Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Few Thoughts on Study Bibles

First off, a blessed Easter to you all! It is wonderful to be able to celebrate the risen Lord during this wonderful octave of Easter, particularly as it leads up to Divine Mercy Sunday.

I have been doing a bit of thinking about study Bibles recently, including a few email discussions with some readers. I am always torn whether or not to invest in a single study Bible for everyday use. What do I mean by "invest"? While I certainly do have a number of hardcover study Bibles which I will refer to from time to time, the most recent being the New Oxford Annotated Bible 4th Edition, I have never settled on one that would be considered my day-to-day study Bible of choice. You know, the one that I would use for Bible study and school, containing all of my own personal notes to go along side the commentary and notes supplied by the study Bible publisher. I was impressed a few years ago by someone who had their old Jerusalem Bible, which I think they received back in the 60's, that contained all of that person's personal notes and inspirations from the past 40 years. Although this Bible was written in over an almost 40 year period, it remained a constant companion for this person.

So, what to do? Well, I began thinking about what I would like in my ideal study Bible, while also seeing if any particular study Bible had everything I wanted. (English language study Bibles of course!) Of course, I knew that such a study Bible was not in print, nor probably would ever be. So here are a few of the components of a study Bible that I would like to see produced, with references to current study Bibles that fit each component. The order of each component is not necessarily in ranking order of importance in my mind.

1) A Good Formal Equivalence Translation: I am quite comfortable with the NRSV, and to a lesser extend the RSV-2CE. I wonder if I will be adding the NABRE to this list sometime next year. That would certainly make things interesting.

2) Cross-References: Yes sir, those always important cross-references are a must for any good study Bible. While some study Bibles, mostly using the NRSV, consign them to the commentary portion of the study Bible, I prefer them to be separate. I think the NJB (with all the notes and cross-references) does the best job at this. Of course this is aided by the fact that the NJB comes in a single-column format, which is woefully represented in most study Bibles applicable to Catholic readers. I should also mention that the Oxford NAB study Bibles also have a separate location for cross-references, as well as the Ignatius RSV-2CE study Bible.

3) Decent Margins: While having a smaller study Bible is nice, one thing that suffers is the size of the margins, which are a must if you want to write in your Bible. The original Oxford Catholic Study Bible had some decent sized margins, but subsequent editions reduced their size considerably. The NJB also gives a bit of room too!

4) Comprehensive Maps: I love Bible maps, yes I said it. When I look at study Bibles, one of the first things I look at are the maps. Many of the newly released study Bibles contain not only end maps, but also incorporate additional ones in the text itself. I think the HarperCollins Study Bible does a fine job, as well as the new NOAB 4th Edition. Let me just say that I have looked at the ESV Study Bible, which I think does a really great job with maps, charts, and diagrams.

5) Concordance: It's nice to have, but not a deal breaker for me. Most study Bibles contain one, so this is not much of an issue really. The one exception is the New Interpreters Study Bible.

6) Multiple Cover Editions: If I am going to get an everyday study Bible, I would prefer it to be in a genuine leather cover or perhaps the new imitation/Italian DuoTone style. The Oxford study Bibles, whether NRSV or NAB, typically come in paperback, hardcover, and leather. Funny enough, the most recent HarperCollins Study Bible only comes in hardcover and softcover, but no leather option, even though the earlier edition did.

7) Lectionary: As a Catholic, I think every Catholic Bible, even a study Bible, should contain at least the Sunday lectionary readings. The complete, Sunday and weekday, would be even better. The Catholic Study Bible NAB does this, but few others include the lectionary readings.

8) Historical Notes/Theological In-Text Boxes: I prefer that the commentary at the bottom of the page be focused on historical data. For the most part, I think the Oxford NRSV study Bibles do a good job with this. In additional, however, I would like to see important Catholic theological information, with references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, displayed at appropriate locations in the Biblical text. For example, one could see an in-text box placed at 2 Maccabees 12 discussing prayers for the dead and purgatory, with references to the entries on this topic in the CCC.

So, these are just a few of my thoughts on the issue of study Bibles. Feel free to add or subtract some from my ideas. I may add a few more over the next few days.


Anonymous said...

