Welcome to the ninth week of comparing the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE) with the Revised English Bible (REB) for the second reading at Sunday’s Mass. As mentioned in the introduction, this will be 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, August 12th, 2018 — Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)
Second Reading: Ephesians 4:30-5:2


And do not grieve the holy Spirit of God, with which you were sealed for the day of redemption. All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. [And] be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ. So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma.


Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, for that Spirit is the seal with which you were marked for the day of final liberation. Have done with all spite and bad temper, with rage, insults, and slander, with evil of any kind. Be generous to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you. In a word, as God’s dear children, you must be like him. Live in love as Christ loved you and gave himself up on your behalf, an offering and sacrifice whose fragrance is pleasing to God.

11 thoughts on “REB vs. NABRE: New Testament Letters (19th Sunday in OT)”

  1. I do think the REB reads better out loud but I don’t know if that makes it better. I do wonder why the REB replaced redemption with liberation.

    1. I’m not sure of the answer, but I can think of a couple of possibilities. Sometimes translators try to avoid traditional terms in the hope of communicating what the text originally meant, rather than using terms that carry theological overtones from centuries of theological reflection. The CEB translators made a point of doing this, for example. Another possible explanation is that readers could easily think of Good Friday as the “day of redemption,” but in this passage, Paul clearly is referring to a day still in the future. The translators might have wanted to avoid confusion on that point.

      1. When I read this passage and looked that the Latin, I wondered if redemption is the best translation, so I don’t disagree with the choice. It is more curiosity about that choice.

      2. “Sometimes translators try to avoid traditional terms in the hope of communicating what the text originally meant, rather than using terms that carry theological overtones from centuries of theological reflection. ”

        I don’t think this is a good thing, in fact, I think it is a very bad thing. For one thing, it involves talking down to your audience, which is never to be encouraged.

        I am reminded of the advice of Nick Megan of Mad Magazine when he explained why he refused to write low brow jokes for the magazine:

        “Don’t write down to your audience, and resist all urges to condescend or patronize for the sake of seeming hip and with it; that’s all tenuous and comes with a lousy shelf life anyway. Better to be clever and have those who were initially puzzled piss themselves in a fit of uproarious laughter a few days later, rather than puerile for the sake of immediate response, only for the audience to later think: I can’t believe I actually found any of that remotely enjoyable.”

        In the case of Bible translations, I would say that it is better for the audience to be a little confused about an unusual word or turn of expression, and then later figure it out through study, than to use ‘simple language’ that they later look back on and cringe with embarrassment because in retrospect it seemed juvenile or condescending.

        But beyond that, the intentional avoidance of formal theological terminology, only makes it that much harder to learn theology or to understand Christianity.

        The Bible should never be an obstacle to understanding theology.

        And this is why I am convinced that the modern emphasis on ‘simple’ translations is part of a trend to de-emphasize the importance of doctrine.

        When it comes to translations like the NLT, the WEB or the GNT, I think these translations should be read only by children or by adults who have very poor reading skills. Once one graduates to an adult reading level, he should ‘put aside childish things’ and read a Bible written for adults, such as the NABRE, the ESV or the RSV.

        1. I agree with your points about talking down to the readers, Biblical Catholic. As a rule, that’s a reason why I very much like the REB. It has the virtues of a dynamic translation (communicating the ideas expressed by the biblical text in more natural English) without dumbing down the language.

          However, I think avoiding theologically-weighted terms does not necessarily equate to dumbing down the text. Practically speaking, translators who use simpler language are often more likely to avoid theological terms, but the two are not required as a package deal. I see great value in avoiding theological terms, because it gives some sense for what the text originally meant, rather than what it came to mean after centuries of reflection. This might make it harder to draw theological conclusions from the text, but as a rule, I think that’s a good thing. So many problems have been caused throughout history by people who drew inaccurate theological conclusions from biblical texts.

          Of course, using different words will not alleviate that problem on a broad scale. The Bible is a theological document. No matter what words the translators use, interpreters will draw theological conclusions. But I think it’s useful for those of us who are committed to a theological tradition — and are used to seeing the Bible through that lens — to understand the ways in which we read later reflections (however legitimate and true) into the text. It can help us to stay grounded in history.

  2. The thing that struck me was how the NABRE has Paul referring to “us” and the REB has him referring to “you”. The New English Bible (which the REB is a revision of) also uses “you”. It’s a trifle, I’m sure; still I would love to hear your thoughts on it.

    1. This looks like a case where the available ancient manuscripts differ. The NRSV translates Ephesians 5:2 as “and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” But the NRSV also includes the following footnote for the word “us”: “Other ancient authorities read ‘you'”

      For some reason, neither the REB nor the NABRE have any textual notes about the alternate reading.

      1. For these kinds of textual issues, I recommend Bruce Metzger’s book ‘A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament’ in which he discusses hundreds of examples of these kinds of variations in the Greek text and explains why he made the choices he did while editing the UBS Greek Testament 4th edition.

  3. I stumbled onto the REB (“with”) quite by accident, obtaining a copy of Jaroslav Pelikan’s Sacred Writings on Christianity. I rather liked the Deutero and NT literary style, even though I am biased toward Vulgate-based translations. I contacted Oxford/Cambridge and was advised that a Catholic specific edition of the REB would only be possible on an order of 50K copies. A pity. It is a British translation, but it reads well for Americans. I find the REB far superior to the OBPR (Our Bible of Perpetual Revision, aka NAB et al).

    1. I love the REB too. Overall, it’s my favorite English translation of the Bible. It’s too bad that Bishop Robert Barron chose to base his new Word-on-Fire Bible on the NRSV-CE and not be bold and base his Word-on-Fire Bible on a Catholic version of the REB. The Word-on-Fire Institute would have been able to easily fulfill the 50K requirement for a new Catholic Edition of the REB.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.