Friday, March 24, 2006

Which Bible to Buy?

Someone wrote me an email, asking what edition of the Bible I recommend.

A few weeks ago, I started a Bible study at my parish, and I put this in the bulletin as guidance on this subject.

If you buy a Bible, be sure your Bible is Catholic.

Sadly, when the Protestant movements began in the 16th century, their leaders decided to remove sections of the Old Testament; so the editions published for Protestants, with some exceptions, are incomplete. Also, there are, unfortunately, some serious differences of theology on some points between Catholic belief and a number of Protestant movements; thus, I can’t vouch for the commentary some of them may provide on particular texts, let alone how they translate. I’m sorry to say, some are very contentious and some are a little wacky.

There are many Catholic editions available. There are pros and cons for various ones.

Here are better known ones:

>Catholic Study Bible/New American Bible.
Extensive notes, explanatory articles, and maps. Very helpful for study. Most similar to Mass readings. However, I do question some of the editorial decisions in translating and in the notes.

>Douay-Rheims. The English translation used for centuries; translated from Latin. Old style English. I haven’t seen a “study” edition—i.e., with extensive notes and articles.

>Ignatius Bible/RSV-Catholic Edition. A superior translation, but skimpy notes. (Ignatius has “study editions” for parts of the Bible, but not Genesis.)

>The Navarre Bible: The Pentateuch. Uses the superior RSV-Catholic translation. Scholarly notes. But only the first five books of Scripture. [I left out of my brief bulletin item that a complete Navarre Bible runs to, I think, 12 volumes!]

New Jerusalem Bible. A good translation, but less familiar. Be sure you get the edition with notes and articles, which are very good. Some of the same concerns as with the NAB, above.

I found these titles online; not enough info to recommend:

The Holy Bible: Catholic Reference Edition, from Tyndale. Easier-to-read New Living Translation, which is pretty loose. Notes and background materials look skimpy. Has no imprimatur from a bishop.

Good News Translation Holy Bible, Catholic Edition from Zondervan. Easier-to-read. More notes and reference materials. Has an imprimatur, which indicates cooperation with church authorities.

The International Student Bible for Catholics (NAB translation), from Nelson Publishers. Has notes and background materials—appears to be a teen-version of the Catholic Study Bible above. Has imprimatur.


If anyone has further comments or suggestions, please add them.


Jenny said...

I highly recommend the Navarre Bibles. I got started with the Letters of St. Paul because I always seemed to be 2nd lector. The commentary is so helpful and devotional. Lots of quotes from the saints and early church fathers (people who's Biblical opinions you'd actually value). Now I'm expanding my collection of volumes (they're pretty cheap used on Amazon.) I just finished reading Revelation, and with all the commentary, it actually made sense to me.

Anonymous said...

I thought that a Catholic bible couldn't be published without an imprimatur? Although these days an imprimatur is only as good as the bishop who issues it sadly.

Fr Martin Fox said...

anonymous -- a publisher can prepare an edition of the Bible that's complete, that has notes and commentary from Catholic sources, and sell it with the title, "Catholic Bible" or "Bible for Catholics," or what-have-you. If they fail to seek an imprimatur from a bishop, what can the bishops do?

Anonymous said...

Fr. Fox:

Ignatius Press recently published a second edition of the RSV-based Ignatius Bible. Have you seen that, and if so, have they improved that to a great extent?

Fr Martin Fox said...


I haven't actually seen it; my impression, from the website, and from a conversation with a bookstore owner, is that it doesn't have significantly more notes and articles.

Pro Ecclesia said...

I just bought the Catholic Comparative New Testament, which contains the Rheims New Testament / New American Bible / Revised Standard Version / New Revised Standard Version / Jerusalem Bible / New Jerusalem Bible / Good News Bible.

Still waiting for it arrive.

Victor said...

The Navarre Bible is now complete with 7 large volumes for the OT.

Pro Ecclesia said...

