Catholic Bibles: A Modest History of the English Versions

What follows is a modest history of Catholic Bible versions in English. The focus is primarily on the history of translations, rather than on the history of publication, but that is a blurry line. Translations of single books (e.g. Psalters) are mostly overlooked. The presentation is chronological, except for a handful of non-Catholic Bibles marketed for Catholics, which I treat at the end.

The essay is divided into major periods for easier navigation:

The Early Versions

Douay-Rheims Holie Bible (1582, 1609/1610)

Reformation-era English Catholics exiled in Flanders established the English College at the University of Douay in 1568, under William Allen, where a vernacular translation of the Bible from the Latin Vulgate to English was undertaken, principally by leading linguist Gregory Martin, an Oxford scholar. This Douay-Rheims translation was the first authorized translation of the entire Bible into English.

Although the Old Testament translation had been completed prior to Martin’s death in 1582, its publication was delayed due to various troubles until 1609, when a quarto volume (~ 9.5” x 12”) was published, containing Genesis through Job. The remainder was published the following year: Psalms through Second Maccabees, along with an appendix of three apocryphal books (The Prayer of Manasses, and what were known then as “the second and third Bookes of Esdras”). The Old Testament was reprinted, again in two quarto volumes, in 1635. That would be the last Catholic Old Testament in English printed for over 100 years.

clip_image002The New Testament had been published more than a quarter-century before the Old Testament, in 1582, while the College was temporarily located in Rheims due to political pressure in Douay – hence it is known as the Rheims New Testament. It was reprinted, without significant change, in 1600, 1621, and 1633, and then again, a century later, in 1738 (with spelling changes), 1788, 1789, and finally (in New York) in 1834.

The Rheims NT also saw wide distribution in its early years by Protestant critics such as Dr. William Fulke of Cambridge, who, in 1589, published the full Rheims NT (including annotations) in parallel with the Bishops’ Bible (commonly in use at the time in the English Protestant churches), along with his critical commentary of the work of the “Papists of the traitorous seminarie at Rhemes”. Fulke’s work was republished in new editions in 1601, 1617, and 1633. Fellow Cambridge divine Thomas Cartwright produced a similar commentary on the full Rheims NT (but without including parallel Bible passages), which was published posthumously in 1618 as: “A Confutation of the Rhemists translation, glosses, and Annotations on the New Testament, so farre as they containe manifest impieties, heresies, idolatries, superstitions, prophanenesse, treasons, slanders, absurdities, falsehoods, and other evils. &c. &c.”

Both Testaments of the Douay-Rheims Bible – but especially the Rheims NT – contained extensive notes and commentary, which tended toward polemic – as befits the circumstances of publishing during the height of the English Reformation. The translation followed the Latin source very exactly, one might even say slavishly, leading even the editors, in the preface, to make note of its closeness to the Latin: “sometimes in the very words also and phrases, which may seeme to the vulgar reader and to common English eares not yet aquainted therewith, rudeness or ignorance”. Along with the widespread use of the Latinisms referred to by the editors, the translation is notable for its consistency in translation of source words, as well as for its level of dependence on transliteration.

The Douay-Rheims Bible would serve as the textual starting point for numerous revisions, beginning in the 18th century. The titling of these revisions would not infrequently tend to highlight their Douay ancestry, and downplay the roles of revisers. This trend continues today, as the Bibles called “Douay”, sold by Bible publishers and Bible Study software vendors, actually reflect significant later revisions. Copies or facsimiles of the actual Rheims NT or Douay OT pop up from time to time in the dusty corners of the Internet book world, but the work is generally unavailable from mainstream sources, and those who use the modern “Douay” Bibles should be aware that they really possess an edited version of Dr. Challoner’s mid-18th century revisions.

Caryll’s Psalmes of David (1700)

In 1700, an English Catholic layman named John Caryll published a prose Psalter “intended only for the private devotions of Lay persons”, entitled: “The Psalmes of David, translated from the Vulgat”. Caryll, who had authored several dramatic works, and was attached to the exiled court of King James II in St. Germain, France, appealed to the work of Robert Bellarmine for the interpretation of difficult passages. The work was published with ecclesial sanction, and was put out in revision by Caryll in 1704.


The Four Gospels, with Moral Reflections (1707—1709)

Between 1707 and 1709, a small group of English Catholics anonymously produced translations of the Gospels, following the Rheims, but not strictly, to which they attached an English translation of the corresponding sections of “Réflexions morales sur le Nouveau Testament” (Moral Reflections on the New Testament), a devotional commentary by Jansenist French Oratorian priest Pasquier Quesnel. Quesnel had begun publishing the commentary to defend and advance Jansenist viewpoints in 1668, and published an edition of the complete New Testament in French, with his commentary, in 1693. His work, though it received ecclesial approbation at the time of publication, was condemned by Pope Clement XI in a 1708 brief, which proved ineffective in Gallican France. Subsequently, it was condemned more formally in 1713, in the papal bull Unigenitus Dei Filius, which explicitly condemned 101 propositions of Quesnel in “Réflexions morales”. The English edition, likewise suppressed in 1713, is commercially available in facsimile today.

Nary’s New Testament (1718)

In 1718, Dr. Cornelius Nary, parish priest of St. Michan’s, Dublin, published the first new Catholic translation of the New Testament into English since the Rheims edition of 1582: “The New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ Newly translated out of the Latin Vulgat And with the Original Greek and divers Translations in vulgar languages diligently compared and revised Together with Annotations upon the most remarkable passages in the gospels and Marginal Notes upon other difficult Texts of the same and upon the rest of the books of the New Testament for the better understanding of the literal sense”.

This also appears to have been the first printing of a Catholic New Testament since the fourth edition of the Rheims had been published 85 years previously (in 1633, probably in Rouen, Normandy). Unlike the large quarto format of the earlier editions, this volume was printed in more portable duodecimo format (~5”x7.375”). In his preface, Dr. Nary laments not just the bulkiness, but also the scarcity and cost of the Rheims editions, “the language of which had become so old, the words so obsolete, the orthography so bad, and the translation so literal, that in a number of places it is unintelligible”. His goal was, in the words of one ecclesial supporter, “reconciling a literal Translation with the Purity of the English Tongue”.

Dr. Nary’s translation was not widely adopted. It was criticized by Dr. Robert Witham, President of the College of Douay, for not being literal enough. Dr. Witham would publish the next new translation of the New Testament, twelve years later.

Witham’s New Testament (1730)

In 1730, Dr. Robert Witham, President of the English College at Douay,  published “Annotations on the New Testament of Jesus Christ”, a controversial work that was well received among Catholics. Though the title does not refer to it, the work was a new translation of the New Testament from the Latin Vulgate, with corresponding annotations.

Witham’s aim was to elucidate the literal sense according to the ancient Fathers; to criticize and refute false interpretations advanced by the Protestants, and to demonstrate the differences between the Latin Vulgate and the Greek Text, always with the purpose of defending the integrity of the Vulgate. A major focus of the exposition was on the Apocalypse, and the defense of the Catholic Church against the pernicious fulminations of the Protestants linking the Apostolic Church to the Anti-Christ.

