It became a Catholic stereotype somewhere after the invention of the printing press and the time Bob Feller took the mound in Boston in 1948 that: “Catholics don’t know their Bible.” Many reasons exist for this worn idea. For one thing, until recently in human history – like not until the late 1400’s with the invention of the Gutenberg printing press – the cost of hand written books prohibited most people from owning them. Along with the rarity of book ownership came a low rate of literacy coupled with the reality that both the church and university often wrote in Latin; up until recently (late-1960's) the priest proclaimed the Prologue of John’s Gospel at the Mass in Latin. Then throw in the Western schism in the 1500’s with Martin Luther, followed by subsequent ruptures within Protestantism, and denominational fault lines developed with interpretations of Scripture passages wedged between ecclesial communities. Although this simplifies the issues at play way too much, there developed a hesitancy within the body of the Church towards the personal reading of Scripture due to the fallout that occurred after Lutheranism. Some church goers today still recount times when consecrated religious in Catholic schools would imply to pupils to just let the priest preach on the Scriptures because, if they tried to read it themselves, they might fall into heresy. We can look at this with sorrow while honoring the sincere desire to remain faithful to beauty of the Church’s teaching. At the same time, we can admit that the program of “suspicion first unto avoidance” of Scripture led to many Catholics losing out on a deeper union with the Trinity and losing out on having our attitudes and actions shaped by the very Word of God. With literacy rates relatively higher today than they presumably were in 1523AD, we might want to scale back the hesitancy. It’s time for Catholics to embrace reading, grappling with, and praying with the Sacred Scriptures.
There is no shame in needing help when starting to read the Bible for the first time. It’s a big book and can be intimidating if you’ve never paged through books and nested in the verses of the Scriptures. There’s no perfect starting place. But a reasonable place to start is: buying a Bible.
Buying a Bible
You’ll notice the myriad options when clicking around online for a Bible. It might feel overwhelming. Where to start? Which translation do I use? Why are there so many options? Let’s simplify this a little bit.
Catholics love the Word of God so much we have seven extra books of the Bible. If you’d like the learn more about the reasons why this is, click HERE. Suffice it to say, the disagreements that divided the Church in the West ran deep enough to create divisions about the number of books in the official listing of Scriptures. It’s sad, but it happened. And, so, look for a Bible with all of the books in it. Some Bibles will say “complete with deuterocanonical/apocryphal books” or “Catholic edition.” No need to get lost in the long word “deuterocanonical” or “apocryphal,” just know that’s the Bible you’ll want to purchase.
Now we move on to translations. I’m hesitant to do this because some people have very strong opinions about different translations. Then again, people have strong opinions about everything from thread counts of bed sheets to weather patterns, so that’s not strange. What will follow is my personal take on some translations and why I use them. Each translation attempts to solve its own problems and I am so thankful for those who spend their lives in offering us English translations of the Bible that draw us into God’s word.
I use different translations for different purposes. The New American Bible (NAB) is the translation the Catholic Church uses in these United States for the Lectionary (the readings at the Sunday Mass). If I’m getting ready for the weekend Mass, I’ll check out the NAB simply because the wording is the same. The NAB is available in paperback, too, so that can be a help. For Bible study I use the Revised Standard Version (RSV). I use the RSV for Bible study because the main commentary I use employs the RSV when expounding on the Scriptures. It helps me to see the connection between the commentary and the Bible I’m reading in that instance. If I’m giving a talk, I’ll sometimes use the New Living Translation (NLT) (Catholic Edition), because the translators have done, in my opinion, a pretty beautiful job of keeping true to the translation while making it easy to understand when hearing it read aloud. I have a New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE) that is a study Bible with a lot of notations and many articles in it that I go to from time to time to unpack verses. And, those are the translations I use. I know Word on Fire has a book of the Gospels out. Ignatius Press has a Bible out. And these are all fine Bibles. The one’s I’ve outlined above are simply the translations I use most often and are not guided by any private revelation of Mary.
Note: If you need a large print edition, it would be worth the extra cabbage for the ease of reading and prayer.
Think about what you’ll be doing with your Bible. You’ll be praying with and studying your Bible. That means you’ll want a Bible that you can transport easily, one that doesn’t weigh fifty pounds, and a Bible that doesn’t take up the entire kitchen table after you open it. It’s so much up to personal preference here. The main point is: if you don’t have a Bible, it is time to get a Bible.
Before concluding, I want to speak to one of the most important aspects of reading the Bible: our mindset and heartset.
We do not read the Bible to “get through it” and “finish” the Bible. If the mindset is “Bible in a Year” means done with the Bible for the next 20 years, then we need a little adjustment of the heart. We need reading and praying with the Bible to become a pattern and habit in our daily life. This will be a big change for some people, but it is so worth it. We read the Bible during the course of our day and pray with the Scriptures regularly because it is through the Scriptures that we encounter the Living Word and become shaped by that Word. If we do not allow the Word of God to shape us through the Sacred Scriptures, then we are missing out on Heaven’s graces, promises, and blessings.
Next Post: After you get your Bible, where do you start?
Fr. Jacob Bearer is a Catholic priest. He's about 6' to 6'4'' tall depending on which Convenient Store he's exiting. Although he enjoys kidney beans in chili, Fr. Jacob does not like baked beans and counts this as one of the toughest blotches on his character. He's been the administrator of SS. Edward's and Lucy's since January of 2022. Thank God for the Hatchery...this is a place where the author can share thoughts and ideas that don't quite seem right for the bulletin and won't exactly make for a homily (except for the times when the homily is posted with a sound file or used for a blog post). God bless you...and the hatchery.