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How to pick a Catholic Bible



Philip Kosloski - published on 03/18/16 - updated on 09/16/23

There is no “one-size-fits-all” version of the Bible, but here's how to choose the one that's right for you

Let’s envision a common scene: shortly after the Easter Vigil a new convert walks into a Catholic bookstore and asks to see their bibles. A friendly sales associate points this person to the back wall. The new convert makes her way to the back of the store and is surprised by what she sees. There is not just one Catholic bible; there are at least a dozen Catholic bibles, all with different abbreviations on the spine!

Which bible should this new convert choose?

To be honest, there is no one-size-fits-all version of the Bible. Each has advantages and disadvantages, and all are flawed by the fact that they are not in the original language in which the Bible was written. Nevertheless, very few of us have the luxury of studying ancient Greek or Hebrew, so we must make the decision as to which Bible we will use. It is a critical decision, as God desires to speak to us through the words of scripture, and the rest of our lives could be changed by what we read.

Here are some basic tips to consider the next time you find yourself looking at a dozen different Catholic bibles and don’t know which one to buy:

Literal versus Dynamic Translation

One of the most important considerations to make is what type of translation you are hoping to read. In the biblical world, there are two main groups: literal and dynamic.

A literal translation is one where a team of translators worked tirelessly to render the Greek or Hebrew into an equivalent word in English. The result is a bible that is extremely faithful to the original text but is sometimes difficult to read or understand.

Examples of this type of bible include Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition (RSV-CE) and Douay-Rheims.

To help correct the readability issues of literal translations, scholars and linguists worked together to produce bibles that retained the meaning of the original passage, but were not exact translations. This means the English words are easier to read and understand, but the sacred author’s intent behind the word choice and sentence structure is often obscured.

Examples of dynamic bibles include New American Bible, Revised Edition (NAB-RE) and Jerusalem Bible (JB).


Besides selecting which type of translation you want to read, another consideration to keep in mind is the commentary that accompanies it. There are numerous commentaries out there, ranging from the most scholarly to those aimed at a neophyte in the faith.

One of the easiest to read commentaries that include numerous articles about Catholic beliefs is the Catholic Answer Bible. This bible is often given as a gift to someone going through RCIA or even a teenager who will be confirmed. It clears up any confusion when it comes to Catholic teaching and addresses 88 topics.

A more scholarly biblical commentary is the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: New Testament. This bible has extensive footnotes and is authored by Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch. For those who want to go in-depth into specific bible passages, the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible is a great choice.

For those interested in a devotional commentary of scripture, the Navarre Bible is a perfect choice. This particular commentary is unique in that it has excerpts not only from Church Fathers and numerous Church documents, but also spiritual reflections by authors such as St. Josemaria Escriva.

In the end there is no perfect answer, and odds are likely that you will own several different versions of the bible. Some will be used for spiritual reading, while others will be cross-referenced to discover the hidden meaning behind a difficult passage. Whichever Bible you choose, remember this: God wants to speak to you. We must respond to his invitation and read what will bring us closer to him.

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