Jerusalem Bible vs. New Jerusalem Bible

The abbreviations JB and NJB will be used throughout the text.

The following review is based on my extensive use of both of these Bible translations over many years, for study and for spiritual reflection. I am a student of the Bible but not a theologian or linguist, so the review is based on practical considerations, not on academic analysis.  I am merely pointing out the pros and cons of each translation in daily use.

Gender-inclusive language in the NJB

The Jerusalem Bible was published in 1966, the New Jerusalem Bible in 1985. The lapse of time between the two reveals changes in cultural attitudes and how those attitudes have impacted on the presentation of the English language. The NJB is an extensive reworking of the original JB translation and accommodates gender-inclusive language. This feature is not as pronounced in the NJB as it is in other modern translations – for example the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV, 1989), or the 2011 edition of the New International Version (NIV).  Nevertheless, it is still a major factor, affecting the text on many vital points.  On the other hand, the Jerusalem Bible is one of the few modern translations of Scripture still in widespread use that remains faithful to the original texts. As far as I can tell it makes no concessions in terms of gender-inclusivity. In my opinion deference to contemporary cultural trends should never be placed above the integrity of the divinely-inspired word of God (2 Tim 3.16-17). The counter-argument is that women appear to be excluded from certain directions and admonitions in the Biblical text. This is not the case. The text should be understood as being implicitly inclusive except where a group of men are being addressed for a specific purpose. God’s moral purpose for mankind is all-embracing because ‘there are no distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus. Merely by belonging to Christ you are the posterity of Abraham, the heirs he was promised.’ (Galatians 3.28-29).

The insistence of gender neutrality results in some awkward renderings in the NJB. For instance, in Psalm 103, verse 15, we read: As for a human person – his days are like grass, he blooms like the wild flowers; as soon as the wind blows he is gone.  The anomaly is in the fact that the rendering acknowledges this particular ‘human person’ as male in the text that follows.  And ‘human person’ is rather cold and impersonal in tone, a biological entity.  In the Bible, ‘man’, when not referring to a specific person, points to mankind in general.

There are many similar instances in the NJB.  A classic example is Psalm 1. In the NJB it reads: How blessed is anyone who rejects the advice of the wicked…. Such a one is like a tree planted near streams (vv. 1, 3).  In the JB we read: Happy the man who never follows the advice of the wicked…. He is like a tree that is planted by water streams.  Whilst ‘blessed’ is preferable to ‘happy’ in verse 1, the JB translation is more human and natural.  In fact this psalm is traditionally associated with Jesus Christ, so the NJB’s rendering leaves Jesus on the cutting-room floor.  Again, ‘anyone’ and ‘such a one’ are unfortunate throwaway renderings.  In Job 14.1-2, the JB reads: Man, born of woman, has a short life yet has his fill of sorrow. He blossoms, and he withers, like a flower; fleeting as a shadow, transient. The NJB mangles this rather fine translation into: A human being, born of woman, whose life is short but full of trouble. Like a flower, such a one blossoms and withers, fleeting as a shadow, transient. In this way political correctness not only triumphs over the integrity of God’s word but flattens the poetic language. The JB rendering is another instance of ‘man’ denoting human beings in general – ‘mankind’. In many places the NJB translators succeeded in dampening down and neutralising the literary excellence for which the JB is renowned, particularly in the Old Testament.

Another unfortunate result of the refusal to acknowledge the male gender is found in Proverbs. To avoid the use of the word ‘man’, the NJB’s renderings often result in what I regard as poor English. For instance, The hardworking is thoughtful, and all is gain (21.5). All the translators needed to do, if they really couldn’t bring themselves to use the word ‘man’, was to render the verse in the plural, thus: The hardworking are thoughtful.  This amendment doesn’t change the sense of the verse, only the verb tense.  In the NJB these ugly emendations are scattered throughout the Book of Proverbs and elsewhere. Other egregious examples are in Psalm 9, verse 14, where we find: The oppressed relies on you….; and in Psalm 24, verse 6: Such is the people that seeks him.  This is the regrettable result of changing texts that are not readily adaptable to twentieth-century anxieties about gender. The oppressed rely on you and Such are the people would be more acceptable English but they nevertheless remain corruptions of the text.