Bravo, and I agree with all you have said. I would add one desire for my favorite study Bible.

Faithful Study Notes: By this I mean the notes in a study Bible should be as objective as possible. Or, at the very least, when speculation is included in a study Bible, it should be clearly and humbly noted as such. My biggest issue with some popular study Bibles for Catholics is that they contain an abundance of hypothetical possibilities which are too often stated as if these are settled fact. This is often done in two ways. First, the notes' authors use statements such as, “Most Bible scholars now agree that XYZ is true” when a more truthful statement would be, “Some scholars speculate that XYZ is a reasonable possibility.” Second, these Bibles’ study notes tend to completely ignore other / opposing views, as if no reasonable scholar could disagree with the speculation presented. If a speculative hypothesis must be included in a study Bible I expect it first to state the traditional / objectively held view, and then present arguments for its innovation.

However, I think this problem should best be solved by leaving purely speculative or hypothetical arguments to separate commentaries and presenting a study Bible which contains reliable, objective notes with charitable mention of all the most obvious possibilities on passages where legitimate opinions differ.


Terri L. Coons said...

It sounds that, other than the Lectionary and CCC references, you've found your constant companion in the NOAB 4th. ed. But I suppose that that IS the point that those two elements are missing.

Interestingly enough, the only Bible that I have seen to reference the CCC is the Big Book of Catholic Bible Stories that I purchased for my daughter for Easter:

Though just a children's 'Bible Stories" book, this little tome has impressed me by using actual NRSV excerpts as the stories with nice little explanatory introductions and side notes. Also, most of the stories are then connected to the lectionary cycle with CCC references to further flesh out the spiritual/theological subjects being introduced. What a cool thing to assume kids are ready for! After all, they do rise to the expectations that we set for them.

On a side note, I miss some of Kselman's point-blank Psalm notes from the NOAB 3rd. ed. I'm curious to know if you have made any observations in this regard.

Diakonos said...

Ok WOW this is a topic dear to my heart. I use basically 3 SBs – NJB, HCSB and NISB. I am thinking about scoring a NOAB 4th edition (are its notes as “Catholic” compatible as the ones I saw years ago in Oxford’s SB-RSV edition? THAT edition actually pointed out Catholic doctrine distinctions in some areas (like Mt 1:23 etc).

I just ordered the Life with God (Renovare) Study Bible (leather) after spending almost all last night reviewing its notes in Amazon’s freebie-pages and after checking out the Renovare website.
I can REALLY use a devotional/inspirational Study Bible for regular use (though I saw the notes did include a decent touch of the historical/literary as well). I was impressed with the little I saw that it is indeed Catholic friendly and refers to many saints/Catholic figures. The clincher for me was a scathing diatribe review on Amazon by a disgruntled evangelical who bemoaned the Catholic inclusiveness of the LWGSB. Sadly, though, when I got my Amazon order email I notice that I had purchased the edition WITHOUT deuterocanonicals!!!! Uggh.

Oh BTW to Terri: the study notes/introductions in the NJB do indeed provide opposing scholarly views even when these views are sacrosanct in Bible-academia. If you have a NJB see such for the JEDP theory on the Pentateuch and the introduction to John’s Gospel and Letters. With such academic objectivity I made the NJB my foundational (Catholic) SB.

Now, Timothy, allow me to respond by referencing each of your categories:

1. Good translation. Hmmm. I like a lot about the NRSV but I do wish they had left some “non-inclusive” things alone especially Daniel. However, it is a great smooth read. NAB? I am so sour on it I am not sure an NABRE would even sell me on it. To be honest I think it’s more the NAB notes than the translation (have they even updated the notes since 1970?)

2. Cross-References. Yeah non-negotiable. Like you I cannot understand why the NRSV people are so persistently lacking in this area. I prefer them center column but bottom of page is better than none. And amen to what you wrote about the NJB.

