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How to Choose a Catholic Bible: Ten Considerations

You don't have a bible? Or that bible on your shelf is too old, fragile, or valuable to be handled?  Time to get a new one! While you might not be able to get out to a bookstore these days, online shopping continues apace. Amazon offers over 100,000 products in a search for "bible".  All kinds of bibles: children's bibles, women's bibles, study bibles, journaling bibles, daily bibles, audio bibles, bible apps, pocket bibles, new testaments, bible calendars, bible commentaries, and on and on. 

"Ah, that's easy," you say, "I just want a book with the regular bible text in it." Even so, there are still many choices. So, first decide on your uses, which will help narrow down your options. Here are ten points to consider. Some of these are obvious, while others might not have occurred to you. The first seven deal with the physical book, and the last three with the language.

Points to Consider

1. Eyesight! — The print size of your bible might be its most important aspect. If you order what you think is the perfect bible, you might be heartbroken to discover its print is too small. Text readability can also be impacted by typeface, font, page thickness, paper color, white space, and more.

2. Portability — Are the size and weight of your bible something to consider? Will you be reading your bible most often sitting at a desk or table?  Sitting in an easy chair with the book on your lap?  Will you be carrying the book out of your home when you travel or attend a bible study meeting? You might like a heavy book on your lap, or you might hate it. Carrying a heavy bible around might not be an issue, or it might be an unbearable burden.

3. Cost — Maybe you have a limited budget for purchasing your bible. Bibles can be surprisingly cheap, amazingly expensive, or anywhere in between. 

4. Physical durability — If your bible will get a lot of rugged use, you might go either of two different routes: an inexpensive, easily replaceable bible; or something that can stand up to abuse. This choice usually boils down to paperback vs. hardcover. But not all hardcovers are the same. Consider a cloth or leather cover with a sewn binding. A leather cover might be appealing, but genuine leather covers are rare today. Leather and bonded leather are good choices for bibles that will be handled a lot, but a soft leather covered book cannot easily be stood on its edge in a bookshelf. Beware of an imitation leather cover over a glued binding: the cover might last forever, bur the book will be falling apart before its time.

5. Page layout — This might impact readability more than you expect. Some bibles present the text in a single column on a page, like a novel. Others have two columns, which makes for shorter lines. Reading comfort can be impacted by vertical line spacing and margin size. Would you like to make personal notes in the margins? Would you be bothered by verse numbers stuck in the middle of the text lines?  If there are text notes, would you prefer them as footnotes on the page, or removed to the end of the book as endnotes? Do the page headers include book and chapter information in the corners for easy access?

6. Extra study guides — Some bibles include a variety of study aids, including articles, encyclicals, book introductions, maps, commentaries, index, and a glossary. Especially in the days before the Internet, these were very useful, even for a casual reader. But some people find all these extra features to be a distraction, and they add to the total bulk of the book. If you're going to be carrying your bible around, do you also want to carry all its commentary and notes with it?  Perhaps yes, perhaps no.

7. Book flexibility — Do you need a bible that can lie flat open by itself? Maybe you need your bible to lie open on a table while you keep your hands free. For example, if using your bible for regular study, you might need to have it open to a specific page, while you turn your attention to another book or look up something on your computer. Most paperbacks will not lie flat open except at a few of the pages in the middle; but there are a few very flexible paperbacks that might fit the bill. Almost all hardcover bibles will lie open, and many leather versions can once they soften with age.

8. Literary style — Do you find it easier to read the bible presented in modern English?  Or are you more inspired by "biblical" English, bordering on the archaic? What about the traditional King James Version (also called the Authorized Version)? There is a Catholic translation as old and traditional as the King James, called the Douey-Rheims Version. Both might ring biblically to your ear, but when it comes to prolonged reading, they both are chock full of archaisms that can make comprehension a real challenge.

9. Translation method — Your bible will be an English translation from Hebrew and Greek. But there are many ways to translate languages. Bible translations cover the full range of possibilities: word-for-word (formal equivalence), thought-for-thought (dynamic equivalence), and modern paraphrase (modern analogies to convey the same meaning).  Paraphrases and thought-for-thought translations are generally considered easier to read, and usually have a voice that flows better. Translations that are closer to word-for-word often have awkward language, but are more useful for in-depth bible study. 

10. Versions and approval — There are many English translations, versions, revisions, and editions of the bible. Some are new, some are centuries old. Some have disappeared from circulation, some have stood the test of time. Some are Protestant, and some are Catholic, approved for personal study. Any bible is better than no bible, so don't let the distinction disturb you if you have only one. But while shopping around, it might be something to consider. An approved Catholic bible will bear an Imprimatur on its copyright page.



The following bibles are my recommendations considering some of the points above. Each of them comes in a variety of bindings and print sizes.

1.    Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition (RSV2CE), also known as the Ignatius Bible.

  • Based on the Revised Standard Version, which was an updated translation of the King James Version.

  • Toward the formal-equivalence end of the spectrum, this is an excellent translation for bible study.

  • This is an approved Catholic version that includes all required books.

  • Hardcover sells for about $22.  Also available in Leather ($24) and Paperback ($18).

2.    St. Joseph New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE), medium-size print in hardcover.

  • More of a dynamic-equivalence translation, the NAB is issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and is the translation used as the basis for the Mass readings in the U.S.A. Most ubiquitous modern Catholic translation.

  • This particular edition is designed for students, includes plenty of extras, and is amazingly affordable for a full-cloth cover. Durable enough to take a real beating.

  • Hardcover about $11.  Also available in medium Paperback ($10) and small "personal" size Paperback ($9).  This smallest version is probably the most affordable complete Catholic bible on the market, easy to carry, but the print is quite small.

3.    Oxford Compact Bible, Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSVCE). Also available from Ignatius Press.

  • This translation is the original Catholic Edition of the RSV, so a bit older than the RSV2CE. In modern English, but it retains a few occurrences of Thee and Thou, only in reference to God.

  • This is the translation used for most of the bible quotations in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the writings of Benedict XVI, and many Vatican documents.

  • Available in Hardcover ($14) and zipper closure Bonded Leather ($20). As a compact bible, it's portable, but has very small print.

  • Note that the RSVCE is available from many publishers and vendors, in a wide range of sizes and bindings. 

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