Bear Growls: Of Bears and Bibles




Our bruin friend over at Saint Corbinian’s Bear gives a useful overview of Catholic Bibles:

Recently, the Bear joined a Facebook Group called something like “Douay-Rheims Bible.” His first contribution was to note that St. Jerome started by correcting the “old Latin” Bible, which took people like 200 years to get over. What he got back was this:


The Bear still doesn’t know what to make of this. Except that he inadvertently turned over a rock. But it illustrates the fact that Catholics do not get Bible. Granted, they have the correct number of books, but we’re not spoiled for choice compared to our separated brethren.

  • Vulgate — Bear forgot most his Latin
  • Douay-Rheims — archaic language, but Challoner’s version is useful, especially with Haydock’s semi-useful commentary. (You want to talk BIG; must be registered as a deadly weapon in Washington state and Maine.) Published back when Catholics were confident. Not a bad choice at all, although some words will leave you scratching your head. Currently available on sale for $95 from Catholic Treasures. You owe it to yourself to own this beautiful, illustrated edition. Of course, more portable versions are available, too, but without Haydock’s notes, from St. Benedict Press and Lepanto Press, which has an economical, illustrated hardcover. Note that just as Protestants have their KJV-Onlyists, Catholics have their Douay-Rheims Onlyists. Both harmless if you pass on the Kool-Aid.
  • Revised Standard Version (either Catholic edition) — people get upset that Isaiah 7:14 is accurately translated in the 1st Ed. 2nd Ed. panders a bit by trying to make Catholics happier, which fails, because everybody (even Protestants) just knows “it’s a liberal translation.” Even so, the RSV is one of the best all-around choices for Catholics, in the Bear’s opinion. 1st Ed. uses “thees and thous” when addressing the Deity, if you like that sort of thing. Not impressed with translation to “repent” in relation to Judas, though, which recently confused our dear old holy Father.
  • Navarre Bible — very nice, extensive, conservative Catholic commentary (even if St. Jose Maria Escrivá is overrepresented in some volumes). RSV translation with current official Latin on every page. While there is a lovely one-volume, oversized “expanded” New Testament, it otherwise comes in a multi-volume set, e.g. “Pentateuch,” “Minor Prophets,” etc. You won’t be taking this to Sunday School with you. Catholics just don’t do one-volume study Bibles. Otherwise best in show.
  • Ignatius Study Bible — another multi-volume publication done by Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch. Nice; the NT volume is hardcover; others are paperback and the Bear has not read them. Probably the Catholic study Bible most like a Protestant study Bible in format and style, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
  • Catholic Scripture Study International — a whole program designed for group study, with an RSV-CE 1st Ed. Bible. Apologetics material on glossy pages scattered throughout. The program drivers are obviously well-meaning, but the Bear was just not impressed. You might be.
  • Jerome or Collegeville commentaries — Bear calls Modernism, but officially state-of-the-art, Catholic-style, i.e. recycling century-old liberal Protestant theories that the Bible is a forgery written in 1829 by Wilbur T. Birkenback, of Augusta, Maine. (Collegeville? Really?)
  • New American Bible, Revised Edition (NABRE) — the official Bible of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, one of two “officially approved” for private reading by Catholics in the U.S. The Bear doesn’t know about you, but he can’t think of a single body better qualified to publish an annotated translation of the Bible! Translation itself isn’t bad, but you can’t get it without the notes, in which you will learn things like: because St. Matthew had never heard of Hebrew parallelism, he had Jesus enter Jerusalem riding both an ass and a colt like a circus performer. “The ass and the colt are the same animal in the prophecy [we sure about that, smart guy?] mentioned twice in different ways, the common Hebrew literary device of poetic parallelism. That Matthew takes them as two is one of the reasons why some scholars think that he was a Gentile rather than a Jewish Christian who would presumably not make that mistake” [when he was making up his Gospel]. That’s right, St. Matthew, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, completely blew the whole Palm Sunday scene because he was an ignorant Gentile. Recommended for Catholics who aspire to become atheists. Plus the usual recycling of Wellhausen’s Documentary Hypothesis (Darwin’s Origin of Species of Biblical scholarship) and other “assured results of higher criticism,” e.g. all books of the Bible were forged by people other than whose names they bear, and any prophecies had to have been made after the fact. (Sorry, Cyrus.)