3. Decent Margins. I am going to dissent with you here due to personal preference. I have the original JB maroon hardcover in cardboard slipcase that you could knock someone unconscious with! I highlighted and wrote in that Bible with fervor. The paper quality and margin size in that edition seemed PERFECT for the incessant bible-scribbler. Also, all the inside covers and fly-pges are wall-to-wall apologetics references I wrote as well (mind you this was in 1978 LONG before the current popularity of Catholic Bible apologetics). When I (rarely) pick it up for use all my highlighting and notes actually distract me. These were my thoughts eons ago as a kid…I don’t want to be influenced by them now but try to see the passages in a way that resonates with whom I am now and all I have studied since then.

4. Comprehensive Maps. Very helpful but, while I don’t have your fetish for them, I do see their value and agree that a decent SB needs them.

5. Concordance. I am with you 100% on this topic. BUT I wouldn't mind a condensed form of a Bible dictionary for more important words and concepts.

6. Multiple Covers. Minimum requirement would be: leather, flexi-cover, paperback (though I am not a pb fan for the Bible). Not a fan of hardcover but that’s what I got for HCSB and NISB. My NJB is black leather and the LWGB I ordered is burgundy leather (maybe imitation? It’s a cheap price).

7. Lectionary. Also with you 110% on this topic. As a Bendcitine Oblate lectio divina is a daily spiritual discipline particularly on Mass readings of the day and its nice having the readings at hand like that (but then I can also refer to a hand missal, right?)

Diakonos said...

8. Historical Notes/Theological In-Text Boxes. Don’t you think that the Ignatius SB (only in booklets for a bit longer) does a pretty good job of the notes? I like the way they use icons to let you know the theme category of the notes, too. I love their excurses (excursi?), the articles. Hey…so you know/think if the one volume ISBNT due out soon will be exactly like the booklets? I am hoping nothing will be condensed or edited out for sake of size.
FIRST - Catholic Cyclopedic Index. The one thing I DO love about the NAB (St. Joseph Edition) is the nice job they did of having this kind of reference tool. Yeah sure I would make it a bit more comprehensive but it’s a great idea and a great place to reference the CCC as well.
SECOND - Study Themes. Have you ever seen the green pb large print NAB NT with tons of study themes on Gospel, Paul, etc in the back? I believe they were writtem by Kathryn Sullivan, RSCJ who was the first (or one of the first) feamale Catholic Bible scholars who and who studied under the famous American priest-scholar, John Steinmueller. I would love to see these (or similar) in a Catholic SB. I have held onto my old copy all these years only because of her study aids.

Timothy said...


I think you may be right about the 4th edition NRSV. For the most part I have been pretty happy with it's commentary, maps, charts, and introductory essays. So I am definitely considering getting the leather edition when it comes out.

As for the Psalms in the 3rd edition, could you give some examples? I left that one at school, but I am on break thus week.

Terri L. Coons said...

I too am without my 3rd edition... gifted it to my mother. She, however, was kind enough to quote to me one very memorable note that you and others might not agree with...

Here goes: from Psalm 31:5 with the mention of spirit, Kselman notes that the Bible does not view people as composed of a body and a separate spirit or soul.

For me, this note rang true and summarized a great deal of personal study on the matter. I had never seen this conclusion so briefly stated though it is the general conclusion at which I arrived in my studies.

This issue of what happens at and after death became a pivotal point in my return to the Catholic church. It became clear that the Bible did not clearly sanction the soul's separation from the body for entry into the afterlife --- however, all of Christendom embraced this belief and it was only via the relevance of Tradition that I could justify this conclusion which was a missing link, at the time, in embracing the doctrine of the Catholic church. Along with it came the beautiful doctrine of the Communion of Saints for which I am deeply grateful.

Annnny-way, Clifford's notes in the 4th ed. seem a little dry and uninteresting to me compared to Kselman's little gems in the 3rd, like the one mentioned above, that simply blew me away both mentally and spiritually.

Theophrastus said...

Thanks for this post -- it is nice to see a positive post during this trying time.

Tim, you are far too gentle on the Oxford 4th ed. The paper is too thin and just bleeds through, making it hard to read. And that san-serif font is awful too.

It is hard to achieve all the desiderata you list and also fit in a single volume. Is there even a Protestant Bible that achieves all of them?

I mostly use multi-volume sets at this point -- which is increasingly possible because of excellent Bible software (I primarily use Logos) -- and because at this point in my spiritual development, I am interested in diglots or parallel versions that include Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin.