Witham also sought to mitigate the obscurities arising out of the literal renderings of the Rheims translation, recognizing both the excesses to which the earlier translators went in maintaining a literal reproduction of the source text, and the fact of an occasional unintelligibility of the Rheims due to changes in the English language over the preceding century and a half.

Webster New Testament (1730)

William Webster, Curate of St. Dunstan’s in the West, published a New Testament in two quarto volumes in London in 1730, entitled: “The NEW TESTAMENT of our SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST, according to the antient LATIN Edition. With critical Remarks upon the literal meaning in difficult places. From the French of Father SIMON”. This English edition was highly unusual for being a re-translation of a French translation, rather than a revision of the Rheims. French translations were known to be less literal than the Rheims. This version is not to be confused with the Bible published by American Noah Webster in 1833, which was a revision of the Protestant Authorized Version.

From Challoner to Providentissimus Deus

Challoner Version (1749—1763)

By the mid-18th century, over a century had passed since an edition of the Old Testament had been printed, and those editions had been expensive, large quarto volumes (9.5” x 12”), containing Biblical text that even at the time of original publication had been considered obscure and difficult to understand. With the passing of time, the language was even more in need of revising, and English Bishop Richard Challoner (1691-1781), returned from a teaching post at the English College at Douay, produced a significant, influential revision of the entire Douay-Rheims Bible, published in a convenient duodecimo size (5.5” x 7.5” or 5” x 7.375”) between 1749-1750. A substantial revision of the New Testament would subsequently be published as a third edition in 1752:

  • 1749: First edition of the New Testament.
  • 1750: First edition of the Old Testament, plus a lightly revised New Testament:
    • Vol. I: Genesis to Ruth
    • Vol. II: 1 Samuel [1 Kingdoms] to Esther
    • Vol. III: Job to Isaias
    • Vol. IV: Jeremias to 2 Machabees
    • Vol. V: New Testament, Second Edition
  • 1752: Third edition of the New Testament

In 1763/1764, Challoner published a second edition of the entire Bible, though it does not appear to be a further revision. Many more reprints would follow, especially of the New Testament.

While certainly using the Rheims and Douay versions as a base finished text, the textual changes introduced by Challoner were significant enough to consider this work a new translation, even though the title pages gave little evidence of either Challoner’s involvement, or the distance between these versions and the originals. The title page of the original edition of Challoner New Testament, for example, read as thus:

“The New Testament of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Translated out of the Latin Vulgat; diligently compared with the original Greek: and first published by the English College of Rhemes, Anno 1582. Newly revised, and corrected according to the Clementin Edition of the Scriptures. With Annotations, for clearing up modern Controversies in Religion, and other Difficulties of Holy Writ.”

Many of the original texts’ Latinisms were eliminated by Challoner, and a significant number of the changes made moved the work much closer to the Protestant Authorized Version. Thus, the work was much more readable, and more consistent with the English Bible as known outside the Catholic Church. He also abandoned the paragraph formatting of the older version in favor of beginning each verse on its own line. Besides making extensive textual revisions, Challoner eliminated or replaced much of the original notes and commentary, considerably toning down the anti-Protestant polemic. He also eliminated an appendix containing three apocryphal books, creating the first Bible in English containing precisely the Biblical canon as confirmed by the Council of Trent, which would be a model for all subsequent Catholic Bibles in English.

The Challoner revision would be both reprinted many times with minimal changes over the following two centuries of constant use, and serve as the base text for almost all Catholic Bible revisions until the middle of the 20th Century. In 1790, Philadelphia printer Mathew Carey published Challoner’s second edition. Surprisingly enough, it was only the second English-language Bible published in the Americas.

Perhaps the most notable Challoner reprint concerning modern-day Catholics, at least in America, is an edition published in 1899 by the John Murphy Company of Baltimore. This edition was photographically reproduced by TAN Books & Publishers, and republished in 1971 as the “Douay-Rheims Version”. This has subsequently been digitized, and appears to be the text underlying most if not all the electronic editions of the “Douay” or “Douay-Rheims” or “Challoner” editions available on various Bible Study application platforms, or on the web. The text itself, like many later “Challoner” editions, appears to be an amalgam of different editions of Challoner’s work, as some renderings present in the TAN text were, according to Dr. Cotton, unique to Challoner’s 1752 edition, others were unique to the 1750 edition, and at least one was unique to the 1749 edition.

McMahon’s New Testament (1783/1803/1810)

Shortly after Bishop Challoner’s death, Dublin Archbishop John Carpenter employed the Rev. Bernard McMahon in a revision of Challoner’s New Testament. McMahon introduced over 500 changes to the text, being less inclined than Challoner to follow the Protestant’s Authorized Version. McMahon’s edition of the New Testament was published in Dublin in 1783, in a conveniently-sized duodecimo (~ 5” x 7.375”) volume. The 1783 edition would be commonly known as Dr. Carpenter’s testament, since it was published under his sponsorship. It would also serve as the basis of the New Testament for a work McMahon would undertake for the next Archbishop of Dublin, Bishop Troy. Two subsequent editions of McMahon’s New Testament were published in the same format: in 1803, and in 1810. These incorporated most of the additional changes made by McMahon in his 1791 revision for Dr. Troy.

Troy’s Bible (1791)

In 1791, Dublin Archbishop John Thomas Troy published a revision of the entire Challoner Bible, with Bernard McMahon again serving as reviser. It was originally published in a quarto format, and three years later in a large-format folio. The annotations were largely taken over from Challoner, but not without a fair amount of expansion. This version would serve as the basis of several reprints during the 19th Century.

The Old Testament of this edition differs from Challoner only slightly, but the New Testament is the McMahon New Testament of 1783, with upwards of another two hundred modifications to Challoner. This amounted to some 800 changes to the Challoner NT, not all of them improvements.

Geddes Old Testament (1792—1797/1807)

One of the more interesting works of Biblical translation to come out of Catholic circles in the late 18th Century was an incomplete Old Testament called: “The Holy Bible, or the Books accounted Sacred by Jews and Christians: otherwise called the Books of the Old and New Covenants: faithfully translated from corrected texts of the Originals. With various readings, Explanatory notes, and Critical remarks. By the Rev. Alexander Geddes.” Geddes only managed to publish the first two volumes before his death: Volume I, in 1792, a roughly 400-page volume covering Genesis to Joshua; Volume II, in 1797, of about the same length, covering Judges to Ruth, and the Prayer of Manasseh. His work on the Psalms was published posthumously, in 1807.

