Thursday, April 22, 2010

Guest Review: NISB vs. NOAB 4th Edition

Diakonos09 is a frequent visitor and commentator on this blog, and lately we have been emailing back and forth on the issue of study Bibles. Well, over the past week he held a little "competition" between the various study Bibles on the market that could be usable for Catholics. I found his analysis to be both funny and informative. He has given me permission to reproduce his findings, so enjoy:

Competitors: put in your mouth-guards and check the laces on your gloves, because this might get ugly. Let the fight begin! Ding! Ding!

In one corner, weighing in at 3.9 pounds, boasting 2,298 pages and bearing an oddly-shaped over-sized dimension in width we have the New Interpreter's Study Bible. In the other corner, tipping the scale at 3.6 pounds with a girth composed of 2,480pages and sporting a new 21st century appearance yet holding fast to the well-recognized traditional red cover is the New Oxford Annotated Study Bible- 4th Edition. Both competitors include the so-called Apocrypha. Both come recommended by Catholic and Anglican scholars. And both have successfully claimed skirmish victories in this competition over their primary mainline Study Bible competitors: NJB (though not in theology), NAB (in all its editions to date), REB (was it every really a serious challenger?), Harper Collins (though I still may score a cheap used paperback copy) and ESV (the first loser based on theology).

I need to take the winner to deaconate classes, to Bible Study meetings, to CCD, etc. Because it goes out so much, carries a decent amount of scrap notes, holy cards and handouts and typically gets tossed into my backpack, I like to put my SBs into a nice zippered cover with pockets, etc. With this in mind the NISB is the hands-down loser due to its odd width-dimension. It is a good 1.25" over-sized and I'd have to have a cover custom made. Searches for covers on the net yielded nada. So I declare the NOASB-4 winner in this category. BTW...they are identical in thickness and near identical in length. I guess the NISB folks decided to go with the odd-width to allow for the extra in-text notes it contains.

I see no difference really in the paper quality but it seems to me that the font size or at least clarity of print is slightly better in the NISB. "Bleed" factor is identical and really not an issue at all to me. I have not been able to test note writing on the paper. Winner by a fraction of a decimal of a point is the NISB.

The competitors leave the externals round and enter into the textual competition in a tie.

Text Layout/Notes
Both have a clean look with text taking up at least 60% of the page and note section clearly distinguishable. This is important because on one and the same page you have God's inerrant Word and man's errant-prone research and hypotheses. Even the best of notes in line with the tradition need to be clearly seen as commentary. The judges were indeed impressed by NOASB-4's use of the sectional-heading in bold idea for commentary even if not for text. NISB notes however are extremely succinct without loosing content or conveying much is packed into so little, though this "little" is still more than found in the NOASB-4.NISB has a habit of commenting on an entire subsection (for example, Rom 3: 21-31) and then following this with a verse/verses sub-commentary on the same section. This allows for a bit more information and puts things into context.

NOASB-4 makes finding commentary easier again because of the subheading concept. It also came out above the NISB in the Introductions layout with a nice format of labeling authorship, genre, etc.The judge brought this close-call competition to deliberation over lunch (and a couple of drinks of course) and came back declaring NISB the winner.

Theology/Objectivity/Catholic Friendliness
While both competitors make a point of seeking a denominational neutrality in their annotation and comments, it can't but be helped that some theological emphases will be apparent. Likewise, it is possible to get a feel for a kind of objectivity (or not) regarding current biblical scholarship theories. Together these can produce a sense of Catholic friendliness at best or a sense of Protestant kindred ship which is polite enough to allow a Catholic or Orthodox presence (to a degree).

While it is quite clear that the NISB is in the Protestant kindred ship domain, it does a reasonably ecumenical job of acknowledging Catholic/Orthodox applications of Scripture for Jn 6/Euchairst and even Jn 19/Spiritual Motherhood of Mary. It absolutely fails, though in 1Cor 11/Eucharist, Mt 16/Peter. The NOASB-4 actually is less overt in its notes for these passages (particularly the Johannine ones) but what saved its butt in the competition here and actually elevated it above the NISB is its consistent reference to and comfort with Liturgical/Sacramental aspects of passages. Perhaps because Oxford is more Anglican than evangelical it has no problem with liturgical senses or with assigning Baptism as a rite beyond an outward confession of faith, especially in its notes in Pauline passages.

