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Scripture-Related Pages: Catholic Bibles: A Guide to Current Catholic Translations

Catholic Bibles: A Guide to Current Catholic Translations

Below is a basic description of the various English translations used in Catholic Bibles today. A more extensive look at the backgrounds of these translations can be found among those explored in: Catholic Bibles: A Modest History of the English Versions

The entries are ordered according to my own sense of how widely used they are within the American Catholic Church today, beginning with the ubiquitous and ranging to the obscure – with a special entry for a new Psalter tacked on the end:

New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE)

imageThis current version of the New American Bible (NAB) was officially promulgated in 2010, and then published in 2011 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). It is the de facto standard Bible translation for the Catholic Church in America, and by far the most commonly owned and used by English-speaking Catholic Americans. The Lectionary for Mass and other liturgical documents are based on prior versions of the NAB, although there is considerable overlap between the versions, and the New Testament and Gospel readings from the current Lectionary for Mass are almost identical to the text in this NABRE version. The NAB, in one version or another, is a translation that all serious American Catholics should possess a copy of in some form, even if they choose to use another translation as a primary reading or study Bible.

This 2011 Revised Edition incorporates two sets of revisions published over the years: the New Testament (revised in 1986), and Old Testament (revised in 2010). Compared to the 1970 original NAB, both sets of revisions have shifted the translation toward more of a formal equivalence approach. This shift improved clarity and precision, although the editors also adopted some “inclusive language” renderings, which tend toward obscuring the original. The NAB, in all versions and editions, is published with extensive explanatory notes and cross-references. Those notes sometimes wade into academic theories concerning matters of so-called higher criticism, which annoy some readers and are of dubious value to the everyday Catholic, but overall the annotations are generally good.

Print versions are available in various formats and editions from numerous publishers. Online editions are available from the USCCB and Vatican websites, and at biblegateway.com. The NABRE is also available in both desktop and tablet/mobile editions from the better Bible Study software vendors. Since the August 2016 release of Logos/Verbum version 7, an electronic edition of the NABRE is now available with full reverse interlinear tagging, which greatly improves the usability of this translation for serious Bible study. [Top]

Revised Standard Version—Catholic Edition (RSV-CE)

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This version is an ecclesially approved 1966 “Catholic Edition” of the highly-regarded Protestant RSV translation. To create the RSV-CE, the original 1946 RSV New Testament was only slightly modified, most significantly by restoring some texts the original RSV had relegated to the margin. The Protestant RSV NT was itself revised about 5 years later, wherein it adopted pretty much the same set of modification as the Catholics had made for this edition. The Ignatius Press edition of the RSV-CE has a useful appendix showing the details of those textual changes. The Old Testament was modified simply by incorporating the Deuterocanonical books into their proper canonical order, and then eliminating the remaining, non-canonical, books from the RSV “Apocrypha”. The RSV-CE includes the textual notes provided by the original RSV translators, and adds a small number of footnotes to the New Testament books, which are collected in a 12-page appendix. It also adds a modest number of cross-references throughout the Bible, albeit more so in the New Testament.

The venerable RSV is an excellent formal equivalence translation, which stands within the mainstream English Protestant Biblical tradition, deriving from the King James Version, and the earlier pioneering work of William Tyndale. It was produced in America by a leading Protestant ecumenical body, The National Council of Churches of Christ. It retains the use of some archaic forms of address (thee, thou…), and otherwise uses vocabulary reflective of the English language prior to the cultural upheaval of the 1960s and 70s.

The RSV-CE remains very popular as a first choice among serious Catholic students of the Bible, and is available in several fine or common print editions. Electronically, it is available at biblegateway.com, as well as in Logos format, where it is available with an embedded ‘reverse interlinear’, rendering the Logos edition of the RSV-CE the best study edition of the Bible available in the English language, in my view. [Top]

Revised Standard Version—Second Catholic Edition (RSV-2CE)

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A “Second Catholic Edition” of the RSV was released in 2006 by Ignatius Press. This revision of the RSV-CE consisted primarily of updating archaic pronouns (thee, thou, etc.), but it also tweaked the text for possible use in the liturgy, in conformity with Liturgiam Authenticam. It is more natural sounding to the modern ear than the earlier 1966 Catholic Edition, without differing substantially from it. It takes over the modest cross-references and New Testament footnotes introduced in the RSV-CE, and presents them in a more easily readable format, set off in the corner of the page. It also adds a small number of footnotes in the Old Testament, and replaces the RSV-CE appendix of textual modifications with eight pages of color maps.

