Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Which is More Important:Translation or Edition?

I have been reflecting on the subject of this post for the past couple of days.  I find that while I certainly have a preference for one translation over the others, see the various "Top Five Bibles" I have done during the past few years here, I find myself more attracted to using a Bible that is more functional, even if it isn't my preferred translation.  Case in point, it is well known that my favorite Bible edition is the Cambridge NRSV Reference Bible with Apocrypha.  I love the size, binding, premium leather cover, maps, cross-references, glossary, and overall feel and look of this Bible far more than any other Bible I own.  It meets more of my daily needs than any other edition, no matter the translation.  Yet, I tend to prefer the NABRE or RSV-2CE over the NRSV for various reasons.  Although I think all three translations are quite good and very comparable, the NRSV just happens to be #3 for me these days.   (I am quite comfortable using all three in almost any setting.)  So, I find myself more and more being willing to use my third ranked translation as my everyday Bible precisely because it is packaged in an edition that contains those particular elements which I find attractive in a Bible edition.

I am curious to hear from you, my faithful readers, as to your thoughts on this subject? 


Kai Welday Engel said...

The physical dimensions and additional features of the book sure do play a strong part in whether it gets read. I typically have on hand 4 Bibles: the Saint John's Bible (NRSV-CE), which is simply beautiful to read but I obviously can't carry it around easily, so the volume I happen to be reading never leaves the easel on my desk; an Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha (NRSV, 4th edition, much like your Cambridge with fancy binding and leather and maps and commentary) that I love to write in and bring to church, yet it's still a bit floppy and bulky; a Go Anywhere Compact Thinline Bible (NRSV w/ Apocrypha) from Harper, which gets a lot of daily use because it perfectly fits in my back pocket and so is easy to take with me everywhere I go, it gets the most daily use.

Where I start getting all thoughtful in relation to your post is that the fourth Bible I typically have on hand is an NIV 2011 in the exact same dimensions as the little thinline NRSV - it's the translation our church uses and the cover is an amazingly beautiful leather with an eye-catching Celtic cross embossed on it. I almost never touch it. I don't know why. I have nothing against NIV. I quite like the flow of the words and appreciate the translation philosophy. It fits in my pocket exactly like the thinline NRSV, and yet I almost never touch it.

So I can easily understand how the packaging might affect the frequency with which you read the Bible, I'm still left wondering, personally, how and why someone will choose one translation over another given the same physical features.

Diakonos said...

Edition is tops as long as translation and (for me) notes/annotations are dependable. Case in point: the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible. While I do not care for the RSV-CE2 over the NABRE or even the JB, I never take it along with me anywhere. Too bulky and gaudy, and since its only in NT format for a single volume edition it is incomplete as a "carry with" Bible. So it sits on my shelf as a reference tool and is only used when I need to look up notes or commentary for a particular passage or Word study.

rolf said...

Like many others, I don't rely on one translation or one Bible. I do have a main Bible that I use the most and that is the RSV-2CE in bonded leather that I bought in 2006.
I do choose the translation over the Bible addition, although the Ignatius RSV-2CE Bible that I use the most is nice (especially for the money), I do have nicer editions of the Bible in better leather that I use less. But I do cheat a little. I put that RSV-2CE in a very nice 'Bob Semon Designs' Bible cover and I tabbed it for easier use. The zippered Bible cover is a premium leather and costs more than the bonded leather Bible. If I go to a class, a seminar or travel, I take my RSV-2CE with me, the zippered Bible cover protects the Bible (and the tabs). The RSV is also a good translation for conversing with other Christians, it sound familiar to them.

Ron said...

As a former Presbyterian, I find myself at times longing for the wonderful editions we had available to us. But still, even then translation was important -- it had to be reliable. As we used to say of the KJV, "If it was good enough for St Paul, it's good enough for me." (We were only half joking.)

It would be wonderful, from my point of view now as a Catholic, to have both, a good translation, either NABRE or RSV-CE2, in a beautiful edition. Such a thing seems impossible to find in a Catholic Bible. Hard to understand, since I think God's Word, and everything about it, should be beautiful.

Anonymous said...

I prefer the Navarre Bible for its text and commentary. Because it comprises many volumes (or one large volume for the New Testament), I use the "standard" single-volume edition of the New American Bible (original or revised) to have some notes and cross-references at hand for Bible lectures and group study. I like the one-volume compact edition of the Navarre New Testament and hoped that Scepter would publish a Navarre Old Testament in two volumes. I could haul a three-volume "compact" Navarre Bible to lectures or group study, but the 9-volume unabridged version would be too much.

Jonny said...

I also have this NRSV Bible, but I prefer the Douay Rheims Challoner primarily and often use the RSV-CE and the KJV as supplements.

As far as translation goes, I have found that the D-R and KJV are often the most literal. I feel that the D-R is superior to the KJV and is to be preferred for meditation and study, but yet the KJV's literal rendering of the original languages help provide a deeper understanding of the D-R at times by providing that alternate translation. The RSV is often superior to both in the sense of being understandable to readers of modern english, but this problem has been alleviated for me by several books, especially "The Language of the King James Bible" from Thomas Nelson. http://www.amazon.com/King-James-Bible-Word-Book/dp/0785280936/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1344376805&sr=1-1&keywords=the+king+james+bible+word+book I highly recommend it: this book focuses especially on the RSV, and the clarifications made by modernizing the language. Also very helpful for readers of the D-R as some of the language is the same in the KJV. A side note about the NAB: The one thing I like about the RSV over the NABs is also ironically a weakness. The RSV often "corrects" the Hebrew to make it make more sense to the translators instead of just leaving as is as did the older translations. I am of the opinion that the NABs often follow suit to the RSV, but in the latter, at least there is a text note to inform the reader this was done. As far as the inclusive language goes, I am not a big fan of it. I think it is simply an unnecessary change that is a less accurate portrayal of the original inspired text.

