The Secularization of Sacred Scripture 1

New American Bible Revised Edition – Review part 3 – the secularization of Sacred Scripture in the NABRE

Genesis 1:2

Latin Vulgate:
{1:2} Terra autem erat inanis et vacua, et tenebræ erant super faciem abyssi: et Spiritus Dei ferebatur super aquas.

my translation, the CPDV:
{1:2} But the earth was empty and unoccupied, and darknesses were over the face of the abyss; and so the Spirit of God was brought over the waters.

The New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE)
{1:2} and the earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters–

The Hebrew and the Greek (Septuagint) both read ‘spirit of God’. The Pope Sixtus V Latin (1590) reads ‘spirit of the Lord’. The Pope Clement VIII Latin Vulgate (1592, 93, 98) all read ‘spirit of God’. The 1914 Hetzenauer and 1861 Vercellone edits of the Clementine Vulgate read ‘spirit of God’. The original Douay Bible and the Challoner Douay version all read ‘spirit of God’. The RSV CE1 and CE2 both read ‘spirit of God’.

Over a dozen different Protestant translations read ‘spirit of God’

I’m neglecting to indicate which translations capitalize ‘Spirit’ and which do not, since this is beside the point.

The Jerusalem Bible reads ‘God’s spirit’. The New Jerusalem Bible uses the phrase ‘a divine wind’.

The NAB (1970) and the NABRE both read ‘a mighty wind’. A footnote to the NABRE says: “literally, ‘spirit or breath [ruah] of God'”. But the explanation of the passage says only that a ‘turbulent wind’ was over the waters. If the text says ‘spirit or breath of God’, how is it that the translation says ‘a mighty wind’? The word wind is not equivalent to ‘spirit or breath’ and the word ‘mighty’ is not a sufficient substitute for the word ‘God’.

In the Hebrew text, the word for God in the phrase ‘spirit of God’ is the same word used repeatedly in Genesis, and repeatedly translated as ‘God’ even by the NABRE. The translation ‘a mighty wind’ is indefensible. It is not justified by the Hebrew, Greek, or Latin. It is not justified even by comparison with the rest of this passage’s translation in the NABRE.

This translation of the ‘spirit or breath of God’ as ‘a mighty wind’ is an example of translators secularizing the Bible, removing a reference to God and (at least implicitly) a reference to the work of the Holy Spirit in Creation, and replacing it with an entirely natural wind. Why do they make this change to Sacred Scripture? It is because they do not have faith that God was truly involved in Creation, in a deliberate and active manner. It is because they wish to portray the Old Testament story of Creation as an ancient superstition, an ancient misunderstanding, of what they consider to be merely natural events.

It is because the influence of sinful secular society has had a substantial effect on translations of the Bible.

2 —
[1 Peter]
{4:11} When anyone speaks, it should be like words of God. When anyone ministers, it should be from the virtue that God provides, so that in all things God may be honored through Jesus Christ. To him is glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

When anyone speaks, it should be like words of God. Secular society practices the opposite of this saying. Many Catholics practice the opposite of this saying. When they speak, it is not at all like God speaking: truth, goodness, love, justice, mercy, etc. The internet is particularly problematic in this regard. Many Catholics ‘speak’ on the internet, often anonymously, in a way that harms souls.

The NABRE has changed this verse to say ‘preaches’ rather than ‘speaks’.

This narrows the meaning so that it applies, not to all persons all of the time, but only to those who preach and only when they are preaching.

The original Douay and the Challoner Douay have ‘speaks’. The JB and NJB have it phrased as ‘is a speaker’. The RSV CE1 and CE2 have ‘speaks.’ The vast majority of Protestant translations have some form of the word ‘speaks’.

The Greek text does not support ‘preaches’; neither does the Latin. Both the Greek and the Latin text use a word that is broad in meaning, speaks, and not the narrow and specific meaning, preaches.

Here is another example of the secularization of the Bible. The translation, editing, and commentary tend to water-down or nullify the full spiritual meaning of the text. This makes the text more acceptable to secular society, more like secular society, more in accord with what secular society teaches — and less in accord with what the infallible Word of God teaches in Divine Revelation.

3 —
Another method that is used by unfaithful translators and editors of the Bible, in order to dull the sharp two-edged sword that is the Word of God, is to refuse to translate some of the words. They leave the words untranslated, so as to obscure the meaning of the text.

For example, the word ‘Hell’ has been excised from some modern Bible translations. The Hebrew word, Sheol, in some contexts in the Old Testament, certainly does refer to Hell. But they refuse to translate the word, rendering it simply as ‘Sheol’. This obscures any teaching on Hell and eternal punishment found in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, the words Gehenna and Hades are used, in the Greek, to refer to Hell. But again they refuse to translate the word, even when the context clearly indicates the Christian understanding of eternal Hell. The leave the word as Gehenna or as Hades, to obscure the meaning.

The NABRE in particular, as far as I have been able to determine, does not use the world Hell at all. In the Old Testament, the word Sheol is used instead. And to make matters worse, the footnote for the word often argues against the meaning of Hell or eternal punishment. In the New Testament, the NABRE retains the entire 1986 text unchanged. The word Hell is not used at all in the NAB New Testament, not even in the footnotes. Gehenna and Hades and the Netherworld (meaning ‘underworld’) are used instead of the word Hell.

The secular world does not like the idea of a place of eternal punishment, because secular society largely rejects the idea of grave sin, and the need for repentance and conversion. The secular world does not mind some version of Heaven, a place of eternal happiness, as long as there is no corresponding place of punishment. So the modernist Bible translator, influenced by sinful secular society, tends to obscure any reference to Hell in the Bible.

My translation, the CPDV, generally translates Sheol as Hell, unless the context indicates a more general meaning, such as death or the afterlife in general. The CPDV translates Gehenna and Hades as Hell in the New Testament.

{10:27} What I tell you in darkness, speak in the light. And what you hear whispered in the ear, preach above the rooftops.
{10:28} And do not be afraid of those who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul. But instead fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Hell.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and Bible translator

Articles on Catholic Ethics
My work with Sacred Scripture

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1 Response to The Secularization of Sacred Scripture 1

  1. Nicholas says:

    This is great! I like this series.

    I was meditating the other night on how the first chapter of Genesis is a Divine Revelation as in what is taught by the Second Vatican Council in Dei Verbum n. 2. It is not a myth, not an ancient cosmology influenced by unbelievers, it is not made up or what you say an ancient superstition or misunderstanding. The sacred author did not have a naive or erroneous view of what God did, since he was inspired by God. This in spite of the fact that his contemporaries may have had naive, erroneous or foolish views. This is what it means to have faith in God, in what He did and said what He did, in Divine inspiration, infallibility and inerrancy of Sacred Scripture. It is all or nothing.

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