The NABRE is largely a product of the Catholic Church, and it is approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It's even available online at the USCCB website. So I was surprised to find that many of the notes in the translation propose that the bible contains errors - not just transcription or translation errors, but legitimate errors in the original.

Let me focus on a particularly flagrant example, in Matthew 21. Here is the text that the notes discuss:

(Matthew 21:1-7, NABRE) When they drew near Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find an ass tethered, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them here to me. And if anyone should say anything to you, reply, 'The master has need of them.' Then he will send them at once." This happened so that what had been spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled:

"Say to daughter Zion,
'Behold, your king comes to you, meek and riding on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.'"

The disciples went and did as Jesus had ordered them. They brought the ass and the colt and laid their cloaks over them, and he sat upon them.

And now the notes in question:

(Note on verse 2) An ass tethered, and a colt with her: instead of the one animal of Mk 11:2, Matthew has two, as demanded by his understanding of Zec 9:9.

(Note on verses 4-5) The prophet: this fulfillment citation is actually composed of two distinct Old Testament texts, Is 62:11 (Say to daughter Zion) and Zec 9:9. The ass and the colt are the same animal in the prophecy, mentioned twice in different ways, the common Hebrew literary device of poetic parallelism. That Matthew takes them as two is one of the reasons why some scholars think that he was a Gentile rather than a Jewish Christian who would presumably not make that mistake (see Introduction).

(Note on verse 7) Upon them: upon the two animals; an awkward picture resulting from Matthew’s misunderstanding of the prophecy.

The editors seem to believe that Matthew has invented the details of the story of Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem, and furthermore that the chosen details reflect a misunderstanding of Zechariah 9:9.

Does the Catholic Church's understanding of biblical inerrancy really allow for the possibility that these notes are correct?

  • 2
    The notes do not suggest that the editors believed Matthew invented, but rather, misunderstood the prophecy. "Invent" implies deception. "Misunderstand" implies ignorance. Does it not?
    – user900
    Feb 7, 2016 at 5:12
  • @H3br3wHamm3r81 I see what you mean, fair point. I guess what I was trying to say is: The editors are not only questioning Matthew's accuracy regarding the proper interpretation of Zechariah. By my reading, they are also questioning Matthew's accuracy regarding the actions of Jesus.
    – user22790
    Feb 7, 2016 at 6:05
  • This question seems to be more about the NABRE notes on Matthew 21:1-7 than about the NABRE notes allegedly advancing scriptural errancy.
    – Geremia
    Feb 7, 2016 at 23:16
  • Perhaps edit it to include more examples of where you think the NABRE notes advances scriptural errancy.
    – Geremia
    Feb 7, 2016 at 23:25

1 Answer 1


The footnote apparatus in the NABRE consists mainly of philology, that is describing how the extant text developed into what we have today. Mixed within are some details regarding Catholic doctrine, but the footnotes do not comprise religious or theological commentary. Except for a very few cases where Catholic interpretation is briefly presented, the footnotes consist mainly of technical transmission and translation data, providing a mixture of methodological data, hypothesis, and scholarly theory.

That being said, the footnotes in question are meant to be read in the context of the technical discussion begun in the NAB introduction to Matthew, namely that the final work as we have today suggests that it was put into final form by someone other than the apostle Matthew.

As an example of this, these comments in the footnote apparatus are offered as some of the data that leads some scholars to this conclusion. The actual apostle Matthew would have been an eye witness to the events of Jesus' entry to Jerusalem, but the text reads as if the author was not there, mentioning two animals being used instead of one as do the other Gospels. These statements read as if the author is using a technique (midrash?) that is here attempting to demonstrate that Jesus fulfilled everything written of the Messiah in the Hebrew Scriptures, down to the last detail. The author of this section of Matthew seems to "misread" the prophecy as if there are two donkeys being spoken of, and adds this into the account.

"Matthew" in the footnotes of the NABRE refers to the author(s) of the book, including any redactors, editors, and even perhaps the original saying source that tradition claims was composed by St. Matthew. This composite "Matthew" is spoken of in the footnotes, so at first blush it can read as if the apostle Matthew is being described (which again the introduction makes clear is not the case).

Finally, it should be noted that the apparatus has been found problematic by many Catholics due not to offering unsound scholarship but being somewhat confusing in its presentation (not to mention impractical in its application). They seem to take no consideration of the fact that the average reader cannot make heads or tails of when philological theory is being offered or Catholic doctrine instead. They offer little in the way of application as well, explaining what the data means and its value to the everyday Christian. The recently revised Old Testament of the NABRE has improved somewhat in this regard, and the New Testament is currently being revised along the same lines. Projected for release in 2025, it is believed that the footnotes of the New Testament revision will show similar consideration in redeveloping its footnotes.

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    Thank you for contributing, and welcome to the site! You seem knowledgeable about this topic so I'd like to offer a little critique. I don't think this quite answers the question. Whether "Matthew" in the notes refers to the apostle or to the composite author(s), the note sounds like "Matthew" misreported the event, and/or misinterpreted the Old Testament. And whether mainstream scholarship concludes that or not, it's either consistent or inconsistent with Catholic doctrine. So the question remains: Is it consistent with the Catholic understanding of inerrancy, and if so, how? Apr 17, 2016 at 21:33
  • The reason my reply seems to not "quite" answer the question is because critical Bible methodology and its conclusions do not contribute to the Catholic view on Scriptural inerrancy. The footnotes under question in the NABRE are presenting the various scholarly views that have developed from a methodology. The Church's view on Scripture was handed down from Christ, the Apsotles, and Judaism. Apr 17, 2016 at 22:56
  • A methodological approach, like for example the scientific method, is limited in that its results are based on examination of physical evidence and verification of said results by disinterested parties. Methodologies cannot be enlightened by revelation as they cannot deal with the transcendent or that which defies being sampled and manipulated. The Church's understanding on the validity of Scripture is neither derived from methodological methods or dependent on them. It can contribute at times, but can often be found wanting. Apr 17, 2016 at 23:02
  • The Church has instructed that Catholic Biblical education include not merely traditional catechesis (instruction on religious meaning and application) but aware of the latest in solid scholarship. But since philology is limited to examination of written texts and not revelation, its conclusions cannot be expected to be or taken as absolute. The footnote in question is only regarding the methodological results on the text and is not a commentary on the Church's official views. Apr 17, 2016 at 23:08
  • Humor me for a moment. If the conclusions of the methodological approach were correct (I'm not saying that they are, or that they could ever be proven to be, just asking you to consider a hypothetical where they are correct) then would that mean that the author of the passage "erred" in a way that disproves "inerrancy"? Forgive me if you think my question shows I'm not understanding your points. I think I am, but I think an answer to that would be a good addition to the answer thus far provided. Apr 17, 2016 at 23:26

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