Study Bibles for Catholics

Catholics today have a wealth of appropriate Study Bibles available to assist us in our investigation into the Word of God in Sacred Scripture. These include both study editions of Catholic Bibles, as well as editions of “ecumenical” Bibles prepared for a broad audience of Christian students of the Word.

This article examines the available options, providing a brief overview of each edition. The editions are grouped according to the translation serving as their textual basis. We’ll look first at the study editions available for the US Bishops’ own current translation (New American Bible, Revised Edition), then, in turn, at study editions based on the more literal translations of the Revised Standard Version (RSV) and New Revised Standard Versions (NRSV), and then at a couple of dynamic equivalence translations produced by Catholics which, even if they are not Study Bibles strictly speaking, are published with significant annotations. Closing out the list is a fairly recent Study Bible from the Orthodox Church in America.

NABRE–based Study Bibles

Catholic Study Bible

Oxford University Press, 2,560 pgs. Medium typeface (8pt text/6pt notes) on thin paper, sporting adequate margins. The volume is based on the current NABRE text, with its extensive footnotes and cross-references, which are presented in two columns below the two-column Biblical text, set off with a mere single line of white space. The cross-references presentation is cramped and difficult to use. The publisher’s contribution, over and above the standard NABRE annotations, is primarily a 525-page “Reader’s Guide” section of general articles and book introductions, appended before the Biblical text. A very limited amount of additional material appears within the main body of the text. The 2016 third edition replaces or updates the Reading Guide articles from previous editions, which date back to 1990 and an earlier version of the NAB. The work includes a 15-page glossary, Sunday and weekday Lectionary schedules, and Oxford maps. Some editions contain a concise concordance. 9 x 6.25 x 2 inches. 3.6 lbs. Hardcover lists for $50; buy from $35.

Catholic Bible: Personal Study Edition

Oxford University Press, 2,464 pgs. Medium typeface (8pt text/6pt notes) on thin paper, with adequate margins. Very similar to Oxford’s Catholic Study Bible, but with a re-worked, shorter, and somewhat simplified “Reader’s Guide” section, which in this edition includes “At-a-Glance” sections summarizing each Biblical book. The work also contains an expanded glossary,  a 95-page concordance, Sunday and weekday Lectionary schedule, and new Oxford maps. It seems to contain slightly more comments and helps within the text sections than does the larger edition, but it still adds mostly just the Reader’s Guide section. 9 x 6.25 x 2 inches. 3.5 lbs. Hardcover lists for $50; buy from $35.

Didache Bible: NABRE

Midwest Theological Forum, 2,506 pgs. This is a remarkable edition. It takes the NABRE text, with all its attendant study notes and cross-references, and then layers on top of that all the Catechism-informed study material from the RSV-2CE-based Didache Bible. Like some other newer editions, it uses a bit of color to mark off different sections of the page, and it also puts some helps into shaded boxes, though this practice is more restrained than with, say, the Little Rock edition. The typeface is a little more generous than some other editions at 9.5pt/8.5pt (text/notes). The margins are modest. The cross-references presentation, although given a bit more space than in many NABREs, lacks a referring verse reference. Overall, this is a comprehensive and useful study edition in an elegant, modern presentation. 9 x 6 inches. $45 hardcover.

Little Rock Catholic Study Bible

Liturgical Press, 2,668 pgs. This edition augments the extensive NAB translation annotations with numerous colored shaded-box sidebars, charts, and inserts. It also similarly visually isolates the translation’s cross-references into the outer margin, making them somewhat easier to follow than in most NAB layouts. It also contains numerous drawings and photos. The margins are adequate, at least apart from areas used for cross-references, and fan tabs with book names coupled with book/chapter identifiers on the outside edge of page headers make finding passages efficient. Perhaps more of a practical/devotional Study Bible than an academic one, the cutesiness and coloration may be off-putting to some, but there is a lot of added value in this hefty edition. 6 3/8 x 8 7/8 inches. 3.88 lbs. $50 hardcover.

Anselm Academic Study Bible: New American Bible Revised Edition

St. Mary’s Press, 2,140 pgs. This modest edition augments the NAB annotations with ~100 pages of articles, additional introductions for each book, and some background-style content within the main body, including: photographs, charts, maps, fan tabs, etc. The additional editorial content shares the historical-critical sensibilities of the translation annotations. It provides only modest margins, but otherwise the page layout is possibly the best I’ve seen in an NAB Bible for readability – especially the cross-references. The use of dark blue text instead of bolding for navigational elements in the text is attractive. However, the 8pt body text (and even smaller notes) is on the smaller end for books in this class. It has at least 400 fewer pages than the other NABRE study editions noted here, but if that minimalist approach is acceptable, this would make a very nice working NABRE Bible for those who don’t need larger print. 9 x 6.5 x 1.8 inches; 3.2 lbs. $40 hardcover.

