Finding a Bible That’s Right for You

Question: Can you help me decide which Bible to buy? Our daughter began going to a Bible study in another church, and ever since then, she's been teasing us about not having a Bible in our house. We have a large family Bible with pages my grandmother used to record births, marriages, and deaths, but it's too big to hold and read. (I tried but didn't understand it anyway!) The Bible our daughter has is much easier to use, but I don't know if it's what I should get. When I went to a Christian bookstore in our area, I saw dozens and dozens of Bibles but got too confused to buy any! What should I look for? 

Discussion: The shortest answer also provides the quickest method: just look for "Catholic" or "Catholic edition" printed on the cover.

If, however, you would like a study Bible that includes informative articles, explanatory comments, and footnotes that discuss verse(s) from a Catholic perspective, it's also important to look in the front for the copyright page. Hopefully, that page will display the names of the Holy Order or person(s) and diocese responsible for providing study material that's deemed free of error. You might also see the phrase "Nihil Obstat," which means "nothing hinders" the accuracy or stands in the way of publishing this particular edition. Or you might see the word "Imprimatur," meaning "let it be printed." This does not mean that the Pope or anyone else at the Vatican approved the document, unless, of course, the page says so. However, "Imprimatur" does assure you that a Bishop or an Archbishop reviewed the study notes and found nothing to contradict Church teaching.

 Without that assurance, you may find that some study editions include personal opinions or denominationally-slanted comments that conflict with Catholic thinking. Since the whole point of a study Bible is to have study helps that clarify complex passages of scripture, it's best if those comments do not cause errors or confusion! Although rarer now, some notes or articles that have been added to some Bibles (but are not part of the actual biblical text!) speak heatedly against Church doctrine, especially in a few editions released many years ago but still in print. This seldom occurs in newer study materials, though, because interdenominational presses and other Bible publishers have generally become more ecumenical and less inclined to confrontation.

Previously on Catholic Exchange, the "Reading Scripture" article ( mentioned the New American Bible (NAB) and New Jerusalem Bible (NJB), both of which were translated and later revised by Catholic scholars. Earlier in the twentieth century, the National Council of Churches produced the Revised Standard Version (RSV) to provide a contemporary English translation that many Catholics still prefer. To be sure you have all of the books accepted by the Church, though, you'll need to look for an RSV that says "with Apocrypha." Similarly, the United Bible Societies translated the Good News Bible from Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic texts into very clear English for "people everywhere" to use with minimal footnotes and simple but amazing line drawings to illustrate the text. For this translation, look for the Catholic edition. To accompany and further clarify your reading, you might also want to get a Catholic encyclopedia, an atlas of the Holy Lands, a Bible dictionary, or a Bible commentary that has been approved by a Church official and stamped with "Imprimatur." 

To decide which translation of the Bible to buy, just look for one of the above versions that "speaks to you" the most. Since you apparently have Internet access, you might search for online copies of NAB, NJB, RSV, and Good News. Then, read the 23rd Psalm or first chapter of the Gospel of John or some other favorite passage of scripture in each of those versions to see which you prefer. Pray about it, too, and take your time. Notice, for instance, how the wording in one translation may be clearer on first reading, while another version may seem more poetic to you. Or maybe you'll favor a translation with slightly elevated language but great depth and precision in the words chosen by the translators. (Most words or phrases have more than one possibility for translation from one language into another.)

Once you know which translation draws you into reading, your other choices involve such things as the size of print and whether you want a hardback, paperback, or leather-bound edition. To find out more about those preferences, you might revisit the Christian bookstore in your area to see and feel which Bible is the most comfortable to you as you hold it, read it, and carry it around. That might not seem worth mentioning, yet the heft, weight, visual appeal, and overall feel can actually coax you into reading the Bible, which offers a great reason to buy one you especially like.

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  • Guest

    I enjoy the Navarre bible, which is the RSV text with rich commentaries. I prefer the RSV to the NAB for bible study.

  • Guest

    "Imprimatur" does assure you that a Bishop or an Archbishop reviewed the study notes and found nothing to contradict Church teaching.' — This should have been the FIRST sentence of the answer.

  • Guest

    I did my graduate work in religious studies and the #1 Bible we tell our students to use is the Harper Collins Study Bible (NRSV– I think this translation is the best and according to our Bible faculty (one third of whom are Cartholic) it is closer to the original Greek and Hebrew translations).  When I was in college we used the Catholic Study Bible (NAB version)…it used to have a green cover, but I think the newer edition is blue.  It has really great notes and an extensive reading guide geared toward the bible student who is just starting out.  I always say one of the best things about having gone to divinity school is the fact that I can know say I know and appreciate the Bible much better than I did before.  

  • Guest

    It's helpful to know that the NAB is the version used in the lectionary at Mass. Also, look to your parish for resource materials or study groups.  It helps not to have to "go it alone."

  • Guest

    I personally prefer the RSV-CE for my bible reading.  But, if your daughter is a attending a Protestant Bible Study, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND "THE NEW CATHOLIC ANSWER BIBLE"!!!  It is published by Our Sunday Visitor and in addition to all the books of the Bible it contains apologetic pages explaining why and wherefore Catholics believe this or that.  It is the New American Bible version used at Sunday Masses.  It is awesome!!  And it shows you where to go in the Bible to explain the Catholic faith.  This is the Bible for you if you want to make sure you know the answers to the question your daughter might start coming home with!

  • Guest

    will second that the feel and size of the Bible is important to consider. Another important consideration is simply to make sure the bible you buy is readily available. The bibles I read most frequently are the RSV (since I carry my handheld with me everywhere) and the Good News version becouse it lives near the dining room table and computer. My other bibles(NAB, Jerusalem) are normally only brought out when doing comparisons.


  • Guest

    The RSV is considered a more literal translation, but for daily use I like the NAB because it has titles to help you find passages more quickly and better notes for study and cross references.

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