Monday, July 27, 2009

The Four Gospels (Little Rock) Review

Thanks to an advanced review copy from the fine people at Liturgical Press, I am happy to give my impressions of The Four Gospels: Catholic Personal Study Edition which will be available in early August. The translation used in this, and future editions, is the New American Bible. The general editors are Catherine Upchurch and Ronald D. Witherup S.S.. The entire project is co-published by Little Rock Scripture Study with Liturgical Press.

First things first, this edition is really just a sample of the future one volume Little Rock Catholic Study Bible. Through email correspondence with Liturgical Press, they have told me that all they are waiting for is the completion and approval of the re-revised NAB Pslams. Once completed, the Little Rock Catholic Study Bible will utilize the most up-to-date edition of the NAB. That is certainly a very good thing! Let's continue to pray that the revised NAB will provide Catholics in the USA a more consistent, well-rounded translation that can be acceptable for both Holy Mass and personal study. For more on the revised NAB, you can go here.

The first thing that strikes you when you open up The Four Gospels: Catholic Personal Study Edition is the page layout that Liturgical Press went with. (You can see what I am talking about here.) May I be the first to say "thank you!" As many of you know, I have been hoping to see more Catholic Bible editions in single-column layout. I have always felt that a single-column format allows for greater ease of reading, as well as providing more room to make personal notes in the text. The top of each page has the NAB text, with cross-references on the sides and the NAB notes at the bottom. The text is very readable and there is a clear division between the scriptural text and the notes. The overall layout reminds me of the TNIV Study Bible that I own. Bravo!

If all that Liturgical Press had done was to improve the NAB's page layout, I would have been satisfied. However, they have added helpful informational inserts into the text which compliment the NAB text and its standard commentary. These inserts consists of charts, maps, photos, short character bios, archaeological insights, prayer starters, social justice connections, definition of terms, and liturgical use of Scripture. For example, it is nice to read Luke 20:20-26, which describes the story of paying taxes to the Emperor, and then see a small picture of an actual Roman coin bearing Caesar's image right next to the text. Many of the informational inserts are very well placed in the text and enhance the readers understanding of the context of the Biblical narrative. In addition, the standard NAB introductions to each book are supplemented by a small insert which gives a brief summary including author, date, content, and main characters info. It's a convenient study help, particularly if you need to get information quickly.

The largest group of inserts are the ones on definition of terms, which include bits of information relating to such terms as the "Amen, Amen" and "I AM" sayings, exorcism, leprosy, vineyard imagery, the Pontius Pilate inscription, "Mary, which Mary?", and much more. There are also 11 line maps that are found throughout the four gospels, placed where appropriate to the text. I also found the inclusion of 14 "Liturgical Use of Scripture" inserts to be helpful. They often point out places where a particular scriptural text has been prominently used in the Mass and Liturgy of the Hours. For those who are unaware of why we say certain things during Mass, this is certainly a helpful tool. The other inserts reference other scriptural texts, as well as important Church documents like the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Dei Verbum, the USCCB's Economic Justice for All, the PBC's Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, and JPII's Redemptoris Missio.

This edition also includes two essays: "Background to the Gospels" by Ronald Witherup and "The Bible and Liturgy" by Irene Nowell which bookend the volume. Thankfully, Liturgical Press included the list of Sunday Mass readings and a helpful index for all illustrations and informational inserts.

Whenever the forthcoming Little Rock Catholic Study Bible is published in a one volume edition, it should prove to be helpful for not only those who are new to the Bible, but also those who are more experienced Bible readers. The page format alone makes it a definitely upgrade for those who use the NAB as their primary translation. In the end, I only have two suggestions for the upcoming one volume edition: 1) Please make sure that it comes in multiple cover options, including genuine leather and duo-tone imitation leather. Please avoid the bonded leather or laminated covers! 2) Even though there are map inserts, be sure to include a map section in the back with index.

Overall, great job on the first edition!


Ted said...

The single column format look wonderful! But why use the superscripted letters at the beginning of the verse numbers for the cross-references? Why not just list the verse numbers in the cross-refernece list and dispense with the superscripts. Wouldn't that make for a cleaner text?

Timothy said...


Yeah, I think you make a good point. Even the NJB's cross-referencing system is a little bit better. However, looking at the product as a whole, it is definitely a step in the right direction.