RSV–based Study Bibles

Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: New Testament

Ignatius Press, 720 pgs. Based on the Revised Standard Version Second Catholic Edition (RSV-2CE). This is an in-progress work, and only the New Testament is available in this Study Bible volume, although Old Testament books are being released in fascicle form as they are readied. The NT volume is slightly over-sized at 10 x 7 x 1.6 inches, containing sturdy, slightly cream-colored paper, which includes a 165-page concordance, a 15-page doctrinal topical index, and a handful of basic color maps. The main body has extensive annotations of wide-ranging focus, plentiful cross-references, and occasional callouts for word studies and such. The editorial character clearly encourages interpretation of Scripture as the Word of God, revealing the full range of senses sought within the Catholic tradition. The text is clean and sharp, and the various elements are easy to identify. When the full Study Bible is completed, this will be a standard work. Hardcover lists @ $35; buy from $26.

Didache Bible – Ignatius Bible Edition: RSV-2CE

Midwest Theological Forum, 1,960 pages. The Second Catholic Edition RSV is amply annotated with a catechetical commentary, cross-referencing the CCC. The work also contains numerous other apologetic inserts, which are topically indexed in the back, complimenting a Biblical topical index, and a 40+ page glossary. The two-column text is easy to read at 9.5 pt. (8.5 pt. notes), and is segregated from the two-column footnotes by either a single thin horizontal line, or by double lines framing a list of sparse cross-references. The paper is on the cool side, the margins are modest, and the volume provides a couple ribbon markers. Book/chapter/verse indicators are flush to the outer margin in the page header. This is a wonderful resource, especially for those learning the faith, or anyone who wants to explore the close relationship between Scripture and the Church’s doctrinal teaching. 9.2 x 6.2 x 2 inches. 2.8 pounds. $40 hardcover

Catholic Scripture Study Bible: RSV-CE

Published by Catholic Scripture Study International (CSSI) and Saint Benedict Press, and based on the original 1966 Catholic Edition RSV (RSV-CE). Although it contains some explanatory material, mostly of an apologetic nature, this is hard to consider a real Study Bible. It appears to be basically the Saint Benedict Press Large Print RSV-CE Bible with a splashy logo on the cover, and the CSSI material collected in articles and graphics within. There are no explanatory notes or cross references to speak of within the text, and the narrow margins leave little room for marking up. Compare the page count for this edition (1,547) with the other Study Bibles based on the full RSV text (each over 1,900 pages). 9.25 x 6.5 x 1.5 inches. Check out the customer reviews before buying this one. $70 list price; buy from $50.

New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, Expanded Edition: Revised Standard Version

Oxford University Press, ~1,900 pgs. Based on the 2nd edition (1971 NT) of the RSV. The NOAB-RSV is an “Ecumenical Study Bible”, not a Catholic Bible. The original OAB did, however, receive an imprimatur. This is a classic edition, in print since 1977, and still in demand. The NOAB annotations are sparser than in some other study Bibles, but not lacking, and they often focus on linking to other parts of Scripture. They are presented in single-column format below a dividing horizontal line, helping to visually distinguish them from the two-column main text. Cross-references are embedded in the general annotations. The book introductions are brief. The 10 pt. text is heavy but clean and easy to read. The margins are overly slim. Includes 14 Oxford maps. This edition is remarkable for placing the “Apocrypha” after the New Testament, which, though an oddity, does end up making it easier to work with the later New Testament books. 9 x 6 x 2 inches. 2.8 lbs. $50 list price; buy from $32.

NRSV-based Study Bibles

New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha

Oxford University Press, ~2,400 pgs. This is the successor to Oxford’s NOAB-RSV, based on the newer NRSV text. Currently in its fourth edition (2010), a fifth edition is planned for release in mid-2018. The annotations are significantly expanded compared to the classic RSV edition, and are more interpretive. Book introductions have been expanded. Likewise a non-Catholic Bible, the “Apocrypha” section is placed in its more typical setting, between the OT and NT sections, like most “ecumenical” Bibles. ~200 pages of helps are placed at the back of the book, including essays, tables, a glossary, a concordance, and revised Oxford maps. A “College Edition” lacks the 70-page concordance. The typeface is slightly smaller and finer than the classic RSV edition, and the bolding used to navigate the annotations is comparatively muted, but the paper is a modestly cool white, so visual contrast is good, and the text remains readable. The horizontal line between text and annotations has been replaced with two lines of white space, which, combined with the quieter typeface, makes for less busy pages. The margins are also more generous than the classic RSV edition offered. Book and chapter markings are flush to the outside margin in the page headers. Some editions include thumb tabs. 9.5 x 6.75 x 2, 3.4 lbs. Hardcover lists at $45; buy from $28.

