Buy the Book: Not All Bibles Are Created Equal. Here's How to Not Get Lost in the Translations

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I need a Bible. What kind should I get?" My sister sounded frustrated as she described her quest for what she'd imagined would be a simple purchase. As the Bible is a sacred text of such magnitude, she'd figured all versions would be more or less on the same page.

But after facing the avalanche of selections on Amazon.com, my sister conceded defeat. She didn't care whether the book came in a zippered pouch or had the words of Jesus printed in red. The cover didn't matter, whether it was done in "purple shimmer" or imitation leather--though she wondered about God's authentic word being presented in fake covers.

She had simply typed in "Bible" and was presented with more than 320,000 options. That was several hundred thousand too many. So she tried a more specific search for "Catholic Bibles" and still came up with 14,000.

The Catholic selection increased her confusion. The Douay-Rheims version claimed to be "church authorized." Some Bibles promised not to "dumb down the text." Some volumes declared they contained the Holy Bible, and others merely advertized that they were devotional. Scores were "revised"--from what, she dared not imagine.

I asked my sister what she wanted the Bible for. "Homework," she admitted. The kids were of an age that their religious instruction involved looking up passages. My sister was chagrined to discover she didn't have a single, sturdy, no-kidding Bible she could count on.

People go Bible shopping for all kinds of reasons. No one Bible will meet all those objectives. While 320,000 options may be excessive, there are far fewer choices than such an inflated list implies.

The key to finding the right Bible is often in the sea of acronyms that accompany many titles: NAB, NRSV, NIV, and KJV being among the most familiar. These signify the translation used, the most significant consideration of any purchase.

So here are some pointers to consider in your next Bible hunt. In general, most Catholics will be more satisfied with a designated Catholic Bible than any other, because it includes seven books omitted by Protestants during the Reformation. Those books do show up in the readings we hear at Mass from time to time: Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, 1 and 2 Maccabees, not to mention more chapters to the books of Esther and Daniel.

Children's Bibles are a unique category; basically if kids like it and will read it, it's a good Bible for them. Since some of the most effective theological training we've had comes by way of images-from stained glass windows and statues through Hollywood movies--the pictures may be the most important feature in the selection for children.

For adults, the words matter more. If you're going to have only one Bible in the house, make it an NABRE: New American Bible Revised Edition, barely two years old in its present version.

The sound of the sentences will match what you are used to hearing in church, and it's as authorized as a Bible can be: the original NAB was endorsed by Pope Paul VI, and the current revision is approved by the U.S. bishops. It's a readable, accurate translation you can take to the bank for homework as well as personal reading. Look for a volume with footnotes that cross-reference related biblical texts, all-essential maps, and timelines. …