Saturday, June 7, 2014


Bear's Bible Collection

For a Catholic, the Bear sure does love him some Bible. In fact, they tend to accumulate to the point of comment by the Bear's mate. She just doesn't understand. A Bible's a Bible, right? Well, no.

First of all, there are complete Bibles, then Protestant Bibles. As you probably know, Catholic Bibles have more books in the Old Testament: Tobit, Judith, First and Second Maccabees, Wisdom, Sirach (a.k.a. Ecclesiasticus or Ben Sira) and Baruch. The Catholic Church followed the Jewish canon from the Septuagint (Greek) version of Scriptures used during the time of Christ. Protestants follow the Hebrew canon established after Christ by the Jews at the (historically disputed) Council of Jamnia. We have 73, they have 66.

(Septuagint, by the way, comes from the Greek "70," i.e. the number of scholars assembled to create the translation from Hebrew into Greek.)

By discarding certain books, Protestants did not have to deal with the implications of teachings such as the praiseworthiness of praying for the dead (presumably in Purgatory) found in Maccabees. On one of Martin Luther's bad days he chucked some other books, too, like James ("an epistle of straw"), because they did not agree with Martin Luther. (His followers wisely slipped them back in, keeping the New Testament canon intact.)

Non-Catholic Bibles

Nonetheless, the Bear owns and uses two very nice non-Catholic Bibles in addition to his usual rotation of the Douay-Rheims (DR), New American Bible (Revised) (NABRE), and Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSVCE).

Why would a very, very Catholic Bear ever sully his library with mutilated scripture? The answer is there are two Bibles that betray no, or very little, Protestant bias for the simple fact that they are a very literal translation and contain few, if any, notes. The Bear speaks of The Thompson Chain Reference Bible, and the Inductive Study Bible, both in the New American Standard Bible (NASB) translation. Both of these editions offer features impossible to find in a Catholic Bible.

First a word about the translation. Most Bible translators like to smooth out their translation to make it read easier in English. For example, the first sentence in Ephesians is 12 verses long in the Greek! St. Paul liked Greek run-on sentences. It reads more smoothly if you separate the thoughts into discrete sentences. However, that's not the way St. Paul wrote it, and he was, after all, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, St. John's Greek is simple, artless, even staccato. In the NASB, the styles come across very clearly, and the Bear can trust that the translators didn't indulge in any jiggery-pokery.

That is why the NASB is the Bear's favorite translation. It is simple, accurate, and avoids obvious clunky phrasing like the NABRE sometimes throws at you.

The Bear cannot recommend the use of non-Catholic Bibles, but here are two he likes.

Thompson Chain Reference

The Thompson Chain Reference Bible is published by Kirkbride, out of Indiana. It grew out of the genius of one Protestant minister Rev. Frank Charles Thompson in the late 1800s. He linked thousands of concepts he called "thought suggestions" together into "chains," assigning a number to each. You can look up, say, "bear," and find its number and a list of occurrences with chapter and verse. Often there will also be actual quotes, for more important topics. (Bears are somehow considered less important, one place where this Bible clearly fails.) By going to the first instance, you will find the location of the next printed right in the margin.

In this way, you can follow themes, ideas, persons and things, one place to the next, all the way through the Bible. This is easier than a concordance because there is no flipping back and forth. It can also link concepts distinct from words, which provides a more complete study (e.g. "faith" and "belief"). It encourages looking at elements in context. Furthermore, since other numbered items will be close by in the margin (they are filled with these things) you can see and explore related concepts. Finally, the "thought suggestions" in the margin make a handy outline of the text.

While computer resources, such as the Bear's beloved Verbum software, are infinitely more flexible and powerful, there is still something that the Bear loves in holding a real Bible in his hands and leafing through pages of Holy Scripture, pencil in hand.

CAUTION: While there are no study notes typical of "study bibles" in the Bible per se, a few of the helps in the back reflect the typical sola fide error of the Reformed theology. There is no risk of being led astray, however, if you are well-catechized enough to spot the very few obvious pitfalls.

New Inductive Study Bible

Precept Ministries' New Inductive Study Bible is published by Harvest House, and available at most Protestant bookstores. It's just a Bible (missing a few OT books). However, the neat thing is that they designed it to be used like the Bear uses his Bible anyway. The paper is a bit thicker and the margins are a lot wider. There are even spaces for some directed note-taking for each chapter. It is meant to be drawn in. If you still have fond memories of a new box of crayons, you will love assembling your colored pencils and gel highlighters and turning each chapter into an art project.

Be Bible Literate

For the past several days, the Bear has been immersed in the Book of Romans. Romans is where the Protestants get their "faith alone" [sic] proof texts. But when you read it in the context of the mixed Jewish-Gentile Roman Church, the faith vs. works tension may be resolved. We -- the Bear and his mate -- saved Romans for last of Paul's epistles because it is without question a difficult book. It is incredibly rich, though, and repays careful reading. Even word-by-word analysis with beautiful colored pencils.

You don't need to be a Bible collector, of course. But you really should be a Bible student. After all, St. Jerome famously said "ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." Recommended Catholic translations are the tried and true Douay-Rheims, the popular New American Standard Revised Edition, or the Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition, popular with many conservative Catholics.

Lectio Divina is what Catholics call Bible study.

It is simply prayerfully reading up to a chapter, and being open to God's instruction. Be sure to open with a prayer:

Come Holy Spirit,
Fill the hearts of your faithful.
Kindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit,
(R) And they shall be created.
O God, who did instruct the hearts of the faithful by the light of the Spirit,
Grant that, by the gift of the same Spirit, we may be always truly wise.

The traditional Catholic way of studying scripture is to be sensitive to the four meanings:
  • literal
  • analogical (e.g. types, such as crossing the Red Sea = baptism)
  • tropological (moral lessons)
  • anagogical (having to do with the end of the world or last things)
Daily scripture reading in your Bible does not require much of an investment in time, but is very rewarding for Catholics. It will also help you answer questions when your Protestant friend asks "are you saved?" Blow him away with your superior Catholic Bible knowledge! After all, it's our book!


  1. Thank you! Reading the Bible is largely what what brought me from Evangelical practice into the Catholic Church. It's a very dangerous book! The other major factor was an odd (for an Evangelical) habit of praying to Mary.

    What do you think about reading the Bible in Latin? I find it useful for study, but my Latin is not good enough to use it for devotional reading. (My husband was working on learning Greek before his death, but I never even mastered the alphabet.)

  2. I use old standby resources like Strong's and Vine's to understand the Hebrew and Greek (my Arabic helps with the former, since they are very similar). I also have interlinear computer resources through Verbum.

    I like the Latin, and have the Vulgate electronically. I took Latin in high school, and taught it to my kids in homeschool, but I'm by no means an expert. Of course the DR is based on the Vulgate, and I do enjoy making my own translations of verses, and occasionally reading the Latin. You can learn a lot that way, especially vocabulary. There was a passage in Job I liked about God drawing forth the coiled serpent with his obstetric hand, according my own translation.

    But in the end, it is about clarity, and I prefer the most literal translation I can find, which is the NASB and dig into words with Strong's and Vine's. The Hebrew "radicals" (tri-literal roots from which words are formed) can throw a lot of light onto OT words and passages.

    I am an inveterate Bible reader and Bible marker. My Bibles get used a lot. And you're right: it is a dangerous book! I think it is important for Catholics to understand how Protestants misuse the Bible, Romans being a good example. It is easy to go astray, which is why we must read with the mind of the Church. That way we can understand what Romans really is saying in its context of an epistle to a mixed Jewish-Gentile church that was experiencing tension.


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