Monday, February 19, 2018

CUP NRSV Reference Bible w/Apocrypha Part II: The Externals

Today I continue with my review of the NRSV Reference Bible w/Apocrypha published by Cambridge University Press.

A few days ago I decided to go back and look at some of my earliest posts on this blog, which began ten years ago.  One of those posts, a favorite of mine, was titled "Catholic Bibles Stink" and was published only a month after I started this blog.  At the time, I was dismayed by all the different quality editions that one could find in any of the major Protestant Bible translations, yet we Catholics still had so little to choose from.  I mentioned a few things in that post, including the fact that at that time the best bible I had was the late 90's version of the NRSV Reference Bible w/Apocrypha.  Ironic?  I also wished that we could see the NAB in more stylish editions.  Did that happen?  Yes, for the most part it did, thanks to publishers like the USCCB, HarperOne, and Little Rock Catholic Bible Study.  (We also got a brand new edition of the NAB Old Testament in the process.)  Yet, we are still waiting for a premium NABRE.  Then there was the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible which at that point hadn't even been released in a single volume New Testament edition yet.  Back then I joked that it had been eight years at that point since the first volume (Matthew) was released, which seemed like a really long time to wait for a completed ICSB.  Re-reading that comment seems kind of funny now.

Yet here we are in 2018, ten years later.  And while there have been some truly wonderful bibles produced in Catholic editions since then, there still really hasn't been a high-end, premium leather edition.  Which leads me back to Cambridge University Press and their newest NRSV Reference Bible w/Apocrypha.  As I stated in the first part of this review, the NRSV Reference Bible w/Apocrypha is the best premium bible on the market today that a Catholic can use and enjoy.  The content is top-notch, as I said before, but what makes this a truly fine bible are the quality materials used to create and manufacture each edition.  Let me briefly explain to you why I hold this bible in such esteem.

We have discussed the issue of sewn versus glued bindings dozens of times on this blog.  So often I (and many of you) have come across a really cool Catholic bible edition, which unfortunately has a binding that is glued.  Now if you are looking for a bible that you will use occasionally or planning to use when travelling, a glued binding on that bible will probably do the job.  However, if you want something that will last (which means you are actually using the thing every day) then you want the best possible binding that is available.  Also, if you are shelling out a lot of money for a bible that is covered in a premium leather, like goatskin, but has only a glued binding, you are asking for a disaster.  Fortunately, every bible produced by Cambridge is sewn to the highest quality.  And it is glued.  Yes, glued.  Cambridge University Press explains: "Note that all sewn books and Bibles are also glued.  The sections are glued along the spine (usually with gauze fabric attached) to hold the book block together properly.  The glue penetrates a little between the individual sections, but the advantage of a sewn book is that the individual pages are not separately attached only be a single thin line of glue to the cover: each page is part of a folded section (a 'signature') of multiple pages; each signature is sewn to all the others; then all the signatures are glued to from a book block before being cased in the cover."  This means that a Cambridge bible is created to be used and to last.  With care, it will also open flatly on a table or in your lap.  This is the type of bible that can be handed down to your children (and children's children) because of the quality binding process which stand the test of time.

The Cover:
Previously, Cambridge only offered this edition in a black French Morocco leather, which came in varying quality.  Fortunately, this time around, they are offering the edition with the Apocrypha in goatskin, French Morroco leather, and hardback.  (If you want one without the Apocrypha, they are available in cowhide, French Morroco leather, and hardback.)  The full grain leather burgundy goatskin edition is incredibly smooth and supple.  The Cambridge goatskins are procured from "arid areas where environmental conditions are ideal for producing hides with the balance of strength and suppleness."  In comparing this cover with the other bibles I own, none of them compare to it.  The only one that would be remotely close is the Baronius Press Knox Bible that I had rebound by Leonards in a brown goatskin.  The goatskin cover from Leonards is still quite good, don't get me wrong, but the Cambridge one is of a higher level of quality.  The biggest difference between the two is that the inside cover of the Knox Bible was done in a "paste-off" process by which they glued the cover to the endpages of the book block.  The Cambridge NRSV is edge-lined, meaning "the hand-made edge-lined cover is attached to the book block by means of a flap of the inner cover material being glued to the endpapers of the book."   This goatskin edition is actually leather lined in black leather, which again increases it's softness and flexibility.  If you haven't held a bible that is leather lined, you are missing out.  Its smooth, supple, and durable.