While I truly enjoyed seeing an ecumenical Bible give a nod or two to Catholic/Orthodox doctrine I found much more theological satisfaction in the overall sense of the NOASB-4 notes. In addition, the NOASB-4 introductions have no problem acknowledging traditional authorship as well as pointing out current thought. There is much objectivity there than in the NISB.
So for the theological and scholarly objectivity competition, the judge must declare the NOASB-4 the winner and comment it for its Catholic friendliness. However, the NJB will remain on the judge's bookcase for its Catholic theological notes.

The two competitors came to the Final Round will equal scores:
NISB won for paper/typeset and text layout/notes.
NOASB-4 was the victor for portability, theology/objectivity/Catholic Friendliness...

The final round in the battle of the Study Bibles considers, of all things, study aids besides the notes/annotations. After all...WHY are they published if not for this reason? Therefore, this will be the round that separates the boys from the men...

Study Materials besides Notes:
NISB fails miserable in neglecting to include a concordance, while the NOASB-4 triumphs in this regard.

BOTH fails in cross references but it’s not a competition-point since both use the NRSV and as such suffer the deprivation. Though both do allow for some cross referencing in the notes.

The NISB has great features in the excursi and in the self-pronouncing text. something that the NOASB-4 lacks. Excursi are real handy and helpful addition to a study Bible.

In the domain of maps both do very well. I believe there are 19 detailed maps in the NISB and while I don’t know the number, I recall that the NOASB-4 has a good amount as well which is to be expected from Oxford University Press.

Finally, considering the notes/annotations seen solely as STUDY material and not from a theological perspective, I have to admit that NISB wins out in quantity without detriment to quality.

The NOASB-4, however, take the crown for the Introductions as study material.

So the NISB takes it for excursi and annotation quantity...
NOASB-4 triumphs in concordance and introductions...

This is a CLOSE TIGHT race.....but the judge must look at the overall picture and render a holistic pronouncement that considers all of these features as well as one more irrefutable function of a Study Bible...

The Word of God is first of all a Person. This Person became flesh incarnate of the Virgin Mary. This Person proclaimed the Kingdom of God and commissioned His disciples to "teach them what I have commanded you". This Person founded a Church upon the rock of St. Peter and the foundation stones of the Twelve. These men preached the Gospel which was later consigned in part to writing. The Old Testament prepared for Him. The New Testament proclaims Him Lord, Savior and King. Which of these Study Bibles, above and beyond any comparison of parts and features, best fosters a communion with this Person and the Church which teaches in His Name?

The winner is the New Oxford Annotated Study Bible with Apocrypha, 4th Edition.


Diakonos said...

Thanks, Timothy. I am honored to have made your blog.

Theophrastus said...

My perceptions are so different that I wonder if we are reading the Bibles.

For example, the NOAB4 I read is called the New Oxford Annotated Bible -- not the "New Oxford Annotated Study Bible." (Although in its sub-sub-title is "An Ecumenical Study Bible".)

Similarly, the NISB I read also has sectional headings -- in fact, more sectional headings -- and integrates them with the Biblical text.

The NOASB-4 actually is less overt in its notes for these passages (particularly the Johannine ones) but what saved its butt in the competition here and actually elevated it above the NISB is its consistent reference to and comfort with Liturgical/Sacramental aspects of passages.

I didn't follow this sentiment at all. For example, discussion of the eucharist appears in both glossaries, but the NISB includes specific references to portions of the text where it discusses them in detail.

I also didn't track the claims that the NOAB was more "Anglican". The main editor of the NOAB is a Catholic; the associate editors are a Jew, a Methodist, and a Catholic. (There are also two Catholic among the editors of the NISB).

But my complete disconnect came at this point:

The Word of God is first of all a Person. ... The Old Testament prepared for Him. The New Testament proclaims Him Lord, Savior and King. Which of these Study Bibles, above and beyond any comparison of parts and features, best fosters a communion with this Person and the Church which teaches in His Name?

The NOAB4, had a Jewish editor and is careful not to apply Christological interpretations to the Hebrew Scriptures. The NISB in contrast frequently discusses such connections favorably. (Compare, for example, the notes at Isaiah 7:14). The NISB is much more concerned in general with religious interpretation as opposed to the more hands-off approach of the NOAB4. Discussion of theology and reception history is largely put off, in the NOAB4, to the essays at the end (which this review did not even mention).

