understanding each biblical book on its own terms and in its own historical context. As such, the NABRE starkly highlights cases where modern perceptions of biblical passages differ from their original meaning. It also comments at length on details in the biblical text that do not jive with other historical sources.
Overall, I find both sets of notes useful in different ways, and both have occasional shortcomings. The NCB offers some truly excellent reflections that gave me new insights about particular passages. On the other hand, its ambitious attempt to integrate historical, literary, theological, and spiritual insights on the text sometimes leads to sweeping generalizations and statements that strike me as hagiographical and overly effusive.
With its more limited goal, combined with a larger quantity of notes, the NABRE offers a wealth of historical details — much more than the NCB. I was also struck by the NABRE’s excellent literary notes, which provide an overview of the themes in a biblical book and explain how the current section fits with those broader themes. The NABRE does a much better job than the NCB at communicating uncertainty and offering multiple explanations, but even so, it is occasionally prone to taking speculative hypotheses too seriously. The NABRE also leaves more work to the reader. After delving into the historical background of the text, the reader is left to re-integrate the richer historical understanding with modern Catholic teaching and life.
The same general themes apply to the book introductions. The NCB’s introductions are impressive. They do a masterful job of integrating historical-critical theories with literary themes and spiritual significance. On the other hand, they do not offer as much historical detail as the NABRE’s introductions, which focus entirely on historical and literary details.
In the following examples, I’ll include some of my favorite notes from the NCB, which highlight its successes at integrating details and yielding spiritual insights. I’ll also point out examples of sweeping generalizations and hagiography. At the end, I’ll include a comparison between the NCB and the NABRE notes to illustrate the differences between the two.
Excellent Examples from the NCB
On the temptation of Jesus (Luke 4:1-13), the NCB offers this reflection:
By means of images, we are shown the drama Jesus experienced in his conscience, his struggle to follow with determination the great options of his existence. He knows the temptations for immediate success, domination, and prestige, the temptations to which Israel succumbed during its sojourn in the desert and that remain the lot of the Church, every believer, and every person. Jesus refuses to use his powers for his own benefit but accepts poverty and destitution; he does not seek the glory of a political Messiah and does not yield to the idols of power. He turns away from the seduction of prestige; when he goes to Jerusalem it will not be to mount the pinnacle of the temple but to carry the supreme trial of the cross.
There is, in this choice without compromise, a radical recognition of God and the true values he is forever giving us to reflect upon. The victory of Christ over the forces of evil foreshadows the power of his mission (see Lk 10:18; 11:22; 12:16), which is achieved through patience on the cross and the triumph of the Resurrection after the final attacks of the spirit of evil (see Lk 22:3,53). To live with Christ is to accept this struggle humbly and resolutely.NCB Footnote on Luke 4:1-13
On Jesus rejoicing that the Father has hidden the truth from the wise and learned and revealed them to children (Luke 10:21-24):
In this inspired prayer, Jesus lays bare the profound movement of his heart and the very mystery of his person. He is gripped by the revelation made to the poor (i.e., children); he lives, in an inexpressible fashion, in unity with the Father in the Spirit. The expectation of kings and prophets, i.e., of the Old Testament, is now accomplished, for Jesus is here and shares with human beings God’s mysterious presence. The Church knows that by herself she is nothing in the world, but she is astounded to bring forth for all people this great revelation of God. This text constantly brings her back home to the heart of the Gospel.NCB Footnote on Luke 10:21-24
These three notes on the Last Supper (in Luke 22:14-27) draw reflections on how the events of the first Eucharist continue to apply to each of us:
In a prophetic gesture Jesus proclaims and establishes the new covenant between God and humanity (see Ex 24:8; Jer 31:31), which he is preparing to seal by his freely accepted sacrifice. In this action, by changing the bread and wine into his body and blood (see 1 Cor 10:6; 11:23-27), he institutes the Eucharist, which calls to mind and renders present to the gathered community his act of love for humanity (see Acts 2:42, 46). Along with Paul, Luke has preserved for us what is perhaps one of the earliest texts of the first Christian Eucharists.NCB Footnote on Luke 22:19-20