Deliberate mis-translations

Some may not object to You shall not set your heart on your neighbour’s spouse  (Exodus 20.17) in the NJB, whereas the JB follows a more traditional line with  neighbour’s wife. Far more problematic is the NJB’s translation of Matthew 5.32 and 19.9. All other translations regard the exceptive clause allowing for a divorce as founded on adultery. The translators of the NJB beg to differ. They seem to regard this exception as referring to ‘an illicit marriage’, one contracted between close relatives, which was forbidden by the Jews but allowed among the Gentiles, and that this appears in Matthew to reflect what Christian missionaries encountered among the Gentiles. The traditional rendering of  ‘fornication’ is found in the JB and the footnote states that ‘illicit marriage’ would be so obvious a reason for divorce as to make it unnecessary to mention.

I acknowledge that this is a very sensitive area and one that has caused enormous heartache to Christians down through the centuries, the fact that divorce does not allow remarriage (at least not in a church), regardless of the reason for divorce.  But it is generally understood that Jesus is referring to the marriage bond having been broken by an extra-marital relationship, hence such words as ‘adultery’ or ‘fornication’ in various Bible translations. Jesus is restating, in forceful language, the sanctity of marriage and that its institution by God makes it a sacrament, that male and female when joined in holy matrimony become one.  In this regard the JB is more logical in the context of what Jesus is saying, if one reads the passage in Matthew 19.1-10 in its entirely. I believe the translators of the NJB are mistaken and their argument (based as it is on Greek semantics) lacks force. Good marriages are vital to an ordered society and that is why the Church sets so much store by their stability within the context of a Christian understanding of marriage as a divinely-ordained institution. Broken marriages result in emotional dysphoria and dysfunctional families, and this in turn disrupts social cohesion. All kinds of problems ensue, as we are all aware with the state of modern society. Jesus is therefore reiterating God’s original plan for mankind, a well-ordered human society where love, mutual understanding and social harmony are paramount.

In my estimation mis-translations in the JB are more likely to be the result of choices based on interpretations of the ancient texts rather than deliberate attempts to corrupt the meaning of the word or passage. The above examples aside, it is often stated that the NJB is a more accurate translation than the JB, but at the same time I do not believe the JB is consistently inaccurate, simply that its translators interpreted differently. We should all be aware that there is no such thing as a perfect Bible translation. There are all kinds of considerations to be taken into account when translating ancient texts and the foibles and preferences of the translators are bound to impinge on the finished product, along with denominational traditions.

It may be said that the ideal translation of the Bible is in the eye of the beholder, whoever holds, reads and cherishes the word of God. We can only work with Bibles that are an approximation of a ‘good translation’, good in parts, not so good in others. And divisions within the Christian community worldwide, displayed by the many church denominations, have also played a part in the diversity of understanding of the ancient texts and how these texts are to be interpreted as doctrine or applied to Christian conduct and church governance. With this in mind, it is probably wise to use more than one Bible translation for study purposes, and perhaps also for spiritual reading. My only rule of thumb is to recommend that paraphrased and simplified translations should be avoided as they often distort the original meaning out of all recognition. Examples are the Good News Bible and The Message.

Some comparisons

I have set out some examples of differing translation choices in the JB and the NJB. Please note, this list is a tiny selection considering the extensive reworking of the original JB text by the translators of the NJB.  An asterisk (*) denotes my personal preference.

Firstly, there are some recurrent translation choices that are major features in both the JB and the NJB.  In the JB the preference for ‘happy’ over ‘blessed’ was a huge mis-calculation on the part of the translators. This is most noticeable in Matthew 5.1-12, the Beatitudes. Happy are those who mourn is an absurdity. Blessedness is divinely conferred, happiness is a state of mind.

Whereas the JB uses, variably, ‘upright’, ‘righteous’, ‘virtuous’ and ‘integrity’, the NJB is consistent in its use of upright/ness in preference to righteous/ness, but this leads to some awkward moments. ‘Righteous’ is a perfectly acceptable Biblical word, denoting a state of being right with God. It is another instance of the NJB’s linguistic timidity. I can’t help thinking of ‘upright’ as physical deportment rather than moral and spiritual rectitude. The NJB is indeed consistent, but with the wrong word!