I would say that the NISB is the most theological of the "big three" NRSV Study Bibles, while the NOAB4 and the HarperCollins Study Bible tend to take a more historical-critical tone.

If one desires a fundamentally theological reading of the Bible, there are no shortage of contemporary works with a much more theological focus than the NOAB4 (the Navarre Bible and the forthcoming Ignatius Study Bible may be preferred).

Diakonos said...


Thanks for all the information. In context, what I wrote was a quick impression/comparison in a private email which allowed for back and forth comments between me and the receiver. If I was writing for a public audience I would have taken a different approach and more time because in such a siutaiton one cannot have comments, re-readings, reaction and more comments with the public. Butone can so this in private continuing correspondence. Anyways, for what it's worth:

1. Yes it is the NOAB-4 I was comparing to the NISB.
2. I do not own the NOAB-4 but had it on limited borrowed time.
3. I have about 10 NT (no OT) passages/features I always look up when comparing versions.
4. I agree with what you wrote about the extent of Eucharist treatment in the NISB (which is why I said the NOAB is less overt in this). BUT I find the NOAB to make more mention of sacramental and liturgical aspects of passages.
5. Yes there are Catholics in the editorial board and as contributors for both versions. My reference to "Anglican" was larger than denominational but taking OUP as a whole and the milieu it comes out of. But thats a moot point fo rthe topic at hand and "Catholic" or "liturgical" would work just as well to make the point. NISB is more Protestant (even with a few Catholics on board)and it shows in the notes if one is pressed to find denominational bias.
6. Yes the NISB is more theological but that theology is for me, the author of this correspondence, a hindrance to a Catholic reading that a help. I prefer a more "hands-off" in one sense to allow me, with the help of good commentaries, to put an Catholic "hands on" to the passages.

Anyway, that's my take and its a purely subjective and personal thing. BTW...I keep the NISB on my shelf as a reference because I do see the postitive things it can offer.

Theophrastus said...

My reference to "Anglican" was larger than denominational but taking OUP as a whole and the milieu it comes out of. But thats a moot point fo rthe topic at hand and "Catholic" or "liturgical" would work just as well to make the point. NISB is more Protestant (even with a few Catholics on board)and it shows in the notes if one is pressed to find denominational bias.

So far, I've read about half of the new NOAB4 so far -- I hope to finish it the coming week. I have previously read the NISB cover-to-cover.

I don't think of Oxford University Press of 2010 as an "Anglican" publisher. After all, this is the same publisher that publishes the Old Scofield Study Bible and commentaries to the Book of Mormon.

It helps to look at the history of the NOAB franchise. I own all seven editions:

(a) Oxford Annotated Bible (editors May and Metzger) [RSV]

(b) New Oxford Annotated Bible (editors May and Metzger) [RSV]

(c) New Oxford Annotated Bible - Expanded Edition (editors May and Metzger) [RSV]

(d) New Oxford Annotated Bible, 2nd Edition (editors Metzger and Murphy) [NRSV]

(e) New Oxford Annotated Bible, 3rd Edition (editor Coogan)

(f) New Oxford Annotated Bible, 3rd Augmented Edition (editor Coogan)

(g) New Oxford Annotated Bible, 3th Edition (editor Coogan).

The sea change came with the 3rd edition. The editors before then had close connection with the translations: May served on the OT RSV committee, Metzger served on both the Apocrypha RSV and was chair of the NRSV translation committee, and Murphy served on the NRSV translation committee. Many of the individual contributors had connection to the translations as well. In this way, the annotated edition was a semi-official "annotated" edition that reflected the thoughts of the translators -- something that was incredibly useful.

Starting with the third edition, things changed. Coogan (and his associate editors, Breitler, Newsom, Perkins) had no connection with the translations. Moreover, I do not believe they are the most famous biblical commentators of our time -- unlike Metzger, who arguably was one of the most important commentators of the 20th century. The notes became much longer and much more personal opinion of the individual chapter commentators was injected. The editors were quite open about their effort to make NOAB respond to its main competition in the academic market -- the HarperCollins Study Bible. The HarperCollins had the support of the Society of Biblical Literature and significantly challenged sales of the NOAB.

I think the NISB is something quite different. I understand that academic sales of the NISB are quite limited. Instead, the NISB went after the church market -- the sort of people who take "discipleship" classes and church Bible study. The NISB is not so "Protestant" as it is "liberal" (and quite a few of its editors have personally agreed with me about this adjective.) This happens to fit well with the viewpoint of many mainline Protestant denominations; but also with more than a few American Catholic congregations as well.

