Monday, December 5, 2016

Guest Post: St. Paul's Philippines NRSV-CE

Thank you to Allister for providing this first of two guest posts.

First off, a quick introduction: My name is Allister Chua, Aloy for short, and I hail from the Philippines, like our good friend Gerald here, whose insights I particularly appreciate given our similar cultural lens. I have been silently and intermittently following Tim’s blog for nearly two years now ever since my “jolt” reaffirmation to the Catholic Church (a point I will recount in part after this as far as the main topic of this post is concerned). But I never commented very much as I felt my own discussions and insights would be laughably inferior to everyone else’s.

I was born and educated Catholic, though being the only Catholic at home (my late father was Catholic-Taoist, practicing the latter more), there was no solid foundation at home for my faith to grow; school didn’t particularly help, carefree children that we were. I did have First Communion and Confirmation, but as I went on to university, Jesuit-educated still I was notwithstanding, my spiritual life wavered and I very nearly, at two points in my life, became Protestant (being not just the only Catholic in the family, but the only Catholic in a clan of mostly Evangelicals, can be quite a bit of a challenge when it comes to faith-related discourses).

Anyway, in the first quarter of last year, I stumbled upon some materials online that led me to cast away all my doubts and make a personal reaffirmation to myself and to the Lord that I would remain in the Catholic Church. That being said and done, I needed a proper Catholic Bible – my two school-mandated and –age copies of the NAB had long since been shared with those in greater need of them, and my remaining Bibles were all Protestant (thus containing only the 66-book canon): NCV from my cousin, NASB from my brother, and ESV from my pastor and Bible study teacher. I have since gifted my Protestant nephew and godson the first, and returned the latter two, leaving me with nothing.

I researched on which Bible to get, and since I wanted “something different” from NAB (I did get a NABRE later on), that would still be literal (or follow formal equivalence), I settled upon the RSV-2CE or NRSV. Most unfortunately, the former was not available here (Manila’s English Catholic Bibles are mostly confined to NAB[RE], NRSV, and CCB; you’d have to go to a very niche Catholic store to get any kind of RSV), so when I visited my local Catholic bookstore, the NRSV-CE stood out, and thus it became mine and I it.

This local store is under ST PAULS Philippines, the local arm (also extending to Macau) of the Society of Saint Paul, which was founded in the late 1940s in Italy by the Blessed Giacomo Alberione to spread the Good News through social communication. This particular edition, too, is published by the same. 

The first thing you’d notice is that this particular NRSV does not share the same branding as that of the Harper-branded NRSV Bibles. It is a paperback, with very minimal, if any, sewn binding, which makes me a little nervous each time I open the book. This paperback, however, is thoughtfully wrapped in a plastic book cover, unlike most paperbacks you find on the market (religious or otherwise). While a good gesture, it got my waste-hating mind thinking on how on earth I would be able to have the Bible rebound in the future without rendering the plastic cover useless.

The Bible paper is relatively pleasant to the touch and easy to flip through, but bleed could be improved – both the print and my highlights can be quite easily seen on the other side, hindering a smooth reading experience. The type is nicely-sized and spaced, and the serif typeface very readable – even the footnotes. There is a nice touch on the side with black boxes indicating the books of the Bible, though there is no hollowed-out portion where you can see the book abbreviations at a glance – you still need to flip through to identify the book you need, which renders it less useful than expected. I have sticky tabs indicating where the OT, NT, and other sections are.

Now, on to the content proper. As mentioned, it’s the NRSV-CE text, with the Deuterocanonical books of Scripture in their traditional placements as a Catholic Bible. It is, essentially, almost a study Bible, with the NRSV Concordance, many in-text maps and charts (examples include a Gospel harmony, a floor plan of King Solomon’s Temple, and even geographical puns in the Book of Micah), and the entire text of Dei Verbum. Additional resources that the Catholic reader like me would enjoy include the table of readings based on the Canadian Lectionary, table of moveable liturgical dates, and popular prayers and devotions.

