Buying a Bible is Confusing

Buying a Bible can be confusing as I was reminded when someone in my Monday morning Bible study class brought up that they may be purchasing one.  So, we had a discussion today about which one I would recommend.  That’s a little simpler for me because as a Catholic I generally (at least for classes in my parish) recommend a translation with Deuterocanonicals (e.g. New American Bible or the New Revised Standard Version), which narrows it down quite a bit.  But, as an academic, I think I can become a bit numb to just how confusing it is walking into a bookstore and buying a Bible even with the number of translations narrowed down.  I guess it would be somewhat analogous to me walking into a auto parts store and looking to buy a carburetor (yes, I had to Google that to get the correct spelling).

One of the aspects that I didn’t realize was confusing for my participants when buying a Bible was the different “editions” that are put out.  For instance, many in my parish use the St. Joseph edition of the NAB.   What was throwing them I think was whether the “St. Joseph Edition” or the “New American Bible” was the more important aspect of that equation.  I explained to them the difference between the translation and editions/study notes/etc. that are developed as additional elements included with the translation.

I don’t think that this discussion was necessary because it was a Catholic Bible study and we all know Catholics don’t read the Bible ;-).  I have had similar discussions to this one in Protestant communities of which I was a part.  And, I’m not sure what exactly the point is that I’m trying to make.  I guess it would just be to give another example of the “curse of knowledge.”  When you’ve studied something for quite a while, you sometimes have no idea what other people may or may not know.

Posts on Translation:

Genesis 1.1 and the Importance of Comparing Translations

Psalm 1.1 – Translation Comparison

Isaiah 41 – An Interesting Translation Issue


  • I recently had a similar conversation with some of the members of my parish. I preach from the NRSV but tend to use the ESV for any Bible Studies I do. The academic in me utilizes multiple translations.

  • I think the typical pew-sitter would be best served with a dynamic-equivalent translation. For most protestants and catholics I’d recommend the Good News Bible (w/ deuterocanonicals for the latter). The NIV, and especially the TNIV, would also be a good bible for devotional reading for protestants; while the Christian Community Bible is a worthy alternative for Catholics. As to the type of bible, I would suggest one with decent and non-denominational notes explaining tough passages. I’d discourage specialized editions (bibles for soldier, manga bibles, etc.).

    I use the Jerusalem Bible for daily reading, while reserving the RSV/NRSV/NASB for more serious study.

  • I use the NLT for reading, but I like the NAB/RSV for the deuterocanonical readings, if not the NETS.

    For ‘scholarly’ discussions, I use the NASB more often than not.

    I actually have both – St. Joseph’s and the NAB, with the former being given to me by a radical nun in Whitesville, WV.

  • Craig: I personally always try to compare translations as well. And, I prefer to use NRSV as an ecumenical translation that is also used more in scholarly circles. One thing I also explained is that what leads to the confusion is that there is a market for just about any edition you could think up: apologetics, chronological, archaeological, student’s, women’s, … It’ll get way worse before it gets any better.

    Q: I don’t find the NAB too wooden (i.e. overly literal), but that may just be my subjective evaluation. So, I recommend it to my group above the GNB, though we do have a lot of copies of the GNB on our church “campus.” One aspect of this may be my location and setting too. My parish is almost immediately adjacent to a university (though it is the one that Joel attended … that should not be taken as characteristic ;-)). Most of the folks I teach in my class are educated and most often retirees considering that my class is at 10AM on Monday morning. So, readability is not that big of an issue.

    Joel: Was that nun radical in the sense of “awesome”? “Has visions of Mary”? Or, “Nuns for abortion rights”?

  • Radical in the sense of being close to King David than to me in age and fighting for worker’s right and the protection of the enviroment against giant, evil corporations.

    • Okay. So, good radical.

  • The NAB is a very readable translation, second only to the JB/NJB among modern Catholic translation. They should fix the Psalms though, it doesn’t read well. Your students might also benefit from the RSV/NRSV family, especially the new RSV 2nd Catholic Edition, which removes the thees and thous.

    If they plan to go with the JB/NJB, I’d suggest they get the one that has all of the footnotes. I like the footnotes, not too Catholic and accepts most of mainstream scholarship.

    Yes, I love the JB/NJB. :)

    • Dependent upon which edition of the NAB you use, you can get get notes that accept mainstream scholarship. Some more conservative Catholics actually dislike the NAB that is kind of the base model (the hideous red one) because they think it too liberal (gasp).

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