There are study bibles, devotional bibles, and special edition niche bibles — then, there is a bible that brings to life what a bible should be. This, frankly, is it. While there is the Reformation Study Bible, the Wesleyan Study Bible, and the Orthodox Study Bible, none of them rises to the level of doctrinal and apologetic material found in The Didache Bible. I seriously doubt that there will be one to top it.
Using the Second Edition of the Catholic Edition of the Revised Standard Version as the translation, the editors (James Socias and Jeffrey Cole) have decided to put to rest all notions that the Catholic Faith and Tradition is not biblical. I write this review as an Anglo-Catholic, with heavy leanings to the Catholic side of that hyphen. Even then, I am amazed at the depth of Catholic doctrine’s connection to Holy Scripture. This is not an apologetic bible, refusing to “prove” anything. It simply states the Catholic position, showing you how the doctrine is derived from and connected to Scripture. Equally so, The Didache Bible is the most theological bible I have yet to put my hands on and I doubt I will ever see another one match it.
Unlike other study bibles, The Didache Bible is built around doctrine via the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The editors draw this inspiration from Pope Benedict XVI’s opening to the “Year of Faith,” where he said urged Catholics to reach to a “systematic knowledge of the context of the faith” which is found in the Catechism. I know more than a few Catholics, (practicing, lapsed, and separated) who know very little of the richness of the Catholic life. Perhaps it is because they have failed to pay heed to the Pope’s suggestion. Because if they had — if you and I and the other separated Christians — would give just another glance to the Catechism, we would see the intensity of what Catholics believe. This is why to have Holy Scripture merged so seamlessly with Catechism (surely, something representative of Holy Tradition) is a great benefit to us all. Simply, because such a union births well an understanding of the Scriptural foundation for the Catechism, and thus Catholic doctrine.
Beyond having this union present, The Didache Bible includes an Introduction explaining Scripture in the Catholic Church. Growing up post-Protestant (i.e., fundamentalist and anti-Catholic), I was convinced Catholics had little to no regard for Scripture. Yet, if you take seriously the Introduction, you will see that those in communion with the Bishop of Rome are called to have a high view of Scripture. Further, Scripture is not merely an individual enterprise where one sifts randomly through its pages to find something pertinent. Rather, Scripture is the inspired word of God, with its principal author (God) moving through human witnesses to insure the message is delivered rightly. Further, Scripture is a Revelation in and of itself (along with Holy Tradition). Proper understanding is restricted, of course, to insure an orderly transfer of that message. Imagine, if you will, if everyone was allowed an interpretation and in that interpretation, regardless of how unfounded and wild it is, one finds equality. Finally, the Introduction gives a brief synopsis of the proper way to find meaning in Scripture (i.e., Allegorical, Moral, and Anagogical). Following this is a section on how to read the bible (and thusly named).
What may be surprising to some are the Documents of the Magisterium included in this bible. These are referred to at various times throughout the notes (because of their use in the Catechism). Also included is a Brief Summary of Sacred Scripture, a Chronology of both the Old and the New Testaments, and Scriptural passages for personal meditation. These passages will include notable Catholic views, such as Passages About the Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Throughout the Canon are small (on page) apologetic treatises designed to give a better account of particular Catholic doctrines. You can find a listing of this in the back of the bible (1784—95). These include such topics as “Catholics’ Belief in the Bible,” “The Deposit of Faith,” “Just War,” Mary, the Mother of God,” and “Speaking in Tongues.” Each of these begin with a passage from Scripture, followed by a brief exegetical explanation drawn from both Scripture and Tradition, ending with a reference to the Catechism. They are not arranged according to Scripture, or any order I can see, only inserted periodically. In all, they provide for nearly any question one has about particular Catholic doctrines.
Each book has an introduction. This includes author, date, audience, and main themes. A brief survey of the author section includes a union between Tradition and Scholarship. For instance, in reading the Pastorals, The Didache Bible notes what Tradition has said as well as the challenges by scholars. In reading the Catholic epistles (James, 1-2 Peter, etc…), the editors give great care in walking the line between the Church and the Academy. For example, they rightly note that 2 Peter has long been suspect, not simply from the 19th century. The same goes for the dating and the audience. The Didache Bible does not hide Scripture from historical criticism, but simply presents both answers — Church and Academy.
The notes, the primary feature, of the bible are found on nearly every page of Holy Writ. While some are not summaries of the Catechism, more are. For instance, the first note on the “Wisdom of Solomon” is in regards to authorship and theme. The second note summarizes 1.1–16. However, the note to Wisdom 1.4 is based on ¶365 of the Catechism while the note to Wisdom 1.7 comes from the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church. The goal throughout is to connect Catholic teaching found primarily in the Catechism to Scripture and vice versa. The notes are not merely a commentary, but the way Catholics read Scripture, form doctrine, and shape their moral lives.
Finally, The Didache Bible includes a glossary, maps, and an index of subjects. Unlike the glossary, this index includes scriptural passages supportive of various subjects. For instance, if someone is interested in Penance and Reconciliation in Scripture, they can turn to a various of passages such as Matthew 16.19, Matthew 3.8, or Luke 3.8. Or, if they want to see what verses relate to “Saint” they will get the usual verses where we are all saints (Romans 1.7) but also the passages used to support the intercession of saints (Mark 8.38; Luke 9.26 and 24.5). Each section, to be sure, had different topics within it.
I have numerous study bibles, but none so important as The Didache Bible. This is not merely a Catholic bible, but a Christian bible. While Protestants may protest still, they can find something deep in this – something that simply states that Catholicism is a biblical Christianity (if not the biblical Christianity). I am more than impressed — impressed beyond words — at the manner in which this bible has been put together. This provides answers to the question of whether or not Catholicism is biblical — are intercessory prayers biblical? The Trinity? Mary? The Pope? Not only are we given a proper way to read Scripture, but we are given eyes to see the great union between Scripture and Tradition. I am unsure if The Didache Bible could ever be surpassed.