As far at the editions go, I find the features in the Baronius Press D-R to be most helpful in the category of the medium sized Bible. It includes timelines, subject headings, book introductions, cross references, and a modest size of very useful, doctrinally-based explanatory notes throughout. The RSV-CE has some notations as well, and cross references. The blue version from Ignatius Press is the only one on the market that has at least the bare minimum of these features to be worth buying. Both of the Bibles mentioned above are approved Catholic Bibles, and I can't imagine trading either one for the NRSV mentioned above. Granted, it is a nice Bible and very useful when you want many cross references, but I can't imagine trading my preferred Bible for this one with no notes as my main Bible.

Russ said...

I prefer the RSV-2CE but I require a smaller size because I carry the Bible with me everywhere in a shoulder bag and most of my Bible reading is done standing on a subway or walking in a park or sitting at a tiny desk. The RSV-2CE only comes in two basic sizes, "Very Big" and "Even Bigger" so my main Bible is a compact RSV-CE.

Anonymous said...

I have had such a hard time sticking with ONE bible since becoming a Catholic four years ago. I really like the size, feel (leather), translation and maps of the New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha-RSV and this is the bible I take with me most often. I like the translation and commentary in the the ICSB-RSV-2CE but it's only the NT, it's paperback (yuck!) and it's too big so I use it at home along with my Navarre RSV-CE, much too big to lug around. I was not a fan of the NAB but recently I began exploring the NABRE. I started with the St Benedict's Press edition and found myself turning to it more than I thought I would. I just didn't like the format so after reading about the Harper edition here I decided to try it. I have the hardback and I absolutely love the format, I love reading it but then again it doesn't feel right so I go back to my Oxford. If I had the money I would have it rebound in the blue leather like your reviewer did.
So back to your question...the Oxford-RSV meets most of my needs so I tend to use it even though I prefer the NABRE translation and the format. The NABRE has truly been a pleasant surprise; I was not anticipating that I would like it. :)


Tom said...

The form and format of the Bible matter to me more than translation as long as the translation is NRSV or NJB or NABRE.

I'm finding that the size of the bible matters a lot, particularly the height. I like the 8 1/2 inch tall bible I have now. It seems to fit in the hand better. Am sorely tempted by your favorite Bible, however, even though I see it's over 9 inches tall.

Anonymous said...

In general, I think study bibles, like Navarre and ICSB, fall into their own category having a somewhat separate purpose than an "everyday" bible.

With that said, I think the decision-making process begins with the translation. You have to be comfortable with the translation, otherwise, no matter how nice the edition is, you won't read it. For some, as long as it's a "Catholic" translation, then the nicest edition, regardless of translation, will be preferred.

I am most comfortable with the NRSV, RSV-2CE, and the NABRE as an everyday reading translation, with a slight preference for the NRSV and RSV-2CE. However, I prefer my NJB Saints Devotional Edition for prayerful scripture reading.

I now have, and quite enjoy, the NRSV Reference Bible with Apocrypha edition and anticipate it will be my "go to" edition due in large part to the niceness of the edition. I also quite enjoy the NOAB RSV Expanded Edition even though the RSV translation is not as high on my list (which is a situation where the niceness of the edition making the translation more inviting).

I think the reason the NABRE sells so well is because there are so many editions available: nice big family heirloom editions, compact editions, full-sized, medium-sized, etc. It's possible to have an NABRE edition for every purpose, thus allowing one to use the same translation no matter the circumstance: study, home, travel, etc. I think that's a big plus for the NABRE. The RSV is similar, perhaps equal, to the NABRE in variety, but I don't think it will ever be as mainstream. The NRSV has a shot, and the RSV-2CE could certainly overtake the NABRE if Ignatius Press ever gets it's act together.

In short, I think the edition makes plays a very large role in deciding which bible to buy and read, arguably, a bigger role, than the translation itself.

Michael P.

Timothy said...


I don't think Ignatius will ever get its act together. That is why I think, particularly in area of Bible editions, the RSV-2CE will never be able to compete with the others in the long run.

I worry about the NABRE a bit more, with the announcement of the revisions. Since it will likely take a while, I wonder if this will scare off publishers in being willing to produce new NABRE's? Well, at least we have the HarperOne edition.

Anonymous said...


Yeah, I have to agree with you on Ignatius Press.

I don't think additional NABRE revisions in the next 5-10 or more years will impact it's sales. First, I don't think the revisions will be as extensive as the OT revisions were. Second, it's the basis of the lectionary in the U.S., so as long as that doesn't change, it will remain on top in popularity. But if it does change, it will likely fall by the wayside in the world of translations.

Michael P.

Chrysostom said...

Translation, hands down. Edition is important, to a point (as I have here expressed my strong dislike for dictionary-formatted Bibles and approval for single-column, paragraphed editions), but I would use a KJV or DRC bound in sawdust and rat-hide with double-column, verse-by-verse, four-point-five point setting, with preference to an REB or NRSV (or many other translations) in single-column paragraph with twelve-point font edge-bound in Highland Goat with moire endsheets.