Monday, February 7, 2011

Bible Translations

Q - What is the best Bible Translation for a Catholic like myself?

A - Thanks for the question! This is a very common question and one I generally answer in this manner - the best translation for the majority of people is the one that you will read every day. What I mean is that most people don't spend enough time reading the Bible in the first place, so I don't think that getting into technicalities of which translation is best applies to most people. But, since there are a number of people who take studying the Bible very seriously, I will give you more details.

We must first understand that there are different kinds of Bible translations. There are word-for-word (complete equivalence) translations, meaning-for-meaning (dynamic equivalence) translations, and others that fall somewhere in-between. While the word-for-word are more faithful to the original, the meaning-for-meaning are sometimes easier to understand.

I personally prefer the more literal translations (word-for-word) for several reasons. But, remember that this is a personal preference. I think that some translations take too much license with language when they start to use meaning-for-meaning. Thus, some of the original meaning in the text can be lost. Also, it becomes fairly pedestrian use of language in many instances. For instance, let me put the NAB and the RSV translations of a passage up together and you make a decision about which sounds better - Psalm 23:4:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Even when I walk through a dark valley, I fear no harm for you are at my side; your rod and staff give me courage.
Notice the difference in language. I find the first to be much more inspiring and it is more faithful to the original Hebrew. Now, this being said, the USCCB will be releasing a new translation of the NAB that I expect will be a huge improvement.

The NAB is currently the translation used in Mass in the USA. It is also the most common Catholic Bible. But, I don't recommend it first because there are better options.

So, what do I recommend? Well, here are some Bibles I recommend for most Catholics.
  1. For those who want to do really study Scripture or who want a more literal (and yet still readable) translation, I recommend the Revised Standard Version - Catholic Edition. This is NOT the NRSV, but the older RSV(CE). The New Revised Standard Version has some problems that the older one steered clear of. You can find a very nice RSVCE (aka - Ignatius Bible) in several different formats. But, the absolute best Bible on the market today is the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible. While they have only released (so far) the New Testament and the book of Genesis (in a separate volume), it is an amazing resource. I can't recommend it highly enough)
  2. For the beginning reader who doesn't have much background in the Bible or who wants an easy to read translation that follows what we read in mass, the NAB is a good one. Here is a good NAB that I recommend.
  3. Another decent Catholic Bible is the New Jerusalem, though I don't like the translation as much, the notes are well done.
  4. The Douay-Rheims Version is an older translation, taken from the Latin Vulgate, and thus the language is somewhat formal and old. Also, the translation does not rely on better manuscripts that have been found in the centuries since it was first translated.. But, it is still a faithful translation, that many Catholics still use.
A few things to look for in a Bible:
1 - A bible that contains the deuterocanonical books (those books not in the Protestant canon of Scripture).
2 - A bible you will read.
3 - A bible that isn't too big (too heavy to hold and read frequently) or too small (can't read long without straining the eyes)
4 - A well-made bible. You don't want to have one fall apart a year later. Spend a few extra dollars to avoid a paperback.
5 - Avoid bibles that have an agenda in their exegesis of Scripture or in their translation. Some bibles are too politically-correct to be good.

I hope this helps.