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THE CATHOLIC REVIEW: Evaluating and Selecting A Catholic Bible

How to choose the edition and translation that will be most beneficial

11/20/2020 | Comments

St. Isidore, who served as the Archbishop of Seville in Spain in the seventh century, wrote, “Prayer purifies us, reading instructs us. If we want to be always in God’s company, we must pray regularly and read regularly. When we pray, we talk to God; when we read, God talks to us. All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.”

We want to read more from the Bible. During the pandemic, we may have started to read and reflect upon the Sacred Scripture more than ever before. We may have even practiced “Lectio Divina,” or “holy reading,” contemplating upon the Word of God. Maybe we’d like to get a new Catholic Bible to build on this foundation (or even to start). Perhaps for Advent or Christmas we’d like to give a few Bibles to the special people in our lives — spouse, parents, children, friends. Well, here’s some help in doing a very good thing.

Did you know that, according to the Pew Research Center in Religion and Public Life:

• Only 25% of American Catholics report reading the Bible once a week or more.

• 52% of American Catholics report reading the Bible “seldom/never.”

• 77% of practicing Catholics have a desire to read the Bible more.

It can be a confusing process. Amazon lists more than 90,000 choices under “Bibles.” Here are some handy guidelines to help wade through the options.


Make Sure It’s a Catholic Bible

The first step in choosing a Bible is making sure you select a Catholic edition. The best way to tell if a translation has been approved or not is to look for the words “Catholic Edition” on the cover. This will let you know not only that it is an approved translation, but also that all 73 books of the Catholic Bible are included that reflect a more accurate sense of what was considered canonical scripture to the Jews of Jesus’ day, not just the 66 books of Protestant editions.


What Type of Translation Should I Choose?

Okay, you have selected a Catholic Bible — now what translation do you need? There are two major categories of translation styles: formal equivalent and dynamic equivalent translations. Don’t go to sleep just yet — a formal equivalent translation is simply called a “word-for-word” translation. It’s a more literal version and reads as closely as possible to the original (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) language of the Old and New Testaments. While extremely accurate, a word-for-word translation can be more choppy or difficult to read.

In contrast, a dynamic equivalent translation focuses more on what should be the overall meaning and message of the original, but is edited to flow in a more modern, readable manner. The choice is based on personal preference, so you may want to leaf through a few texts (especially ones you may be more familiar with) in an online biblical text website, comparing and contrasting — especially if you are giving this Bible as a gift. Because there is a lot of money in publishing Bibles, and because there may be different editorial aims in writing a translation (with different utility or usefulness), among all of the contemporary English Bibles, only a few are officially approved by the Catholic Church. These are the New American Bible, the Revised Standard Version, the New Revised Standard Version, the New Jerusalem Bible, the Contemporary English Bible, and the Good News Bible. The first three are formal equivalence translations, and the last three are dynamic equivalents. Let’s look at the two major translations in more detail.


New American Bible, Revised Edition (NABRE)

Released in 2011, the New American Bible, Revised Edition (NABRE) includes a newly revised translation of the entire Old Testament along with the 1986 edition of the New Testament. The NAB was the first Catholic translation made directly from the original biblical languages (rather than from the Latin Vulgate). The NABRE is a “formal equivalent” translation, which means it is not a literal word-for-word rendering of the original text but not a paraphrase either.


Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition (RSV-CE)

The Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition Bible (RSV-CE) is a word-for-word translation. It gives an accurate reading of the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek original text and is a strong choice for anyone interested in serious Bible study. The RSV-CE is a literal, word-for-word translation that uses “King James English”  — “thee” and “thou” — when addressing God, but is otherwise translated into today’s English.


Study Bibles for Catholics

These Catholic Bibles have notes, annotations, maps, timelines, and dictionaries to help enrich your reading experience.


The Catholic Study Bible (NABRE)

Because The (Oxford) Catholic Study Bible uses the NABRE translation, its notes are the same as any other NABRE Bible. What it adds is a 525-page introduction to Scripture consisting of general Bible information and mini-commentary guides for all the books. These are written by many prominent biblical scholars, and cross-referenced to the biblical text (and vice-versa).


The Didache Study Bible (RSV2CE)

The Didache Study Bible is offered in the RSV as well as the NABRE. The title and study notes were inspired by the Midwest Theological Forum’s “Didache Series” of religious education textbooks and are very often based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I find it helpful to see the linkage between Scripture and the Church’s Tradition and magisterial teaching. It also includes a biblical reading guide, theme summary, chronology, maps, glossary, and topical index.


The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible (RSV2CE)

The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible is based on the RSV translation with notes written by renowned Bible scholar Scott Hahn and his student Curtis Mitch. In addition, topical essays and word studies include interpretations from the Fathers of the Church, the Catholic Magisterium, and faithful Catholic scholars. Each book is outlined and introduced with an essay covering authorship, date of writing, original audience, and general themes. Unfortunately, only the New Testament is currently available as a single volume (don’t let the size fool you!). The Old Testament books can each be purchased separately. Note: If you are a teacher teaching an adult or high school biblical studies course, you can purchase most individual books, so that everyone is on the same page — quite helpful!


The Catholic Journaling Bible

I have several Catholic Bibles (and a few Protestant ones from my pre-Catholic days) that are all marked up, a roadmap-looking conglomeration of notes and highlighting and cross references. At a certain point (like an unclean closet) it no longer functions! With a journaling Bible, there is space to ask questions, make notes to remind yourself of inspirations from the Lord, write prayers, or even journal what you’re learning or living this season. I have a few in Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament), which is really good to have so you can write the translated word in the margin (cheat sheet, as it were), but was really impressed with the “Catholic Journaling Bible,” available to review online at


A Personal Recommendation: The Navarre Bible

One Bible that has become my favorite is the Navarre Bible, which was inspired by the founder of Opus Dei, St. Josemaría Escriva. Its faithful and extensive notes utilize official Church documents, the early Fathers and Doctors of the Church, as well as contemporary Catholic theologians. It’s not quite the size of a conventional study Bible; it is published more like a commentary set and contains great notes with linkages to the Catechism.


Wear It Out!

Whichever you choose, be glad that these good choices exist, and remember that the best Catholic study Bible is the one you read! Like old friends that grey with age, I love several of the Bibles that sit at my reading desk, some fraying, newer ones always with bigger font sizes, but sure broadband pipelines for the wisdom and guidance of the Father in challenging times.

The important thing is to actually open it up, read it at a regular time, and apply it personally. As Pope Francis observed in 2016, “the Bible is not for putting in a shelf, but rather for having it at hand. It is for reading it often, every day, either individually or in groups, husband and wife, parents and children; maybe at night, especially on Sundays. That way, the family can move forward with the light and the power of the Word of God!”





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