Geddes, a Scot was quite open to fellowship with Protestants, establishing a friendship with a clergyman of the Scotch Church, and even attending his public services, for which Geddes’ bishop suspended him, in 1779, from his ecclesial functions. Eschewing the common interpretation of the Council of Trent concerning the role of the Latin Vulgate in the life of the Church, Geddes eventually determined to translate his Bible from the original languages. He also explicitly determined not to seek ecclesial approbation, asserting that the judgment of whether his work possessed “intrinsic value” is one “for the learned public to determine: and if their determination be favorable, not the sentence of a whole synod of bishops can reverse it”. For a Catholic (or perhaps anyone) to assert that popular opinion holds greater weight than a synod of bishops in the judgment of Biblical translation is rather astonishing, and it comes as no surprise that Geddes’ work was not well received within the Church – it was, in fact, condemned. It was better received in non-Catholic circles.

Hay/Geddes/Robertson New Testament

JGeddes_1792NTThe first Catholic Bible published in English in Scotland was produced under Vicar Apostolic of the Lowland District George Hay, in 1792. This revision of the Challoner New Testament was edited by the Benedictine friar James Robertson, supervised by Hay’s coadjutor, Bishop John Geddes – not to be confused with his “cousin” Alexander Geddes, who began publishing his translation of the Old Testament from the Hebrew that same year. Prefiguring “expanded” translation, the work interposed explanatory words placed within brackets, such as in Matt 13:4: “some [of the seed] fell by the wayside”. This was a controversial revision (e.g. replacing penance with repentance in some places) which was not widely accepted. However, the Gospels and Acts were incorporated into a low-cost, portable (duodecimo) Bible published at Newcastle by the Reverend John Worswick in 1812, a pastiche of a work that uses Challoner’s translation for the Epistles and Apocalypse.

Haydock’s Bible (1811—14)

The Haydock Bible does not represent a new edition of the Biblical text, but relied upon an existing Challoner revision. It deserves mention because of the extensive annotations it brought to the text, and its pursuant considerable popularity. Originally published by Englishman Thomas Haydock in fascicles between 1811-1814, the voluminous annotations were provided by Haydock’s brother, Fr. George Leo Haydock, by Fr. Benjamin Rayment, and by others. Not all the notes were original to this version, as the editors liberally incorporated the notes of Challoner and other commentators over the preceding decades.

The work would be reprinted numerous times over the years, on both sides of the Atlantic. The annotations have come to be known as Haydock’s Commentary, as the notes are about twice the volume of the Biblical text. Now over two hundred years old, it was continuously in print for a century, and since the late 20th Century has been available again in various forms: both in print editions, and in electronic reproduction, where it is typically found as a public domain work consisting of only the commentary.

Lingard’s Four Gospels (1836)

Father John Lingard (1771-1851) was an English Catholic priest-scholar, whose translation of the gospels from Greek was originally published anonymously (1836), as ‘by a Catholic”. The work’s title obscures the fact that it is a translation directly from the Greek: “A New Version of The Four Gospels; with Notes Critical and Explanatory, by a Catholic “. After Lingard’s death in 1851, it was subsequently released in a second edition with his name attached. As a scholar, Lingard is best-known for his seminal history of England, originally published as an 8-volume work in 1819 called: “The History of England, From the First Invasion by the Romans to the Accession of Henry VIII”, which he later expanded, up to the accession of William & Mary in 1688. The primary thrust of the history is a demonstration of the damage done to England by the Reformation. It is still available in print, as is his Four Gospels. Lingard was a pioneer among Catholics in translating the New Testament directly from the Greek. His Four Gospels would influence Francis Kenrick.

Kenrick’s Challoner Revision (1849—1862)

Francis Patrick Kenrick (1797-1863), was an Irish-born priest, skilled in Greek and Hebrew, who was assigned to the Diocese of Bardstown, Kentucky, where he taught theology, history, and Greek at both Bardstown Seminary and the College of St. Joseph, until being called to become Bishop of Philadelphia in 1830. He was counted a leading Catholic theologian in mid-19th century America, who wrestled with some of the theories and approaches coming out of the new historical critical interpretation in Protestant Biblical scholarship. While in Philadelphia, in the 1840s, Bishop Kenrick undertook a revision of the Challoner version, which he completed after being translated to Baltimore as archbishop in 1851. His revision, along with extensive textual and interpretive commentary, was published in six volumes (4000+ pages) between 1849 and 1860:

  • The Four Gospels (1849);
  • The Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles of St. Paul, the Catholic Epistles, and the Apocalypse (1851)
  • The Psalms, Books of Wisdom, and Canticle of Canticles (1857)
  • The Book of Job, and the Prophets (1859)
  • The Pentateuch (1860)
  • The Historical Books of the Old Testament (1860)

A revised New Testament was subsequently published in 1862.

Kenrick undertook this revision of the Douay translation with the goal of defending the Vulgate against critics, as well as of providing the English-speaking Church with a more consonant and precise translation. His work was widely praised overall, but was met with criticism for being too open to “rationalist” approaches (especially in his voluminous marginal notes). His translation of metanoia as “repent” rather than the traditional “do penance” was a source of conflict with other bishops, as was his decision to translate baptizo as “immersion” – both of which seemed to give credence to Protestant positions in doctrinal controversies. Regarding his annotations, he defended himself thusly in the “General Introduction” to Volume II:

“The freedom with which I have quoted Protestant and Rationalistic authors may seem scarcely consistent with the Rules of the Index, which require that the annotations should be taken from the fathers, or from Catholic divines. The attentive reader will, however, observe, that in all matters of doctrine and moral instruction I draw from the purest fountains of orthodox faith, and that I avail myself of the testimonies of those who are outside the pale of the Church, only by way of acknowledgment on their part, or in matters purely critical, in which they have brought their stores of erudition and their natural acuteness of mind to the vindication of the sacred text.”

Bishop Kenrick’s translational philosophy was firmly in the camp that moderns would call formal equivalence. His defense of that approach, also given in his “General Introduction” to Volume II, might be without peer, and the paragraph deserves reprinting in full:

“I have endeavoured to be strictly literal, especially where the text was likely to be employed in matters of controversy, that no suspicion of bias might arise; so that in some few instances I have left the sense imperfect, rather than supply by conjecture anything, which might affect its doctrinal bearing. The value of the ancient translations arises precisely from their close character, which serves as an index to the reading of the text: but the difference of idiom and of construction should not be wholly disregarded. Where the meaning of the text is clear, the translator may present it divested of those anomalies which would render it harsh or unintelligible: but in cases of doubt, conjecture should not easily be indulged, especially in matters appertaining to doctrine. In such circumstances fidelity requires the closest adherence to the text, which may be illustrated by notes, according to the best judgment of the interpreter. Readers easily give the praise of excellence to a translation which is fluent and perspicuous, without reflecting that they may be misled by a guide who gives no intimation of the difficulties which embarrass himself in the choice of his own course. If there be a single passage in which the meaning of the sacred text is wilfully perverted, it is enough to involve the whole work in condemnation. A jot, or a letter, must not be taken from the law. The word of God must be preserved in its integrity. It is treason against the Supreme Majesty to change a word in a charter under the seal of the Great King. Not without a special design of Providence, the closing book of the sacred volume denounces woes to the man who shall take away from, or add to, the words of that prophecy; a threat which extends to all who adulterate the word of God, changing that which should remain inviolate, though heaven and earth pass away.

