New American Bible

Perennial issue whenever journalists write about religion: Which Bible to quote?

Perennial issue whenever journalists write about religion: Which Bible to quote?

A recent item by GetReligion colleague Bobby Ross posed this perennial issue facing journalists and others writing about religion: “Which Bible to quote?

News articles had quoted Eugene Peterson’s The Message -- one man’s popular paraphrase and not quite a Bible -- and the New King James Version, a conservative fave that was an odd choice for a piece about liberal Protestants.

Once upon a time the (original) King James Version from 1611 sufficed. Its wordings were  familiar to a broad swath of English readers, indeed often memorized. Though the King was Protestant, generally similar verbiage appeared in Catholicism’s old Douay-Rheims translation (1609), and even moreso in the Jewish Publication Society’s The Holy Scriptures (1917).  

Today, however, a dozen or more modern options are in regular use, thus creating our tricky problem. Ross, who like The Guy is an Associated Press alum, noted that the wire’s influential Stylebook offers ample guidance about the Bible but doesn’t address how to decide which version to quote. “Please help me out here, friends,” Ross asked, so the ever-friendly Religion Guy responds herewith. 

When The Guy was teaching an adult Bible class recently, one participant brought along The Message. Its differences with standard Bibles sparked some pointed discussions. Such personal paraphrases -- also including Kenneth Taylor’s The Living Bible and J.B. Phillips’s elegantly British New Testament in Modern English -- are useful for private study and devotions. But they’re not really Bible translations, so a more literal version should also be consulted for comparisons.

Likewise, in most situations writers should cite a Bible closer to the original text that expresses the consensus from a panel of experts.  

Obviously, if a person is quoting a Bible passage verbatim you’ll go with that wording, even if it’s a paraphrase.

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Why was the sensuous, poetic Song of Songs included in the Bible?

Why was the sensuous, poetic Song of Songs included in the Bible?

THE QUESTION:  Why did ancient Jewish leaders approve the sensuous Song of Songs (a.k.a. Song of Solomon or Canticles) as a book in the Bible?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER: The biblical Song, a remarkably poetic celebration of sexual and emotional love between a man and a woman, won recent praise in The Wall Street Journal’s “Masterpiece” column, which analyzes history’s major works of art. Writer Aliora Katz commented on its cultural value: “In the time of Tinder and casual hookups, [the Song] reminds us that physical attraction and love ultimately point upward to that which only the poets can imagine or describe.”

Admittedly, some of its metaphors fall oddly on the modern ear, for instance “your hair is like a flock of goats streaming down Mount Gilead” (4:1, repeated in 6:5, Jewish Publication Society translation). Readers should realize that the Bible is filled with feelings of protection and warmth toward nature and its creatures, reflecting a  pastoral culture. Yet this long-ago poetry is fully contemporary as it floats among desire, yearning, admiration, reminiscence, boastfulness, teasing, and self-reflection -- for the woman character in the drama as well as the man.

Considered as scripture, the Song contrasts with warnings elsewhere in the Bible about sexual sin. Yet the Jewish sages some 19 centuries ago agreed it was among the writings in the “canon” to be recognized as holy writ. Christianity then carried the Jewish books over into its “Old Testament.”

An evangelical expert, Tremper Longman III of Westmont College, wrote that we have no evidence to tell how the Song’s original readers understood it, and Roland E. Murphy said we cannot be sure why or when Jewish authorities made it part of the biblical canon. But historians generally think the Song was accepted because ancient Jews thought King Solomon himself wrote it, and because they believed its true message was not glorification of sexuality but the spiritual love between God and his people. That’s called “allegorical” interpretation, though the poem itself is not an allegory.

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Those familiar Lord’s Prayer phrases at issue: Does God lead us into temptation?

Those familiar Lord’s Prayer phrases at issue: Does God lead us into temptation?

The memorized “Lord’s Prayer” is so frequently recited by countless Christians that it can be easy to slide past what the familiar words are saying.

For instance, how do we understand its most puzzling phrase: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13 per the King James Version and many other English translations. A condensed wording for the prayer also appears in Luke 11:2-4).

So, does God lead us into temptation? Why would He? After all, the New Testament tells us elsewhere, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man” (James 1:13, also King James wording).

Pope Francis delved into this in December during a series about the Lord’s Prayer on the Italian bishops’ TV channel. “It is not a good translation because it speaks of a God who induces temptation,” he said. Rather, “I am the one who falls; it’s not Him pushing me into temptation to then see how I have fallen. ... It’s Satan who leads us into temptation; that’s his department.”

The pontiff suggested this colloquial paraphrase: “When Satan leads us into temptation, You, please, give me a hand.” More formally, he embraced the wording recently adopted by the church in France: “Do not let us fall into temptation.”

U.S. Catholics’ New American Bible formerly read “subject us not to the trial,” while the 2011 revised edition says “do not subject us to the final test.” An official footnote explains, “Jewish apocalyptic writings speak of a period of severe trial before the end of the age, sometimes called the ‘messianic woes.’ This petition asks that the disciples be spared that final test.”

Some scholars adopt that end-times interpretation, but there are other choices. Experts also disagree on whether believers ask delivery from abstract “evil” or from a personal “evil one,” namely the Devil. Here The Religion Guy will bypass that one.

Other modern translations:

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Religion-beat professionals: Yet another reference work that belongs on your desk

Religion-beat professionals: Yet another reference work that belongs on your desk

Our previous religion-beat Memo puffed “The Study Quran,” a truly path-breaking production.

The Religion Guy now outpoints a  standby that belongs on the desks of journalists who don’t have one of the two earlier editions: “The Catholic Study Bible” (Oxford University Press, available in paperback for US$39.99).

The volume includes the latest (2010) version of the New American Bible, the official English translation used in the U.S. Catholic Church, alongside numerous articles and detailed verse-by-verse commentary from a 20-member team. The new edition adds, for instance, surveys of archaeological finds regarding the Bible, by Ronald Simkins of Creighton University in Omaha (Old Testament) and Dominican Sister Laurie Brink of Chicago’s Catholic Theological Union (New Testament).

In addition to keeping this book handy for future reference, newswriters could use it as a hook to analyze trends in Catholic scholarship on the Bible. The book bears the hierarchy’s  declaration that all material “is free from doctrinal and moral error.” Yet a spot check indicates the latest edition continues and somewhat reinforces the secular and liberal Protestant sort of scholarship that influenced the first two editions.

A fascinating in-depth project could compare the Study Bible’s approach with the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s conservative declarations from 1905 through the 1962 opening of the Second Vatican Council, as indexed right here.   

Among other things, prior commission decrees affirmed Moses as the “substantial” source of the first five Old Testament books; single authorship for Isaiah’s prophecy; the historical veracity of Genesis 1-3, the Book of Acts, and the Gospel of John; and that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke were written prior to A.D. 70.

Today, those sorts of views are largely confined to conservative Protestant or Orthodox Jewish scholars.

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