Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Sort of Retro Review: NOAB RSV Extended Edition

The New Oxford Annotated Bible RSV with Apocrypha Extended Edition is in many ways a remarkable study Bible. Not only because of its unique ecumenical origins, but more specifically because it has remained in print for over thirty years. Over the past thirty years, Oxford has published three additional editions of the NOAB, along with an augmented 3rd edition, with the NRSV translation, as well as two (and soon to be three) editions of the Catholic Study Bible NAB. Yet, the NOAB RSV remains in print, both in the hardbound and genuine leather edition. Why is that so?

In my mind there are a couple of reasons for this. First off, the RSV remains popular in a number of circles still today, most notably Catholic, some Orthodox, and the academy/seminary. The seminary where I received my degree encouraged the RSV-CE for its Scripture and theology classes. In addition, the RSV is still being published, in various editions, by Oxford University Press, Ignatius Press, Scepter, and Saint Benedict Press. It should also be noted that the RSV was the base text for the ESV and the RSV-2CE. It is used in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (English language edition), along with the NRSV, and is the main translation used in many of Pope Benedict’s works. Therefore, any thought that the RSV would recede into history with the publication of the NRSV in 1989 has simply not happened.

Secondly, the NOAB RSV is a beautiful and useful study Bible even today. Does it have a lot of the nice study aids that the current 4th edition does, like in-text maps and charts, a concordance, and updated essays? No. However, it does posses a number of advantages over the newer editions of the NOAB, not counting the use of the RSV (including 1971 updated NT). Here are a few:

** The overall size, while certainly not compact, is a very portable 9 x 6 x 1.7 inches.

** Strong binding and genuine leather cover. My edition has always opened flat from day one.

** The type and page layout is very readable. There are no paragraph headings, but that is easily resolved by examining the commentary which is organized by pericope. You can get a closer look of the page layout here.

** The inner margin, as well as the bottom of each page, provides enough space to include your own personal notes.

** The notes contain plenteous cross-references and concise, yet helpful commentary. Rarely does the commentary take up more than half of a page, usually around a quarter. The commentary gives you the basic historical information you would need in an academic study Bible. The Old Testament commentary does reference the New Testament, most often through cross-references. Even the Deuterocanonical/Apocrypha section, although unfortunately placed at the back, references New Testament allusions to these books. While the commentary is not Catholic, there has been very little that I could find objectionable. For example, while the section on John 6 could, one may argue, point out the Eucharistic overtones a bit more, there are other places, like in Matthew 13:55 which concerns Jesus’ “brothers”, which go out of their way to point out Catholic/Orthodox belief. If one keeps in mind that this is an ecumenical study Bible, he will find little to be concerned with.

For those of you who would like to have a one-volume study edition of the RSV, this is really your best, and perhaps only, option until the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible project is completed. I use this study Bible often and would recommend it to anyone.

(I did a shorter examination of this a few years back, which you can read here.)

Revised on May 18


Ted said...

I actually consider it a plus that the Deuterocanonical/Apocrypha section is placed at the back and like having the New Testament moved more toward the middle. In fact it's one of the main things I like about this edition!

Jonny said...

The reason that the RSV did not have the staying power in Protestant circles is because it ventured too far off in places from the traditional King James version. My own observation with the RSV is that it captured the beauty and accuracy (in places) of the KJV; as it was translated from the original languages. There are also places in the RSV that clearly favor the Douay-Rheims source texts. This really was (and is) an ideal translation for ecumenical Bible study in contemporary English. The poetic use of the archaic English even grows on you too although many people swear against it. The RSV spin-offs like "ESV" and other protestant translations utilize the Masoretic text more in their translations, and given the whole spectrum of textual evidence, that seems shamefully superstitious.

The thing I think really puts this Oxford edition over the top is the gazetteer; I really haven't seen any maps as informative in any Bible this size except in way more expensive Cambridge bibles.

Theophrastus said...

You compare the NOAB with the NOAB-4 -- I think the NOAB is much more readable than the NOAB-4.

Typesetting problems with the NOAB-4 include too much bleedthrough on the page, ragged margin layout of the Biblical text, and use of a sans-serif font for notes. I have great trouble reading the book for this reason. In contrast the NOAB has a highly readable layout.

However, a more fundamental problem with the NOAB-4 is that there is simply too much commentary and it is often too interpretive.

In contrast, the NOAB's commentary is sparse. Many people say the NOAB commentary is more "conservative," but I don't think that is the most descriptive word. (You say that the commentary typically takes up about a quarter page; but I would say it is much less -- closer to a sixth of the page.)