(cont. in comment below)

Theophrastus said...

(cont. from above comment)

The biggest flaw with your method of sampling Study Bibles (looking up about 10 NT passages) is that both the NOAB4 and NISB vary considerably from book to book. Each book is edited by a separate commentator, and especially in the case of the NISB, there is no attempt to harmonize the level of discussion between the various chapters. If you look to the book of John, for example, the NOAB4 has Jerome H. Neyrey, S.J. (retired from Notre Dame) while the NISB has Gail O'Day (from Emory). The idiosyncrasies of individual authors can completely account for the differences you noted -- you really need to read more than a few passages to get a full idea.

Having said that, I will say that the NOAB4 does attempt to impose some level of consistency. Just look at the respective prefaces (emphasis added):

NOAB4: "Each contribution was read by at least three of the editors, and revised with a view toward consistency of tone, coherence of approach, and completeness of coverage. We have also wanted the contributors' own voices to be heard, and we have avoided imposing a superficial uniformity of style and approach.... Our aim has been a congruity of experience as a reader turns from book to book and from section to section of the finished volume."

NISB: "Note that there will be differences of interpretation in the notes. The individual writers are not likely to disagree greatly, but some disagreement is, of course, to be expected. Writers have sought to indicate points of scholarly disagreement, both in their introductions and in the commentaries. The editors have not found it wise to attempt to smooth out differences among authors of the commentary."

These self-descriptions are completely consistent with my own reading of the text -- the NISB is more of a sampler of many different opinions (although with a generally liberal bias) while the NOAB4 is more of an attempt to reform itself in the model of the HarperCollins Study Bible.

My personal opinion (take this with a grain of salt as I have only read half of the NOAB4 to date): I think the NOAB4 is quite fine (although its typesetting is awful). It would make a great introductory text. However, I greatly miss the NOAB2 which had briefer notes and was much more readable (and did not attempt to impose as many views on the author).

On the other hand, if one already owns the HarperCollins Study Bible (especially in its first edition) I'm less certain that the NOAB4 is helpful, since the NOAB4 tries to move much closer to the HarperCollins model.

Diakonos said...

WOW...thanks Theophrastus! You sure know your stuff. So if I got it right...the best Study Bible for Catholics in your opinion is the NOAB2?

What I want is a complete (OT/Deuteros)NT)Study Bible that faithfully reflects both the tradition amnd decent scholarship. Best for now I think is the the leather Ignatius Study NT that I have pre-ordered. I guess I should look to commentaries expanded informational notes and not expect to find such in a SB.

BTW...what Church/denomination are you? Mop tjhat ti matters butjust curious.

Diakonos said...

Theophrastus: did you mean that the NOAB 2nd Edition is RSV? Your post says NRSV but I don't see to see that version in used book searches. Thanks.

Theophrastus said...

Diakonos --

In this note:

OT = Hebrew Scriptures

A = Deuterocanon/Apocrypha

NT = New Testament

I hesitate to say which is the "best" Study Bible for Catholics -- because each person is unique in his or her intellectual and spiritual needs. The NOAB2 has much briefer notes than the NOAB3 and NOAB4, but it is perhaps more orthodox in its opinion.

The NOAB2 is definitely NRSV. You can recognize it (a) because the editors are Metzger and Murphy; (b) it says on the dustjacket "Completely Revised and Enlarged", and (c) it will hold a 1991 (or sometimes a 1991 and 1994) copyright date.

Here is an Amazon version that you can "look inside" with the Amazon feature. (The "look inside" edition is OT+NT only, but there was a parallel version published with OT+A+NT -- see below.) The NOAB2 did include a concordance (unlike the RSV versions of the NOAB).

