Wisdom Overflowing

Scripture Study Resources for Catholics

Home
Basics: Bibles & Intros
What Is a Catholic Bible?
Bible Translations
Editions of the Bible
Basic Intros to Bible
Beginning Bible Study
Advancing in Bible Study
Deepen Your Experience
Bible Study Programs
Bible Connections
About the Resources
About Carol Kloss
BIBLE TRANSLATIONS

"What Bible should I get?" "Is this Bible OK for me to use?" "What translation is approved by the Church?"

People who help Catholics learn Scripture hear questions like this all the time. Even though it's been 45 years since the Church invited "all the Christian faithful ... to put themselves in touch with the sacred text itself" (Dei Verbum, par. 25), many Catholics still hesitate when it comes to getting their own Bible. It's one thing to have the daily or Sunday readings presented to you, whether at Mass or in a special lectionary publication. It's quite another thing to go to the bookstore, see all the Bibles, and decide which one to buy!

Choosing a Bible is not as hard as you might think, once you know a few things about Bible translations:

  • A translation of the Bible is different from an edition of the Bible. There are many Bible editions and far fewer appropriate translations. Once you know which translations you want, half your decision is made! (See more at Editions of the Bible.)
  • Modern translations are better than very old translations, even though some older translations are important in tradition and esteemed for their English. Many more biblical manuscripts are available to scholars and much more is know about the ancient languages.
  • The Church has NOT designated a particular English translation of the Bible as the approved translation for Catholics' personal use. In fact, several English translations have been approved by the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops. (Specific translations HAVE been approved for use in the liturgy in English-speaking countries, as you'll see below.)
  • Some people find that translations useful for study aren't as suitable for Bible reflection and prayer, and some people use one translation for both purposes. It's a matter of personal choice. In my experience, though, having more than one translation gives you a range of meaning for difficult texts as well as a fresh option for especially familiar books like the gospels.
  • Whatever translation you choose, be sure to get an edition that is a Catholic Bible, including all the books and parts of books Catholics consider authoritative.

Above all, remember this will be your Bible, your own personal place in which to develop a relationship with Father-Son-and-Holy Spirit as revealed in Scripture, so have the confidence to choose a translation with language that's right for you, working with the guidelines given here.


How to Find a Bible's Translation

Often, the title of a published Bible will not be the same as its translation. (What does the title "Holy Bible" tell you about the translation, for example?)

If you don't find the translation's name in the title, look:

  • At the smaller print at the bottom of the front cover.
  • On the inside title page of the Bible, below the title.
  • On the spine of the Bible.

Remember, though: you have to know the names of the translations useful for Catholics so you know what you're looking for in the first place!


RESOURCES: Modern Translations of the Bible

All these translations are available in a Catholic edition. All of them are recommended, depending on your needs.

Easy Reading in Contemporary English

Good News Translation (GNT) (2004 edition)

An earlier edition of this translation has been popular in parishes as the Good News Bible. A fine translation with simpler English that was originally developed by the American Bible Society for international missionary work. I refer to it when I teach, since it often captures the meaning of a text meaning just right, with fewer words. An earlier name for the GNT is Today's English Version (TEV).

This translation is often used in editions of the Bible produced for youth. It's also good for adults who want an easy-reading Bible and adults for whom English is a second language.

Other Modern Translations

New American Bible (NAB) translation with

Revised New Testament and Psalms (NAB) (1991)

Except for a different version of Psalms, this translation is what the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops has approved for use in the liturgy. Many Catholics choose this translation because of its familiarity. As a Catholic translation (its various editions have been prepared by scholars of the Catholic Biblical Association), you can be sure any edition of the NAB will be a complete Catholic Bible. The translation combines accuracy to the original languages with language suitable for proclamation and prayer. Available online at the Vatican web site.

Always a fine choice for Catholics in the United States, especially if you want a translation that's exactly what you hear at Mass. Available in many editions, including study editions.

New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) translation

A translation made by British biblical scholars who revised and updated the 1966 Jerusalem Bible. As a Catholic translation, every edition of the NAB will be a complete Catholic Bible. The goal of the NBJ translators was to accurately translate the meaning of the biblical texts into good modern English. The NJB is a pleasure to read in both the narrative (story) and poetic texts, yet this meaningful English is also carefully translated, as the NJB's notes indicate. There's a special emphasis on precise and well explained translation of words with a theological meaning; the NJB can therefore be illuminating for dense texts such as the letters of Paul. The standard edition of the NJB includes outstanding and extensive notes and introductions to the Bible's sections and books. The notes emphasize Biblical connections among the texts (especially important in the New Testament books), theological understanding, and historical background. The major footnotes of the NJB, helpfully indexed, together offer a basic education in the theological themes of Scripture. Used in the liturgy in England. Text only (without notes) available online at Catholic Online.

Another excellent Catholic translation, the standard edition of the NJB is a good choice for a study Bible because of its extensive supplementary material. As a translation by British scholars, it's also a great translation for fresh versions of familiar texts.

Revised Standard Version (RSV) translation

This well respected translation is known for its accuracy to the linguistic form of the original biblical languages combined with fine literary style. The language can be quite beautiful. I especially like it for the book of Psalms. The U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops permits the RSV Catholic Edition to be used in the liturgy. Available online at the University of Michigan Digital Library (RSV with Apocrypha) and at the EWTN Global Catholic Network web site (RSV Catholic Edition).

