The Holy Bible is the world’s most well-known book, read by billions throughout history and reaching far and wide to every corner of the world. It is also the number one best seller, with five billion plus copies sold and distributed. As Catholics, it is ubiquitous in our daily lives. We read it often at home and in Mass, hold Bible studies, and likely own more than one.
However, the Bibles we know and read today are all English translations, stemming from the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Koine Greek text of the Old and New Testament.
“Books of the sacred scriptures cannot be published unless the Apostolic See or the conference of bishops has approved them.” – Code of Canon Law 825§1
To be considered a Catholic Bible, a translation has to both have a nihil obstat (Latin for “nothing hinders” or “nothing stands in the way”), a phrase meaning an official Church certification proclaiming the book is not objectionable on doctrinal or moral grounds, along with an imprimatur (from Latin ‘imprimere’, meaning to “imprint” or “impress.”), a phrase for official approval by clergy, most often the bishop. A translation also have to include the entire Biblical canon.
An additional consideration when choosing a particular translation is the translation technique used: formal versus dynamic equivalence. Formal equivalence, also called word for word, is the most literal and reads as close to the original Hebrew, Koine, and Aramaic text. While this type of version is extremely accurate, it can be more difficult to read. Dynamic equivalence, also called thought for thought, conveys the overall meaning and message of the original while being easier to read. Some translations use a combination of the two techniques, called optimal equivalence. The choice is simply personal preference.
With over one hundred English translations of the Bible available today, how do we know which to use? Here’s a list of approved translations an English-speaking Catholic can choose from in chronological order of publication date.
New American Bible: Revised Edition – 2011 – Optimal Equivalence
Ignatius Bible – 2006 – Formal Equivalence
Good News Bible: Catholic Edition – 1992 – Dynamic Equivalence
New Jerusalem Bible – 1990 – Dynamic Equivalence
New Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition – 1989 – Formal Equivalence
Jerusalem Bible – 1966 – Dynamic Equivalence
Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition – 1966 – Formal Equivalence
Douay–Rheims Bible – 1582 – Formal Equivalence
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has published their complete list of approved translations, which can be viewed here.