Genesis 1.1-2: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep, and God’s spirit hovered over the water (JB)*
In the beginning God created heaven and earth. Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep, with a divine wind sweeping over the waters (NJB)

Psalm 46.10: Pause a while and know that I am God (JB)
Be still and acknowledge that I am God (NJB)*

Psalm 63.5: My soul will feast most richly (JB)*
All my longings fulfilled as with fat and rich foods (NJB)

Psalm 112.8: In the end he will triumph over his enemies (JB)*
….till he can gloat over his enemies (NJB)

Ecclesiastes 1.2: Vanity of vanities,’ Qoheleth says. Vanity of vanites. All is vanity! (JB)*
Sheer futility,’ Qoheleth says. Sheer futility: everything is futile! (NJB)

Song 3.2: So I will rise and go through the City (JB)*
So I shall get up and go through the city (NJB)

Amos 5.24: But let justice flow like water, and integrity like an unfailing stream (JB)*
But let justice flow like water, and uprightness like a never-failing stream (NJB)

Micah 6.8: What is good has been explained to you, man; this is what the Lord asks of you: only this, to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God (JB)*
You have already been told what is right and what the Lord wants of you. Only this, to do what is right, to love loyalty and to walk humbly with your God (NJB)

Matthew 12.13: Then he said to the man, ‘Stretch our your hand.’ He stretched it out and his hand was better (JB)
Then he said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out and his hand was restored (NJB)*

Matthew 14.27: But at once, Jesus called out to them, saying, ‘Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid’ (JB)*
But at once Jesus called out to them, saying, ‘Courage! It’s me! Don’t be afraid’ (NJB)

Matthew 16.17: Jesus replied, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, you are a happy man!’ (JB)
Jesus replied, ‘Simon son of Jonah, you are a blessed man!’ (NJB)*

Luke 1.46-48: And Mary said: ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit exults in God my saviour; because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid‘ (JB)*
And Mary said: ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour; because he has looked upon the humiliation of his servant (NJB)

Luke 7.40: Speak, Master’ was the reply (JB)*
He replied, Say on, Master; (NJB)

John 17.25: Father, Righteous One (JB)*
Father, Upright One (NJB)

Romans 4.2: Abraham put his faith in God, and this faith was considered as justifying him (JB)*
Abraham put his faith in God and this was reckoned to him as uprightness (NJB)

Romans 9.5: They are descended from the patriarchs and from their flesh and blood came Christ who is above all, God for ever blessed! Amen (JB)
To them belong the fathers and out of them, so far as physical descent is concerned, came Christ who is above all, God, blessed for ever. Amen (NJB)*

1 Corinthians 7.2: Since sex is always a danger (JB)
….yet to avoid immorality (NJB)*

1 Corinthians 10.13: You can trust God not to let you be tried beyond your strength, and with any trial be will give you a way out of it and the strength to bear it (JB)*
You can trust that God will not let you be put to the test beyond your strength, but with any trial will also provide a way out by enabling you to put up with it (NJB)

Philippians 2.6: His state was divine, yet he did not cling to his equality with God (JB)*
Who, being in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped (NJB)

James 1.13-14: Never, when you have been tempted, say, ‘God sent the temptation’; God cannot be tempted to do anything wrong, and he does not tempt anybody. Everyone who is tempted is attracted and seduced by his own wrong desire (JB)*
Never, when you are being put to the test, say: ‘God is tempting me’; God cannot be tempted by evil, and he does not put anybody to the test. Everyone is put to the test by being attracted and seduced by that person’s own wrong desire (NJB)

1 John 2.1: I am writing this, my children, to stop you sinning; but if anyone should sin, we have our advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, who is just (JB)*
My children, I am writing this to prevent you from sinning; but if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the upright (NJB)

1 John 3.21: My dear people, if we cannot be condemned by our own conscience, we need not be afraid in God’s presence (JB)*
My dear friends, if our own feelings do not condemn us, we can be fearless before God (NJB)

Layout and typography

The layout of the text in the JB and NJB is exemplary.  Reading the JB is considerably enhanced by the text being printed across the page. This is the case for all editions of the JB, but only found in the Standard Edition of the NJB. All other editions of the NJB are printed in double column format.