The RSV-2CE is published in print by Ignatius in limited formats, which tend to be condensed, sturdy, and attractive, utilizing creamy and somewhat glossy paper. This translation is also the underlying text for the superb Ignatius Catholic Study Bible project, which is currently complete for the New Testament, with the Old Testament in progress.

Midwest Theological Forum (MTF) uses the RSV-2CE as the underlying Biblical text for the “Ignatius Version” of  its Didache Study Bible. Electronically, the RSV-2CE is available only in Logos format, where it lacks any tagging.

This would be an outstanding choice of a modern translation for study, but the limitations of available editions remains something of a challenge. The fairly new Didache edition from MTF mitigates that limitation somewhat, and is a highly recommended edition, as is the outstanding Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament from Ignatius Press.

A less compact reader’s edition of the RSV-2CE, sporting a more generous page layout, would be a welcome addition. [Top]

New Revised Standard Version–Catholic Edition (NRSV-CE)

clip_image006The 1993 “Catholic Edition” of the New Revised Standard Version is simply the 1989 New Revised Standard Version with Apocrypha, rearranged according to the order of the Catholic canon (with a handful of non-canonical books eliminated). It received imprimaturs from American and Canadian bishops in 1991, and is approved for personal use and study in the U.S. It is currently the official Biblical translation of the Canadian Church, and is used in Canada’s Lectionary for Mass.

Much justifiable criticism has been leveled at the NRSV for its liberal implementation of “inclusive language” bias, but it is also very highly regarded among professionals and scholars for its combination of accuracy and smooth English presentation. It is a revision of the RSV undertaken by the National Council of Churches of Christ, the same body that had produced the RSV half a century earlier. The NRSV replaced archaic forms of address and obsolete expressions, updated the underlying text with the fruit of half a century of manuscript discoveries, and smoothed out some passages. This is a highly readable formal equivalence translation, marred only by the “inclusive language” obfuscations.

Several nice editions are published in print, available in both typical (American) and Anglicized versions.

Logos has an electronic edition of the NRSV-CE available in some base packages, which is tagged with a reverse interlinear, making it an extremely useful study resource. However, all the major software platforms carry the standard NRSV w/ Apocrypha, which, again, is essentially the same text as the NRSV-CE, but with variant book ordering – a distinction pretty irrelevant in a software version. [Top]

New Jerusalem Bible (NJB)

clip_image008Published in 1985 as a revision of the 1966 Jerusalem Bible, the NJB veered a little bit more toward the “formal” end of the spectrum compared to the original, but remains very much a dynamic equivalence translation, preferring readability over precise representation of the Hebrew/Greek original. It can be useful in study as providing a “different point of view” on passages, as it is quite independent of other English translation traditions.

It retains the use of “Yahweh” for the Divine Name, which can be annoying to some, and which makes it unsuitable for liturgical use. It incorporates gender-neutral techniques somewhat liberally. The single-column text, with verse numbering in the gutter and cross-references in the margin, makes for very pleasant reading. The work includes several useful tables and appendices in the rear.

The NJB is published in both a Standard Edition (which includes extensive annotations, re-written from the JB) and a Reader’s Edition (which provides minimal notes). At least in hardcover, these volumes are sturdy and professional. The NJB is also available as an electronic text for a few of the major Bible Study software platforms, and as an online text on www.catholic.org. However, these electronic editions utilize only the Reader’s Edition content, and lack the more extensive notes. Logos is trying to procure enough customer funding commitment to develop an electronic version of the “Standard Edition”, which would be wonderful, but the commit level is not overly promising at this point.

