Thursday, September 4, 2008

My Top 5 Catholic Bible Translations

Well, I wanted to spend this post looking at the five most popular Catholic Bible translations that are easily available to most people here in the USA. This will be the first of many posts on these translations, so I hope that no one assumes that this is a thorough critique.....that will come later. The five translations I am going to rank here are the Douay Rheims, New American Bible, New Jerusalem Bible, Revised Standard Version- Catholic Edition, and the New Revised Standard Version- Catholic Edition. I am well aware that there are other, less-known, Catholic Bibles out there, like the Christian Community Bible, the original Jerusalem Bible, the Knox Translation, and the Confraternity edition. However, these five translations are the ones that most Catholics will come into contact with at secular book stores or Catholic/Christian ones.

The rankings will be based on three criteria: 1) Brief evaluation of the translation itself, 2) The available editions in each translation, 3) Study tools and supplements that use that particular translation. Again, this is my own opinion at this moment. It is important to remember, however, that there is no perfect English translation of the Bible.

1) Revised Standard Version - Catholic Edition

  1. Very literal translation that was the scholarly standard for second half of the twentieth century. This translation was worked on by a group of ecumenical scholars, then updated a bit by a group of Catholic scholars in the 60's. Even though this translation was completed in the mid-twentieth century, it still remains very solid, reliable, and readable. Many Catholic converts and Bible scholars prefer this translation.
  2. Ignatius Press and Oxford University Press are the main publishers of this translation. Ignatius Press, in particular, has recently edited an updated version of the RSV-CE calling it the RSV-Second Catholic Edition, which eliminates the archaic language and makes minor changes to the text itself. Oxford University Press continues to publish readers editions of the RSV-CE, which basically contains only the text in a simlar fashion as their compact edition. Unfortunately, outside of these two versions, there really isn't a huge selection of editions of the RSV-CE. I don't see this changing anytime soon.
  3. The RSV, like the NRSV, has a wealth of additional study tools to work with based on it. There are interlinears, concordances, dictionaries, and commentaries that are all based on the RSV. This is an area of strenght for the RSV. But, since this translation is getting a little older, I am not sure that there will be any additional resources. The one possibility is the Ignatius Study Bible, which currently is being produced. They are almost completed with the New Testament. At some point, who knows when, there will be a complete 1 volume edition of the Ignatius Study Bible.

2) New Revised Standard Version - Catholic Edition

  1. The NRSV was completed by an ecumenical group of scholars, consisting of Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox. Overall, it is slightly less literal than the RSV, but it remains essentially literal and is quite good for both study and prayer. Personally, I find reading this Bible much more enjoyable than the RSV. In particular, the OT is well done and reads very smoothly. For many, the NRSV is the scholarly standard. Many will find this edition as the one required for university or seminary courses. One of its great advantages is that it uses the most up-to-date scholarship on recently discovered manuscripts, like the Dead Sea Scrolls. The NRSV is most notable for its use of inclusive language. While many fall in two camps on this issue, either finding it appropriate or heretical, I think it can be done in a way that is both faithful to the original text as well as to contemporary English usage. For the most part, I think the NRSV does an OK job. However, there are times when their attempt to be inclusive can be a bit questionable, most notably 1 Timothy 3:2 and Hebrews 2: 6-8. Fortunately, the NRSV committee provided textual notes with the translation to show when changes have been made.
  2. The NRSV comes in various editions, published by Oxford University Press and HarperCollins. HarperCollins, in particular, has recently begun publishing new editions of the NRSV-CE in new attractive editions. It would be great to see this continued. Perhaps an NRSV-CE study Bible would be a great addition as well. Zondervan also publishes a wonderful NRSV-CE Catholic Womens Devotional Bible. It would be great to see an Catholic Men's edition too!
  3. The greatest strenght of the NRSV is that there are a lot of study tools available. There are various interlinears, dictionaries, Bible Maps, concordances, comparative translations, and a host of commentaries based off of it. And since the NRSV is a decendent of the RSV, the older RSV tools can be used with it as well. Also, one notices that a number of important Biblical scholars, both Catholic and Protestant, use the NRSV for their base translation.