Finally, a request -- back in April 28th, you posed about the Baker Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scriptures series. Since then, two more volumes have appeared: Stegman/2nd Corinthians and Williamson/Ephesians. And your earlier comments talked a bit about the format, but less about the content. Now that four volumes are out, what are your reviews? What did you like and not like about them? Which volumes do you think are especially exceptional?

Timothy said...


I have the Ephesians edition of the CCSS, which I hope to do a review in a week or so. I don't have 2 Corinthians as of yet.

As for the NOAB 4th Edition, as you mentioned, it does use a much smaller san-serif font, and the paper is pretty thin. Perhaps that is why the Bible is fairly compact, compared to other Study Bibles. I am still working through some of the OT books to see if I want to get the leather edition, which while not being available as of yet, is only $56 dollars on

As for which study Bible has what I need, it is true that none meet my requirements. I would say that some do come a little close, particularly the Catholic Study Bible NAB (Oxford) and perhaps, we shall see, the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible RSV-2CE. Of course, the NAB is under revision and who knows when a complete Ignatius Study Bible will be released.

Diakonos said...


I have the NAB Catholic Study Bible (Oxford)and I think it's one of the easiest on the eyes and margins are decent. But I rarely reads from or make referecne to the NAB. My issue with all NABs really revolves around the notes. Do you know if the notes have been (or will be with the revision) updated or are they the same from the original publication?

Timothy said...


The NT notes will remain largely the same, while I think the OT notes would be revised to conform with the revised text.

Diakonos said...

So the NT notes were revised with the newer (1991) text? If so I need to check my NAB and make sure it includes the revised NT edition...maybe I am still going by the older notes. Thanks.

rolf said...

I would have to agree with Theophrastus' comments regarding the New Oxford Annotated Bible 4th edition. I did not like the smaller print and the font style. I actually prefer the 3rd edition. I think you are right Timothy about the The Catholic Study Bible (Oxford) as being the closest in meeting the requirements you put forth. When the new NABre comes out in that Oxford edition, I will buy it (with one eye looking to the future, for a complete Ignatius Catholic Study Bible.)

Theophrastus said...

When you say the Oxford Catholic Study Bible comes close -- you are referring to the first (out-of-print) edition, right? The 2nd edition has fairly meager margins, as you have noted.

One complaint I have about the Oxford CSB (separate from the inconsistency of NAB translation and the sometimes odd notes) is that the annotations (more accurately: the essay notes) appear in the front of the book. The translation text is marked with page references to the annotations, but one needs to be constantly paging between two parts of the text.

If you actually want to read the annotations with the text, you need two volumes. And if you is going to do that, you may as well just (a) buy your preferred translation; and (b) buy your preferred single volume commentary.

It defeats the whole idea of a Study Bible, in my opinion.

Now I am guessing the reason that the authors did it that way was that they either could not get permission to add another level of notes on the same page or that they thought it would be too confusing. But in either case, it really doesn't work very well, in my opinion.

Looking forward to your Ephesians review.

Timothy said...


Yes, indeed I am talking about the first edition of the Catholic Study Bible. I have a leather edition of it, which contains many of my own personal marginal notes. Of all the Bibles I own, it by far has the most room for personal notes.

In regards to the CSB configuration, I think you are right in saying it has something to do with permission from the USCCB/CBA. As I am sure you know, if you have seen one edition/format of the NAB you have seen them all. However, I have been told that the new NABRE will come in different formats when it is published next year. We shall see!

Diakonos said...

Ok so I see that there are a couple of seasoned users of the Oxford NAB CSB here so...I noticed (viewing on Amazon)that there are three formats: Complete, College and Personal.

1. What's the difference?

2. I noticed via Amazon's "Look Inside" that the Personal Edition has something that I have only seen before in the St. Joseph NABs: a pretty good listing of Catholic teachings/sacraments and where they can be referenced in the Scriptures. Does the Complete edition have this?

3. Are the updates and revisions of the 2nd Edition worth purchasing it to replace the 1st edition?


Theophrastus said...