Bishop Kenrick also met criticism, primarily from within academic circles, for hewing too closely to the Latin Vulgate translation, particularly in the Old Testament. This was especially true concerning the Pentateuch, which Kenrick himself considered a problematic rendering into Latin by Jerome. But despite his stature as, by then, Archbishop of Baltimore, and thus the leading prelate in America, he needed to produce a work congruous enough with Catholic tradition that it could be accepted widely, not just among the adventurous or reform-minded. In the end, the American episcopacy was never able to completely embrace the Kenrick version, which was not widely printed, in no small part due to its size, in six substantial volumes. It would fade into obscurity following his death in 1863. Logos is currently trying to secure sufficient interest in the six-volume work to fund development of an electronic edition.

From Providentissimus to Divino Afflante Spiritu

Spencer New Testament (1897/1937)

American Dominican Fr. Francis Aloysius Spencer began his translation work with a well-received translation of the Gospels from the Vulgate, initiated in 1894 and published in 1897. The following year, he published an equally well-received translation of the Gospels from the Greek: The Four Gospels – A New Translation from the Greek text with a Reference to the Vulgate and the Ancient Syriac Version. Spencer continued translating the rest of the New Testament books from the Greek, completing the work shortly before his death in 1913. He generally used Hebrew transliteration forms to spell Hebrew proper names, rather than the Greek forms typical in Catholic Bibles at the time. He also italicized the spoken words of Jesus, and used small caps to identify Old Testament quotations or allusions in the New Testament.

This work represented the first translation, by an American Catholic, of the entire New Testament into English from the Greek. The work was later edited by fellow Dominican Frs. Charles J. Callan and John A. McHugh, and published in a single, annotated edition by Macmillan in 1937 as: The New Testament of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ Translated into English from the Original Greek.

Westminster Version of the Sacred Scriptures (1913—1949)

The Westminster Version was a British effort led by Jesuit Fr. Cuthbert Lattey (1877-1954), which, if completed, would have been the first complete Catholic Bible in English translated from the original languages. The New Testament was released in fascicles, from 1913 through 1935. A complete New Testament was published in 1948. All the New Testament releases were published in London by Longmans, Green and Co.

Fascicles of Old Testament books began appearing in 1934, with continued periodic releases until 1953, after which the death of Fr. Lattey effectively brought the project to a close. During that period, several publishers were engaged to publish Westminster translations of twelve of the forty-six Old Testament books: nine of the twelve Minor Prophets (excluding Hosea, Joel, Amos), Daniel, Ruth, and Psalms. In 1958, Hawthorne Book Publishers (Caxton Publishing in the US) released a single-volume “Family Bible” which contained the Westminster translations of the New Testament and Psalms, and used the Challoner version for the remainder of the Old Testament. Overall, the Westminster translation is considered competent but stylistically overly archaic.

The Confraternity Versions (1941—1969)

In 1893, Pope Leo XIII published the encyclical Providentissimus Deus, which called for the prudent appropriation of “scientific” methods of Biblical literary study that had emerged since the Enlightenment. By 1936, this invitation had prompted work on a revision of Bishop Challoner’s New Testament, using the Clementine Vulgate as a primarily translation source. In 1941, this revised New Testament was published with the Challoner Old Testament by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) in America. A corresponding revision of the Old Testament was permanently suspended, however, when Pope Pius XII issued his 1943 encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu, which called for Catholic Biblical translations directly from the best original language manuscripts (rather than re-translating from the Latin Vulgate translation, as had generally been the case until then).

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, as the translation committee, the Catholic Biblical Association of America (CBA), completed translating sections of the Old Testament from original language texts, three transitional editions of the “Confraternity” Bible were published, containing the 1941 Confraternity New Testament, and an eclectic Old Testament text consisting of some books newly translated by the CBA, and other books belonging to the Challoner Vulgate translation. These new CBA translations of the Old Testament books from the original languages would, once completed, become re-branded as the Old Testament of the New American Bible, published in 1970. The new CBA translations were completed in four sections:

  • 1952: Vol. 1 – Genesis to Ruth
  • 1955: Vol. 2 – The Sapiential Books: Job to Sirach.
  • 1961: Vol. 4 – The Prophetic Books: Isaiah to Malachi
  • 1969: Vol. 3 – Samuel-Maccabees [these last books would never be released in a “Confraternity Bible edition, but only as books belonging to the New American Bible]

None of the translation work produced under the auspices of the Confraternity over those 35 years between 1936 and 1970 is currently available in either print or electronic form, although plenty of printed Confraternity Bibles from the period are still around, as are the occasional copies of the original NAB.

The Knox Version (1945/1950)

At about the same time the CCD in America was preparing its revision of the Challoner translation of the Vulgate New Testament, an Englishman and Anglican convert to Catholicism, Monsignor Ronald Knox, was producing a much more dynamic translation of the Vulgate, which would be very well-received. He released a New Testament translation in 1945; the entire Bible was released in 1950 as: The Holy Bible: A Translation From the Latin Vulgate in the Light of the Hebrew and Greek Originals.

Unfortunately for the fate of this work, it was while Knox was engaged in translating it that Pope Pius XII had urged Catholic scholars to produce translation from the original languages. Knox’s version would thus soon be overshadowed by those original language translations. The Knox translation received considerable exposure in America as the version preferred by Venerable Fulton Sheen during the time of his television presentation ministry. It is available again in print and on-line, but not as an ebook.

The 20th Century after Divino

Kleist–Lilly New Testament (1954)

Published posthumously by Bruce Publishing, this edition was a collaboration between two American priests in translating the New Testament from the original Greek in the immediate wake of Divino Afflante Spiritu: the German-born James Aloysius Kleist, S.J. (1873-1949), and Joseph L. Lilly, C.M. (1893-1952).

Kleist produced the Gospels, generally considered the better part of the work. He began his translation work after the promulgation of Divino Afflante Spiritu in September 1943, using as a source text the Greek of J. M. Bover’s Greek/Latin New Testament (Madrid, 1943). He’d finished the Gospels by Christmas, 1948, the year before his death, so the work was completed in about four years. Lilly, working from the same source text, produced the remainder of the NT, although parts of Acts appear to have been taken from the Confraternity New Testament, suggesting that Lilly may not have completed the work before his death in 1952.

The aim of the translation was to produce a modern language version for Catholics, using dynamic equivalence and “common language” techniques. Verse numbering is pushed to the margins, without precise division markings within the text. The notes for the Four Gospels in this edition are largely the work of the Rev. Henry Willmering, S.J. Fr. Lilly provided his own notes for the books he translated. This work was not widely adopted, but is quite accessible to the modern ear compared to the Confraternity New Testament published the previous decade.