Go here to read the rest.  I read a chapter from the Old Testament and a chapter from the New Testament each night, a habit I have kept since December 25, 1970 when my parents, at my request, gave me a New American Bible for Christmas.  I agree with the Bear that the translation is adequate while the notes are a tribute to the intellectual fads and prejudices of “higher criticism” of the Bible, and which are often unintentionally hilarious to someone who actually has some knowledge of the history of the Middle East circa 1500 BC to the Roman Empire.  Douay-Rheims isn’t bad, although some of the names can be odd to English speaking Catholics used to different names for familiar figures in the Bible.  There are several good sites on the internet where different translations are laid out side by side, which is not the worst way to get a general quick sense of a difficult passage.  Alas, no Catholic translation can yet match the majesty of the original King James.  Theologically suspect, the King James is the closest we will ever come to a Bible written by Shakespeare.  Now if only the theories of Shakespeare being a crypto-Catholic were true, and a Catholic Bible written by him were suddenly unearthed!  Hmmm, I think that is a good idea for a novel!

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.


  1. “There are several good sites on the internet where different translations are laid out side by side”

    Any hints with these?

  2. Yes. The notes are what we have to be very wary of. It is good to read B16 about exegesis. Also “The Politicizaton of the Bible” a book I haven’t read yet – ( Hahn) will ever helpful too. I like Agape Bible Study.

  3. “The Politicizaton of the Bible” a book I haven’t read yet – ( Hahn) will ever helpful too.

    I highly recommend that book. It is very good. Not for the feint of heart, as it delves back into the history of Biblical criticism, and the title may cause people not to realize that it is a scholarly criticism of “higher criticism” of the Bible looking at its historical development up to the 18th century.

  4. I’ve been switching between the King James w/Apocrypha, the Douay-Rheims, and for overall ease of reading, the Confraternity version.

  5. The Bear still doesn’t know what to make of this.

    You mean The Bear didn’t immediately guess a wit (of a sort) doing a pantomime of a backwoods sola scriptura fundamentalist?
    Is that because bears have no sense of humor?

  6. The title of Scott Hahn’s book is Politicizing the Bible. Thanks for the reference.

    Is it loaded with his trademark puns?

  7. Yeah… the Bear has a sense of humor (albeit somewhat blunted by men with rifles shooting at him at random), which is precisely the reason he is quite certain it was not a parody. But who knows? Poe’s Law is alive and well, as the Bear well knows from his own disreputable and often satirical ephemeris.

    And, Don, the Bear is a southern Illinois Copperhead. Is he still welcome here?

  8. BTW, the Bear will be reviewing the strange publishing phenomenon of Protestant study Bibles. It’s Bible Wars out there, man. Is anyone benefitting? Maybe muscle mass from lugging around these behemoths.

  9. “And, Don, the Bear is a southern Illinois Copperhead. Is he still welcome here?”

    Ah, my bruin friend I was born and reared in Paris, Illinois and my son is currently finishing his second year of law school at SIU in Carbondale. I hold nothing but fondness for the southern part of the Land of Lincoln!

  10. Anzlyne, Thank you. It is nice to be missed. A stroke in January sidelined me. I had to learn to walk, talk, swallow and see again. I am well on my way to recovery thanks to prayers and the excellent care of my family and doctors.
    To add to my comment about God being the Supreme Sovereign Being,(two would preempt one another). Father Robert Barron said that to refer to God as The Supreme Sovereign Being would scare people off.
    Mankind is created in sovereign personhood. Rather than be subjects to a one world government under the World Bank or be subject to a monarchy or The Declaration on Human Rights of The United Nations as the Climate Change Treaty would ensnare every person, both Godless and atheistic regimes, It is important for man to know that as a child of God, The Supreme Sovereign Being, man has sovereign personhood. Man is not only capable but is called to a vocation of sovereignty and discipline over himself (Mankind is womanhood as well)
    Again, Thank you for your kind concern and prayers.

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