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What is the Difference Between Catholic and Protestant Bibles?


A caller named Jackie asks if the Catholic Bible should be interpreted differently from the Protestant Bible. She points out that she knows that the Catholic Bible has more books, but wonders if the meanings of the words change as well.

Father Dave responds, “So interestingly, she uses the phrase ‘Catholic Bible.’ It is probably important to point out that there are many different Catholic Bibles. By that, we mean different translations or even publications of the Scriptures that are appropriate for use by Catholics. The Catholic Church doesn’t forbid us from looking at any version or any translation of the Bible, but based on how I’ll answer this question, maybe it will become a bit more clear why we would steer people towards one version or translation over another.”

“When we talk about the Catholic Bible versus a Protestant Bible, that essentially stems from a disagreement among many. There had been books of the Bible that had been used by the Church. We also have to remember that the Reformation, not everybody was walking around with their own Bible because of a lack of literacy and lack of a printing press. Bibles were mostly in the possession of the Church, Church leaders or monasteries. In fact, the only way we would reproduce other copies or even other versions of the Bible would be from monks sitting copying over the manuscripts.”

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“There wasn’t a difference between Catholics and Protestants until the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. Prior to that, there were probably a couple of translations … Right around the middle of the 16th century and the 1530s, 1560s we see different translations or versions of the Bible. Now we have to look at what that means because Jackie’s question is, ‘Is a Catholic bible a different interpretation?’ There are a couple of words we want to look at: version, translation, and interpretation. A version usually means a different translation. Most likely a bunch of scholars and experts in language and culture and all sorts of other things endeavor to go back to the original text and translate it.”

“Then there are different versions of the Bible that are approved for Catholics. For instance, for our listeners and viewers in Canada, the version of the translation that we use at Mass in Canada is called the NRSV. If you had an NRSV Bible cracked open to Matthew chapter three, and you had an NAB that we use here in the United States open to Matthew chapter three, it would look pretty identical, but there might be a different turn of phrase. I think where Jackie’s question comes into play, though, is are there some words, or at least some scenes that we’re translating that somebody who’s translating it from a different Christian tradition might already have a theology and a worldview that might cause them to translate a word or a phrase in a different way that might have different theological meaning? The answer is yes.”

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“That’s why we do recommend that Catholics Bibles that are exclusively just produced by Catholics. Because of the tradition of the Church that informs who we are as Catholics, we hear, for instance, words like, when you say, ‘Jesus, his mother and brothers.’ The word in English, we translate as brothers. If you look at the footnote in the in the NAB or one of these Catholic versions of the Bible or Catholic study Bible, it will tell you that, we didn’t want to translate that word in a different way, but we know fairly positively that in that culture and at that time they would use that very same word that could rightly be translated as brother … It could mean sibling, but they would use that same word for extended family as well. We don’t change the word as Catholics. We don’t say ‘cousins’ … Even though we believe wholeheartedly, without a doubt that Mary only gave birth to Jesus and she gave birth to no other children. So therefore Jesus did not have literal siblings in the same way that we would use that word. Whereas, other Christians would just say, ‘If it’s not in the Scriptures, we’re not going to use any other sources.’ Many of them would agree that that word could mean something like cousins, or it could mean sibling.”

Father Dave also points out that during the Protestant Reformation, seven books were removed from the Bible. “The Catholic Church’s response was, ‘We have been considering them part of the Bible for 1500 years. Why would we change that now?’ Maybe you will hear other Christians say that Catholics have seven extra books in their Bible. Why’d you guys add those books? We didn’t add any books. You guys took some books away for some reason. We could go back into the specific reasons, and it was a persuasive reason at the time, but the Church’s response to that is we don’t believe that the Holy Spirit would have been leading us astray for 1500 years and having us stand up every Sunday and proclaim these words as Scripture if they weren’t. Jesus says right before he leaves and goes home to the Father, ‘I’m going to leave you the Holy Spirit that will guide you, protect you, teach you, remind you, admonish you.”