3) New Jerusalem Bible

  1. The New Jerusalem Bible is a dynamic equivalence translation that is both readable and accurate. It is not as literal as the RSV/NRSV. It is noted for its literary style and its use of the Divine Name YHWH instead of LORD, which is found in most other translations. For American readers, one will notice the occasional British term used, but overall there is no problem in following along with the text. In particular, the NJB truly shines in the poetry sections of the Bible, like the Psalms. The NJB is an update of the original Jerusalem Bible. The NJB is more literal and introduced some modest inclusive language. Overall, I find the NJB use of inclusive language to be the best. There is word that a 3rd edition is in the works, so it will remain to be seen if the NJB will be widely used in future years.
  2. There are not many editions of the NJB available here in the USA. The best one is the full hardcover edition published by Doubleday. It contains a plethora of notes and cross-references. It's single column format is also very attractive and easy on the eyes.
  3. One area where the NJB really suffers is that there are hardly any study tools available. The NJB Bible itself, with all its notes, has plenty of study helps, but that is all. I am also unaware of any Biblical scholarship that uses the NJB as its base translation. I think, like many have said, the the NJB is a wonderful starter study Bible.

4) New American Bible

  1. The NAB is the most used Catholic Bible in the USA. Most of this has to do with the fact that it was produced by the CBA and USCCB, and that it is the Bible used for the Mass readings. The translation, itself, is a bit tough to classify, since it has been translated at various points for the past 50 years. The Old Testament began in the 50's, the NT was revised in the 80's, and the Psalms were revised in 1991. There is also word that the OT may soon be revised. So, unfortunately you have a very uneven text. I think, overall, the NT is superior to the rest of the NAB translation. The NAB NT is literal, yet very readable. Unfortunately I find the revised Psalms to be quite bad. Its use of inclusive language is way over the top, so much so that on the Vatican website the Psalms are not included on the NAB Bible translation page. So ultimately what you have is an OT with no inclusive language, a NT with modest inclusive language, and a Psalms with pervasive inclusive language. Honestly, its a bit annoying.
  2. The NAB comes in various covers and editions. Fireside published some fine looking NAB Bibles, for various occasions. The covers are quite nice and the binding is very durable. Oxford University Press, as well Catholic Book Publishing, publish editions of the NAB as well. One thing that does bug me is that no matter what edition or publisher, the NAB format always looks the same. It always comes with the same two-column style, with the same cross-reference apparatus, and the same format for the notes.
  3. In regards to study supplements, there are a few Catholic Study Bibles out there. The most notable is the Catholic Study Bible by Oxford University Press. Outside of that, there are some materials available for study, like a concordance and Bible dictionary. But that is about it. There are some Bible studies, like the Little Rock Bible Study program, that utilizes the NAB but more and more seem to use the RSV or NRSV.

5) Douay-Rheims

  1. The Douay-Rheims is the great historic Bible translation that most English-speaking Catholics used up until the mid-1960's. It remains a very literal translation, that contains archaic English renderings. The historical importance of this translation cannot be overstated. Just as many Protestants have a KJV as reference, even though they may use the NIV or ESV primarily, every Catholic should have an edition of the Douay-Rheims for reference. It shouldn't, however, be the main Bible for study. With the Vatican's call for translations from the original languages in Pius XII Divino Afflante Spiritu, the Church has encouraged the use of more modern translations that utilize the best and earliest manuscripts.
  2. Because this is an older translation, there aren't many new editions available. However, there is one exception. Baronius Press has recenlty been publishing new editions of the Douay-Rheims. These editions are quite well done and beautifully made.
  3. Again, there just isn't much available. Tan does publish a textual concordance that utilizes the Douay-Rheims. One might also be able to find a Latin-English New Testament.


Anonymous said...

Informative post, thanks for visiting me!

Esteban Vázquez said...

Found your wonderful blog via Iyov; I'm very glad I did, and linked you on my blog at once! Thanks for this thoughtful post. One question, though: what is that gorgeous Bible in the picture? Why, I might have to lay aside food and drink for a few weeks to buy myself a copy. :-)

Anyway, keep up the good work!

