Sunday, September 14, 2008

Catholic Bibles Stink!

Ok, that might sound a bit harsh....but it is true! However, this rant doesn't really have anything to do with the available Catholic translations either. I am not here to complain about the terribly uneven NAB that is continually in need of revision, or the occasional inclusive language translation in the NRSV that doesn't sit well, or the fact that the most literal Catholic translation of the Bible, the RSV-CE, was done half a century ago, not to mention the occasional odd-ball translation found in the (New) Jerusalem Bible. No, that is not what this post is about.

This post is a call to all Catholic publishing houses, and non-Catholic publishers like HarperCollins, to produce high quality Catholic Bibles in various editions. Is this too much to ask? Let me explain my dilemma. I recently wanted to obtain a thinline Catholic Bible that I could use for not only ministry related activities, but also for personal prayer and study at the seminary. Could I find one in the NRSV, RSV, or NAB? No! Instead, I was able to see multiple thinline editions for the TNIV, NIV, KJV, NKJV, and the ESV all in various covers at the local Barnes and Nobles. I almost picked up the TNIV version, but realized that I need and want one with the Deuterocanonicals. The TNIV version I saw was quite wonderful. It included everything I wanted in a Bible, except of course the full Catholic Old Testament. This edition's print was very readable, it included a nice set of maps, the words of Christ in red, a concordance, and some crossreferences. It also fit really well in the hand, and I could see myself using it daily. So where are all the Catholic thinline Bible editions?

While I am at it, this led me to think of a few additional criticisms. I just can't find quality Catholic Bibles being published in various editions anywhere. Here are a few example:

1) The page layout of the New American Bible looks almost exactly the same no matter who publishes it. There are no one column or thinline editions. As a matter of fact, take a look at an old edition, pre-1990, of the NAB and guess what you find? There is very little difference in its appearence. The NAB is suppose to be the main Catholic translation here in the US, but it is poorly supported in many ways.

2) There are very few, if any, high-end leather editions of any Catholic Bible. Most places sell paperback or hardcover editions of the NAB or NJB or NRSV. The nicest Bible I have is the Cambridge NRSV Reference Bible. Most of the Catholic Bibles out there are bonded leather editions. How cheap! Where are the Catholic publishers?

3) Finally, can we get an actual Catholic Study Bible that can rival the quality of the (T)NIV, ESV, or NLT study Bibles? The only real study Bible out there is the NAB Catholic Study Bible by Oxford. The problem is that it comes in only one size and to be honest the textual notes are exactly the same as with any NAB Bible. The reading guides at the front are marginally helpful and very limited at best. They even put out a similar edition called the "Personal Study Edition". I personally don't see much of a difference. Ignatius Press is developing their own study Bible using the RSV-2CE, but they seem to be in no hurry to complete it. (I think they would rather publish 12 books by Pope Benedict each season. Don't get me wrong, I love Pope Benedict, but even he would rather see Ignatius Press complete their study Bible.) The first volume on Matthew came out in 2000! That is 8 years ago and they are still not done with the New Testament. Would Zondervan take so long to complete something that is so needed? I don't think they would.

So, in my mind, the only possibility for Catholics to purchase high quality and multiple format editions of Catholic Bibles is for a major publishing house like HarperCollins or Zondervan to take on the project. They have the money and the experiences to do it right. HarperCollins has at least been putting out newer editions of the NRSV-CE in recent years, I hope this trend continues. Right now, the "major" Catholic publishing houses are either uninterested or incapable of doing this.


Esteban Vázquez said...

And happy feast of the Exaltation of the Cross to you too! ;-)

I think your observations are right on target. Catholic Bibles published by Catholic publishers are generally very poor by any standard of Bible binding; I really can't understand why producing beautiful editions of them isn't more of a priority. (A sterling exception to this is the gorgeous leather NJB, Standard Edition--but then again, that's published by Doubleday.)

Regarding thinline editions, however, I think the problem publishers will run into is that Catholic Bibles are usually printed with notes. This does not work well, since an economic use of space is key to a production of a thinline Bible. Also, they will never be as thin as a TNIV on account of deuterocanonicals, but I don't imagine that this would make them much larger.

