Bibles and Biblical Commentaries

When it comes to reading the Bible, it is important to consider which translation is being used. Some Bibles, unfortunately, are “translated” so as to reflect a particular theology which is not Catholic. Others might also include transliterations according to the ideological or political concerns of the translators. The Word of God, however, is something that needs to be encountered in its fullness. That there are difficult passages and concepts which don’t line up with the culture of our time is nothing new—God’s message has always challenged cultures, in different ways, throughout history.

With that said, there have been good translations of the Bible both from Catholics and Protestants alike. I would personally recommend as trustworthy the RSV (Catholic Edition, to include the books of the Septuagint) or the Douay-Rheims (which is a very direct translation but archaic in style).

In addition to a good translation, it is helpful to have a good commentary. Many Bibles, such as the standard copies of the NAB, will have minimal commentary which is largely historical-critical. Other commentaries are more extensive and also include theological considerations. Among these, I would recommend:


The Navarre Bible

This Bible from the university of Navarre in Spain provides a thorough commentary on the entire Bible. The commentary is largely taken from the Fathers of the Church and other saints, although it also takes into account modern Biblical scholarship. Each book of the Bible also includes an Introduction which is comprehensive but not overwhelming.

The commentary of the Navarre Bible makes it especially suitable to Bible studies or personal reading, as the commentary is clear, often practical, and very faithful to the teaching of the Church. Often, the commentary makes clear the meaning of complicated texts, making use of the teachings of the Church which relate to the text. The commentary is easy to understand and well organized, making it easy to work with for those who are not entirely familiar with Biblical commentaries.

Mark 8:29: Peter’s profession of faith is reported here in a shorter form than in Matthew 16:18-19. Peter seems to go no further than say that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah. Eusebius of Caesarea, in the fourth century, explains the Evangelist’s reserve by the fact that he was the interpreter of St. Peter, who omitted from his preaching anything which might appear to be self-praise.


Catena Aurea

This Biblical commentary, available in its entirety online, was compiled by St. Thomas Aquinas. Literally meaning “The Golden Chain”, it seeks to draw the thread of Patristic thought through every passage of scripture for our benefit. The result is a thorough compilation of the reflections of many Church Fathers.

At times, the commentary can be tedious or repetitive. At times, it takes considerable focus to work through an extended argument from a Church Father or the interwoven, if somewhat disjointed, arguments of various Church Fathers. All the same, the commentary is simple enough to understand, and there are many gems of spiritual insight to be found in this collection.

Venerable Bede: But though there were four Evangelists, yet what they wrote is not so much four Gospels, as one true harmony of four books. For as two verses having the same substance, but different words and different metre, yet contain one and the same matter, so the books of the Evangelists, though four in number, yet contain one Gospel, teaching one doctrine of the Catholic faith.


Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture

This series includes direct quotes from a wide variety of Church Fathers on every passage of Scripture. It is generally very comprehensive. The insights of these Church Fathers is invaluable—among commentators, they were the closest to the apostles, as well as being known for their holiness and their depth of knowledge. The simple fact that the material from so many of their commentaries, homilies, orations, etc. has been collected in one place and organized by Biblical reference makes this one of the best commentaries available. That said, readers should be aware that the editor is Protestant and seems to have had some bias in the choice of which quotations to include for notably Catholic passages—such as John 6.

The commentaries are generally short selections and easy to understand. In addition, each passage of Scripture has a summary of the Patristic comments from the editor, giving a sense of the images and the arguments used by the Fathers in the quotations that follow.

Augustine: Let us recognize that the ark prefigured the Church. Let us be the clean beasts in it. Yet let us not refuse to allow the unclean ones to be carried in it with us until the end of the deluge. They were together in the ark, but they were not equally pleasing to the Lord as a savor of sacrifice, for after the deluge, Noah offered sacrifice to God of the clean, not of the unclean. But the ark was not on that account abandoned before the time by any of the clean because of the unclean.