The announcement of Judas’s plan stresses the initiative of Jesus, who does not deviate from his sacrifice. Celebrating the Eucharist, believers and the leaders of the community must question themselves concerning their loyalty toward the Lord.NCB Footnote on Luke 22:21-23
To celebrate the Eucharist means to abandon one’s search for honor and to discover that all authority in the Christian community has no other title except that of service.NCB Footnote on Luke 22:24-27
Generalizations and Hagiography
In its note on the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), the NCB gushes that “The entire prayer of the Old Testament converges upon this one.” In one sense, this is true, but it comes across as a sweeping generalization to me:
The Magnificat, which is very similar to the canticle of Hannah (see 1 Sam 2:1-10) and has become the Christian song of thanksgiving, lends itself to the prayer of those who have suffered but have never lost their hope in God. The entire prayer of the Old Testament converges upon this one, but with a wholly renewed power; it is easy to see why the Church never tires of reciting it. It is one of the gems of the Church’s daily office of Evening Prayer (Vespers).NCB Footnote on Luke 1:46-55
Reflecting on the annunciation, in which the angel Gabriel announces that Mary will conceive and give birth to Jesus, the NCB offers this note, which paints a hagiographical portrait of Mary that glosses over the details in the text:
Mary, a young girl, is betrothed, despite the fact that she has the unusual intention of remaining a virgin; “betrothed”: that is, according to the custom of the time, she was legally married but did not yet live with her husband. Confronted with this surprising message, she gives no sign of fear or doubt: she reflects, meditates, believes. This woman has the “grace,” that is, the favor of God; she is greeted as if Messianic joy were being proclaimed to the Daughter of Zion, the new Jerusalem (see Zep 3:14; Zec 9:9).NCB Footnote on Luke 1:26-38
Compare that note to the NCB’s translation of Luke 1:29: “But she (Mary) was greatly troubled by his words and wondered in her heart what this salutation could mean.” Again in Luke 1:34, the NCB translates Mary’s words as: “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” I find it hard to defend the NCB’s assertion that Mary “gives no sign of fear or doubt” in this passage. I would also note that while the NCB interprets Mary’s question to indicate that she intended to remain a virgin, this is by no means a universal opinion among scholars. Catholic theologians and apologists have commonly drawn this conclusion, but it has not been convincing to many biblical scholars.
Comparing the NCB and NABRE
Here’s a nice example from the end of Galatians, where the NCB and the NABRE offer reflections that are based on similar fundamental points, but they each follow their individual styles. The NCB offers a single, long note, and the NABRE offers a few shorter notes.
Paul himself underlines the importance of the letter (v. 11) and for one last time situates the problem of the Galatians before the mystery of the cross. There is an old world, that of circumcisions and human successes, and a new world, in which God calls the new Israel, i.e., all Christians, true children of Abraham. Christians belong to this world. For them, the cross is something to be shared. They agree to suffer for Christ and with him. It involves more suffering than being circumcised, but they have become “new” people (2 Cor 5:17), delivered from the world, i.e., sin. There is no other way of salvation except the cross of Christ, nor any other assurance before God. Paul knows this from experience, for he bears in his body the traces of the blows received in the exercise of his missionary work (2 Cor 6:5; 11:23-27).NCB Footnote on Galatians 6:11-18
The Jewish Christian opponents wished not to be persecuted, possibly by Jews. But since Judaism seems to have had a privileged status as a religion in the Roman empire, circumcised Christians might, if taken as Jews, thereby avoid persecution from the Romans. In any case, Paul instead stresses conformity with the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; cf. Gal 2:19–21; 5:11.NABRE Footnote on Galatians 6:12-15
This rule: the principle in Gal 6:14–15. The Israel of God: while the church may be meant (the phrase can be translated “to all who follow this rule, even the Israel of God”; cf. Gal 6:10; 1 Cor 10:18), the reference may also be to God’s ancient people, Israel; cf. Ps 125:5; 128:6.NABRE Footnote on Galatians 6:16
The marks of Jesus: slaves were often branded by marks (stigmata) burned into their flesh to show to whom they belonged; so also were devotees of pagan gods. Paul implies that instead of outdated circumcision, his body bears the scars of his apostolic labors (2 Cor 11:22–31), such as floggings (Acts 16:22; 2 Cor 11:25) and stonings (Acts 14:19), that mark him as belonging to the Christ who suffered (cf. Rom 6:3; 2 Cor 4:10; Col 1:24) and will protect his own.NABRE Footnote on Galatians 6:17