Roman Catholic approaches to the Bible have been revolutionized during the past few decades.
In one landmark, a 1943 encyclical from Pope Pius XII ended dependence on the sixth-century Latin text in translating the Bible into modern languages and put priority instead on ancient manuscripts in the original Hebrew and Greek.
In 1965, a decree from the bishops at the Second Vatican Council affirmed Pius modern translation policy, emphasized the centrality of the Scriptures in Catholic life and encouraged use of non-Catholic editions that receive the churchs approval.
The renewed Catholic interest in consulting various versions for personal and group study is aided by The Catholic Comparative New Testament (Oxford University Press). Its a cleverly useful volume that prints eight church-endorsed English translations side by side a good gift prospect for Catholics and non-Catholics, during the Easter season or otherwise.
Due to the Scripture readings during Mass, Catholics are most familiar with the U.S. churchs official New American Bible. Complaints about the original NAB of 1970 led to a reworked New Testament in 1986 (a revised Old Testament is now near completion).
Alas, the 1986 upgrade didnt satisfy everyone. Conservative priest Richard John Neuhaus complained in First Things magazine that the NAB remains a wretched translation. It succeeds in being, at the same time, loose, stilted, breezy, vulgar, opaque and relentlessly averse to literary grace.
With Oxfords eight-sided edition, Catholics can easily compare the NAB with Neuhaus favorite, the National Council of Churches Revised Standard Version, in the 1965 Catholic edition authorized in Britain.
Whatever the virtues of these eight versions, readers will be struck not by the variety but the similarities among them. However, interpretations do vary. The Catholic RSV made a few textual changes from the original RSV and added explanatory footnotes. Examples:
Jesus tells Peter, You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church. A Catholic footnote underscores that Jesus makes (Peter) the foundation on which the church is to be built to affirm the papacy. Protestants typically say the rock is the belief Peter professes in the preceding verses, that Jesus is the messiah and the Son of God.
Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55.
Both passages name Jesus four brothers and say he also has sisters. A Catholic footnote says the Greek word or its Semitic equivalent was used for varying degrees of blood relationships and cites Old Testament examples. That fits with Catholic belief that Mary was a lifelong virgin. Protestants say these were full brothers and sisters, born to Mary after Jesus.
Besides the NAB and RSV, the Comparative New Testament includes:
Douay-Rheims: The venerable British Catholic Bible issued a year before the Protestants 1611 King James Version, with similar Elizabethan style.
Jerusalem Bible: An approved 1966 British Catholic translation, based on a modern translation in French and texts in the original languages.
New Jerusalem Bible: A 1985 update of the Jerusalem.
New Revised Standard Version: A 1989 National Council of Churches rendition, with imprimatur from the U.S. Catholic bishops president. Uses inclusive language, a touchy matter for the Vatican.
Good News Bible: The second (1992) edition of an American Bible Society version, also approved by the U.S. Catholic bishops president. Its simple style is helpful for those using English as a second language.
Christian Community Bible: Similarly simplified, its the first English translation from the Third World; a 2004 work from missionary priest Bernardo Hurault approved by the Catholic bishops of the Philippines.
Note: Thomas Nelsons latest BibleZines are a jazzy gift idea just for teens. They package the easy-to-read 1987 New Century Version of the full New Testament in magazine formats stuffed with sidebars (He Said She Said, Count On It, Top Ten lists). Refuel 2 is for boys and becoming 2 for girls ($16.99 each).