I would describe it in this way: the NOAB commentary simply explains points about the text of the Bible necessary for comprehension. (I'm not very impressed when inexperienced people try to read the Bible without any commentary, since they wildly misunderstand what is frequently quite a difficult text.) On the other hand, the NOAB commentary is unobtrusive, so one can also read the text without commentary if one wishes.

This explains the reason there are no section headers in the text -- section headers are a form of commentary (not in the original base translation). If you are an experienced Bible reader, you can parse out the text on your own. But for an inexperienced reader, one can get necessary minimal commentary.

I do want to correct some errors in your comment: (1) the CCC uses both the RSV and NRSV; (2) there have been more than 3 follow-on editions of the NOAB (e.g., there was the NOAB-3 and the NOAB-3-Augmented).

Timothy said...


Points taken. I was going to mention the augmented edition of NOAB 3 but simply forgot. I could have also made mention of the first edition, pre Extended Edition w/ Apocrypha.

Theophrastus said...

And the first edition, the earlier Oxford Annotated Bible (no "New").

Theophrastus said...

One more correction. In your review, you say:

Does it have a lot of the nice study aids that the current 4th edition does, like ... additional essays? No.

That is not correct. Pages 1515 to 1545 and 1551 to 1557 contain additional essays. That's 38 pages of additional essays. (In contrast, the NOAB-4 has essays from page 2185 to 2253 -- 69 pages; or about 80% more pages. However, the NOAB is more tightly laid-out than the NOAB-4: a typical NOAB essay page actually contains 10% more words than a typical NOAB-4 essay page.)

While 38 pages may not seem like a lot, they are printed in relatively small print. Roughly 7.5 words per column line x 60 column lines per column x 2 columns per page = 900 words per page.

(As a comparison, in the Pope's Jesus of Nazareth II book, there are about 11 words per line x 30 lines per page = 330 words per page. So those 38 pages in the NOAB would require about 100 pages if laid out like the Pope's new book -- or in other words, the additional essays in the NOAB include about a small monograph's worth of text.)

Mike Roesch said...

I assume the answer to this is "no," but thought I'd ask anyway since you make note that it was an ecumenical venture: does the NOAB happen to have footnotes or at least an appendix noting the RSV Catholic Edition changes?

Timothy said...


No it doesn't have either the Catholic Edition footnotes or appendix. I should note that the 1971 RSV NT revision did incorporate a number of the Catholic Edition's changes, but not all. If I can find a list online I will post it.

Jonny said...

I just received my Genuine Leather copy from Amazon the other day. I am really impressed with the overall quality of the book. Having the cross-references built into the notes makes it a very effective Bible study tool. I saw the hardcover edition in the bookstore but was skeptical about buying it because it was not the Catholic edition. It is actually smaller than the RSV-2CE although it looks bigger in the picture from Tim's blog on May 10th.

This Oxford edition does list the small number of changes made to the first edition in the introduction. The two biggest changes are the inclusion of the Gospel story of the woman caught in adultery and the ending of the Gospel of Mark. This follows suit with the Catholic edition, which reinserted these for liturgical purposes. The other changes simply restate the English more clearly in places.

This Oxford edition has the essential extras that should be in EVERY Bible. Quality binding, cross-references, chronologies, maps, tables of weights and measures... Highly recommended.

Timothy said...


You're right! It has the essentials and the overall product is quality. If I were to have to choose just one study Bible right now, it would be the NOAB RSV.

Usbaldo said...


Love this blog. It is a real treasure. I own several copies of the NOAB RSV expanded edition in leather. I concur with your observation that this edition is preeminent at the moment; it uses beautiful fonts (adore the classic chapter number font), has useful notes, and is a great edition for discussion with my non-Catholic family. Only drawback is that every edition I have purchased, from different vendors, has extreme creasing of the paper near to top binding. Has anyone experienced this also? I would love to acquire an edition without this defect, but perhaps it is on all editions due to the thin paper. It can be a distraction sometimes. Perhaps I should acquire the Cambridge NRSV Tim reviewed, which looks lovely. I've been thinking about exploring the NRSV of late. Anyhow, I would very much appreciate anyone's input on the paper creasing point I raised. Thanks, and God bless.

Timothy said...


I think it is a defect with most editions. As long as it holds up, which mine has, I don't think there will be any problem. I have been using my edition a lot more lately, and it is sort of like hanging out with an old friend. It has all my personal notes, mostly good! ;)

As for the Cambridge NRSV, it is the best option, in leather, for a Catholic who prefers the NRSV. It is of high quality and includes many helpful reference aids.

