Q. I am a Catholic, presently an inmate at a correctional facility. A group of us inmates has an informal Bible study meeting on Saturday mornings. Nearly everyone has a different version of the Bible, including King James, New King James, New Living Bible, Good News Bible, New International Version, New American, and the Amplified Version. Some are study Bibles with expanded footnotes, biographies, etc.
I’m confused. I personally use the New American Bible. Is there a difference between Catholic and Protestant Bibles? My family will purchase a study Bible for me, but which one is best? (Ohio)
A. Today there are generally only two major differences between what we might call Protestant and Catholic books of Scripture. First, Catholic Bibles contain all or part of several books that do not appear as canonical books in the Protestant tradition.
These include Tobias, Baruch, First and Second Maccabees, Judith, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Wisdom and parts of Daniel and Esther. For reasons we can’t expand on here, these books are referred to as deuterocanonical, second canon, books because of varying Jewish opinions around the time of Christ about which books are authentic Hebrew (Old Testament) Scripture.
Second, Protestant Bibles in the past have not included much in the way of footnotes, explanations and introductions. The traditional Protestant belief that the Holy Spirit alone guides each individual in his or her reading of Scripture has caused Bible publishers generally to shy away from anything which, in their view, would put some sort of human intervention between the reader and the Holy Spirit.
Catholic Bibles readily include such materials, giving background to entire books or passages, describing audiences to which the books were addressed, and so on.
As you indicate, Bibles published under Protestant auspices increasingly tend to include similar notes to assist in understanding what the biblical writers were dealing with, and how their writings might be better understood.
Apart from this, there is generally no great difference between Protestant and Catholic Bibles. In past centuries some passages were translated differently, colored for example by doctrinal positions of the two groups of Christians.
The science of choosing and translating biblical manuscripts is now so highly developed, however, that any slanting of translations in this fashion is mostly out of the question, at least for reputable scholars of any faith.
Dozens of Scripture texts are available in English today, as you have discovered. A few of the more popularly written are admittedly more paraphrases than faithful translations, which is fine for their intended purpose of introducing young and old to the themes of the Gospels.
One currently reliable and authentic translation is the New American Bible, the "official" version published under the auspices of the bishops of the United States.
The St. Joseph Edition of the NAB contains marvelous supportive material, such as an explanation of the various literary forms one finds in the books of the Bible, liturgical references, a glossary and the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation by the Second Vatican Council.
A companion volume, the Catholic Study Bible, contains the NAB text itself, plus background on the entire Bible and individual books. It is published by Oxford University Press.
A longtime columnist with Catholic News Service, Father Dietzen died March 27, 2011.