Also, Ignatius is a small publishing house with limited resources; frankly, it's a bit unfair to compare them to gigantic (and HarperCollins-owned) Zondervan. And trust me--as one who used to work in the Grand Rapids Christian publisher scene, and who knows some people who were formerly involved with editing notes for Zondervan study Bibles, I would rather have Ignatius take 20 years to put together an acceptable edition, than have a 23-year-old recent BA in English or Social Work cutting, rewritting or replacing notes written by professional exegetes! And remember that it took a full 33 years to complete the jewel of Catholic annotated editions, The Navarre Bible.

Timothy said...


Yes indeed..Happy Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

I appreciate your points. You are quite right about Ignatius being a small publishing house. I am sure that they are making a nice bit of cash with the B16 books, but I would really like to see them finish the study Bible.

Also, I do like the Navarre Commentary. I wouldn't mind seeing a one-volume edition. I think they could do it, if they followed the format of the Jerusalem Bible. It wouldn't be too difficult to place the notes on the bottom of the page like the Jerusalem Bible...the page format is almost identical to begin with!

Esteban Vázquez said...

The full Spanish edition of the Navarre Bible (which I covet with all my powers, in open disobedience to God's commandment ;-) occupies five hefty volumes. However, a one-volume pastoral edition is readily available (leather-bound edition here), and I don't see why a similar pastoral edition couldn't be made available in English (though of course, this would have to wait until the translation of the Navarre Bible into English is completed).

As for Ignatius, think of it this way: the nice bit of cash they're making with the Pope's books in turn makes the completion of the Study Bible possible! ;-)

Timothy said...

That leather Spanish Navarre is very nice. Wow, maybe I should just learn Spanish. BTW: I think they are completed with the Navarre in English. I think Scepter Press has them all for sale at this point. While on the site, however, I did see this:

I think I may have to pick it up.

Esteban Vázquez said...

You most definitely should learn Spanish! After all, for some reason, Catholic Bible publishing in Spanish seems to have been far more prolific than in English.

And the English Navarre NT looks terrific, but $80?! Why, that's almost as much as... as... the NT volume of the Spanish Navarre Bible. Oh, well! ;-)

mlaj said...

I think you are right on Tim!!! I have been very frustrated with the lack of quality study Bibles for Catholics. Seriously, the blue one is way too large to tote around, and is only so helpful. I have an exhaustive concordance, but that is so thick and large I have to store it under my bed.

My favorite Bible is the NIV New Life Application Study Bible. If it only came in a Catholic edition I would buy it in a heartbeat!!! Seriously, can't the publisher use the exact same format, add the extra books and tailor the nots for Catholics? It is well made, easy to carry, and truly easy to read. For study purposes I find it superb...but you only get the NIV version.

Alas, since I am now working in a general Christian school, this has become a more frequently used version for me. But for personal use, I would prefer a Catholic one.

On a side note, my favorite Catholic edition is the Serendipity Bible. I believe it is NAB, but it includes 9 different Bible studies. The questions for each are in the side bars of the pages. The studies are geared for couples, women, men, etc. Each one has a symbol so you know which questions pertain to you. But the questions in general are excellent study questions as you read any passage. It only comes in paperback that I am aware of.

David Sullivan said...

I found this a bit later. I'm a recent convert from Evangelicalism. My only complaint since my conversion is that the Protestants have all the nice Bibles. I have some editions from R.L. Allan in the UK, which are beautifully made and bound in the best quality leather. The only leather binding I've found for any Catholic edition of the RSV, NRSV, NAB, etc. is "bonded leather," which is to leather what spam is to meat.

I can't quite grasp why it is that publishing houses like Oxford University Press--which publishes the RSV, Douay-Rheims, and Knox editions--or Ignatius couldn't publish a deluxe edition in goatskin or some other top-quality leather. I'm sure there are a lot of Catholics, like me, who would fork out the cost for a beautifully printed and bound copy of the full Bible.

I've been annoying R.L. Allan about their own publishing a Catholic Edition. They say they are looking for a suitable text block to use for the binding. Maybe there's hope, but it's ironic that an Evangelical publishing house should be the best hope for a quality Catholic Bible.