Looking to purchase a Bible? The search for a good translation can be daunting. There are dozens of different translations available on the market, but which one should a Catholic choose? Are all Bibles the same? Here are a few important points to keep in mind when you are looking for a good translation of Sacred Scripture.
First thing, make sure that you purchase a complete Bible, especially if it will be the only copy of Scripture that you own. Many Catholics are surprised to learn that most Protestant Bibles are incomplete; they omit seven Old Testament books called the Deuterocanon. The Dueterocanon is comprised of the books of Wisdom, Sirach (sometimes called Ecclesiasticus), Baruch, Tobit, Judith, and First and Second Maccabees. In addition to these missing books, Protestant Bibles also omit the last two chapters of the Book of Daniel (called Bel and the Dragon and Susanna) and several sections from the book of Esther.
Protestants began to disparage the Deuterocanon because it affirms doctrines that are at odds with Protestant theology. As time went on, the desire to remove it altogether grew, and Protestant printers began to produce Bibles without the books they did not like. It wasn’t until the 19th century, however, that these incomplete Bibles became the norm within Protestantism. Today, outside of a few specialty Bibles, nearly all modern Protestant Bibles omit the Deuterocanon. Catholic Bibles, on the other hand, continued the practice of including all the books of the Old Testament just as it had done for centuries prior to the Reformation. Therefore, if you would like to own a complete Bible, you need to purchase a Catholic edition.
Catholic Bibles also provide the added benefit of being less susceptible to theological bias than their non-Catholic counterparts. History is packed with examples of where the word of God has been used to promote the translator’s theology. Perhaps the most famous example of theological bias can be found in Martin Luther’s German translation where he added the word “alone” to St. Paul’s statement in Romans 3:28: “For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” Luther believed that Scripture taught we are justified by faith alone, apart from anything that we do. He therefore felt obliged to amend Paul’s words to bring this teaching out, even though the word “alone” is nowhere found in the Greek original.
One of the most popular modern Protestant translations, the New International Version (NIV), like Luther, adds a theologically packed word to Scripture. The translator’s belief that righteousness is a legal status comes out in the rendering of Romans 2:13 and 3:20, where they translate “righteous” as “declared righteous.”
Catholic Bibles can also exhibit theological bias. However, Catholic translators hold an important advantage over their non-Catholic counterparts in that they have access to Sacred Tradition, which better aligns their theology to that of inspired Scripture. The reason for this alignment comes from the close relationship between Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) states: “There exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end” (No. 9). As long as a Catholic translator is faithful to Sacred Tradition, the theological bias of the translator will be more complimentary to the theological perspective of the inspired text than a translator who either ignores or opposes Sacred Tradition. Catholic editions of Scripture will also have an imprimatur officially included on the back of the title page. An imprimatur is an indication that the book in question has been examined by proper Church authorities and has been judged to be free of errors in Catholic doctrine.
Formal or Dynamic Equivalence?
In the attempt to minimize theological bias, some translations stick very closely to the original text, which is sometimes called a “formal equivalent,” or a “word-for-word,” translation. While the word-for-word approach may avoid a certain amount of bias, it doesn’t always produce a clear and intelligible translation.
Take, for example, Our Lord’s words at the wedding of Cana (see Jn 2:1-11). Mary informed Jesus that the wedding feast was without wine. Jesus answered, in Greek, “Ti emoi kai soi, gunai,” which a literal word-for-word translation would render, “What to me and to you, woman?” (v. 4). Words need to be added to make this into a proper English sentence. However, even when this is done, “What [is this] to me and to you, woman?” the passage is only marginally more intelligible. What does Jesus mean by saying this? The reason for the lack of clarity is that Jesus was using a common idiom (see Jgs 11:12; 2 Sm 19:23, for example) that John expects his readers to know and understand. But we do not use this idiom today! Therefore, the translator needs to fill out the meaning or give what is called a dynamic equivalent to what Jesus said and explain that Jesus and Mary are essentially in agreement except for a potential obstacle.
Most translations fall between the two extremes of word-for-word literalism and dynamic equiva-lency. How you intend to use your Bible will determine what type of translation is best for you.
There is a wide variety of Bibles from which to choose. With these suggestions in mind, take the time to read a few short passages from a variety of Catholic Bibles to see which translation best suits your needs. Check to see if the annotation or lack of annotation is right for you. Read a couple of footnotes and/or inserts as well. Take your time, and by applying these suggestions you are sure to find the right Catholic translation for you and your loved ones.
Regardless of which version is best for you, the important thing is for you to own the Sacred Scriptures — and read them!