Saint Jerome, whose feast is September 30, is a giant in the intellectual history of the church. He is best known for translating the Bible from the original Hebrew and Greek into Latin, and his translation, called the Vulgate, remained the most commonly used version of the scriptures for over 1,100 years.
Today, however, the Vulgate is no longer in common use; in the English-speaking world, dozens of translations vied for readers for him.
21st century English speaking Catholics are spoiled for choice. There are mainstream translations like the New King James Version, the New International Version, and the Good News Bible.
There are also more specialized versions: last year, Bishop Robert Barron’s ministry released its Word on Fire edition of the New Testament, filled with color images, historical explanations, and reflections. Other Bibles are designed with specific elements â sometimes very specific â interests in mind, such as The Holy Bible: Stock Car Racesedition, which intersects the scriptures with unrelated images of racing cars.
In the midst of such a multitude of choices, what is the best translation of the Bible for Catholics?
The importance of translation
For many Catholics, finding the right Bible translation can seem like a tricky subject to discuss. To read Scripture more faithfully, as the Second Vatican Council urged to do, one needs an easily readable translation, but also a faithful translation of the original biblical languages. In addition, Catholic Bibles contain seven Old Testament books that are not found in Protestant Bibles or Jewish Scriptures.
Getting Catholics to read the Bible is also sometimes a challenge. Although Vatican Council II documents vigorously encouraged Catholics to read the scriptures regularly, they “did not really turn to the Bible in a way that would have enriched them,” said Richard J. Clifford, SJ, professor emeritus. from the Old Testament to Boston College. School of Theology and Ministry.
Catholics are generally more lax than other Christians when it comes to regular scripture reading. If Catholics hope to change this, they shouldn’t let the pressure of choosing the right version of the Good Book keep them from opening one. âThe best Bible is the one you open and read,â said Mary Elizabeth Sperry, associate director for Permissions and Uses of the New American Bible at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. âIt doesn’t matter how good a translation is. If it’s on your closed shelf, it’s not a useful Bible.
Catholics should not let the pressure of choosing the right version of the Good Book keep them from opening one.
Michael Simone, SJ, who until recently was professor of sacred scriptures in the School of Theology and Ministry, concurred with this view. âIf I’m just looking to hear the voice of Jesus today, I think any translation of the Bible works,â he said. He noted that for the most part, today’s Bible translations reliably convey the actual Greek and Hebrew texts, and the chances are slim that someone will be led to extreme doctrinal error by reading an unauthorized Bible. -Catholic.
That said, it may be helpful for Catholics to look for Bibles that offer the same translation they are likely to hear at Mass, as repetition can help reinforce passages of Scripture in their memory. âWe want the Bible to be part of their minds, of their hearts,â said Ms. Sperry.
To this end, the New American Bible Translation Team, which works under the auspices of the USCCB, hopes to significantly bridge the gap between hearing Scripture in the liturgy and reading, studying, and praying with it. her in her personal life. The team is currently working on updating its translation of the New Testament and, pending Vatican approval, the US Bishops will introduce the updates to the lectionary, so Catholics can hear the translation used in the readings. of the Mass in addition to accessing it in an updated version of the New American Bible (often called NABER, pronounced as neighbor).
Regardless of the translation, the end goal for Catholics who seek to explore the scriptures should be to draw closer to Christ, the incarnate Word of God.
Outside of the context of Mass, where homilies and parish bulletins are available to clarify difficult passages from Sunday readings, the Bible can be intimidating to approach. Because the Books of Scripture were written in historical and cultural contexts dramatically different from the modern world, comments and cross-references are invaluable to readers in order to clear up potential confusion. In fact, the church thinks this is so important that it requires Catholic Bibles to include these resources in order to receive ecclesiastical approval.
Readers should keep in mind, however, that as useful as annotations may be in understanding the meaning of a passage, they have the potential to distract readers from pursuing a spiritual reading of the scriptures. Editions of the Bible that are rich in commentary make a reader question the literal meaning of the page rather than the meaning of a passage in the context of the reader’s life, Father Clifford said.
The bottom line
As all three scholars have mentioned, no Bibles are better in every way than the others.
Yet the general consensus is that NABER is one of the strongest choices for Catholics. It is produced under the auspices of the USCCB, and the text, notes, and cross-references have received the Vatican seal of approval. Although the translation tends to be somewhat literal, Father Clifford said this was not a major obstacle to its readability.
Another good translation is the new revised standard version. This version was conducted primarily by Protestant Bible scholars, with a handful of Jewish and Catholic translators also joining the effort. There are few controversial things about the translation; in fact, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops employs it for liturgical readings. And for those looking for a more inclusive translation, Father Clifford says the NRSV uses largely gender neutral language. Unlike NABER, the basic translation is thrifty in its commentaries and cross-references, but there are scholarly editions of the NRSV that offer an abundance of notes, such as the New Oxford Annotated Bible.
Another option for accessing the scriptures is the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures by the New Jewish Publication Society. Since this is a work of Jewish scholarship, this edition does not include the New Testament or the books of the Apocrypha. Despite this, Father Clifford says he uses this translation in the classes he teaches, in addition to the Christian Bibles. The NJPS includes commentaries at the bottom of each page that cite prominent Jewish intellectuals through the centuries, such as Ibn Ezra and Rashi. This translation offers a new perspective on otherwise familiar texts, allowing Catholics to read them in the same way that Jews during the lifetime of Jesus would have.
Regardless of the translation, however, Ms. Sperry says that the end goal for Catholics who seek to explore the scriptures should be to draw closer to Christ, the incarnate Word of God. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church articulates it: âThe Christian faith is not a ‘religion of the book’. Christianity is the religion of the âWordâ of God, a word which is ânot a written and silent word, but the incarnate and living Wordâ â(no. 108).