Other Features:
Have you ever purchased a bible and realized that it didn't have ribbon markers?  While that isn't terribly unexpected when you get a hardcover or paperback edition, but when you get a leather or (even) a bonded leather bible I have always found it a bit jarring when one isn't included.  Fortunately, this isn't the case with the bibles produced by Cambridge.  The larger lectern and goatskin editions contain two ribbons, while the other leather ones contain one.  Each ribbon is produced at the appropriate length and strength so that they don't get lost in the pages or curl up after repeated use.  Those of you who pray the Liturgy of the Hours, with all the flipping between pages, know that well-produced ribbon markers are an essential.

The last final touch that sets this bible apart is the art-gilt page edges.  This edition is decorated on the edges of the paper with a metallic foil.  When it is done in an "art-gilt" style, as this one is, a "lustrous finish is created by a combination of red dye and gilt foil." The reddish tint to the metallic foil goes really well when paired with the burgundy red cover.

Final Thoughts:
If you have desired a truly high-end bible in a translation that can be utilized by Catholics, you need to order this one.  Are they expensive?  Yes.  (Although there is an introductory discount as of this posting available.)  Are the made of the highest quality of craftsmanship and care?  Absolutely.  I am convinced that there will never be a Catholic-specific edition of the bible made in premium leather and other materials until it is clear that there is a market for it.  It seems that it still remains more popular in Catholic circles to spend money on an expensive rosary or leather bound missal than the Word of God.  I am all for having nice rosaries and missals by the way, but there are plenty of options there.  With the Bible, there simply aren't many.  So, if you are still on the fence about getting one of these new Cambridge NRSVs, I'd encourage you to take a chance on one.  You will instantly see and feel the difference when you open the box for the first time.  And it also smells terrific, by the way!  :)

Additional Photos:
The CUP NRSV is 9.5′ x 7.2′ x 2′

I want to thank Cambridge University Press for providing both the goatskin and hardcover editions of the NRSV Reference Bible with Apocrypha in exchange for an honest review.  Cambridge University Press also provided a helpful catalogue which contained detailed information about the workmanship that goes into their bibles.  


Unknown said...

Their bibles are beautiful no doubt about it .. but this particular line is obscenely expensive, even for Cambridge. I have gotten a number of Cambridge goatskins over the years but they never cost me over $200. I wonder why these are SO expensive?? And now that the NRSV is being revised it already potentially renders this edition obsolete doesn’t it?

Jim said...

A thought "popped" into my mind, reading through this thorough review. Tim, you make note of "expensive rosaries and missals". This is in reference that Catholics, for the most part, are not creating a market for "high-end" "built to last" editions of the Bible.
The "thought" was that of use. Many Catholic parishes have a standing "tradition" of the praying of the rosary (out loud) prior to Mass. Missals, though for the most part are beneficial when used in preparing for Mass, are used, during Mass.
In my limited perspective, Catholics pay for high-end rosaries and missals because they use them!
Our little corner of the Internet is very much interested in beautiful editions of the Bible. Yet, seemingly, our group is small. Alone, we cannot create a viable market for, say, Ignatius Press to sell a high-end edition of the Bible.
How can this line with the rosary and missal "mentality"? Catholics must read the Bible, and use the Bible, daily.
In perspective, I found a King James Bible, from the early 1800s. It was sad to find it, for it meant that no family member wanted it, or the family line had ended. Inside, there are listings of over a hundred years of family members and associated information. Inside, there are scribblings and notes here and there. This hardback, leather-covered Bible has survived almost two hundred years! Why, for it was used!
Sorry about my far too lengthy note, but your review set off a few sparks within.

Timothy said...


Thank you for your thoughts that “popped” into your head. I very much agree with them. I still think we are a long way from the hopes of Vatican II which called for greater Catholic interaction with the scriptures.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the review. The NRSV is my overall preferred translation, so for me, I don't mind breaking open the piggy bank and getting this edition (will be ordering shortly). Yes, the NRSV is going to be revised, but I like the current version and there's always the chance I won't like the revised NRSV - so it's an easy decision for me. However, given its price tag, I admit that I probably would not buy it if it were any other translation.

Michael P.

Timothy said...