If you want to look for it (and it is not that hard to find) here is a guide to the publication dates:

1962: Oxford Annotated Bible (editors May and Metzger) [RSV] (Amazon link)

1965: Oxford Annotated Apocrypha (editors Metzger) [RSV] (Amazon link) (I do not own this)

1973: New Oxford Annotated Bible (editors May and Metzger) (Amazon link) [RSV]

1977: New Oxford Annotated Bible - Expanded Edition (editors May and Metzger) (Amazon link) [RSV]

1991: New Oxford Annotated Bible, Revised [2nd] Edition (editors Metzger and Murphy) (Amazon link) [NRSV]

2001: New Oxford Annotated Bible, 3rd Edition (editor Coogan) (Amazon link) [NRSV]

2007: New Oxford Annotated Bible, 3rd Augmented Edition (editor Coogan) (Amazon link) [NRSV]

2010: New Oxford Annotated Bible, 4th Edition (editor Coogan) (Amazon link) [NRSV]

Now, a few cautions -- first, the 1962 and 1973 OT+NT only. The 1965 edition is A only (but not the Orthodox A). From 1977 onwards, the versions I linked to are OT+A+NT -- including the Orthodox books. However, Oxford generally publishes multiple editions including:


thumbtabs/no thumbtabs

OT+NT/OT+A+NT/A only

So I strongly recommend you communicate with a seller before buying a used copy online to make sure you are getting the exact version you want.

Having said all that, I think you would enjoy taking a look at the 1991 edition. I'm sure your local library has a copy.

Diakonos said...

Thanks again, Theophrastus. I truly appreciate it. AND while I have your ear...I just saw "The Access Bible" from OUP and checked out the "Look inside" feasture on it at Amazon. Looks like a good one for introductory use for my kids and my ministry...any familiarity with it yourself?

Same thing for you, Timothy. Anything experience with it?

Thanks guys.

rolf said...

Looking at the comparisons between the two Bibles and seeing the comments on the best characteristics of both of the forementioned study bibles, I think I will stick to my Catholic Study Bible (second edition)from Oxford. Dispute between the two translations aside, I like the font style and size. the paper quality is better than the two bibles mentioned. It is a good size (which does except a bible cover). Mine is in genuine leather which is very nice, good maps (including intext maps). It has a Catholic lectionary listing (both Sundays and weekdays) in the back. It has a 500 page 'reader's guide' which gives a good overview of each book and breaks its commentary down to the chapter level. It has Catholic historical-critical based notes (a little lacking in the O.T.) It has 14 top Catholic editors and contributors that assisted in its developement. The Catholic Study Bible is indexed and has a concordance. I also own the NISB study bible which I also use (especially for the O.T. verse notes, but until an Ignatius Catholic Study Bible comes out, this study bible will be my favorite.

Anonymous said...

Have watched all comments on the three study bibles over the past few days with considerable interest. I have all three plus the NIV study bible bought the year first published. I recently finished an RCIA class and retured to the Catholic church after a long absence. I don't have a degree in theology or religion but do have 46 years experience of reading and studying the bible. I agree with Rolf. The Oxford Catholic Study Bible is my favorite and the one I use for daily reading and study. Love this blog and thanks for all the information.

Timothy said...


Thanks for you comment and for stopping by. I think one of the nice things is that we can all find a study Bible that we like, which fits our own needs.

Also, welcome home to the Church! May God richly bless you!

Theophrastus said...

I have to say that I think that the Oxford Catholic Study Bible is the best Study Bible I've seen based on the NAB. But I think that there are some for whom the NAB is not the preferred translation.

(We should remember that the NAB, like the NRSV, had an ecumenical team of translators, and that this is specifically embraced by Canon Law 825(b).)

I haven't spent much time with the Access Bible although I own a copy -- my impression is that it is a nice reading copy of the NRSV -- particularly in putting introductory sections before each pericope. I'm not so certain about the putting of footnotes at end the end of each pericope though -- that seems a little strange to me.

However, Oxford University Press has a nasty habit of letting nice editions of its Bibles go out of print. (Some recent departures that I am sorry to see go:
The Precise Parallel New Testament,
The Parallel Apocrypha,
The [REB] Oxford Study Bible in hardcover,
The Complete Parallel Bible,
The Little Oxford Bible,
The NRSV Cross Reference Edition, etc.)

These were all very useful Bibles (I own each of them), and they are quite unique -- there is nothing on the market today that is like them.

My point is that The Access Bible also seems to be on the chopping block -- according to the Oxford's latest Bible catalogue, only paperback editions are available now -- a sure sign (for Oxford Bibles) that its days in print are numbered.

Charles said...

I am trying to determine whether to buy the 3rd or 4th edition.

One question that remains is that the 3rd is "augmented" but the 4th edition isn't. What exactly does this mean? Is the 4th edition lacking something? Thank you so very much.

Timothy said...


The Augmented was just an update of the 3rd edition. Mostly adding additional study charts and maps. The 4th includes all of the augmented additions.