Grail Psalter (1963)

In 1963, an English lay women’s community, called The Ladies of the Grail, published a dynamic English translation of the Psalms from the recently published French La Bible de Jerusalem. The Psalms were crafted for chanting to the music of French liturgical composer Joseph Gelineau. This work became widely used in other settings, as it was incorporated into the Lectionaries of Great Britain and Australia, as well as into the English edition of the Liturgy of the Hours adopted worldwide, where it continues to be used to this day. While the translators took some liberties at times for the sake of lyricism, the accentuated cadences of their metrical style render the Psalms very fitting for singing, chanting, or prayer.

Jerusalem Bible (1966)

Following Pope Pius XII’s call for original language translations of the Bible in 1943, French Dominicans at the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem produced the well-received La Bible de Jerusalem, published in whole in 1956. The British Catholic Biblical Association, under General Editor Alexander Jones (1906-1970) of Christ’s College (Liverpool), produced a derivative edition in English, published in 1966 as the Jerusalem Bible (JB). The JB was the first complete Catholic Bible published that had been translated from the original languages.

While the text is mostly a fresh translation of the Biblical text into English from original language manuscripts using a dynamic equivalence approach, it was compared to the French, and follows it closely. The extensive annotations and introductions were translated directly from the French edition. The “dynamic” approach placed a priority on the work’s readability in English, and little concern was given to maintaining “traditional” Biblical language – preferring to appeal to modern prejudices. The work famously employed contributions from such literary luminaries as J. R. R. Tolkien. It was published (by Doubleday in the US) in a single-column format, with verse numbering relegated to the gutter, and ample cross-references populating the outside margins, aligned to the relevant referent.

The JB is notable for the use of “Yahweh” as an attempted transliteration of the Divine Name as recorded in the Hebrew (which, traditionally, is rendered “the Lord”). This renders the work unsuitable for liturgical use, according to current norms. Excepting the Psalms, for which the Grail Psalms were substituted, the JB  was adopted vernacular liturgical text for the Mass in Great Britain and Australia following the Second Vatican Council. In light of that, England’s Catholic Truth Society publishes a print Bible containing the JB with the Grail Psalms, and since 2007, these editions have replaced the word “Yahweh” with “the Lord”, in compliance with new liturgical norms. Electronic editions of the JB are lacking.

Revised Standard Version—Catholic Edition (1966)

The Revised Standard Version is not a Catholic Bible, but has direct lineage from the Protestant “Authorized Version”, or King James Version. The Authorized Version (published in 1611) predominated for almost three centuries, until the Revised Version was produced in England between 1881-1885. An Americanized version of that revision (but without the Apocrypha) was published in 1905 as the American Standard Version. That was a very formal but somewhat wooden translation, soon put to revision itself, published as the Revised Standard Version by an ecumenical consortium of mainstream American Protestant churches: the New Testament in 1946; the Old Testament in 1952; and the Apocrypha in 1957.

A “Catholic Edition” of the RSV New Testament was published in 1965 by the Catholic Biblical Association of Great Britain. Differences in the Catholic edition largely consisted of swapping primary and marginal readings in the original RSV NT text, which had relegated to the margins a number of words or verses considered of questionable authenticity by many textual scholars of the day, but which were accepted as genuine by the Catholic tradition. When the New Testament of the RSV itself was shortly thereafter revised in 1971, it would incorporate many of the corrections made by the Catholic revisers in 1965. In 1966, a “Catholic edition” of the RSV Old Testament was prepared, which simply placed the Deuterocanonical books within the Old Testament in canonical order, and eliminated the rest of the Apocrypha.

A full “Catholic” RSV Bible was thus published in 1966 as the Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSV-CE), with imprimaturs from Archbishop Gordon Joseph Gray of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh, and Bishop Peter W. Bartholome of Saint Cloud Minnesota. Out of print for several years, it was re-published in 1994 by Ignatius Press, and has since been released by several other publishers as well. Logos publishes an electronic edition, which is embedded with reverse interlinear functionality. This version remains very popular among serious Catholic students of the Bible.

New American Bible (1970)

By 1970, the Catholic Biblical Association of America (CBA) had completed their original language translations of the Old Testament books, which had been being released in stages within “Confraternity” Bibles since 1952. The books of the Jewish canon were translated primarily from the Masoretic text, except for Psalms, which was translated from the then-current edition of the Latin Psalter. The books of the Deuterocanon were mostly translated from ancient Greek manuscripts, but Sirach was translated in large part from Hebrew fragments.

The CBA had also completed a brand-new translation of the New Testament, directly from Greek manuscripts – primarily relying on the 25th edition of the Nestle-Aland critical text.

This work was collectively re-branded and released in 1970 as the New American Bible (NAB). In terms of translational approach, the NAB seems to split the difference between an exacting, formal equivalence approach, and a more dynamic, easy-to-follow approach, with a stated aim to “convey as directly as possible the thought and individual style of the inspired writers.” It was published with extensive explanatory notes and cross-references, although the notes often wade into academic theories concerning matters of so-called higher criticism, which are of dubious value to the common Catholic reader, and for which the CBA has taken some criticism.

This translation became the basis for the liturgical readings in the US published in the Lectionary revision of 1970, as well as for the English edition of the Liturgy of the Hours (excluding the psalms) published in the US in 1975. Electronic editions containing any part of the 1970 translation disappeared from the market after the release of the NABRE version in 2011.

Alba House New Testament (1970)

A loose, simplified, highly colloquial “modern language” translation of the Gospels from the Greek “prepared” by Kevin Condon, published by Alba House in 1970 as The Alba House New Testament, The Accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  An Irish edition was published (also 1970) by Mercier Press as The Mercier New Testament. It was subsequently republished in 1972 by Pyramid Books as New Testament for the New World. Note that, despite the book names, this work consists only of the four Gospels. The work is based on a German edition published in 1964 called Das Neue Testament für Menschen Unserer Zeit. There are no annotations, but roughly 100 full-page photographs are employed to provide artistic reference to the text, as are frequent section headings consisting of snippets of modern poetry. The opening verse of Matthew’s “Account” is given thusly: “This book tells the story of Jesus Christ. By his family-tree Jesus was descended from King David, who was himself descended from the patriarch Abraham.” This work should not be confused with the Alba House New Testament translated by Mark Wauck and published a couple decades later.

New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

A thorough revision of the French Bible de Jerusalem was published in 1973, prompting a revision of its English cousin, the Jerusalem Bible. Led by English Benedictine Fr. Henry Wansbrough, the New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) was published in 1985. As with its predecessor, the annotations and introductions were generally taken directly from the French edition. The translation is less reliant linguistically on the French edition than the JB had been, but it continues to be interpretively guided by the French.

This more “formal” revision was less paraphrastic and colloquial than the JB, and more attentive to linguistic consistency, so as to better reflect and illuminate the underlying texts. That being said, it incorporated genderless or gender-neutral terms rather liberally, as was the fashion of the day.