A revision to the NJB, prepared under the same editor (the English monk Dom Henry Wansbrough of Ampleforth Abbey) is slated for release in 2018. The Revised New Jerusalem Bible New Testament and Psalms is scheduled to be published in January 2018, with the rest of the Bible to follow later in the year. Pre-publication marketing materials suggest that this will be a significant revision, moving from a dynamic equivalence to a formal equivalence tendency in translation principle.  [Top]

Douay-Rheims-Challoner Version: (DRC)

clip_image012Usually marketed as the “Douay” or “Douay-Rheims” version, those editions are actually invariably an updated reprint of a late 19th century American edition of a mid-18th century revision of the original “Rheims/Douay” Bible, which had been a product of the late 16th/early 17th century Catholic Reformation, published between 1582 and 1610. The 18th-century revision was undertaken by Bishop Richard Challoner of England around 1750, and was a thorough revision of the original work. Although it was of great value for some 200 years, Challoner’s language is now quite dated, and it is difficult to recommend to the Catholic reader today, except as a secondary or tertiary comparative study text. It would be considered a formal equivalence translation in today’s terminology, but it should be noted that it is an English translation of the Latin Vulgate, not of manuscripts in the original Biblical languages – a distinction that leads some Tridentine die-hards to prefer it to the newer translations.

Several well-made editions of the DRC are available from print publishers such as TAN/Saint Benedict, Baronius, Loreto, Angelus, and others, including editions suitable for study. Economy editions of this version in print appear to be lacking. However, it is widely available as an electronic text, for both commercial and publicly licensed Bible Study software, and also as a searchable text on numerous public websites. [Top]

Jerusalem Bible (JB)

clip_image010Published in 1966, the Jerusalem Bible is a dynamic equivalence translation that closely follows its French predecessor: La Bible de Jerusalem. Its copious notes were translated directly from the French edition. The translation has been highly regarded for the clearness of its English, though it is more interpretive than many other translations, and like all “dynamic” translations, sometimes flattens the text excessively. The JB is notable for the use of “Yahweh” as an attempted transliteration of the Divine Name as recorded in the Hebrew (which is traditionally rendered “the Lord”).

England’s Catholic Truth Society (CTS) publishes a print edition (the New Catholic Bible) containing mostly the text of the Jerusalem Bible, but replacing the JB psalter with the original (1963) Grail Psalms. This combination reflects the official liturgical versions used in England. Since 2007, these CTS editions have replaced the word “Yahweh” in the JB text with “the Lord”, in compliance with new liturgical norms.

Single-column “Reader’s Editions” of the JB are still available in print, but these lack most of the footnotes. Unfortunately, the JB does not appear to be available in any electronic editions. [Top]

Knox Version

clip_image014This is a fresh, somewhat dynamic translation of the Vulgate published in 1948 by Monsignor Ronald Knox, an Englishman and Anglican convert to Catholicism. The work was very well-received, and gained considerable exposure in America as the version preferred by Venerable Fulton Sheen during the time of his television presentation ministry. However, it never really caught on in the States, and was soon eclipsed on both sides of the pond by new translations direct from the original languages. Although a modern translation, it retains some archaic word forms, yet it is perfectly understandable, and makes for a good alternate literary perspective on the Scriptures.

After being out of print for years, it is available again, in a fine, single-column edition from Baronius. Electronically, it is available as an excellent on-line text from New Advent (a three-column parallel format, comparing it to Latin and Greek versions), but it is not, as far as I know, available in any ebook format. [Top]

Christian Community Bible (CCB)

clip_image020Initially published in the Philippines by Claretian missionaries in 1988 as an English-language companion to Bernando Hurault’s heavily-annotated 1971 Spanish translation, La Biblia Latinoamericana, the CCB is one of a series of simplified translations in various languages “for the layman”, which serve as a vehicle for Hurault’s annotations: primarily a “pastoral” commentary invested in liberation theology. The translation has been updated many times, but an update history is not readily available. However, in 2015, a 60th edition was available. 60 editions in 27 years suggests a pretty significant need for revisions to the original work.

Despite the simplified vocabulary, and plethora of revisions, it is sometimes difficult to follow what the translator is intending to convey in English. This version hardly seems like it can be depended on to provide either a professional rendering of the Greek/Hebrew, or an aesthetically sound presentation of it in English. Another oddity: the book order used for the Old Testament was for many years a strange pastiche of the orders of the Jewish Bible and the Vulgate, though this odd ordering appears to have been abandoned in the most recent revisions.

