Top 5 Single Volume Catholic Study Bibles

In this series of “Top 5’s” our vice-president and COO Adam Janke shares what he thinks are some of the best Catholic books, podcasts, movies, and tv shows of today and yesterday with commentary on how they can be used to evangelize (if it isn’t already obvious). Disclaimer: our top 5 lists are subjective, fallible, and probably wrong. You’re welcome to tell us why they’re wrong in the comments. However, we do know what we like around here.

As a revert I was baptized Catholic, grew up Lutheran, became Baptist in high school, and Catholic in college. I’ve never regretted that journey, or my time as a Protestant. Being Baptist, for instance, taught me to love Jesus, love the Bible, and love a good potluck. I still love all of those things, and have the Sacraments and so much else now too. 

During my shift from Baptist to Catholic I would constantly browse the aisles of used bookstores for good books on faith. I amassed a small library of Catholic and Protestant study bibles. It always bothered me how few Catholic study bibles there seemed to be compared to Protestant study bibles. We still need more good Catholic single-volume study bibles. 

Unfortunately some Catholic publishers publish what I would consider “low-effort study bibles,” where they take the text of the Bible and add a couple of dozen inserts with short essays on various topics. I rarely recommend purchasing those Bibles. Study bibles need more than cross-references. They should contain an introduction to Sacred Scripture, including Dei Verbum from the Second Vatican Council, they should have introductions to the Old and New Testaments, introductions to each book of the Bible, and footnotes on passages throughout Scripture to help the reader understand the literal and spiritual senses of Scripture. They should have maps as well. A good study bible has plenty of resources to help the student of the Bible become a life-long learner. 

This narrows the field of study bibles that we can recommend considerably. If a Catholic publisher came up with a solid one-volume study bible they would probably automatically become a serious contender for this list because there are so few available that are faithful the Magisterium of the Catholic Church and Tradition, employ a hermeneutic of continuity, and are usable for the average person. 

Here’s a few, and perhaps the only solid options:

I’m willing to break my rule about study bibles that use inserts for this teen Bible by Amy Welborn. The inserts are fantastic, it still includes good introductions and footnotes, and it approaches the study of scripture from a hermeneutic of continuity. Teens need to know how to study the Bible and defend Catholic teaching in a culture that is openly hostile to the Catholic faith. We give this Bible to our teens.

Publisher description:

In twenty-five very compelling tabs spread throughout the Bible text, Prove It! The Catholic Teen Bible gives the why to the biggest questions of all. To the questions you’ve been asking your parents, your teachers, your friends … yourself: What’s life all about and where do I fit in? What’s my life all about, and where do God, family, friends, and all the rest fit in? How do I know God even exists, and what do the life and death of Jesus have to do with me right here, right now? If God loves us all, why should I bother taking my Catholicism seriously? If all religions are pretty much the same, why be a Catholic at all?

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

What I appreciate about the Great Adventure Study Bible is that it doesn’t simply try to repeat what other study bibles have already done. Using the RSV-CE2, it offers a unique take on a study bible, and is a companion to the Great Adventure Bible Timeline from Jeff Cavins. 

Here are some things that make it unique, according to the publisher:

  • Color-coding for easy reference. Use the popular Bible Timeline® Learning System that’s used by hundreds of thousands of Catholics to learn the Bible.
  • Articles to help you understand the overarching story and important covenants that tie the entire Bible together.
  • Key event callouts to help you quickly identify important points in the Bible that ordinarily take readers a long time to find and categorize in their head.
  • Detailed charts giving a visual overview of important characters, key events, maps, major covenants, and historical context.
  • Newly designed full-color maps to help visualize Bible story locations.

I have to admit, it’s a thing of beauty. It’s a pleasure to hold in your hand, to read, and to use for prayer and meditation. It’s not further up on this list because it’s almost completely lacking in footnotes. It’s also relatively light on “key event callouts” and “articles.” Still, it’s a worthy inclusion in our top 5 list.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

According to the publisher:

Originally prepared for the Church in Africa, this unique edition of the Bible serves as a source of inspiration and nourishment for all people of Africa and those who minister to them. This product of almost three years and more than 30 scholars, the edition-based on the New American Bible translation- is enriched by introductions, notes, comments, cross-references and illustrations that place the Word of God into the context of life in Africa today.

The Church in Africa understood the assignment. Create a single volume, easily accessible, faithful Catholic Bible that would serve a Catholic for a lifetime of study and uses the same English translation as the Catholic liturgy. Absolutely packed with introductions, extensive commentary, illustrations, cross references, and indexes, this is easily one of the best study bibles we have available today. It’s a shame that at the time of this publication it’s rather hard to obtain.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

According to the publisher:

The Didache Bible presents extensive commentaries, based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, for each of the books of the Holy Bible. It also includes numerous apologetical inserts to assist the reader in understanding the Church’s teachings on current issues.

Written for high school students, and meant to be used alongside Midwest Theological Forum’s 4 year high school religion curriculum, it makes for an excellent study bible.

It uses the Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition and has robust footnotes that are written based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the paragraph numbers of the catechism are referenced throughout. So as you read the Bible, you can see how the doctrines of the Church are deeply biblical. It has extensive notes, inserts, maps, introductions, a glossary, and the Bible is beautifully designed. It’s perfect for a student of the Bible who wants to better understand their faith, the development of doctrine, and how to defend their faith in the public sphere. It’s more catechetical than devotional but would do well on every Catholics bookshelf alongside other volumes.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This is what a modern Catholic study Bible should be. The achilles heel of this Bible is that it is only available in the New Testament. While single volumes of Old Testament books have been written, it’s been the sorrow of Catholics everywhere that a full single volume of the Old Testament hasn’t yet been published. If it was available, it would be recognized as the best, complete study bible available in English today.

According to the publisher:

The only Catholic Study Bible based on the Revised Standard Version 2nd Catholic Edition [note: not anymore], the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament brings together all of the books of the New Testament and the penetrating study tools developed by renowned Bible teachers Dr. Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch.

This volume presents the written Word of God in a highly readable, accurate translation, excellent for personal and group study. Extensive study notes, topical essays and word studies provide fresh and faithful insights informed by time-tested, authentically Catholic interpretations from the Fathers of the Church and other scholars. Commentaries include the best insights of ancient, medieval and modern scholarship, and follow the Church’s guidelines for biblical interpretation. Plus, each New Testament book is outlined and introduced with an essay covering questions of authorship, date of composition, intended audience and general themes. The Ignatius Study Bible also includes handy reference materials such as a doctrinal index, a concise concordance, a helpful cross-reference system, and various maps and charts.

This has everything you want in a study bible and is our number-one pick. We all just need to pray that the leaders at Ignatius Press can bring us the entire Bible soon.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Catholic biblical scholarship has come a long way in the last 30 years thanks to groups like the Augustine Institute, Word on Fire, and the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. I hope that you will find these Catholic study bibles useful to your own life of discipleship. If there is another single volume study bible that you like to use, put it in the comments below.

Author: Adam Janke

Adam is the Chief Operating Officer of St. Paul Street Evangelization. After converting to Catholicism from biblical fundamentalism in 2005, Adam obtained a BA in Theology and Catechetics and an MA in Theology and Christian Ministry from Franciscan University of Steubenville. He resides in Michigan with his wife and seven children.

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