Thursday, July 28, 2011

Top 5 Criteria

In the coming days I will begin listing my top 5 favorite Catholic Bible translations in English. Before I begin, however, I want to list three considerations which will be factored into my rankings:

1) The five translations that I have chosen to rank are the Douay-Rheims, NABRE, New Jerusalem Bible, New Revised Standard Version-Catholic Edition, and the Revised Standard Version-Catholic Edition. The rankings are limited to these five, since all of them come in Catholic editions and are easily available. This would exclude translations like the ESV w/Apocrypha, which does not come in a Catholic edition, and the original Jerusalem Bible, which is not easily available in its original edition. I should also note that I will consider the RSV-CE and the RSV-2CE as one translation, since the work Ignatius did was simply to eliminate archaic langauge and make the occasional change to a possible rendering due to theological or liturgical needs/desires. In the end, it is the same translation, certainly not equivalent to what they did with the ESV.

2) I just want to emphasize again that this top 5 is from my own perspective. I am sure many, if not most of you, will disagree with me, which I accept and in some ways expect! My perspective is formed by my own use of these translations for personal study and devotion, as well as my experiences teaching at the high school and leading Bible studies.

3) I will be "judging" these translations in four specific categories: 1) Translation philosophy; 2) Readability; 3) Available formats; 4) Miscellaneous issues. Translation philosophy will briefly look at how formal/literal a translation each is, with my preference for a reasonably formal translation, along with considering the use of archaic and inclusive language. Readability is probably the most subjective of the categories, since it will analyze how a translation has been used, in my experience, for longer sittings of reading as well as public reading. In this category, I will also look at the consistency of the translation from Old to New Testament. The third category will examine the available editions for each translation, including page formats, covers, styles, and the use of textual notes/cross-references. The final category will cover miscellaneous issue, like a translation's use in the Liturgy and scholarly books, it's ecumenical background, and considerations on what the future holds for that particular translation.

While I am sure few will agree 100% with my thoughts, I figure this will spark a nice conversation during the usually quiet summer months. Stay tuned.


Theophrastus said...

I would give caution over the criterion "consistency of the translation from Old to New Testament." In fact, a translation that was "consistent" would almost certainly be highly inaccurate, given the tremendous range of literary styles found

(a) between different books of the Hebrew Bible (compare Song of Songs against Chronicles, or Job with Ruth, or Psalms with Numbers.) At the very least, it is worth noting that the Hebrew Bible contains two very different genres -- narrative and poetry. However, the likely dating of the Hebrew Bible includes well over a millennium of time, the audience ranges from universal to aristocratic, and the genres range from law code to love poetry to genealogy to existential meditations to proverbs to character studies.

(b) between the Hebrew Bible and the Deuterocanon -- there is a significant change of tone in the Intertestamental books

(c) between the Old Testament and the New Testament -- the Koine of the New Testament is very different than the formal Hebrew of the Hebrew Bible. For example, the Pauline letters are written in a highly informal style that is quite different from the formal composition techniques used in the Psalter.

I would instead suggest breaking readability down to:

(2a) accessibility -- some translations, such as the NRSV or the NABRE, are designed to be read by a wide audience; while other translations, such as the Douay-Rheims, are far more demanding of their readers;

(2b) stylistic replication -- does the poetry read like poetry? (Arguably, in the Douay-Rheims-Challoner, it does not.)

(2c) elegance -- does the translation read like elevated English literature?

Other suggestions include:

(a) You should be more specific about the versions you are using, particularly for the Douay-Rheims (which exists in many different editions that differ considerably -- even if one limits oneself to the Challoner revisions) and the RSV-CE (do you mean the 1966 RSV-CE, or the RSV-2CE, or the combined Oxford RSV-CE with the 2nd edition of the RSV?)

(b) You should be clear about whether you are including textual notes, alternative translations, and other notes in your evaluations. Several of the translations you mention (NJB, NABRE) have a rather full apparatus of annotations. Are these part of what you are evaluating? The Douay-Rheims (or Douay-Rheims-Challoner) varies tremendously in the number of notes printed, especially since some of the notes by modern standards sound amazingly harsh against Jews and Protestants.

(c) In addition to considering available formats, I would suggest considering available reference materials. For example, some translations have many study Bible editions, or concordances, or reference Bibles, or commentaries, etc. Thus, the NRSV ranks fairly high in terms of the number of reference materials available, which may make it more attractive to many readers.

(d) As part of the formats you are considering, You may also include availability in electronic formats -- not just eBook readers (like the Kindle), but Bible software such as Accordance, BibleWorks, Logos, etc.

(e) I would consider separating out those issues of the translation that are of particular interest to Catholic readers (e.g., use in the liturgy, conformance with traditional Catholic belief) and those that are of interest to all readers (e.g., scholarship of translation). For example, a translation of Isaiah 7:14 may score one way in terms of traditional Catholic interpretation and another way in terms of contemporary scholarship.

(f) Why not toss in a few less well-known translations such as the Knox translation and Confraternity translation? I suspect that most readers of this blog are at least somewhat familiar with the five versions you mention (and have already formed opinions on them); but I suspect that fewer are familiar with the Knox and Confraternity.

Timothy said...


Will definitely take those suggestions into consideration. It would certainly be more extensive than what I had in mind. Consider making this a joint effort?

Diakonos said...

I guess my appraoch to the Top 5 Translations was from a totally different spirit. I was thinking of how a translation moves me interiorly to respond to God's love in my life. I did not appraoch it as an academic or scholarly endeavor but rather a spiritual one.

Timothy said...


I want that to be an element of this as well. I think that us why category 2 is a bit more vague.

Mike Roesch said...

Is the Douay-Rheims really that easily available? Granted, there are more publishers putting it out, but how many places actually carry it? It seems to me that if you go to Barnes & Noble, you're a lot more likely to find a Jerusalem Bible Reader's Edition than the Douay-Rheims. And the trimmed down notes in the JB Reader's Edition are still quite a bit more substantial than the footnotes in the standard Douay-Rheims.

Anonymous said...

Geez--that's a whole lot of unsolicited opinions on how you are choosing to "judge" and post YOUR personalfindings.

...just sayin'

Anonymous said...

Theophrastus said:

(d) As part of the formats you are considering, You may also include availability in electronic formats ...

Speaking of which:

Hello Timothy,

I know this is a little bit off subject, but I'm wondering if you have any opinions about reading Catholic bibles on Kindle. I've heard the format isn't very user friendly and that some versions are easier to navigate than others.

As I'm considering buying a Kindle, any input from you or your readers would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you.


Anonymous said...


I'm interested in your choices based on your criteria. Theophrastus is welcome to give his choices based on his criteria if he so chooses.


Timothy said...


We have discussed Kindle on this blog a few times here:

I would note that while I prefer to use an actual book for reading and research, the ability to have a number of great resources all in one device is a great help. Currently, on my Kindle, I have the NABRE, Ignatius Catholic Study Bible NT and the ESV Study Bible. All of them are helpful, particularly when teaching and there is a need to look up something.

Eric Barczak said...

1. Douay-Rheims: The "classic" Catholic bible.

2. RSV-2CE: It reads quite nicely and is accurate.

3. Knox: There is a certain beauty about this translation that always seems to inspire me.

4. Jerusalem Bible: It has a wonderful set of notes and is a truly enjoyable read.

5. Confraternity: I have a smaller 1951 Catholic Book Publishing Corp edition with the new latin psalter. It's a nice balance in the psalms and NT between the archaic Douay and modern language versions. Size makes it my travel bible.