Theophrastus said...

Jonny: the changes made to the second edition were much more extensive than just the ones you note.

I do not have a complete list of changes in the 2nd edition of the RSV. However, it is straightforward to note the changes that were made in the RSV-CE that are included (or not included) in the RSV2:

RSV-CE changes incorporated into RSV2:

* Footnotes changed as specified: Matt 18:24,28, 20:2, 25:15; Mark 6:37, 14:5; Luke 10:35, 15:8, 19:13; John 6:7, 12:5; 1 Cor 9:5, Rev 6:6.
* Text added: Mark 16:9-20; Luke 22:19-20; John 7:53-8:11
* Text modified: 1 Cor 2:9, 4:6
* Footnoted added (virgin): 1 Cor 7:25,28,34,36-38,
* Title changed: Rev.

RSV-CE makes change; and so does RSV2 but with different wording

* I mean in reference to -> I am saying it refers to (Eph 5:32)
* Phil 2:5

RSV-CE alternate wordings noted in RSV2 footnotes

* Matt 19:9, 21:44, 27:24; Mark 9:29, 10:24, 13:33; Luke 24:5,12,36,40,51,52; Romans 9:5; 1 Thes 4:4

RSV-CE changes not incorporated in RSV2

* divorce her -> send her away (Matt 1:19)
* brothers -> brethren (Matt 12:46-49, 13:55; Mark 3:31-34, Luke 8:19-21, John 2:12, 7:3,5,10; Acts 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:5
* O favored one -> full of grace (Luke 1:28)
* footnote: Or constituted (Romans 1:4)
* footnote: or with them (1 Thes 5:13)
* which -> who (Romans 5:5, 8:11; Ephes. 1:14)
* hence figuratively speaking, he did recieve him back -> hence he did receive him back and this was a symbol (Heb 11:19)

Anonymous said...

Tim, I also have the exact same bible and love it. I like the stiffness of the leather cover that makes holding the bible with one hand comfortable and stable, yet allows the book to lay flat on the table.

I also noticed some creasing on the upper portion of some pages but not as bad as Usbaldo seem to suggest, at least not in my bible. I also have the NOAB NRSV 4th Edition in leather. I rarely read that since I got the NOAB-RSV Expanded with Apocrypha which I prefer a lot.

It is beautiful, the leather smooth and shiny. It has this compact, tight and portable quality to it which invites breaking it open and read it.


Steve said...

I realize this post is a bit older, but wanted to comment. I recently picked up a copy of the NOAB RSV\Leather edition, and think I have found my new favorite Bible. My Cambridge NRSV is close, but even after falling in love with that, the RSV keeps calling me, and this edition is simply everything I have been looking for in a Bible for a very, very long time. (I only wish I had found it sooner)!

I wanted to comment on the page creasing issue noted above. I'm thinking it is fairly common with this Bible, as mine has it. I was a bit concerned at first and then found a copy at a local book store that exhibited the same issue. (I also saw a reference to it on another review somewhere). While it is a bit frustrating to have this problem with an otherwise gorgeous Bible, I guess it is something I can live with, and don't really want to send it back, only to have it show up in the next one.

Anyway, as always, great blog, posts and such here!

Timothy said...

Steve and morn2k,

It really is a fine Bible, even being over thirty years old. I hope that the completed ICSB RSV-2CE will come in a quality package as this one.

Anonymous said...

What is the difference, if any, with the Old Testament RSV (with Deuterocanonical books) in the NOAB and the Old Testament in the RSV-CE? I know about the NT differences, but I don't know if there are any differences in the OT between the RSV and RSV-CE. Thanks.

Timothy said...


There are no differences. The RSV-CE only updated the NT in 1966. The RSV committee only updated the NT in 1971.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Tim. Glad to have my RSV OT question answered.

Chez84 said...

I really want to invest in a RSV OAB. Would you recommend the leather edition? I would be using it alot. I've got 2 Bibles that I love using, the New Jerusalem Bible standard edition and the NRSV Catholic Prayer Bible.

I was a bit disappointed in the Catholic Scripture Study Bible but I won't be buying the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible until it comes out in a single volume with both Old and New Testaments.

rolf said...

I bought my NOAB RSV about 12 years ago in genuine leather. I like the leather the used on this Bible (in 2004), I am not sure if the leather is similiar today? Everytime that I have purchased a Bible that I like in hardcover, I almost always wind up buying the leather one later.