What Bible Should I Use?

    The Sacred Scriptures, as the divine word of God, are a wonderful source of religious devotion and a well spring of spiritual growth. Written by the hands of the Christian saints and Jewish patriarchs and authored by the Holy Spirit, Sacred Scripture constitutes a vital part of the Deposit of Faith. The Scriptures and Catholic Tradition are the basis for our dogma and beliefs and are also the faith story of the Church of Christ and its Jewish precursors.

    The Bible has always been safeguarded by the Church and venerated with the utmost devotion throughout Christian history. As the spiritual guardian of the members of the Body of Christ, the Catholic Church is charged with safeguarding the divine message of the Bible and insuring its proper translation into the various world languages.

    Although the original Biblical manuscripts have long since been lost, ancient copies of the Bible in fragmentary and complete forms still exist today. Continuing discovery of ever more ancient Biblical fragments as well as the assurance of the Catholic Church tell us that the same messages, doctrine, and faith stories in our present day Bibles are the same as those of the original manuscripts penned by the saints and patriarchs. Many translations of the Bible have been written over the course of history. Some versions faithfully follow the content and gospel message of the original manuscripts. Yet, heresy, deceit, and simple mistakes have tainted others. It is thus necessary to choose a copy of Scripture that is faithful to the originals and has the assurance of the Church that they are not tainted with prejudice or errors.

    Translations of the Bible also vary markedly according to their readability and precision. The Latin Vulgate Bible, translated by St. Jerome from the Septuagint Cannon (LXX) of the Old Testament, is considered the "official" Bible of the Catholic Church. The Church assures us that the text of the Vulgate is substantially correct with the originals insofar that it does not conflict with the originals in doctrine. Therefore the Latin Vulgate version of the Sacred Scriptures is the primary Bible of the Church. The ecumenical Council of Trent declared that the Catholic Church, "ordains and declares, that the said old and vulgate edition, which, by the lengthened usage of so many years, has been approved of in the Church, be, in public lectures, disputations, sermons and expositions, held as authentic; and that no one is to dare, or presume to reject it under any pretext whatever (Council of Trent, fourth Session)".

    The Church has also introduced other versions of the Bible translated in the many foreign languages of the world. We will take a look at the various English translations that are approved by the Church, such as the Douay-Reims (DRC), and New American Bible (NAB). We will also take a look at popular Protestant Bibles such as the King James Version (KJV) and New International Version (NIV).

    Bibles can generally be placed on a spectrum of readability versus literal translations. Certain bibles stick very close to the literal translation of the Latin Vulgate and Septuagint Cannon, but because they are so faithful to direct translation they sacrifice readability for accuracy. These kinds of bibles are called literal versions and are best suited for biblical study. The second kind of Bible, dynamic versions, are best suited for casual reading. They sacrifice precise translation for readability.

    We must be careful when reading dynamic versions of the Bible as translated by Protestant scholars. In order to create a modern English translation with increased readability, biblical scholars will often "summarize" a passage’s translation into modern English. Unfortunately, this means that the author will sometimes allow their biases to creep into the translated text. For instance, the rendering of John 3:16 in a literal translation, such as the Catholic Douay-Rheims Bible (DRC), would say, "For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting." However, a popular dynamic Protestant translation, the New International Version (NIV), quotes John 3:16 as, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." Note how the NIV omits the word "may" before the phrase "have life everlasting." Clearly, Protestant bias, whether inadvertent or not, has crept into the NIV text. Protestants commonly believe that salvation is dependent only on having "faith" in God, without consideration of works of righteousness. The skewed translation of the dynamic NIV alludes to the Protestant belief that faith in Christ is all that is needed for salvation; a view which Catholic doctrine rejects. Therefore, it is important for an inexperienced biblical reader to either read a reliable literal translation (such as the Douay-Rheims or the 1611 King James Version) or a Catholic dynamic translation (such as the New American Bible).

    There are literally dozens of modern biblical translations, which vary widely over the spectrum of literal vs. dynamic. The following list will touch on only a few of the most popular bibles. To give the reader an idea of the style of each biblical version, I have included a quote from John 3:16 of each Bible. The style of the bible is left up to the reader, but certainly the best bible is the one that you actually read. A serious bible student will want to purchase several of the translations given below, to better safeguard against error and bias in the translations.

Note from the author: In the interests of expeditiously releasing the above article over the internet, I have neglected to finish the reviews of the most common versions of the bible. This will be done at a later time and appended to this article. Below I have included an initial review of the Douay-Rheims Challoner Bible and the 1611 Authorized Version Bible (The King James Bible). Eventually, I will review the Revised Standard Version: Catholic Edition, New International Version, New American Bible, Revised New American Bible, Contemporary English Version, New Jerusalem Version, and the Today’s English Version (Good News Bible).

Literal Versions

The Douay-Reims Bible: Challoner revision

Common acronym: DRC or DRV

Quote: "For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting."

History: The original Douay-Rheims (DR) bible was a scrupulous English translation of the Latin Vulgate Bible. The DR is a compiled version of the works of the two English colleges, Douay and Rheims in 1609. Scholars at Douay published the Old Testament before moving to the English College Rheims to finish the New Testament. The combined Douay-Rheims version was an important translation for English Catholics, who had to rely on the unreliable Protestant translations of the Reformers until publication of the DR (some Catholics could not read the Latin Vulgate).

The DR version is extremely precise, but is full of Latinisms and unwieldy English grammar. To correct the situation, Bishop Richard Challoner revised the DR in 1749. This new translation, the DRC (Douay-Rheims Challoner revision), is very readable and still retains a literal translation of the old Latin Vulgate. The DRC was a popular Catholic Bible in America but lost its popularity in the 1940s when the Confraternity Version was released.

Availability: This version is hard to find in bookstores. The popular chain stores (Waldens, Barnes and Noble, Bookstop, etc.) tend to carry only the RSV, KJV, NIV, NAB and TEV. I would recommend searching in a Catholic bookstore or on the Internet. You can obtain a copy from the publisher TAN at their website. The Internet bookstore chain, Amazon.com also carries a supply of DRCs at a discounted rate. Also, an electronic version of the DRC is available on the Internet at http://www.cybercomm.net/~dcon/ I have no idea how to obtain a copy of the original DR text (perhaps a local college or seminary library carries a copy).

The King James Bible: Authorized Version (1611)

Common acronym: AV or KJV:AV

Quote: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

History: The original King James Bible is the Authorized Version of 1611 (AV). This Bible does a good job in translating the ancient Hebrew texts. The AV is relatively free from bias and is widely accepted by English speaking Protestants. The scholarly English king, James the First, ordered the creation of the Authorized Version in 1604. It was released in 1611 and eventually became the cornerstone of Protestant Bible translations. This original AV Bible contained the deutrocannonical texts of the Catholic Bible. Since that time, newer revised versions of the KJV have been created and the deutrocannonical texts (called Apocrypha by Protestants) have been dropped. The later revisions of the AV (Such as the New King James Bible) cannot be recommended to the reader because of translator bias.

Availability: Protestants as a whole widely regard the Authorized Version (and subsequent newer revisions) as the best translation of the Scriptures. Because of this fact, the KJV bibles are widely circulated and sold in major bookstores in Protestant America and England. The original Authorized Version of 1611 is in the public domain and can be found all over the Internet.

--S.M.M. 


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