(As an aside, I see that you attend Sacred Heart Seminary; have you had any classes yet with Father James Jorgenson? I'm moving back to Michigan by the end of the month, and have pondered enrolling as a guest student in the future to take some of his courses.)

Timothy said...


Yes, I actually am taking a Church History course with Fr. Jorgenson this semester. This is the third class I have had with him, including Latin and Patristics. I enjoy the fact that he has a true passion for Church history, and also the fact that he is Orthodox makes the class even more intriguing.

As for the Bible, it is from Baronius Press. They are currently re-publishing many old time Catholic books, including Bibles, Missals, and other classics. They have redone the Douay-Rheims and will soon be doing a new edition of the Knox translation.

Esteban Vázquez said...

Well, God bless them -- they've published the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary! Many thanks for the link. Looking at the sample page, I think my copy of the DRB was also published by them.

Thanks also for commenting on Father James' classes. I've met him once or twice in church events (I'm Orthodox too), and his paper for the Lutheran-Orthodox dialog on predestination in the Fathers was fundamentally important to me almost a decade ago when I was a catechumen (I was previously Dutch Reformed).

Timothy said...


Well, that is just wonderful to hear. I will make sure to let Fr. Jorgenson know....I know he will be very delighted! Thanks for stopping by my new blog!

Jeremy Priest said...

I think we both have the same pleasure and frustration with the NRSV translation. I recently did an exegesis of John 2:23-3:21 and it was incredibly obscured by the NRSV. In 2:25-3:1 the word man (anthropos) is used three times in Greek and four times in the RSV translation: “because he knew all men and needed no one to bear witness of man; for he himself knew what was in man. Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus.” In John’s simple style he is pointing us to the function of the following dialogue with Nicodemus where Nicodemus stands for every human person.

Now it's there in the NRSV, but you have to dig really deep to find it. I fail to see how the reader is served by obscuring this meaning that most commentators see as very clear.

Also, there was a good revision to the Douay-Rheims this past century that was similar to the revision done to create the RSV-Second Catholic Edition. I don't remember the name of the revision, but I'd like to get my hands on it. I have the Baronius Press edition and I like it, but the language is a bit tough. Although, the Psalms are quite beautiful and really capture the "earthiness" of the Hebrew.

Timothy said...


Thanks for stopping by. Was that Latin translation you were thinking about the Knox translation? I think Baronius Press is putting out a new edition of that this year. Also, there is the Confraternity NT which was done in the US in the 40's I think. They never did the OT because of the Vatican't directives to translate from the original languages after the Pius XII encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu.

Anonymous said...

Both a complete bible and a Latin-English New Testament with Psalms are available at

Anonymous said...

I know it's been years since you posted this, but I just found it -- and I wanted to mention, there are quite a few study helps keyed to the NAB from Liturgical Press. In addition, if one is using any modern "respectable" translation, most reference materials can be used across translations. So, for instance, if a commentary is based on NRSV or NIV, it can be used with the NAB without many problems. I think the lack of study materials you mention for many of these translations is more a function of the general low-volume of Catholic Bible study materials for ALL translations, as compared to the vast amount of such materials available from evangelical sources (which are usually keyed to KJV, NIV, ESV, NASB and NKJV).

hoshie said...

I know this post is old, but I have a question. Was the Catholic Living Bible ever popular? I found a copy of the Catholic One Year Bible in a secondhand bookstore a while back. The book was published in the 80s. The Bible is divided into 366 chunks and the Deuterocanonicals are in the back of the book. It has the Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat from the Bishops. Interestedly the Bishops' approval was for the Deuterocanonicals only and not the rest of the book.

Maria Perez said...

I am looking for a Catholic bible. I don't. Know how to go about finding the one I need. Can someone please help me? I see many bibles but I thought there was only one and translated to all these different languages. But I see theres many versions. Help please!

Timothy said...

I'd be happy to help. What are looking for in a translation? What kind of Bible, hardcover, leather, paperback?

~ Kim ~ said...

