Recommending a Catholic BibleFR. WILLIAM SAUNDERS
Is there a specific Bible that Catholics are to read? Recently, I went to a bookstore and I wasn't sure which Bible to study. Is there a big difference between say a "King James Bible" versus a "New Jerusalem Bible?" Can you recommend which one to study?
A good Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church are two essential books that every Catholic and every Catholic home should have. Concerning the Bible in particular, St. Jerome (d. 430) stated, "Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." Therefore, the Vatican Council II encouraged the study of Scripture and stated, "This nourishment enlightens the mind, strengthens the will, and fires the hearts of men with the love of God" ("Dei Verbum," No. 3).
Now on to some of the particular questions presented: First, every Catholic should have a Catholic version of the Bible. The King James Bible is the classic Protestant Bible, which was first printed in 1611 under the authority of King James I of England, the official head of the Church of England. The King James Bible follows the canon (or contents) established by Martin Luther in 1534 when he translated the Bible into German. He grouped what Catholics call "the seven deuterocanonical books" (Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, and I & II Maccabees) of the Old Testament under the title "Apocrypha" declaring, "These are books which are not held equal to the Sacred Scriptures and yet are useful and good for reading." (Keep in mind that these seven books had been accepted by the Church as part of the official canon of Sacred Scripture even prior to the legalization of Christianity; Luther on his own initiative tampered with the canon of Sacred Scripture.) For some time, these books were printed between the Old and the New Testaments under the title "Apocrypha" but by the early 1800s they were dropped all together from the King James Version of the Bible. At present, some versions of the King James Bible will state, "with apocrypha" indicating that these seven books are included somewhere in the contents.
Not only does the King James Bible exclude seven books of the Old Testament, the Old English style language is difficult to read with all of the "‘twas, arts, hithers and thithers." Also, since so many different versions were used to produce the King James Bible in English, scholars estimate about 2,600 translation errors (at least in the original).
What then would be a good English Bible? Here a person would want a translation that is faithful to the original languages of Sacred Scripture (Hebrew and Greek), is easily readable, and also provides footnotes or other explanatory information. A highly recommended English Bible is the Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition printed in 1966. Cardinal Cushing, then Archbishop of Boston, placed his imprimatur on the version, and stated in the introduction, "Here is the message of salvation presented now with beauty of language and clarity of expression." The only drawback to the Revised Standard Version is that the present edition published by Ignatius Press has few explanatory notes.
The New American Bible (1970) and The Jerusalem Bible (1966) are also excellent English editions that provide a substantial introduction to each individual book, an abundance of explanatory notes, maps, and various indices. Prior to this past Advent, 1998, these three Catholic versions were approved for the readings at Mass, although the most prevalent one was The New American Bible. (Unfortunately, the new Lectionary which is mandated for use this coming Advent 1999 is a compilation of various versions and does not match any one particular Bible.)
However, reader beware! In the mid-1990s, various politicized versions were released to neuter the language as much as possible, and most sadly to de-divinize it. Here are a few examples from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV, 1993): We are all familiar with the call of our Lord to the apostles at the Sea of Galilee "Come after me and I will make you fishers of men" (Mt 4:19). The NRSV has retranslated this to read, "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people." Just picture Jesus handing each of them a fishing rod and saying, "Go to it boys!" On the other hand, maybe St. Peter sprouted fins and turned into a tuna.
One of the most beautiful verses of the Old Testament is Genesis 1:27: "God created man in His image; in the divine image He created him; male and female He created them." The NRSV has retranslated this to read, "So God created humankind in His image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them." Good-bye "man" and "him" because it is not politically correct. Perhaps worse, the new translation stumbles off the tongue.
Here is another example: In a parable, Jesus described the Last Judgment with the king separating the righteous from the unrighteous. The king said, "I assure you, as often as you did it for one of my least brothers, you did it for me" (Mt 25:40). The NRSV retranslated this to read, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me." Not only is the sentence structure awkward, it limits the charity to family members alone by dropping the spiritually include "brothers." Needless to say, this author has great difficulty with the New Revised Standard Version.
Many English translations exist. When shopping, look for the Catholic versions recommended here, which may be more difficult to find because of when they were printed. (However, Ignatius Press does offer the Revised Standard Version (1966).) Be on guard against some of the new translations. Look for the imprimatur on the version. Take some time to read some of your favorite passages, and see if the translation is exact or at least comfortable. Weigh all of these factors, buy your Bible, and read it.
Saunders, Rev. William. "Recommending a Catholic Bible." Arlington Catholic Herald.
This article is reprinted with permission from Arlington Catholic Herald.
Father William Saunders is dean of the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College and pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish in Sterling, Virginia. The above article is a "Straight Answers" column he wrote for the Arlington Catholic Herald. Father Saunders is also the author of Straight Answers, a book based on 100 of his columns and published by Cathedral Press in Baltimore.
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