The NJB retains the use of “Yahweh” for the Divine Name, making it unsuitable for liturgical use. The format follows that of the JB, using a single column presentation, with verse numbering in the gutter, cross-references placed tactically in the margins, and ample footnotes presented in two columns at the bottoms of each right-hand page. Besides the Standard Edition, the publisher (Doubleday in the US, Darton, Longman & Todd in the UK) also publishes a Reader’s Edition, which strips out most annotations. The NJB is also available electronically, without the Standard Edition annotations.

New American Bible with Revised New Testament (1986)

A revision of the NAB New Testament was begun in 1978, quite soon after the 1970 publication date of the original edition. Translated from the 3rd edition of the UBS critical Greek text, the revision would be somewhat less creative and more “formal” in its translation approach, less colloquial in its vocabulary, and better suited for public proclamation in the liturgy. It was published in 1986 as the New American Bible with Revised New Testament. Although more formal, this revision also somewhat adopted the “inclusive language” trend gaining popularity at the time, as did a subsequent revision of the NAB Psalms released in 1991. It remains the current New Testament text of the NAB today, and has been incorporated into most liturgical texts, apart from the Liturgy of the Hours.

Christian Community Bible (1988—2015)

The CCB is the English language entry in a network of simplified translations, used in the Catholic missions, which are all linked to the work of Bernando Hurault (1924-2004), a French Claretian missionary who was stationed in Chile in the 1960s. Hurault developed his own Spanish language translation to assist the poor he served, using a loose translation approach that simplified the text. This he published in 1971 as La Biblia Latinoamericana, heavily annotating the text with a pastoral commentary drawing on his homilies and on the life situation of the oppressed poor he lived among, informed by the “theology of liberation” that was in ascendency at the time in European universities and in third-world slums and pueblos.

The work was outlawed as Marxist agitprop by some of the repressive right-wing regimes in the Spanish-speaking south, and by the mid-1980s, Hurault was living in the Philippines, where a fellow Claretian missionary, Argentinian-born Alberto Rossa, convinced Hurault (who did not know English) to produce an English-language version of his Bible, which would incorporate his commentary. After spending four months learning English, Hurault at least symbolically oversaw an 18-month effort to produce the Christian Community Bible, published in 1988 by the Rossa-managed Claretian Publications. The primary editor of the work has been identified as Sr. Patricia Grogan, an Australian Sister of the Faithful Companions of Jesus, who had otherwise published a couple histories of her order, and who had served as principal of the order’s teacher training school, the Sedgley Park College of Education in Manchester, England.

The resulting work was, not surprisingly, uneven at best as Biblical translation, but did succeed in promulgating Hurault’s teachings to millions of its target audience: poorly educated, third-world Catholics who speak English as a second language.

The publisher, currently known as the Pastoral Bible Foundation, claims that edits and corrections are on-going (e.g. a 60th edition was published in 2015); a version history is not readily available. Mostly distributed in so-called mission lands, and not widely available in print in the USA, the CCB is available online from or

New Revised Standard Version–Catholic Edition (1990)

The “Catholic Edition” NRSV-CE appears to contain the identical text as the standard “common” edition of the NRSV, only rearranged so that the Deuterocanonical books are placed within their canonical order (also: the books of the Apocrypha which are not in the Catholic canon are eliminated). Published in 1989, the original New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) is an “ecumenical” successor to and revision of the RSV, updating the text in light of advances in textual criticism and studies (such as the availability of much of the Dead Sea Scrolls, among others). It eliminates archaic pronouns, and introduces “gender-neutral language” on a scale that has made it something of a poster child for that movement. Excepting the inaccuracies and circumlocutions inevitably produced by subordinating accuracy to gender-sensitive conformism, this is a largely formal equivalence translation that has managed to smooth out the English nicely.

Widely accepted within academia, it has not found the same welcome in ecclesial circles. The NRSV was rejected for liturgical use by the Orthodox Church in America in 1990. The “New Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition” was prepared and submitted to the American and Canadian Catholic bishops’ conferences, but it was likewise rejected for liturgical use in 1994 – by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith! – although the Canadian bishops (CCCB) continue to use an approved modified version of it in their Lectionary, and the USCCB has approved the NRSV-CE for personal use.

Print editions of the NRSV-CE exist in both standard (American) and Anglicized editions, and several nice Study Bible editions of the “common” NRSV are available in print. The standard NRSV with Apocrypha is also widely available electronically, although only Logos appears to also offer it in an NRSV-CE arrangement. The Logos editions of the NRSV and NRSV-CE include a wonderful reverse interlinear layer (dependent upon purchased functional ability in the program itself), tagging the English text with analytical information from the corresponding original language source text, including the manuscript and lemma forms of the words, their morphology, transliteration, original word order indicators, links to corresponding lexical entries, etc. These are among the most useful editions for Catholics looking to do serious Bible study, despite the clumsy and annoying gender-silliness of the translation.

New American Bible with Revised New Testament & Psalms (1991)

This 1991 New American Bible with revised New Testament and Psalms was the basis for the liturgical readings submitted for approval in a proposed revised Lectionary during the 1990s, a text which met with resistance from the Roman Congregation for Divine Worship, owing primarily to concerns over obscurities and inaccuracies introduced by adopting “inclusive language” priorities. The 1991 revised Psalms played no small part in that concern. This conflict resulted in some re-working of the English text for the eventual 1998/2002 Lectionary. When the remainder of the NAB Old Testament was finally published in revision in 2011, the 1991 revised Psalms would be replaced by a third translation.

Books of the New Testament (1994)

A solo translation by Mark Wauck, published originally by Alba House; the complete New Testament was published in 1994. This work is listed on the USCCB website among “Approved Translations of the Sacred Scriptures for Private Use and Study by Catholics”. It was republished in 2000 by Pauline Books and Media as New Testament: St. Paul Catholic Edition.

At least in the Pauline edition, it offers a unique presentation, with single-column text framed on heavy, colorful pastel pages sporting abundant photos and other graphics. It has 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 very direct, and noticeably conversational in tone, for example in its liberal use of contractions. This is an odd stylistic juxtaposition, but it works overall to produce a warm yet impressive edition.

Very useful as a secondary translation of the NT, it appears to be out of print, and no electronic editions of this version exist.

The 21st Century

Revised Standard Version—Second Catholic Edition (2006)

A “Second Catholic Edition” of the RSV (RSV2CE), released in 2006, was undertaken by Ignatius Press, primarily to eliminate archaic pronouns referring to God (Thee, Thou, etc.), but also with an eye toward tweaking the text for possible use in the liturgy. To that end, the revision was submitted to Rome for editing guidance in light of Liturgiam Authenticam. It is published in print in limited formats. It is also available digitally in Logos format, to which reverse-interlinear tagging has recently been added. It is the underlying text for the Ignatius Version of the Didache Study Bible, as well as for the in-progress Ignatius Catholic Study Bible.

Many conservative Catholics in America have been holding out hope over the past decade that this version will become a standard Biblical text in English, particularly in the liturgy. While I appreciate the sentiment, I’m not expecting the USCCB to adopt this translation.