In both translations the way the text of each book of the Bible is organised, with extensive use of headings and sub-headings, is superbly done. Some have objected to the JB’s verse numbers being printed in the margin, the point where the verse begins marked with a dot. In the NJB the verse numbers are printed in the text.

The size of print in the NJB Reader’s Edition is larger and clearer than in the equivalent edition of the JB, the Popular Edition. Those with impaired vision may experience difficulties with the print size in that edition of the JB and the pocket edition of the NJB.

One must exercise discernment in using the Standard Edition of the NJB with its detailed footnotes. The ascendancy of liberal theology is felt not only in the style of translation (as outlined above) but also in some of the footnotes, which in places are sceptical in tone. The same caution about footnotes should be applied to the CTS New Catholic Bible which incorporates the JB text but with the Grail translation of the psalms instead of the JB psalms. This edition has short footnotes, some of which are decidedly unsound.

The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, by Rod Dreher. Sentinel, 2017.

The importance of this book cannot be underestimated.  Even if one doesn’t accept all of Dreher’s conclusions and proposals, his exposure of the immensity of the problems facing the church are in themselves of vital interest to Christians in the western world.

Dreher covers a lot of ground in 240-odd pages.  The middle part of the book, which is American-centric, may not be of such interest to non-American readers.  Yet even here the effects of the post-modern world on the Christian faith are symptomatic of western culture in general.

The initial chapters provide a historical background to how we have arrived beyond the crossroads, how major religious and cultural shifts have led us to the current malaise.  The author goes on a historical tour, spotlighting the shift from Medievalism to the Renaissance, then on to the Reformation  and the Enlightenment, Romanticism, industrialisation and the catastrophe of the First World War with the drift into decadence in its aftermath, thereafter tracing a steady decline.  The twentieth-century saw an unprecedented breakdown of social, moral and cultural values, resulting in the current ‘liquid modernity’ based on ubridled freedom, sexual licence and a widespread rejection of religion.  The churches have failed to confront the floodtide of liberalism, still less combat it, to the extent that we are left with a faithful remnant of those who see the world and its ills all too clearly.

I use the word ‘remnant’ to define those who have remained faithful to orthodox doctrine and to the moral and ethical tenets of the Christian faith, as opposed to the many churches that have thrown in their lot with modernity to become undemanding quasi-religious adjuncts to cultural mayhem.  The author covers this aspect well, along with the overpowering onslaught of the Sexual Revolution and its offshoots, the breakdown of traditional family values and the descent into gender wars.

What does all of this mean for those who wish to uphold orthodox Christian beliefs and values?  Where do they stand in a world that is unsympathetic to their beliefs and often openly hostile to them?  There are signs of a siege mentality in some Christian circles as the faith is increasingly marginalised and subjected to intolerance in various arenas – in the workplace, in academia, in the media and in politics.

The choice seems to me to be clear: For Christians to stand up to the world and be counted, or to stand up and be counted amongst themselves (which, by extension, results in the same thing).  Dreher’s main thesis is that Christians should regroup, recapture the truth and vitality of the faith and form purposeful faith communities.  He describes the Benedictine pattern of community as an example of how the faith can be lived in a meaningful and coherent way, subject to a rigid structure and strict rules.  Although monasticism is clearly not an option for most Christians, an adaptation is possible for secular living.  His example of the Tipi Loschi community in Italy is another impressive ideal for the faithful remnant to emulate, but a choice open to the few.

Dreher uses these examples as a way of saying ‘this is the kind of ethos that needs to be pursued to preserve orthodoxy.’  He is absolutely right.  Scattered as they are across the world, orthodox Christians must find a way to preserve the faith.  As I see it, the way forward for the majority is through the internet.  This kind of ‘virtual’ church is far from ideal but the best we can do whilst we await the final reckoning.

I urge all Christians to read this book, all those who wish to uphold the integrity of the faith and who are concerned about growing assaults on religious freedom.