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What Bible Should I Choose?

Choosing a Bible is a very personal decision. There are many Bible translations to choose from, and you will want to consider many different factors. Do you want a Catholic Bible (with 73 books) or a Protestant Bible (with 66 books) or a Bible from another faith tradition (Jewish, for example). Are you planning to study the Bible seriously (as in the Catholic Biblical School) or will you use your Bible mainly for prayer and reflection?

Choosing a Bible is a very personal decision and can be confusing. What Bible you decide on will take into account many different factors.

First, note that different churches hold sacred a different set of Old Testament books. Roman Catholics will want to choose a Bible that includes all 73 books considered sacred by the Roman Catholic Church. Eastern Catholics, Orthodox and Protestant Christians, and Jewish believers might consult their church leaders regarding the value of the books not included in Bibles printed for their congregations. Here’s a hint about how to determine whether your Bible contains the full complement of “Catholic” books: If a particular Bible does not include the Book of Judith, it does not contain the entire Old Testament text considered sacred by the Catholic Church.

If you are considering attending the Hartford Catholic Biblical School (CBS), you will need a Catholic Study Bible. But before you purchase any particular Bible, you would do well to read the required first-year “summer assignment” book, Introduction to the Bible: A Catholic Guide to Studying Scripture by Stephen J. Binz. In particular, read the chapter on “Choosing a Bible” closely, and heed the advice in the final section of that chapter entitled, “So Which Bible Should I Read?” You will find there important information about what kind of Bibles not to choose for serious Bible study.

The three most popular English translations in use in the Catholic Biblical School (CBS) are the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE), the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), and the New Jerusalem Bible (NJB), although other Study Bibles are also welcome for use in the Catholic Biblical School. Note: If you are Catholic and are purchasing a new Bible in preparation for attending CBS, please consult the list of Bibles authorized by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. You will find a complete list on their website at http://www.usccb.org/bible/index.cfm.

CBS students are asked to use an up-to-date Study Bible, in their classes. If you do not have a Study Bible (or aren’t sure whether yours is a Study Bible), look for a Bible with substantial footnotes, cross-referencing, introductions to sections and books of the Bible, and (often) maps.

Some excellent Study Bibles used by many CBS students are: in NRSV translation, The Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha and the Harper Collins Study Bible; in the translation, The Little Rock Scripture Study Bible and The Oxford Catholic Study Bible. A new study edition of the New Jerusalem Bible is available in 2020 and has not yet been vetted for content. This is the work of a single scholar and is the successor to the beautiful and highly popular Jerusalem Bible.

After you choose a translation, you will next want to consider other features of how individual publishers bind and format the particular Bible you are considering. The best way to decide which Bible will work best for you is to browse translations available in a bookstore. Bibles come in hard bound, soft bound (paperback) and leather bound. They employ various print sizes. Some Bibles include maps that might be suitable for use in place of the Oxford Bible Atlas that is used in CBS. The paper used for the interior pages varies from thin, semi-transparent paper to heavier-weight papers that are more durable. If you expect to write in your Study Bible (this is recommended), you might want heavier pages and wide, blank margins. Some Bibles have no margins to speak of. But if you are looking to purchase a devotional Bible and you don’t plan to write in it, the semi-transparent paper makes a Bible thinner and lighter for carrying.

So, for choosing a Bible, nothing can replace holding a Bible in your hands. If you don’t have access to a bookstore where you can browse, you might ask others to let you see their Bible(s) before deciding to order one. If that’s not an option for you, online purchasing sites often allow you to “Look Inside,” so you will be able to see things like print size and margin space.

Finally, many electronic Bibles and Bible Applications are available free online. These are great for some things (like having the biblical text at your fingertips without carrying the weight of a physical book), but they do not allow for easy comparing of texts in different parts of the Bible. By all means, download a Bible App in the translation of your choice onto your electronic devices. But if you are enrolling in CBS, you will also need a physical Study Bible.