Is it right to revise the Bible?

"The New American Bible" is not the first Catholic bible to be updated to reflect changes in the way English is understood, but the latest revisions are controversial.

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    Today, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops releases “The New American Bible,” a revised edition of the Catholic Bible.
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When NewSouth Books released an updated version of “Huckleberry Finn,” replacing the word “nigger” with “slave,” readers across the country were outraged.

Today, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops releases “The New American Bible,” a revised edition of the Catholic Bible, replacing, among other phrases, “the virgin shall be with child,” with “the young woman shall be with child,” and “booty” with “spoils of war.”

Certainly, it’s not the first time the Bible has been updated to reflect the shifting meaning of the English language. But this latest version contains some bold changes that traditionalists say toes the line between a refined translation and altered meaning. It’s a move that’s bothered some, but so far objections are nowhere near the uproar raised by the changes made to “Huckleberry Finn” earlier this year.

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When a revised edition of “Huckleberry Finn” was published, the move was denounced by scholars, teachers, and writers as ‘censorship’ and ‘a mockery of the original story.’

“Trying to erase the word from our culture is profoundly, profoundly wrong,” said Randall Kennedy, a Harvard Law School professor, in a BBC interview.

“There is no way to 'clean up' Twain without doing irreparable harm to the truth of his work,” declared a New York Times editorial.

Does this latest edition of the Bible, “The New American Bible Revised Edition,” do irreparable harm to the truth of His work? Most seem to think it doesn’t. Decide for yourself.

Some of the changes in the new edition include –

• “Booty” is now “spoils of war,” sure to disappoint snickering Sunday school students.

• The word “holocaust,” now associated with World War II genocide, has been replaced with “burnt offering.”

• In the 23rd psalm, the phrase "walk through a dark valley” has been changed back to “walk though the valley of the shadow of death,” the wording used prior to the 1970s revision.

• Proverbs 31:10, the ode to “The Ideal Wife,” is now a “Poem on the Woman of Worth.”

“Women will like this: being measured by their own accomplishments, not in terms of a husband's perspective,” said Mary Elizabeth Sperry of the bishops conference, in a USA Today story.

• The most controversial change comes in Isaiah 7:14, a passage that many Christians believe foreshadows the coming of Christ. The 1970 version of the verse says, “the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”

The new version replaces “virgin” with “the young woman.” Theologians say this better represents the meaning of the Hebrew word, almah, which doesn’t necessarily signify a virgin. But traditionalists may see it as a step away from the original meaning.

Is the new edition working to distance Catholicism from the virgin birth of Jesus? Certainly, the danger is that slow, incremental changes in the Bible could result in a shift in meaning over time, a serious concern with regards to religious scripture.

More than 50 scholars, translators, linguistics experts, theologians and five bishops spent 17 years reviewing and editing the current text, analyzing original manuscripts, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and findings unearthed after the 1970 publication of the current text.

This latest version is just one of some two dozen English translations – including the popular King James Version. Many Catholics have already said they prefer older versions. But for young readers, there is no “old way,” says John Kutsko of the Society of Biblical Literature, in a USA Today article. For many of them and their offspring, this will be the authoritative version. “Young people are accustomed to change,” he said.

It’s a move in line with the pope’s progressive outreach - Pope Benedict XVI has a Facebook page and the new version of the Bible will come out in a variety of paper and digital formats, including as a cell phone app.

But are some of the changes too progressive? How much should the Bible be changed?

Will Americans protest more about modifications made to a children’s book than about changes made to the Bible?

Tell us what you think on Facebook and Twitter.

-- Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

[Editor's note: Originally this article used the words "immaculate conception" instead of the words "virgin birth" in referring to the birth of Jesus.]

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