A fine choice for study and prayer. Available in many editions.

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation

Like the RSV, this translation also closely follows the word order and sentence structure of the original texts. If you know Hebrew or Greek, you can read the NRSV English and "see" the original language in the form of the English verses. If you don't know the biblical languages, this translation gives you a sense of how the sentences "sound" in English. The NRSV also uses inclusive language when referring to human beings (not for God). For example, a letter of Paul may address "brothers" in Greek; you'll read "brothers and sisters" in the NRSV. The Catholic Church in Canada uses the NRSV in the liturgy. One of my basic Bibles. Available online (NOT in a Catholic edition) at Bible Study Tools.

An excellent choice for study. Available in many types of editions. Popular translation for study editions.


RESOURCES: Other Modern Translations of the Bible

These translations are either not available in a Catholic edition or translate only part of the Bible. You may want to use these translations in special situations.

New International Version (NIV) translation

This translation is commonly used in many non-Catholic Christian churches. Its clear language is good for study or prayer. I especially like the NIV for the book of Proverbs, where it does a great job expressing the short, image-filled teachings of Proverbs in similar English form. The NIV is available in many editions that include special purpose added material, such as the Life Application Study Bible, the Men's Devotional Bible, and the Women of Faith Study Bible. This added material can be quite useful. However, it may also reflect Christian theology that differs from Catholic theology, which can make it confusing to Catholics. You will not find a complete Catholic Bible in the NIV. Available online at BibleGateway.com.

The NIV is good to use as a comparative translation. If you want one of the special editions, be sure to review the added material for viewpoints that seem unfamiliar to you as a Catholic.

The Five Books of Moses:

A Translation with Commentary

By Robert Alter W.W. Norton & Co. (2004)

Robert Alter, a biblical scholar whose focus is the language and literary aspects of the Hebrew Bible, offers a translation of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy that aims to produce the sound, style, concrete vocabulary, expressive sentence structures, and formal language of the Bible's Hebrew in English. His introduction teaches the reader about biblical Hebrew and the process of translation. His extensive notes to the text contain useful explanations of Hebrew words and identify literary aspects of the texts that truly help in understanding its meaning.

A beautiful translation that is also what I would call a literary study Bible for these foundational books. Students and teachers who have a special interest in the Pentateuch will appreciate Professor Alter's translation and insights.


Translations Not Useful for Modern Catholics

  • The King James Version (KJV): the English translation of the Bible, sponsored by King James of England and completed in 1611, that became the most popular Bible for English-speaking Protestants and is still popular among some Protestant Christians.

  • The Douay-Rheims translation (also called
    the Douay-Rheims-Challoner or, reflecting a later revision, Rheims-Challoner translation ): official English translation of the Bible for the Church from 1609 to the middle of the 20th century.

Even though these translations have long been influential and have an honored place in Protestant and Roman Catholic tradition, they are not suitable for modern study, reflection, and proclamation:

  • They're very old (from the early seventeenth century and somewhat later). They use outdated English that's difficult for modern readers to understand.
  • The translations are often inaccurate: the translators did not have access to the manuscripts available now and much more is known today about the biblical languages.
  • The Douay-Rheims translation is based on the Vulgate (Latin) translation of the Bible rather than on the original languages (although a later revision by Richard Challoner did use some original language texts.)

SEE FOR YOURSELF!

Look online and compare the first chapter of Luke in a modern translation (NAB) with the same text in the King James Version (KJV) and the Douay-Rheims-Challoner Bible.

CHOOSING A TRANSLATION


1. Think about how you'll use your Bible (For study? For reflection and prayer? For reading aloud to your family? For sharing the Bible's stories with children? For a parish ministry?)

2. Find some of the modern translations useful for Catholics listed on this page.

3. Read a favorite text and an unfamiliar text, as well as a story text and a psalm (prayer) text in a few of those translations to get a sense of the differences among them.

4. If you like more than one translation, think about the situations in which you'd use each version.

5. Learn the names of the translations you like and look for those translations in editions of the Bible that suit your needs.


ACTIVITY

Go to a bookstore or your parish library

and look at the Bibles. Any Catholic, Christian, or general bookstore will carry Bibles.

Identify the translations used in the different Bibles, using the tips on this page.


KEEP LEARNING

Easy: "Choosing and Using a Bible: What Catholics Should Know" by Ronald D. Witherup (Catholic Update July 2004)

"The Word of God in Our Own Words" by Irene Nowell, O.S.B. (Scripture from Scratch N0503)

For short descriptions

of several modern translations, including translations not covered here, see the Bible Resource Center of the American Bible Society.

More: Any basic introduction to the Bible will tell you more about Bible translations, including the two basic approaches: formal equivalence ("word-for-word") and dynamic equivalence ("meaning-for-meaning").

In-depth:

The Journey from Texts to Translations:The Origin and Development of the Bible

by Paul D. Wegener

Baker Publishing Group (2001)

A highly enjoyable book with solid information and many wonderful photos of ancient Bibles and manuscripts.

Read the translators' preface to your Bible to learn who made the translation, the approach to translation, and key translation decisions. Example: preface to the NAB.