Targeted at third-world communities where English is a second language, the CCB can be difficult to find in print in the US, but several print editions continue to be offered by Claretian Publications. PDFs of all the books are available online from http://ccbpastoralbible.wordpress.com or  http://bibleclaret.org/bibles/. [Top]

New Community Bible: Catholic Edition (NCB)

clip_image022This is a controversial 2008 translation produced in India by missionaries of the Society of Saint Paul. It is a revision of the Christian Community Bible, and is likewise targeted at a readership in missionary lands who speak English as a second language. The NCB somewhat improves the English of the CCB, and replaces Hurault’s annotations. The new editorial content of this work (annotations, illustrations, etc.) offended some Indian Catholics critical of what they saw as the new commentary’s syncretized appropriation of Hinduism and other “world” religions. On the other hand, it was also criticized by nationalist Hindus who viewed the work as culturally aggressive proselytism.

A 2012 “International Edition” hardcover is being sold in the USA by Alba House and the Daughters of St Paul. The work is not available in any electronic format I am aware of. [Top]

Alba House New Testament/St. Paul Catholic Edition

clip_image018This version is a single-person translation by Mark A. Wauck completed in the early 1990s, most recently issued by Pauline Books and Media, as “The New Testament: St. Paul Catholic Edition”. This work is listed on the USCCB website among “Approved Translations of the Sacred Scriptures for Private Use and Study by Catholics”. The St. Paul edition entails a unique presentation, with single-column text framed on heavy, colorful pastel pages sporting abundant photos and other graphics, having verse numbering relegated to the center gutter, bold red heading text, and Old Testament quotations highlighted in a heavy black bold.

The translation leans toward a formal equivalence for accuracy, yet is noticeably conversational in tone, for example in its liberal use of contractions. Annotations are modest but helpful, and focus on the text. Overall, this edition displays an odd stylistic juxtaposition, but it all works together to produce a warm yet impressive rendition of the Sacred Word. Highly recommended as an ancillary text for studying the New Testament.

No electronic editions of the Wauck/Alba House version exist, which limits its usability. It also appears to be out of print, which doesn’t help, either. Alba House or Pauline Books may still have new copies of the print edition, or it can be found used from the usual online sellers. The ISBN-10 is 0819851396. Note that two smaller volumes containing subsets of this translation are still in print: The Alba House Gospels: So You May Believe, and, Letters of Saint Paul. [Top]

New Catholic Version (NCV)

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The New Catholic Version New Testament was recently published (2015) by New Jersey-based Catholic Book Publishing. Oddly enough, the translation received its ecclesial approval for publishing from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, not the USCCB. An unnamed translation team worked under Conventual Franciscan Fr. Jude Winkler, creating a more or less formal equivalence translation that reads clearly and smoothly. The annotations are fairly thorough, and expository. This New Testament edition follows the 2002 publication of The New Catholic Version Psalms. Hopefully, the rest of the Old Testament is in the works, because this high-quality work is very useful as an ancillary version.

The name chosen for the translation is unfortunate, since it does not distinguish itself well from other works, and could easily be confused for something else. Also, the initials (NCV) are already used to refer to a Protestant translation in print for the past 25 years (the New Century Version). Further adding to the potential for confusion,  the publisher appears to have re-used an ISBN number for standard-size NCV New Testament paperback edition that had previously been assigned to one of their editions of the New American Bible with Revised New Testament. CBD would be a reliable source for this very good New Testament edition.

Very limited print editions of both the NCV New Testament and NCV Psalms are available from Catholic Book Publishing, under their Saint Joseph’s Edition moniker. An edition combining the New Testament and Psalms is scheduled for publication in November, 2017. Electronic editions are not available. [Top]

Revised Grail Psalter

clip_image024A collection of the Psalms only, this 2008 revision of the 1963 Grail Psalter makes it onto this list because of how important I expect it to become in the life of the Church in the coming years. The original Grail Psalter that it revises is a work which had been incorporated after Vatican II into the Lectionaries of Great Britain and Australia, and also into the English edition of the Liturgy of the Hours adopted worldwide.

Less “dynamic” than the original 1963 Grail psalms, following the Hebrew more closely, this version consciously conforms to the translational requirements of Liturgiam Authenticam, and is expected to be widely adopted as a liturgical psalter, for both the Lectionary and the Liturgy of the Hours, as well as for other liturgical texts which incorporate the Psalms.

It is available in two print editions, designed for either recitation or singing, and is also available online, including a free PDF download, from www.giamusic.com. A Logos edition is also available, bundled as a package of both the 2008 and 1963 versions of the psalms. [Top]