Which Translation Should I Choose?

a quick guide to selection a Catholic Bible

Sorting through the different translations


When looking for a bible, the number of available translations can be a little overwhelming.  And it doesn’t help that many of the translations go by non-descript acronyms.  There’s the NAB, the NIV, the GNT and the KJV; it can feel a bit like trying to read alphabet soup.  Given the numerous translations, how do we know which translation to choose?    Fortunately, despite the number of options available, finding the right translation is fairly easy; there are just a couple of key questions you need to ask yourself. 

For starters, you need to ask yourself, What style of language are you looking for?  Would you like a more traditional translation, one that keeps the “these” and thous”?  Or are you looking for a more current, updated translation? 

If you’d like a more traditional translation, then the best choice by far is the Douay Rheims Bible.  Its beautiful, older style retains elements of Early Modern English that are reminiscent of Shakespearean English.  The Douay Rheims is the only widely used Catholic translation to retain this style.  Almost all other Catholic bibles, like the NABRE and RSV, for example, have adopted Modern English.   Modern English translations are very popular because they can be easier to understand, clearer and more straightforward.  Since the language is more accessible, it is especially appropriate for a child or teenager.

After deciding the style of language you’d prefer, the next question you have to ask yourself is, how do you intend to use the bible?  Are you newer to the bible and would just like to dive and start reading?  Do you plan to use the bible as part of your daily prayer and meditation?  Is this meant for a bible study, to go deeper into the historical, linguistic or theological meaning? 

Understanding dynamic and literal translations

If you interested in studying the bible in a deeper way, a literal translation is ideal.  A literal translation is essentially a word-for-word translation that follows the original text closely.    A literal translation can have more stilted language, but it retains more of the original meaning and depth of the text. 

A dynamic translation is more of a thought-for-thought translation and can be a better choice for someone new to the bible, or someone picking it up for some daily reading.  The translation is more free with the word order, grammar and word choice, which can make the text more readable, but less precise.   

A simple example of dynamic and literal translation can be seen is when the angel Gabriel greets Mary, two common renditions are “Hail favored one” (a more dynamic translation) and “Hail, full of grace” ( a more literal translation). 

The first greeting, “Hail favored one” is much easier to understand, but not as rich in meaning.  The second greeting, “Hail full of grace” is more certainly more obscure, but also much more profound.  How so?  For one, the word grace is rich in theological meaning, connoting either sanctifying grace or actual grace.  In addition to that, the term appears over 100 times in the New Testament; so when St. Paul for example, talks about grace in his letters, it gives us a richer and deeper understanding of this grace that filled Mary and how exactly she was favored.

The Douay Rheims and RSV are fairly literal translations; the NABRE is a fairly dynamic translation.  The NRSV tends to be pretty literal, except when it uses gender neutral language. 

However, if you are not looking for either casual reading or study, but primarily would like to use the bible for prayer and meditation, then really, there is no one best translation.  Rather, the best translation is the one that speaks to your heart.   Reading samples of each the language in each translation is the surest way to see which one will be most fruitful for prayer.   

Comparison Chart of Different Catholic Translations of the Bible

Translation Ezekiel 34: 15-16 Matthew 18: 15
Douay Rheims Bible
I will feed my sheep: and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord God. I will seek that which was lost: and that which was driven away, I will bring again: and I will bind up that which was broken, and I will strengthen that which was weak…

But if thy brother shall offend against thee, go, and rebuke him between thee and him alone. If he shall hear thee, thou shalt gain thy brother.
Buy a Douay Rheims Bible
NABRE - New American Bible Revised Edition
I myself will pasture my sheep; I myself will give them rest—oracle of the Lord God. The lost I will search out, the strays I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, and the sick I will heal…

If your brother sins (against you), go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.
Buy a NABRE Bible
RSV - Revised Standard Version
I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back they strayed, and I will bind up the crippled, and I will strengthen the weak…

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.
Buy a RSV Bible
NRSV - New Revised Standard Edition
I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak…

If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one
Buy a NRSV Bible
GNT - Good News Translation
I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will find them a place to rest. I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken. I will look for those that are lost, bring back those that wander off, bandage those that are hurt, and heal those that are sick...
If your brother sins against you, go to him and show him his fault. But do it privately, just between yourselves. If he listens to you, you have won your brother back. Buy a Good News Bible