Hi, Fr this is an interesting article. I am on the look out for a bible and my Mgr told me either NRSV Catholic or Jerusalem is appropriate. I have just got back into the faith and would love a great bible to read each day. I am confused and not sure which bible is best. I was thinking about the Harpers NRSV Standard but the front looks a bit ugly. Do you have any recommendations? God bless, Kim - Australia.

Timothy said...


Why don't you email me: mccorm45(at)yahoo(dot)com. Let me know if you are looking for a study bible or one that is a plain text edition.

Unknown said...

I am in the process of converting to the Church, I'll be baptized, confirmed, and receive first communion on Easter. I bought the NABRE, but sadly, I didn't like it at all. Then I got the Ignatius Bible, and it's good, but not for me. I bought the Douay-Rheims from Amazon, published bounded leather Loreto press. It is my favorite, and only Bible I like to study. It's so beautifully done, and I love the more archaic language in it

crystal said...

I am of catholic faith, but sadly have never read the bible. I enjoy mass, but the homily has always been my favorite because I can easily relate to the messages or the interpretation of the readings. I would really like a version of the bible I can understand, perhaps with notes or study material. Can anyone recommend a suitable version?

Timothy said...


Greetings and welcome to this site. If you search a bit you will find numerous reviews about the many bible options you have. In your case, I would recommend either the Little Rock Catholic Study Bible or the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament. Both provide a ton of information, particularly for those who are just getting started. God bless!

Jessica said...

Hi! I think you might benefit from watching the film New World Order: Bible Versions. It's available on YouTube. After watching this, I am convinced there is a perfect English translation of the Bible. Also, earlier manuscripts do not mean better. God bless you on your journey.

rolf said...

The Church existed for nearly 1600 years before the King James Bible. And when it was published, it would have been considered a 'modern translation'! I have nothing against the KJV, just KJV onlyism!

mwidunn said...

Regarding the Douay-Rheims, it really should be called, the "Challoner." What many call the "Douay-Rheims Bible" (D. R. B.) is actually Bishop's Challoner's fullscale revision of same back in the 1700's. The original D. R. B. -- which, incidentally, even as a translation from the Latin Vulgate is still based on a better manuscript tradition than the King James although derived from original Greek texts -- is quite different from Challoner's revision, which attempted (for some unknown and befuddling reason) to bring the D. R. B.'s text into more accord with that of the K. J. V. This might explain why some converts from Protestantism feel a kind of subliminal liking for the readings found in the D. R. B.

mwidunn said...

Another thing:

The English Standard Version, an Evangelical Protestant-supported version I saw and liked many years ago, has finally "bit the bullet" and (oh, the horror!) put out an edition of their translation with the so-called "Deutero-canonicals" included . . . in the back, of course ;-)

It can be found at:

Unknown said...

Have you reviewed the NABRE yet? I think that the OT translation, especially the Psalms have been vastly improved. I would love to hear your take on it.

Timothy said...


Search the website. There are numerous posts on the NABRE. God bless.

Unknown said...

I am looking for a Catholic bible with extra wide margins for note taking or bible journaling. There are numerous Protestant bibles for this purpose. Is there a Catholic one?

Timothy said...

Hi Judy,

There are a couple options:
1)Oxford NRSV Notetskers bible. Out of print but still can get it used.

2)New Jerusalem Bible Standard Edition

3) The Message Catholic

Anonymous said...

Hello Timothy,

How are you? I have struggled with the concept of religious faith for a long time. I have relatives who are Methodist and go to church every Sunday, but I live way out in the country in a different state and, although I love and respect them, I don't agree with many of their political viewpoints. I have seen what narrow-mindedness due to religion can do, and I really don't like that. I know that not all religious people are like this, and that it is not religion that causes this issues but human nature. Anyhow, I have been to Catholic mass a few times, and I felt very connected to the religion and as if I believed most of the values being taught. I have a lot of doubt sometimes, and have trouble getting over this. Also, many of my friends are not religious, and I often feel judged if I tell them I am, which makes me feel very self conscious, and a bit guilty, even though I know I shouldn't be. Long story short, I am planning to start going to mass again and be more consistent this time, but I want to do it the right way, and I have little experience with Catholicism. I have an old copy of the Jerusalem Bible at home and want to start studying a Catholic edition of the bible, but am not sure if that would be the one to start with or not? It is a very old edition as well. So, which version would you recommend for personal study for someone who is very new to the religion? Also, I get very self conscious about what to wear to mass when I do go. I live in a very remote area and I am not used to dressing up. What do people generally wear when they go? Are jeans acceptable if they are nice ones? Thank you in advance!

