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Biblical illiteracy and Bible Babel


One of the disappointments of the post-Vatican II period has been the glacial pace of the growth in Catholic biblical literacy the Council hoped to inspire. Why the slow-down? Several reasons suggest themselves.

The hegemony of the historical-critical method of biblical study has taught two generations of Catholics that the Bible is too complicated for ordinary people to understand: so why read what only savants can grasp? Inept preaching, dissecting the biblical text with historical-critical scalpels or reducing Scripture to a psychology manual, has also been a turn-off to Bible-study. Then there is the clunkiness of the New American Bible, the pedestrian translation to which U.S. Catholics are subjected in the liturgy: there is little beauty here, and the beauty of God's Word ought to be one of its most attractive attributes.

But it was not until I read "Our Babel of Bibles" by Baylor University's David Lyle Jeffrey, published in the March/April 2012 issue of Touchstone, that I began to understand that the proliferation of modern biblical translations and editions is also part of the problem. Not only are there a plethora of different translations from which to choose; as Dr. Jeffrey points out, there are now "niche" Bibles:

"If you are tired of your mother's old Bible, which printed the words of Jesus in red, you can choose a more trendy Green Bible, with all the eco-sensitive passages printed in green ink. If you are a feisty woman unfazed by possibly misdirected allusions, then maybe you would like the Woman Thou Art Loosed edition of the NKJB (New King James Bible). If you should be a high-end of the TV-channel charismatic, there are 'prophecy Bibles' coded in several colors to justify your eschatology of choice."

And that's before we get to the super-trendy editions like the Common English Bible, which renders Psalm 122:1 ("I was glad when they said unto me/Let us go to the Lord's house") as "Let's go to the Lord's house." This is not just dumb; as Dr. Jeffrey points out, it also "verges on a grotesque secularism at the level of 'Let's go to Joe's place -- he has the biggest TV.'" And lest you think Jeffrey exaggerates, please note that the CEB renders "Son of Man" as "the Human One." Yuck.

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