Actually, I think the two versions you are comparing are the Oxford Catholic Study Bible and the Oxford Catholic Bible, Personal Study Edition. Even though they both are published by Oxford, both use the NAB, and both have similar names, these are completely different Bibles, with different editors and different features. I think the CSB is the better version, but I haven't spent a lot of time with the CB-PSE.

I'm not sure what the College edition you refer to is, although Oxford does publish a version of the CSB for the educational market which goes through different distributors than their versions intended for end consumers.

Theophrastus said...

If you already have the first edition, I don't think you need to spend money on the second edition (the second edition has more supplementary materials, the "Reader's Guide" is longer, etc.) -- especially since there will probably a third edition a few years after the new NAB text becomes official.

On the other hand, if you don't have it already, the second edition does have better material than the first edition (although the margins are smaller.)

Timothy said...

I would go with the standard Catholic Study Bible by Oxford. Avoid any thing called the student edition which usually means that there are some things missing from the standard edition. For example, the HarperCollins Study Bible comes in a college edition, which doesn't include the concise concordance of the standard edition.

Diakonos said...

Thanks Theophrastus and Timothy. I appreciate the experienced words and driection. The Catholic Bible, Personal Study Edition sounds pretty tempting due to the Catholic beliefs reference extras, etc. Sounds like a good Bible to have for ministry, etc.

Diakonos said...

Ok short form IDEAL Catholic Study Bible and keep in mind...if we're gonna dream, dream BIG:

The NRSV or RSV-2 (Catholic versions) for texts (published in both for those of both schools of preference)

A hybrid NJB/NISB notes and annotations for in-text study material (with Catholic extrapolation from Ignatius Study Bible NT)

Lectionary references and Catholic Beliefs in Scripture, from "The Catholic Bible - Personal Study Edition" (Heisberger)

Cyclopedic Index and Abbreviated Dictionary from the St. Joseph Edition NAB (Catholic Book Pub)

Single column format, cross-reference notes alongside text and maps from the NJB.

And finally, margins and paper quality from "The Catholic Study Bible" (Senior).

When the above Catholic Study Bible is published all versions will have to include a new annotated note stating that "Hell has frozen over." :)

Losie Quinn said...

I was once of the same cloth myself. I wanted to be one of those people who had but one Bible to use all the time.

Alas, as a Catholic in the United States it was impossible. Like you I have a strong pull to the NRSV due to its scholarship, but at the same time I want to be able to quote text as we read during Mass, so my devotion to the NAB (especially the revised New Testament).

Eventually I decided that I would be an animal of several versions. Currently my New Testament of choice is the NAB Revised New Testament, but for Old Testament sudy and personal reading I use the NRSV--

--except for two books, namely Job and Isaiah. Since these books are made up of so much poetry, and because of the literary nature of this translation, I use the New Jerusalem Bible. (All of this may change once the NAB is finished with its revision and receives final approval.)

And, until this past week, because of my praying the Liturgy of the Hours, the Grail was my Psalter of choice.

Of course, now that the Vatican has granted its recognitio to the project, as soon as I can get my hands on it, my Psalter will be the Revised Grail Psalms. See:

So no, I don't and won't ever be one of those people with a single Bible version to study and cherish. Instead I have several, and I think I'm the better for it. At least I've been exposed to a wide manner of translation and to various voices of scholarship.

Kenneth Massey said...

A Bible for Everyone


According to the link below it has introduction of every book and 200 Footnotes on key words and concepts.
Does any one have this version and how is it different to previous ones?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that Timothy, I am newly invigorated Catholic, maybe I am a returning prodigal son :-)

Anyway - please amend your posting it is very very very confusing for a person new to bibles like me.

For example - unless I am mistaken, you refer to the New Oxford Annotated Bible With Apocrypha Version 4 variously as NRSV, and as NOAB.

Please include at least a a key to your acronyms so that I, and others like me, know what you are referring to. It is not just Priests and religious people who might know all the acronyms, it is also people like me, who are ignorant of some parts of the bible, and all the acronyms, who like an annotated version.

Anyway, useful information, but could do with a key and using just one acronym for each bible, and a key to acronyms. Thanks for the information, I just bought the New Oxford Annotated Bible With Apocrypha Version 4 !