Timothy said...


Thanks for the comment. I’ll do my best to answer your questions:
Your Jerusalem Bible is perfectly fine. It is a little old, but if you like reading it then go ahead and use it. If you want something that is a bit closer to what you will hear at Mass, perhaps consider getting an NABRE (New American Bible revised Edition). It has been recently updated, contains annotations, and can be found in various editions that you might find helpful.

As for clothing, you should be fine with jeans. A lot of that depends on the parish you attend. I live in a suburban setting, so it is not uncommon for people to wear anything from jeans to being more dressed up. I can’t say if that would be the same in yours. It very well might. Worse comes to worse, just see how they are dressed when you attend and adjust if you need to when you go back.

Let me also say that it is perfectly fine to struggle with religious faith. I believe that if someone finds it too easy to believe in God, it might not be God they are actually believing in (somewhat a paraphrase from a favorite author of mine, Thomas Merton). So feel free to struggle with this. I certainly do, even to this day.

If you want to chat via email, you are welcome to do so. mccorm45(at)yahoo(dot)com

Best wishes and blessings on your journey.

Dawid said...

The English Standard Version, it is not as good as it might seem.
In this I agree with you that there are also better texts :)

mwidunn said...

Dear Anonymous:

(1) To put it in "modern" terms, Faith is a choice moved by an impulse of the mind. You choose to believe in God and what He has revealed, because He is God. He is truthful, and not deceptive. But, it is a choice. On some things, this choice can be made easily (like, God exists); on others, the choice can be hard and may have to be made constantly (like, believing the bread and wine actually become Christ in the Eucharist). Doubt per se is not sinful. Doubt could become sinful if, when knowing God’s revelation, one simply chooses not to believe it. There is a huge difference, morally speaking, between having difficulty in faith, yet trying to believe, and saying, "I will not believe this."

(2) The Jerusalem Bible is an English translation of a French translation of the Bible. I do not like the English translation: The translators chose quirky, odd phrasings that did little to clarify the text. Seemingly, they just wanted to be different. Scholars love the JB’s notes on the original text. The JB was re-done as the "New Jerusalem Bible." It still has some truly peculiar phrasings (which is why I still don’t use it), but it’s much better than before.

(3) As for "the right way": Friend, NONE of us comes before the Lord "the right way." If you think your creaturely “way” is going to impress God -- it’s not! Also, we are sinners in need of God’s mercy and love. So, it’s normal to feel uncomfortable (or, “un-right”) coming into God's presence, because you sense that something is not right to begin with. Realize, however, that God does not see you that way! Rather, He sees you as someone called to be with Him happily forever: a “saint.” This is the whole point of Christmas and what follows: "[I]t is proof of God's own love for us, that Christ died for us while we were still sinners" (Rom 5:8, NJB).

(4) As for dress at Holy Mass: You know already where you are going. You know What will be going on while you’re there. You know Who will become present when you go. Dress accordingly! Clothes don’t just jump onto one’s body. You choose to wear them. Participating in the offering of Christ's Sacrifice of the Cross, receiving His Flesh and Blood sacramentally, hearing the Word of God proclaimed -- do these warrant wearing more than jeans and a tee-shirt?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states this regarding the faithfuls' participation in Holy Mass: "Bodily demeanor (gestures, clothing) ought to convey the respect, solemnity, and joy of this moment when Christ becomes our guest" (para. 1387). Therefore, I neither can nor will tell you otherwise. I’m certainly not going to justify it, saying dressing up “doesn’t matter.”

BUT, if the above is going to keep you from going to Mass in the first place, then: leave it aside for now. Not everything needs to be adjudicated first. Otherwise, you end up doing nothing (or, much less). Instead, JUST GO! Run to the Lord with whatever you’re wearing and in whatever state you are! He will help you to sort out the other.