There has long been a cold war going on between the U.S. Bishops and the Holy See on the subject of inclusive language. The New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE) is the latest salvo in that war. For while the documents of the Holy See on the norms for Bible translation shun inclusive language, the U.S. Bishops have deliberately chosen to use inclusive language in their Bible translation, the NAB.
Here is a concise overview of the NAB, in its various editions:
“Shortly after the publication of the complete Bible, the American bishops decided that the 1970 NAB New Testament was too paraphrastic for general use, (1) and so the New Testament was “revised” (translated anew, really, on different principles, from the 26th edition of Nestle-Aland) and published in 1986. This new translation of the New Testament was for the most part more literal, but it employed “dynamic equivalence” in places for the sake of gender-neutral language. The Book of Psalms was similarly “revised” in 1991. Therefore, the most recent editions of the NAB include the 1970 Old Testament, 1991 Psalter, and 1986 New Testament….”
This revised NAB was found by the Holy See to be unacceptable for use in the Mass, primarily due to inclusive language. An amended revision of the NAB was undertaken to make the version acceptable for use in liturgical services. This is the version used in the Mass even today. But the U.S. Bishops refuse to publish that non-inclusive language version in print, except in lectionaries. And the version on their website continues to be the version found unacceptable for the Mass:
“Pope John Paul II and other Vatican officials were not happy with this version, mainly because of the inclusive language, which was mandated by liturgical guidelines issued by a committee of the U.S. Catholic Conference in 1990 but specifically disallowed by the provisional norms for translation of biblical texts sent by Vatican officials to American Bishops in June of 1997, and also disallowed by the translation guidelines formally promulgated in an Instruction published by the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in March 2001.”
One of the magisterial documents of the Holy See on Bible translation norms was written by then-Cardinal Ratzinger. Those norms do not allow for the type of extensive use of inclusive language in the NABRE. Despite the fact that the author of that document was at the time the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and is now Pope Benedict XVI, the U.S. Bishops continue to disregard it, and to form their translation of the Bible according to contrary principles.
The other principle magisterial document on the subject is Liturgiam Authenticam, a document of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, which has authority over the Mass and other liturgical services. This document also rejects the systematic or extensive use of inclusive language.
But the document produced by the Catholic Biblical Association, which is of course NOT a magisterial document, requires the use of inclusive language. And so the Bishops established a ‘Joint Committee on Inclusive Language’ to encourage the use of inclusive language in Biblical translations. This document simply ignores and openly contradicts the magisterial documents on the same subject.
Now there is one section of that offensive CBA document that is refreshingly honest in its description of what inclusive language really means. Is inclusive language a rephrasing of the text so that persons are included regardless of gender? Does inclusive language make the text gender neutral, as is often claimed? Not at all. Male references are neutered; they are changed to erase the male gender from the reference. But female references are retained:
“28. Feminine imagery in the original language of the biblical texts should not be obscured or replaced by the use of masculine imagery in English translations, e.g., Wisdom literature.”
If Wisdom literature referred to Wisdom in the masculine, rather than in the feminine, would the reference be neutered? Of course it would. For inclusive language is not really inclusive, nor is it really gender neutral. Rather, inclusive language is misandrous; it is hostile to male references and to any indications in Scripture that men are given different roles than women in the plan of God.
So masculine language is to be obscured or replaced, but feminine language should not be. Why is this? Is there a theological insight or a Biblical principle at work here? Not at all. This is the unabashed influence of sinful secular society on Bible translations. Secular society prefers that any references in the Bible indicating that, as a matter of fact, the Old Testament Israelite society was patriarchal, was led by men and by a male-only priesthood, be deliberately obscured. Secular society does not accept the teaching of the Church that God intends different roles for men and women in the Church, in the family (cf. Casti Connubii), and in society. And so, due to the influence of our culture, the NAB and other translations go to great efforts to subtract the teaching of the Word of God on gender roles from modern translations. And they do so in direct and open contradiction to the will of the Pope, including Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.
The above discussion refers to the previous version of the NAB, which included the 1970 Old Testament, the 1991 Psalter, and the 1986 New Testament. The New American Bible Revised Edition, 2010, has a new Old Testament and a new Psalter translation, but the same 1986 New Testament.
Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI each made their will clear that inclusive language should not be used in Bible translations. So with the new translation of the Old Testament, the faithful but naive Catholic might reasonably expect that the U.S. Bishops would take this opportunity to produce a version of the NAB that could be used in the Mass and that conforms to LA (Liturgiam Authenticam) and other magisterial documents setting forth the norms for Bible translation. Such is not the case.
Instead, with the NABRE, the U.S. Bishops have used inclusive language more extensively than ever before. Masculine references are obscured or neutered. But of course all feminine references are retained. The use of the Biblical phrase ‘sons of Israel’, indicating the Israelites as a group led by men, which is thoroughly attested to in manuscripts, is utterly rejected. References using the term ‘man’ and to mankind using the term ‘man’ or ‘mankind’ are also rephrased. The only exception seems to be in the Psalms, which allows some traditional phrasings, such as ‘Blessed is the man’ and ‘the son of man’. However, even the Psalms have substantial use of inclusive language in many places.
Effect on Doctrine
The result of the extensive use of inclusive language is a subtraction of doctrine. For Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium teach that God intends different roles for men and women in the Church, in the family, and in society. This difference in roles is indicated in Scripture in various ways. For example, in referring to the Israelites as ‘the sons of Israel’, Scripture is describing the society of the Israelites as having a particular structure, such that men have certain leadership roles not given to women. This concept is offensive to sinful secular society (and to modernist secularized Catholics). When the Apostle Paul, a Bishop in the early Church, wrote to various Churches, he was writing to a community led by ordained men. And so he addresses the letter to his ‘brothers’, to the ordained men leading the whole community. Changing the text to say ‘brothers and sisters’ not only has no basis in the source text, but also deliberately obscures the teaching that men and women have different roles in the Church, that the Church has a certain structure where men have certain roles not given by God to women.
The use of inclusive language is not merely an attempt to make the text sound more modern, or to avoid offending modern sensibilities. It is an attempt to obscure and even change the doctrines of Sacred Scripture on gender roles. What should you do when the teachings of Sacred Scripture are not in accord with your own personal beliefs? Should you change your views? The modernist response is to assume without question that your views are correct, and that the Bible is wrong and needs to be corrected, even to the extent of producing translations that impose the modernist doctrine on the text, regardless of the manuscript evidence, regardless of the teachings of Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium, and regardless of the norms for Bible translation issued by the Holy See.
More on the topic of inclusive language in the NABRE in future posts.
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian
translator of the Catholic Public Doman Version of the Bible