By Fr. Eugene H. Maly
The author of the following article is president of tire Catholic Biblical' Association of Americo, an officiol theologian of the Second Vatican Council, professor of Sacred Scripture at Mt. St. Mary',r of the West Seminary, Norwood, Ohio, and chairman of the editorial board of the
new magazine, The Bible Today.
AVERSION of the Bible acceptable alike to Cattle'. lies. Orthodox and Protestants
of the English-speaking world —whose total Christian popu
lation far outnumbers that of any other language group-has become a definite possib
Promotion of such a Bible translation y
Pi . I m
lation has been spurred mainly by two factors, One is the ecumenical movement. which has created the need. or at least the hope, for a common Bible. The other is the state of modern Biblical scholarship that has made such a pro'.,ect possible. Neither factor is essentially related to the other.
All Christians. whether Catholic or Protestant. are united in their commitment es the Person of Jesus Christ, the full reselation of His Father. This commitment is based, primarily, on the knowledge of Christ, or what He said and did, and of the primitive Church's evaluetion. under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, of His wuids and
Christians. moreover. would agree that A that at least the major truths undergirding the Christian commitment are to be found in the Scriptures: ". . . these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name" (John 20: 31).
The proponents of the common Bible have an obvious point to make from this. The fortunes of ecumenism will be considerably enhanced by a common acceptance of the truths contained in the Scriptures, And the first and necessary step to such art acceptance is the agreement on a common text.
The ecumenical dialogue, however, is not properly served by a refusal to consider the differences between Catholic and Protestant, differences that affect the Biblical text itself and the Bible's role in the Christian commitment. With regard to the Biblical text one of the major factors has been the Catholic attitude to the Vulgate, the Latin translation made by St. Jerome over 1,500 years ago. This translation was declared to be "authentic" by the Council of Trent and was to be used in public lectures, disputations and in preaching.
Protestant scholars, while admitting the value of the Vulgate as an early witness to the transmission of the original text, could not accept it as the basis of a eommon Bible. Its deficiencies, from a critical viewpoint, would only be an obstacle to a common interpretation.
This seemingly Major roadblock to a common Bible was at least partally removed by Pope Pius MI in his encyclical Divino Affiante Spiritu. He stated that the Council of Trent's declaration was intended as a juridicial, not a critical evaluation. In other words, because of its legitimate use in the Church for so many years, we can be certain that it is free from error in matters of faith and morals. It does not mean, he went on to say, that translations from the original text are forbidden. Pope Pius himself greatly encouraged such translations, affirming them to be not only necessary but even "urgently demanded".
More serious, perhaps. is the role of the Bible in the Christian commitment. For the Pi oteetant generally the Bible alive provides the necessary and sufficient basis for the commitment. For the Catholic. Tradition is no less necessary. It is this Tradition that provides the authoritatise interpretation of Christian doctrine, lf, however, Tradition does not add substantially to the truths contained in the Bible. there would still be a solid basis for legitimate hope for eventual agreement on the major truths, since they would be contained in the Scriptures. Honest and dedicated scholarship should be able to find them.
Both the Protestant emphasis on Scripture alone and the Catholic emphasis on Tradition have been somewhat modified in recent years. Protestant theologians are becoming increasingly aware of the role the Church in the interpretation of the Scriptures, and Catholic theologians are giving more stress to the Bible's role in the Church. Both these positions will encourage the ecumenical dialogue and, eventually the common Bible proponents.
On an entirely different level, modern scholars, both Catholic and non-Catholic, have provided added stimulus to the project. Their scientific cv.rninalion of the various texts and versions of the Scriptures has led to increasingly greater agreement as to what was the original text that came from the hands of the inspired authors, Translations
This may demand some exislanalion. The Biblical text has not come down to us completely unscathed. Throughoutthe ages copyists. whose task it was to preserve the original Hebrew. Aramaic or Greek text, have introduced literally hundreds of variant readings. At times this was done consciously to make mote intelligible an obscure reading, or to make the text conform to the personal theological convictions of the copyists themselves. Much more frequently it was due simply to human error. The translators of the original texts added to the confusion through an incomplete knowledge of the original languages or through a too free translation.
The discovery of more and more ancient manuscripts. such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, has enabled the scholars to institute comparisons that have resulted in the elimination of many of the textual corruptions. Also. a more complete knowledge or the original languages has made possible a translation which, while not completely satisfying to every critic, would be generally acceptable as a working tool, At least denominational interests would not be a major factor in the project of a common Bible.
There are already in existence Sc' eral excellent translations of the Bible in English. Among them are the Revised Standard Version, used by many Protestant groups; the American Translation, published by the University of Chicago: the New English Bible, a work by English scholars, of which only the New Testament has appeared thus far; Mgr, Ronald Knox's wellknown translation, and the American Catholic translation of the Old Testament, not yet completed, produced under the auspices of the Confraternity of
Christian Doctrine. Biblical scholars make common use of these in articles, lectures and discussions. In their minds they represent, ie general, critically accurate versions of the inspired word.
Because of this acceptance some have taken a further step and suggested using one of these as the basis of a Catholic commentary. In fact, such a commentary using as its text the Revised Standard Version was authorised by Rome and was to be produced by English Scholars. Only the hesitations of some caused the subsequent abandonment of the project.
Much more recently, however, a significant "breakthrough" was realised in the United States in the publication by the Liturgical Press or a series of meditations from the Church Fathers using the Scripture readings from the same Revised Standard Version. Entitled "Death and Resurrection." by Fr. Vincent A. Yzermans, the book has the imprimatur of Bishop gartholome or St. Cloud.
Perhaps even more significant is a project now underway in which a group of internationally known BThlical scholars, both Catholic and non-Catholic, is preparing a series of translations and commentaries of the various books of the Bible. Under the editorship of Dr. W. F. Albright, of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, the series will eventually be published by Doubleday. it is not a common Bible in the strict sense of the word, since each author is responsible only for the hook being prepared by him. But it is indicative of what is possible in this field.
Despite these advances there are still hesitations. Would such a Bible he accepted by all English-speaking Christians? What would be the fate of the already existing, and in most cases excellent, translations? Is there really a need for a common Bible? These hesitations will vanish only when it is made clear what precise purpose the common Bible will serve.
It will not supplant the versions now used in the liturgical services of the various confessions. NM' would it be the suggested text for religious instructions. Biblical talks or discussions among members of the same confession. In fact, for these purposes a variety of different translations would be desirable for bringing out the varying shades of meaning that the Hebrew or Greek text often has. but which no single translation cam adequately express.
Rather, a common Bible would serve as the text to he used in those public, nonliturgical gatherings where both Catholic and Protestant would be represented. It could terse well as a text for ecumenical dialogues. And nut least of all would be its value as a symbol to the world of that agreement that sincere Christians can reach when the effort is made.