Monday, October 28, 2013

Responding to Ray

As a Catholic, you've probably noticed more people willing to bring up questions or experiences involving the Catholic faith or the Church in general. Pope Francis has piqued a lot of people's interest, and his celebrity has made it socially acceptable, and even comfortable, for people to speak about religion in public. He has also prompted a number of somewhat lax Catholics to begin to work their way back toward a full Catholic life.

One of those coming-back Catholics is a guy I will call "Ray." Ray knows that his understanding of Catholic teachings is a little, shall we say, vague. But he wants to start doing something about that, and he wants to begin in a very good place: the Bible.
I would like to start reading the Bible - what are your recommendations on a version - there are sooo many different ones?  I downloaded an app to my tablet (free app, of course) and it has so many different versions - I am not sure which I should use.  Once I settle on that - where is the best place to begin?  I am not sure if reading from Genesis on is the right way to go.
Photo credit:pasotraspaso Foter (CC BY)
So, the Bible.

Since there are two questions here: which translation would be best and where (how!) to begin. I'll just deal with translations in this first post.

My personal preference in terms of translation is the New American Bible. This is a clear, basic English translation--in fact, it is the same one you hear at Mass in the United States. For me, reading and hearing the same version is a big help toward recognizing Scripture and even memorizing the most important sections. I also like that the recent revisions make this translation much closer to the original Hebrew and Greek that Jesus and the Apostles would have been familiar with. The abbreviation most often used for the New American Bible is NABRE (New American Bible, Revised Edition). You can get the NAB for your i-device on iTunes for $1.99; not free, but not bad. (I haven't used this app, so I can't really recommend it; you can get a highly rated NAB app for $7.99 that might work more smoothly.)

Another major Catholic translation that is unlikely to be on a free app is the Jerusalem Bible, also updated as the New Jerusalem Bible. This is used for the Mass in Canada  [see comment below]. It was translated from the Hebrew and Greek, and then confronted with a high-level French translation. An interesting tidbit about the Jerusalem Bible: "Lord of the Rings" author JRR Tolkein was on the editorial committee!

Your app may not feature these translations because of copyright issues. The closest thing to the NABRE among the commonly used Protestant translations is the Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition (RSVCE). There is also a "New" Revised Standard Version, which has some unfortunate concessions to political correctness. I use it sometimes for convenience (I have a teeny little New Testament for travel and it is NRSV), but because I am familiar enough with the text to know where they are fudging on the words. I don't recommend the Good News (also called "Today's English Version") because the language is so casual (it is a paraphrase more than a translation), but that's just me. For someone on their first go-through of the Bible, it may hit the spot.

Is my insistence on using a Catholic translation a bit narrow-minded? Actually, you may already know that Catholic Bibles include quite a bit more (very interesting!) material than the typical Protestant edition. These books (Sirach, Tobit, Wisdom, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Baruch--along with amplified versions of Daniel and Esther) are called "deuterocanonicals" because they were recognized as Scripture a little later than books like Psalms or Isaiah. (We're not talking 313 AD late, but more like 100 BC-90 AD late). Some Protestant Bibles will include them, along with other ancient writings, in a section called "apocrypha," where they are indistinguishable from books that have no biblical status at all. (So I think it is better for a Catholic to stick with a Bible that makes it very clear which books are accepted as divinely inspired!) 

Catholic Bibles are also required to have explanatory footnotes: a real help to grasping what a passage means, which other passages it is connected to, and what place it has in connection to the whole of Catholic teaching.

I'll be back again with some thoughts on how to get started--and where! Meanwhile, here are some free resources for Catholic Scripture study (a few places to start):

Scott Hahn's (free!) self-guided Scripture study courses: you have to register first, but access is free. Take your pic of introductory overviews or detailed studies of themes or books. (Hahn's story is interesting; he became a Catholic because he recognized that the Mass was the Bible in action!) 

Understanding the Scriptures podcast: 30 (free!) audio lessons on the Bible, prepared as an accompaniment for a textbook, but you don't need to have the text to benefit from the lessons. You can get this on iTunes, as well. 

Catholic Education Resource Center is a good overall Catholic questions/answers site. I have this link set to a search for all the bible-related questions.


Anonymous said...

We haven't used the New Jerusalem Bible in Canada for years. We went to the New American Bible and now use the NRSV-Ce. The Vatican uses the RSV-CE for all their English translations of scripture.

I'd always wanted a bible as a kid, was eventually given one for my 8th birthday, a King James version which I couldn't read, language was far too difficult. In my teens I purchased a Good News For Modern Man, read it cover to cover, signed up for a bible study which lasted a few years, then went on to the New International Version. Several months before entering the Catholic Church I purchased a New American Bible from the Daughters of St. Paul, still in use though showing the effects of wear and age (aren't we all?) I have a copy of the RSV-CE, but as Sister said, the New American Bible is a fluid read. We also have a copy of the Douay-Rheims, a very old translation predating the King James Bible.

In the end, the bible you should buy is the one you will read, but by all means make sure it is a Catholic Bible, there are differences, subtle though they are, and you don't want to miss out on those scriptures included in the Catholic versions which have been omitted in Protestant bibles.

As for how to read it? I have done the cover to cover method, but you will get as much out of reading sacred Scripture if you follow the daily readings of the Church, will keep in step with Catholics who are also reading along with you. There are several good publications such as The Word Among Us, a monthly Catholic publication containing not only the scripture but also daily commentary on the readings.

All the best, blessings to all who avail themselves of the riches to be found in reading scripture. A few minutes each day is a good investment. And check out the Daughters of St. Paul bookstores, my bible was a good buy. - Jean

Anonymous said...

I'm still blathering on here, but that's because I'm enthusiastic about reading the bible. One of the best things I found, when I started out and still today, is that by doing the daily readings, you are already primed for the Sunday readings and the (hopefully) good homily that follows. I found that there was a pattern that interconnected, made sense of the church seasons and teachings. - Jean

Sr Anne Flanagan said...

Thanks for bringing me up to speed on the Canadian liturgy!

Tim Lilley said...

I can highly recommend the Laudate app, which would be especially useful to someone like Ray. It's free, has the New American Bible, access to the complete Catechism, prayers, daily readings and the order of the Mass - lot of other nice features. I am not affiliated with it in any way; just ran across it and really like it. I use it all the time!

Sr Anne Flanagan said...

Thanks, Tim!
Does anyone else have an app that might fit the bill?

Anonymous said...

Bible.Com is what I use. Once you go on the site there is a link that takes you to where you can download for Android, iPhone, Kindle and several others. The app itself has many different versions in different languages as well as some versions in audio as well. Laudate is also a great app.