Well, I wanted to spend this post looking at the five most popular Catholic Bible translations that are easily available to most people here in the USA. This will be the first of many posts on these translations, so I hope that no one assumes that this is a thorough critique.....that will come later. The five translations I am going to rank here are the Douay Rheims, New American Bible, New Jerusalem Bible, Revised Standard Version- Catholic Edition, and the New Revised Standard Version- Catholic Edition. I am well aware that there are other, less-known, Catholic Bibles out there, like the Christian Community Bible, the original Jerusalem Bible, the Knox Translation, and the Confraternity edition. However, these five translations are the ones that most Catholics will come into contact with at secular book stores or Catholic/Christian ones.
The rankings will be based on three criteria: 1) Brief evaluation of the translation itself, 2) The available editions in each translation, 3) Study tools and supplements that use that particular translation. Again, this is my own opinion at this moment. It is important to remember, however, that there is no perfect English translation of the Bible.
1) Revised Standard Version - Catholic Edition
- Very literal translation that was the scholarly standard for second half of the twentieth century. This translation was worked on by a group of ecumenical scholars, then updated a bit by a group of Catholic scholars in the 60's. Even though this translation was completed in the mid-twentieth century, it still remains very solid, reliable, and readable. Many Catholic converts and Bible scholars prefer this translation.
- Ignatius Press and Oxford University Press are the main publishers of this translation. Ignatius Press, in particular, has recently edited an updated version of the RSV-CE calling it the RSV-Second Catholic Edition, which eliminates the archaic language and makes minor changes to the text itself. Oxford University Press continues to publish readers editions of the RSV-CE, which basically contains only the text in a simlar fashion as their compact edition. Unfortunately, outside of these two versions, there really isn't a huge selection of editions of the RSV-CE. I don't see this changing anytime soon.
- The RSV, like the NRSV, has a wealth of additional study tools to work with based on it. There are interlinears, concordances, dictionaries, and commentaries that are all based on the RSV. This is an area of strenght for the RSV. But, since this translation is getting a little older, I am not sure that there will be any additional resources. The one possibility is the Ignatius Study Bible, which currently is being produced. They are almost completed with the New Testament. At some point, who knows when, there will be a complete 1 volume edition of the Ignatius Study Bible.
2) New Revised Standard Version - Catholic Edition
- The NRSV was completed by an ecumenical group of scholars, consisting of Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox. Overall, it is slightly less literal than the RSV, but it remains essentially literal and is quite good for both study and prayer. Personally, I find reading this Bible much more enjoyable than the RSV. In particular, the OT is well done and reads very smoothly. For many, the NRSV is the scholarly standard. Many will find this edition as the one required for university or seminary courses. One of its great advantages is that it uses the most up-to-date scholarship on recently discovered manuscripts, like the Dead Sea Scrolls. The NRSV is most notable for its use of inclusive language. While many fall in two camps on this issue, either finding it appropriate or heretical, I think it can be done in a way that is both faithful to the original text as well as to contemporary English usage. For the most part, I think the NRSV does an OK job. However, there are times when their attempt to be inclusive can be a bit questionable, most notably 1 Timothy 3:2 and Hebrews 2: 6-8. Fortunately, the NRSV committee provided textual notes with the translation to show when changes have been made.
- The NRSV comes in various editions, published by Oxford University Press and HarperCollins. HarperCollins, in particular, has recently begun publishing new editions of the NRSV-CE in new attractive editions. It would be great to see this continued. Perhaps an NRSV-CE study Bible would be a great addition as well. Zondervan also publishes a wonderful NRSV-CE Catholic Womens Devotional Bible. It would be great to see an Catholic Men's edition too!
- The greatest strenght of the NRSV is that there are a lot of study tools available. There are various interlinears, dictionaries, Bible Maps, concordances, comparative translations, and a host of commentaries based off of it. And since the NRSV is a decendent of the RSV, the older RSV tools can be used with it as well. Also, one notices that a number of important Biblical scholars, both Catholic and Protestant, use the NRSV for their base translation.
3) New Jerusalem Bible
- The New Jerusalem Bible is a dynamic equivalence translation that is both readable and accurate. It is not as literal as the RSV/NRSV. It is noted for its literary style and its use of the Divine Name YHWH instead of LORD, which is found in most other translations. For American readers, one will notice the occasional British term used, but overall there is no problem in following along with the text. In particular, the NJB truly shines in the poetry sections of the Bible, like the Psalms. The NJB is an update of the original Jerusalem Bible. The NJB is more literal and introduced some modest inclusive language. Overall, I find the NJB use of inclusive language to be the best. There is word that a 3rd edition is in the works, so it will remain to be seen if the NJB will be widely used in future years.
- There are not many editions of the NJB available here in the USA. The best one is the full hardcover edition published by Doubleday. It contains a plethora of notes and cross-references. It's single column format is also very attractive and easy on the eyes.
- One area where the NJB really suffers is that there are hardly any study tools available. The NJB Bible itself, with all its notes, has plenty of study helps, but that is all. I am also unaware of any Biblical scholarship that uses the NJB as its base translation. I think, like many have said, the the NJB is a wonderful starter study Bible.
4) New American Bible
- The NAB is the most used Catholic Bible in the USA. Most of this has to do with the fact that it was produced by the CBA and USCCB, and that it is the Bible used for the Mass readings. The translation, itself, is a bit tough to classify, since it has been translated at various points for the past 50 years. The Old Testament began in the 50's, the NT was revised in the 80's, and the Psalms were revised in 1991. There is also word that the OT may soon be revised. So, unfortunately you have a very uneven text. I think, overall, the NT is superior to the rest of the NAB translation. The NAB NT is literal, yet very readable. Unfortunately I find the revised Psalms to be quite bad. Its use of inclusive language is way over the top, so much so that on the Vatican website the Psalms are not included on the NAB Bible translation page. So ultimately what you have is an OT with no inclusive language, a NT with modest inclusive language, and a Psalms with pervasive inclusive language. Honestly, its a bit annoying.
- The NAB comes in various covers and editions. Fireside published some fine looking NAB Bibles, for various occasions. The covers are quite nice and the binding is very durable. Oxford University Press, as well Catholic Book Publishing, publish editions of the NAB as well. One thing that does bug me is that no matter what edition or publisher, the NAB format always looks the same. It always comes with the same two-column style, with the same cross-reference apparatus, and the same format for the notes.
- In regards to study supplements, there are a few Catholic Study Bibles out there. The most notable is the Catholic Study Bible by Oxford University Press. Outside of that, there are some materials available for study, like a concordance and Bible dictionary. But that is about it. There are some Bible studies, like the Little Rock Bible Study program, that utilizes the NAB but more and more seem to use the RSV or NRSV.
- The Douay-Rheims is the great historic Bible translation that most English-speaking Catholics used up until the mid-1960's. It remains a very literal translation, that contains archaic English renderings. The historical importance of this translation cannot be overstated. Just as many Protestants have a KJV as reference, even though they may use the NIV or ESV primarily, every Catholic should have an edition of the Douay-Rheims for reference. It shouldn't, however, be the main Bible for study. With the Vatican's call for translations from the original languages in Pius XII Divino Afflante Spiritu, the Church has encouraged the use of more modern translations that utilize the best and earliest manuscripts.
- Because this is an older translation, there aren't many new editions available. However, there is one exception. Baronius Press has recenlty been publishing new editions of the Douay-Rheims. These editions are quite well done and beautifully made.
- Again, there just isn't much available. Tan does publish a textual concordance that utilizes the Douay-Rheims. One might also be able to find a Latin-English New Testament.