I am with you in that I have no idea whether or not I will like the Revised NRSV. I am quite happy with this one remaining my main study text. I have very few issues with it, to be honest. And after long last, it is given in such a beautiful edition!

Jerry Mc Kenna said...

I have not seen any editions of the NABRE that I am entirely happy with (I have a Collins one from 2011.) I would like better paper and a much better binding. I wish I would get a Catholic bible that was a rugged as my better bird guides.

Most older Catholics probably don't read the Bible. I was not raised in a house that had a complete Bible, yet everyone had a missal and a rosary. The Bible was a reference book, one that was cherished. The Jerusalem Bible was a sensation when I was in high school, but it would have never occurred to most of us to buy a Bible, even if we all had updated missals.

Anonymous said...

For awhile after the introduction of the NRSV there were a number of quality editions available but they seem to have all gone out of print by 2000 or so.

I purchased a 3rd edition (Metzger, editor) New Oxford Annotated Bible back in the late 90's probably. (The notes are essentially the same as the RSV NOAB.) As I recall, it was the top of the Oxford line, bound in French Morocco with a bonded leather lining. It was pretty expensive at the time, but I thought it substantially superior to the genuine leather bound edition. The genuine leather was stiff; the French Morocco just draped off either side of your hand when you held it.

In retrospect, it's been a bargain--after a lot of use, it looks practically new and the binding is still tight; only the wear on the gilding shows the usage. My experience has been that a quality bible will last and is worth the extra money.


Timothy said...

Yes. Well said Keith. Thank you for your comments.

David said...

I’ve been spending more time reading a Saint Joseph Bible NABRE over the last year or so and have decided to upgrade from a paperback bible to something nicer. I owned a medium quality NAB bible a couple years ago but gave it to my son.

I’d like to use a good quality reference bible instead of the standard NABRE. I was going to have Leonard’s rebind either The Didache Bible RSV-2CE or The Ignatius Bible RSV-2CE, but after looking at both, they were not what I was looking for. The Cambridge NRSV Reference Edition with Apocrypha mentioned on this blog appears to meet my needs and I ordered a copy. I understand it is not a Catholic edition, but it includes the additional books used by Catholics. Could you describe how The Cambridge NRSV Reference Edition with Apocrypha differs from the NRSVCE?

Timothy said...

The edition with the apocrypha contains all the deuterocanonical books recognized by the Catholic Church in addition to those also recognized by the various Orthodox Churches. They are placed between the Old and New Testaments.

David said...

Thank you for your comment. Why is The Cambridge NRSV Reference Edition with Apocrypha not considered a Catholic Edition if it includes all the books recognized by Catholics?

Timothy said...


Because they including Orthodox Deuterocanonical books like 3 and 4 Maccabees which aren’t in the Catholic Canon. One of the benefits of having this edition is that you get two full versions of Esther, the Hebrew one and the Greek one. In most Catholic bibles, the Hebrew is followed, but the Greek portions are added on.

David said...


Thank you for that explanation. I don't buy a new Bible very often, so the different Catholic versions were a bit of a surprise including those I did not even check out like the NJB.

I am looking forward to using my NRSV Bible and will be able to respond if someone questions if this is a Catholic bible. I expect the goatskin version will hold up well and become a constant companion.

Timothy said...

Totally understand. I really hope you like and use it often. It should last a lifetime. And the cross-references, glossary, and maps are all extremely helpful for study.

Anonymous said...


I also have the 2006 printing of this in French Morocco leather and that edition (printed by Bath Press in the UK) has one feature that I like better than this edition: the spine is slightly rounded. This is explained here:

It's more a matter of preference than an issue of quality. For me, it would have been nice for this edition to have it also.

Michael P.

XavierS said...

I definitely want this Bible but am unable to discern from the Cambridge website whether there will be a large-print edition which I'd prefer.

wxmarc said...

Cambridge has announced that they will be releasing a large print edition with apocrypha sometime this year. It will have size 13 font. Here's the information page on the Cambridge website:

This edition will use the British text of the NRSV which includes minor changes to spelling, grammar, and words for standard British usage.

XavierS said...

Thank you, I found that link but had no idea whether it was a pending or discontinued edition. I'll make do with my 1991 NOAB for now and splash out on a leather or goatskin large print when it comes out.

Anglicized is great, I'm a Londoner.