Also, I prefer the Jerusalem Bible to the New Jerusalem Bible. It doesn't have the "inclusive" language that you will find in the New Jerusalem Bible.

Anonymous said...

The problem with the Jerusalem Bible is its availability--the only version published today is the Reader's Edition, i.e. the edition without the extensive notes. You might be able to find the Study Edition in a local used bookstore.

--Bill Logan

Pro Ecclesia said...

I had to buy my Jerusalem Bible off of eBay. You're right: they are very hard to come by.

Fr Martin Fox said...


I don't know if you'll see this, but...

About the JB & NJB -- I hadn't realized there was an issue of "inclusive language."

I don't use the New Jerusalem much; mainly I check it for the notes, which are interesting, and to compare how a verse is translated, since the NJB has a distinctive style.

The problem I have with the NJB Bible, as with NAB, is that the editors have an irritating habit of rearranging verses when they can't interpret them! I'm not kidding; occasionally, they'll reorder the verses! I don't know if the JB did that.

The other thing is, the JB and NJB aren't from the original languages, but from French; so you wonder; if it comes up with a variant reading, is this why?

Anonymous said...

I love the Navarre Bible series (don't have a complete set, but I'm working toward it). The Pentateuch set has been invaluable at my parish's Catholic Scripture Study of the Book of Exodus. (I sound like a genius, until I hold up the book and tell them I didn't think of the answers on my own.)

I am currently in the market for a good 1-volume history of the Catholic Church. I have been reading Thomas Bokenkotter's "A Concise History of the Catholic Church", but I have been woefully dismayed by the selective details and slanted views, especially in the last half of the book.

So my question is this: Can you recommend a good history of the Catholic Church book? I don't just want something that gives names or labels and says "this was found to be wrong" or "this narrowly won" - I want to know the definitions of the terms and why the heresies were found to be wrong, why the doctrines and dogmas were defined, so I can defend these ideas and explain them better to others.

Thank you and God bless.

Fr Martin Fox said...


Despite the flaws you mention, I would still recommend Bokenkotter's book. The other one-volume history that I know, which is fun to read, is Triumph. I think he does a very good job, although you have to suspect he has his own biases. Aren't you glad they show?

Anonymous said...

Despite the flaws you mention, I would still recommend Bokenkotter's book. The other one-volume history that I know, which is fun to read, is Triumph. I think he does a very good job, although you have to suspect he has his own biases. Aren't you glad they show?

Well, after reading the reviews of both books on, it appears that where Bokenkotter's book leans too far one way, Triumph over-compensates.

It's really a shame that the truth on so many events is really lost to history, so the "histories" we read are not only written by the winners but by the losers as well.

I guess in my search for 1-volume works of Church history, I'll end up buying multiple volumes - not necessarily of the same author(s).

That said, any suggestions of multi-volume sets (in print or Internet) that might present a less biased view of Church history?

(The only reason I'm asking about single-volume books is because I tend to have to answer lots of questions about Church history, but I'd like to have the time to answer them, without all my time being spent reading and re-reading to find the "center" answer.)

Thank you for your time in answering my questions. God bless.

Fr Martin Fox said...

I really don't have a recommendation about a multi-volume history, sorry. I know they are out there.

The closest I could recommend isn't a history of the church, but a history of doctrine, and that's by Pelikan; but it's not for anyone untrained in the field, because I can't vouch for him getting everything right; he was at the time a Lutheran, I think; now Orthodox, I've heard.

Anonymous said...

The Navarre bible at the present as of Nov.08 can be purchased as old testaments under 7 hardcover (about 500 pages each)books that have both English and Latin translations along with the commentaries. A new version of the New Testaments is out, just 1 hard cover book that has both English and Latin translations along with the commentaries is out at 1066 pages. I believe that they are also working on a 1 volume version of the old testaments. The new book has both red and black lettering to seperate the chapters and verses within the book. It is a nice bible to have.....Frank