New Community Bible: Catholic Edition (2008—2012)

The NCB is a version created by missionaries of the Society of Saint Paul in India. 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 English of the CCB was improved upon for this revision, but this remains very much a simplified language Bible, subject to all the criticisms that implies. It is heavily annotated like its predecessor, but for this revision, Bernando Hurault’s commentary was re-written, resulting in annotations that are more academic and somewhat less “pastoral”. It nonetheless created considerable controversy in India upon publication in 2008.

Some of the annotations tried to relate the Biblical story to the life situation and traditions of the Indian population it was written for, which offended both some Indian Catholics critical of what they saw as the new commentary’s syncretized appropriation of Hindu and other “world” religions, as well as nationalistic Hindus who viewed the work as culturally aggressive. The Indian Bishops’ Conference withdrew the work from publication, and then re-issued a lightly revised version in 2011. The work was subsequently released in 2012 in an “International Edition” by the Society of Saint Paul in Australia, where it is gaining readership. It 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.

Catholic Public Domain Version (2009)

Translated solo by Ronald L. Conte, Jr., the CPDV is a modern translation of Clementine Vulgate, using the Challoner revision of the Douay-Rheims as a literary guide. The translator calls it a “fairly literal” translation of the Vulgate, somewhat less literal than the Challoner revision had been. It was consciously translated in the light of Catholic teaching (i.e. the analogy of faith, cf. CCC #114), and with a view toward illuminating the Christological elements of the Old Testament texts (cf. CCC #112). This stands in contrast to the tendency within many modern versions to translate the Old Testament as if it did not bear a necessary and defining relationship to the New Testament. The obfuscations of “inclusive language” were “carefully avoid[ed]” in translating the text.

Conte sought to provide an up-to-date English version in the Latin textual tradition, which he correctly views as a perfectly relevant companion stream to those of the other ancient languages (Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic/Syriac). It was published in full, without copyright, in 2009, and is available for some freeware Bible Study apps, in Kindle & ePub formats, in paperback, and online in both English-only and English-Latin formats at Conte’s website:

Revised Grail Psalter (2010)

An initial attempt at revision of the Grail Psalms was rejected for liturgical use by the US Bishops in 1984. In 1993, a second attempted revision, called The Grail Psalter (Inclusive Language Version) was likewise rejected for liturgical use, although that 1993 edition, published by GIA, is listed by the USCCB as being approved for personal use.

However, in 2008, Benedictine Abbot Gregory Polan of Conception Abbey (Missouri) completed a new revision, and sent the text to the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship for formal recognitio. A mildly updated text was returned with recognitio in March of 2009, and was published as The Revised Grail Psalter late in the year. This version 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 incorporating the Psalms. It is published by GIA in editions for either recitation or singing.

New American Bible Revised Edition (2011)

Following the 1991 publication of a revised NAB Psalter, the CBA began revising the rest of the NAB Old Testament in 1994, using a source text strategy similar to the one used for the 1970 edition. The initial translation work was completed in 2002. Between 2002 and 2008, the CBA and oversight bodies within the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops exchanged drafts of the work. The CBA was concurrently attempting to produce a revision of the 1991 Psalter suitable for liturgical use, but by the end of 2008, the bishops had instead elected to adopt a revision of the Grail Psalter for future liturgical use. With the 1991 Psalter likewise being considered unacceptable for incorporation into the new translation, a third edition of the Psalms was undertaken during 2009-2010, and incorporated into the Old Testament that had otherwise been ready for publication since 2008. The New American Bible, Revised Old Testament was approved for private use and study on the Feast of St. Jerome (September 30), 2010.

Like the 1986 revised New Testament, the revised Old Testament is somewhat more formal in translation than the text it replaced, and, if some questionable decisions were taken, it is, overall, an improvement over the 1970 text. The improvement over the anemic 1991 Psalter is substantial.

The now entirely revised NAB (1986 NT, 2010 OT), was released on Ash Wednesday of 2011 (March 9th) as the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE). At this point, the publicly available NAB Biblical text and the various liturgical texts based on the NAB have become significantly un-aligned with each other, but a version re-convergence is happily targeted for 2025.

An important advance in the NABRE’s usability for serious Scripture study was made recently in the Logos/Verbum edition of the NABRE, which now has embedded reverse interlinear functionality in certain packages or subscriptions.

Nicolas King Bible (2004—2013)

Jesuit Fr. Nicholas King has recently completed a fresh, annotated, literal translation of the entire Bible from Greek. This entailed a translation of the Greek New Testament (published in 2004) followed by a translation of the Septuagint Greek Old Testament, released in four volumes over the intervening years, until completion of the entire work in 2013. It is published in England by Kevin Mayhew in five volumes, or as a single volume marketed simply as The Bible.

Since this is a (Roman) Catholic Bible, and not a pure translation of the Septuagint, there are several books normally found in the LXX which are not found here. Unfortunately, that apparently includes the sixth and final chapter of the book of Baruch. In the LXX, Baruch contains only five chapters; the content of that which Catholic Bibles identify as the sixth chapter of Baruch is, in the LXX, a single-chapter book called The Letter of Jeremiah. The translator appears to have forgotten to attach that text as the final chapter of Baruch.

New Catholic Version (2002/2015)

The New Catholic Version is a high-quality, thoroughly annotated, formal equivalence translation from Catholic Book Publishing, marketed under their Saint Joseph Edition moniker. The Psalms were published in 2002, followed by the New Testament in 2015. It is a new, independent translation, not beholden to older traditions, and willing to go against the grain at times, but eschewing the vulgarizing tendencies of many modern translations to flatten the rich vocabulary of Biblical tradition into pedestrian and vague dullness, or to surrender literary precision and clarity to identity politics. Fidelity to the revealed Word was clearly a translational priority.

Public background information on the effort is sparse, other than that the translation team was led by Conventual Franciscan Fr. Jude Winkler, who has authored other works for CBP. It is not clear if the publisher intends to produce an accompanying translation of the rest of the Old Testament.

Ironically, this New Jersey publishing house received its ecclesial permission to publish from the Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines. The Psalms are listed among the approved translations on the USCCB website (the New Testament is likely too new to have been considered). Currently each of the two works is published in vest pocket and standard format editions, and no electronic editions exist.