As a would-be study Bible, my only qualms are that there are no introductions whatsoever to each of the books, no notes of any kind other than the textual footnotes (especially cross-references – but then again, this never claimed to be a study Bible; I only said it could be one, and the NRSV doesn’t normally contain cross-references anyway), and – perhaps the most glaring and strange omission – the Psalms do not have their titles. It simply says “Psalm 1”, “Psalm 2”, and so on – I have never seen such a phenomena in any Bible, and it is quite disconcerting! As this is my Bible for annotation and study, I copied all the Psalm titles from another edition of the NRSV, and also copied NT-to-OT cross-references from my NCV, before I gifted it.

Given all these, I have mainly consigned this Bible to home-based study, preferring to use other editions for simple (or contemplative) reading and church. I’ve even placed it in a journal sleeve, containing my prayer cards and some notes, from a local social enterprise called Jacinto & Lirio, which makes plant leather products from water lilies. But whenever I open it, as I have done so in the past hour, I feel a spark of joy that Marie Kondo, the radical Japanese professional organizer, would be proud of, and it feels like a most familiar friend that you live far apart from, but are always glad to meet and go home to.

And so, those slights aside, I would recommend this edition of the NRSV-CE as a spiritual investment for Catholics in this part of the world (or in any part, even) that’s well worth it. I find it works well with the NABRE for a more integral Bible experience, given the latter’s emphasis on notes, and I do use them side-by-side when studying. As a study Bible, on its own it’s not enough – but again, it never claimed to be one. But as a Bible that you could just read, with the occasional handy reference on the side to check out, this fits the bill just right. After all, there’s no perfect Biblical translation or edition, but there are really good ones, and this is one of them.

Allister Chua, or Aloy, 25, is a struggling entrepreneur (with emphasis on “struggling”) from the Philippines who was born and educated, but not raised, Catholic. At the end of a spiritual crisis, he made a conscious decision to stay with and grow in his Catholic faith. Though he speaks none of the Biblical languages or even Latin, he speaks fluent English and Filipino, is proficient in Chinese, enjoys elementary proficiency in French, and is learning Spanish and Japanese. He runs The Daily You, a blog-based institute that advocates living a truly good life through one of higher purpose, rooted in awareness and service.


Jason Engel said...

This is a paperback edition of the Oxford NRSV-CE (Anglicized), though I do not recognize the cover as anything Oxford itself published.

Daniel said...

Thank you for sharing this very thoughtful and detailed review of your NRSV Bible. I really like that Vermeer painting on the cover! You mentioned that the RSV is relatively hard to find in the Philippines; if it was available, do you think you still would have chosen the NRSV, or was there a particular reason you may have favored the RSV-2CE? Just curious. You really can't go wrong with either one.

Cody Cotton said...

Thanks for your story on how you found your deepness of faith and a Bible you feel at home with.

I know how you feel about having a Bible you "feel is a friend you live apart from, but always glad to meet". As much as I like my USCCB Personal Edition NABRE, and the Baronius Knox, and my paperback RSV-2CE (my first ever Catholic Bible), I feel something special with my red St. Jerome NABRE paperback with newspaper-like pages. My priest gave it to me when I first revealed I was looking into joining RCIA and it just stuck to me.

Anonymous said...

Link to Alistair's blog is broken...

Allister said...

Hi, everyone!

Thank you for your insightful comments that enrich the discussion!

The link to my own site is

Jason, yes, I forgot to mention that it is Anglicized. The copyright page does mention Oxford, but it might have been an arrangement struck between them and ST PAULS Philippines.

Daniel, oh, right, Vermeer! I came upon the painting on the Internet one time and I must've saved it to my computer, but forgot about it. If the RSV had been easier to find, I would have bought it first, as it was the first item on my list. But given what I've learned about the NRSV, I would've bought it too - so I'd have both. =)

Cody, wow, could we see the St. Jerome? I am curious about the newspaper pages. =D