New Interpreter’s Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha

Published by Abingdon Press in 2003. 2,298 pgs. This is an “ecumenical” Study Bible (i.e non-Catholic, but containing all the books), and tends toward an academic/liberal bent. Extensive notes accompany the text, which are generally insightful, though they can be of uneven quality, and occasionally get silly when they stray from the exegetical and explanatory into the interpretive. The NISB also provides brief book introductions and high-level outlines, about 100 one-page excursuses complimenting the annotations, 40 pages of essays on interpretation, a glossary, and 20 pages of maps. Cross-references are somewhat hard to identify, being embedded in the general annotations, which are presented in two columns underneath the two-column Biblical text, separated by a page-wide thin horizontal bar. The NISB is somewhat big to carry around, but this edition would make a very good desktop Study Bible for the serious reader, though the modest margins could have been a bit wider. One other gripe: while the page numbers are placed in the lower outer margins, the Book/Chapter/Verse location identifiers are in the middle of the page header, making it unnecessarily inefficient to find the passage you seek. 9.5 x 7.5 x 2.5 inches. 3.9 lbs. Hardcover lists @ $49; buy from $28.

HarperCollins Study Bible

From the Society of Biblical Literature; updated in 2006. Another “ecumenical” study Bible lacking Catholic sensibility. Similar in format to the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, but at about 100 fewer pages (~2200), and with unusably narrow margins and gutters. Brief (1-3 page) introductions to each book compliment thorough annotations, which excel at providing background and context, but can sometimes seem to lack an appreciation for the Scriptures as the inspired Word of God, which will frustrate some readers. Cross references are embedded in the notes, making them harder to identify and use. It also includes a concordance, numerous tables and chronologies (such as an 11-page table of gospel parallels), and a nice index showing where OT passages are quoted in the NT. Some editions are sold without the 75-page concordance. 14 pages of color end-maps; a few other maps and Illustrations are placed within the main body. Book/Chapter/Verse locators are in the outside of the top header for easy browsing. 9.5 x 6.5 x 2 inches. 3.4 lbs. Hardcover lists @ $45; buy from $30.

Other “Study Bibles”

New Jerusalem Bible

Published by Doubleday in 1985, ~2100 pgs. While this is not, strictly speaking, a Study Bible, the standard edition of the NJB (not the Reader’s Edition!) can be considered a quasi-Study Bible on account of the extensive annotations provided with the translation. Quite different from the other Study Bible options being explored here, the NJB text itself is presented in a single-column format, with footnotes presented in two columns at the bottoms of each right-hand page. Footnote indicators in the text are feeble, and it can be difficult to trace footnotes back to their referent. Substantial cross-references populate generous outer margins at their relevant point in the text, and verse numbering is pushed into the gutter (small bullets mark the verse boundaries within the text). Book introductions are modest and often combined by logical section (e.g. the Prophets). Chapter and verse indicators are flush to the outer margins in the page headers, but book names are centered in the header, making it more difficult than necessary to navigate the tome. Contains a topical table of major footnotes, a handful of color maps, and few other additional helps. Between the translation, the layout, and a quality binding, this is a Study Bible for easy reading. 9.5 x 6.25 x 2.5 inches, 3.5 lbs. Hardcover lists for $50; buy from $26.

New Community Bible Catholic Edition

Published by St Paul’s Publications in 2012, ~2280 pgs. Like the NJB, the standard edition of the NCB is not really a Study Bible, but merely a heavily annotated Bible. The NCB translation is simplified for use in mission areas where English is not the primary language. The annotations can be breezy and preachy, and are unevenly distributed – in some spots lacking. Cross-references are adequate, consistently supplied, and well-presented in a single column – either at the bottom of the page, or between the two-column Biblical text and the two-column annotations. Opening and closing chapter and verse numbering is populated flush to the margins in the page headers, but book names are centered on the page. Thumb tabs are provided. The volume contains a very concise dictionary of persons, place names, and some common Biblical terms, and also contains a few simple line drawing maps. The binding seems good – it lays flat nicely from the title page to the last map – but the page paper is so translucent you can read the text on the opposing page. This version uses the simplest language of any of the translations behind the Bibles on this page, and except for the CSSI volume, provides the least help for serious Bible study. $20 hardcover.

Orthodox Study Bible

Published by Thomas Nelson in 2008; prepared by the Saint Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology on behalf of the Orthodox Church in America. 1822 pgs. As the page count would indicate, the this work is not exactly heavily annotated, especially seeing as the typeface is fairly generous, although annotations are by no means lacking. In places, they convey Christological interpretations or other theological insights; in other places they are less insightfully devotional, or catechetical, or even apologetic. I must admit to having expected a much more robust commentary, but it can be edifying. That being said, the occasional anti-Roman digs are unnecessary and annoying. The real value in this edition is the text of the Old Testament, which is the Saint Athanasius Academy Septuagint, newly translated for this edition. Having an Old Testament translated from the LXX instead of from the usual Hebrew Bible provides a useful second perspective on the text, even if the translation leans on the NKJV English version. The New Testament text in this volume is actually the NKJV translation, not an Orthodox translation, but it works. The pages have small margins and gutters. Two column Biblical text sits atop single-column annotations, segregated by a bold horizontal line. Several images of icons printed on heavy paper are sprinkled across the text. A few short articles precede the text, and a few more follow, to go along with a lectionary readings guide, a glossary, and a topical index, plus several colored maps.  9.5 x 6.6 x 1.8 inches, 2.75 lbs. Hardcover lists for $50; buy from $30.