Revised New Jerusalem Bible (2018)

The Revised New Jerusalem Bible is the third in the “Jerusalem Bible” line of translations. It is a revision of the New Jerusalem Bible, prepared under the same editor (the English monk Dom Henry Wansbrough of Ampleforth Abbey). The Revised New Jerusalem Bible New Testament and Psalms was released in mid-February 2018. The Psalter is a departure from the JB tradition, as the editors have incorporated a lightly edited edition of the 2010 Revised Grail Psalter instead. The work continues the trend in this family of translations toward a more formal approach. Consistent with the earlier versions, it presents the text in an easy-to-read single-column format, with verse numbering relegated to the gutter, frequent descriptive section headers, and ample cross references in the margins, next to their referent. Like its predecessors, it is thoroughly annotated, but notes are presented in two columns at the bottom of the page they refer to, unlike the earlier practice of putting all notes on the right-hand page. The remainder of the Old Testament is scheduled to follow in October 2018

Other Non-Catholic Versions Issued in “Catholic Editions”

The Living Bible (1976)

The Living Bible is not a translation, but a paraphrase of an older English translation (the 1901 American Standard Version), written by a Baptist layman, Kenneth Taylor. It originated in paraphrasing Taylor prepared to help teach his children the Bible. Sensing the publishing potential of the paraphrases, he founded Tyndale House to publish his work, culminating in the complete “Living Bible” in 1971, which sold very well. By 1976, Our Sunday Visitor had produced similar paraphrases of the Deuterocanonical books, which were combined with Taylor’s work in a “Complete Catholic Edition” of an illustrated edition called The Way, which appended the Deuterocanonicals after the New Testament. Editions containing only the Protestant canon are still available in print and electronically, but I don’t believe the “Catholic” edition is still published. This work was more widely criticized even than most of the other “easy-to-read” versions for the liberties taken in presenting the meaning of the sacred text.

Today’s English Version/Good News Translation (1979/1992)

This rather loosely-translated, multi-named Bible, published by the American Bible Society (ABS), first appeared as a New Testament in 1966 called Good News for Modern Man. The (Protestant) Old Testament was added in 1976, after which it was mostly known as the Good News Bible, and/or Today’s English Version (TEV). Since 1979, it has also been published with an Apocrypha section, sometimes in so-called “Catholic Editions”, but that designation has typically meant only that the edition contained the full complement of books. Footnotes and cross-references are sparse.

Beyond being a paraphrastic translation, the TEV abandons traditional Biblical vocabulary in favor of what the editors deem “everyday” English, language common to both native speakers and those for whom English is an adopted tongue. Essentially, it is geared toward those with middle school level reading skills and vocabulary. This makes for easy reading, but it tends to flatten Biblical doctrines, and can be quite pedestrian as literature.

The work seems more focused on re-telling the religious stories than re-presenting the sacred word. In the view of some, this approach makes the Bible seem more accessible, especially to the less educated, although one hopes that those folks will eventually educate themselves through exposure to translations both more rigorous and more informed by an understanding of the Scriptures as verbally inspired revelation. The lead translator, Robert G. Brachter, made numerous public statements over the years dismissive of both the doctrines of Biblical inerrancy and orthodox Christology, causing the American Bible Society to lose financial support.

Republished in a second edition in 1992 with revisions adopting the de-gendered language tendency in academic ascendency at the time, that edition was ultimately re-branded as the “Good News Translation” (GNT) to battle the perception that it was more a paraphrase than a translation. Widely available electronically, sometimes containing the “Apocrypha”. The second edition has been approved for personal use by the USCCB.

Contemporary English Version (1995)

The Contemporary English Version is another loosely translated, limited vocabulary, “common language” translation from the American Bible Society, this one aiming at an even lower level of language skills than the TEV/GNT. Published in the 1995, the effort was led by Barclay M. Newman, who has made no secret of his view that when modern notions of correctness conflict with a literal reading of Scripture, the modern view should prevail – and this approach is not limited to the now almost ubiquitous genderless terminology. The translation eliminates words like covenant, salvation, grace, justification, and other fundamental Biblical ideas. Addressing what the editors saw as widespread literacy challenges, the translation team was directed to pay particular attention to how the text would be experienced by hearers, not just readers.

Several CEV editions containing the Apocrypha are available in print, and sometimes bear the label “Catholic”. Somehow, the CEV New Testament and Psalms have been approved by the US Catholic Bishops for personal use. It was also the textual basis for the Lectionary for Masses with Children that was in use on a “trial” basis in many parishes for several years around the turn of the 21st Century. Often packaged as youth or children’s Bibles, this highly paraphrastic translation represents, at best, a stepping stone for beginning speakers of English to the sublime treasure of Biblical language.

New Living Translation Catholic Edition (2002/2017)

The New Living Translation (NLT) is a revision of Kenneth Taylor’s 1971 Living Bible paraphrase. Although improving upon many dubious readings from the Living Bible, this revision remains both very colloquial and imprecise, aimed at readers with minimal reading skills, and little familiarity with the Bible. The editors claim it is a dynamic equivalence (thought-for-thought) translation, and not just a rehashing of the Living Bible paraphrase, but a comparison of the two makes it plainly evident that the Taylor text is the basis of the NLT, and I think revision is probably the proper term for it, despite the extent of the changes. It is clearly designed to be warm and easy-to-read, but such an approach tends to stress the story at the expense of the Word, and the NLT is no exception to that rule.

The NLT itself has been published under three copyrights: 1996, 2004, and 2015. Tyndale published an initial “Catholic Edition” of their NLT in 2002, which incorporated the Deuterocanonical books, in their proper placement, but no ecclesiastical approval was sought for publishing it as a “Catholic” Bible. That edition, based on original 1996 NLT, was called the New Living Translation Catholic Reference Edition.

Following an effort by Indian Catholic biblical scholars to evaluate and correct the NLT, a “Catholic Edition”, intended for missionary work, was published in Bangalore by Tyndale in conjunction with the Asian Trading Company. This “Catholic” edition is based on the second edition of the NLT (2004). It is expected to be published in the U.S. by October, 2017.

The Message: Catholic/Ecumenical Edition (2013)

The Message is an unapologetically paraphrastic retelling of the Biblical story written by a single author (Eugene H. Peterson), published between 1993 and 2002. This version makes no real attempt to re-present the sacred words of the Scriptures in English, but merely, as the title of the work itself suggests, to convey the message allegedly being delivered through the instrumentality of the words. Such an approach, of course, is highly interpretive at best, and at worst entails presuming to know the mind of God, but it’s really no more offensive than sermonizing, although sermons are rarely represented as if they were the Bible itself. Nonetheless, it is a well-intentioned work aimed at making the Bible accessible to those disengaged from it. In 2013, a “Catholic/Ecumenical” edition of The Message was published, incorporating similar paraphrases of the Deuterocanonical books, translated from the 1988 “Neo Vulgate” (Nova Vulgata) by William Griffin.


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  • Comfort, Philip W. The Complete Guide to Bible Versions: Revised & Expanded. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1996.
  • Cotton, Henry. Rhemes and Doway. An Attempt to Shew What Has Been Done by Roman Catholics for the Diffusion of the Holy Scriptures in English. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1855.
  • Eadie, John. The English Bible: An External and Critical History of the Various English Translations of Scripture, with Remarks on the Need of Revising the English New Testament. Two Volumes. London: Macmillan and Co., 1876.
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  • Turnbull, Michael T. R. B. “Bishop John Geddes, Robert Burns and Dr Alexander Geddes”. The Innes Review. 67.1 (2016): 55-61
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