One of the questions I’m often asked as a priest is “Which Bible should I read?” It’s a fair question. If you wander into the Bible aisle of you local bookstore, you’ll find a dizzying array of choices, with different translations, different features, sizes, colors, and bindings.
The most important consideration is the issue of translations. In order to gain the best understanding of the biblical text, you’ll need a good modern translation. The King James Version has the sort of poetic, archaic language that many people associate with the Bible, but in the more than 400 years since it was translated, there have been significant changes in the English language, and even more significant advances in linguistics and biblical archeology. So get a modern translation.
Translations that I like include the New Jerusalem Bible, and the Revised Standard Version. If you want a translation that matches what you’ll hear read at Catholic Churches on Sunday, look for the New American Bible. For younger readers or people whose first language isn’t English, I’d recommend Today’s English Version. Although it’s not the best choice for serious study of scripture, for first-time readers it’s a good place to start.
Apart from issues of translation, Catholic Bibles have some differences in content. Approved Catholic versions have some additional books or sections of books, that in Protestant Bibles are referred to as “apocryphal” and may be either omitted or relegated to a separate section. If you’re in doubt about whether the Bible you’re looking at is an approved Catholic version, look on the copyright page for an imprimatur, the indication that a book has been officially approved.
You can find the complete text of the New American Bible at the Bishops’ Conference web site, at www.usccb.org/nab. Be sure to read the pages detailing fair use of the text and permissions to reprint it.