First look: Oxford Complete Parallel Bible

Posted: 20th July 2008 by ElShaddai Edwards in Uncategorized

With a mighty swipe, I’ve managed to replace several reference texts on my Bible bookshelf with a single volume. How’s that? With the addition of an edition that’s been out of print for a while, but still shows up at a reasonable price from time to time through online vendors like Amazon.

I’m speaking of course about “The Complete Parallel Bible” (CPB) from Oxford, henceforth to also be known as “the Behemoth Bible” for reasons that will soon be readily apparent.

The CPB features four translations outside the mainstream of evangelical Protestantism: the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), the Revised English Bible (REB), the New American Bible (NAB) and the New Jerusalem Bible (NJB). The NRSV and REB were produced by ecumenical committees representing Protestant and Catholic denominations (and in the case of the NRSV, the Orthodox Church as well). The NAB and NJB are primarily Catholic translations. The common thread pulling this edition together is that all four translations include selections of the Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical Books.

Publisher description:

The Complete Parallel Bible presents four of the most highly respected modern language Bible translations arranged side by side for easy comparison. The parallel format brings new insights into the distinct characteristics that distinguish the texts used by Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians. This unique work highlights the importance of the translation process in defining the priorities and concerns of these different groups, and reveals interesting contrasts in literary styles, verse placement, and canonical content. The volume includes three translations that have an imprimatur (NRSV, NAB, NJB).

Product details:

Publisher: Oxford University Press (1993)
Hardback, 3291 pages
ISBN: 019528318X
Size: 9¼” H x 7″ W x 2½” D

It is impossible for one’s first impression to be on anything other than that last product detail: the sheer size and weight of this edition is daunting, it is a behemoth for lack of a better word! I’ve been using an old edition of the New Jerusalem Bible that is comparable in size (see below), but is not nearly as heavy with less than half the pages.

This edition features an impressively sewn binding; the registers are tightly pressed together, but very clearly intact and uncut. The paper has a glossy feel and is thin as you might expect, but the transparency is minimal. Or rather, there is so much printed on each page that you barely notice any bleedthrough if it’s there.

The font size is smaller, there’s no getting around that, but it’s acceptable for a reference book. And let’s be honest, this isn’t a volume that I’m going to be hauling off the church on Sundays or to a chair for devotional reading.

On most pages, there are two translations printed on each page: the NRSV and REB side-by-side on the left, the NAB and NJB on the right. Oxford’s introduction states that this arrangement more easily allows comparison of formal and functional translation from an ecumenical prespective (NRSV vs. REB, respectively) and comparison of different Catholic translations (NAB, NJB). They also mention that the layout allows the reader to compare U.S. (NRSV, NAB) and U.K. (REB, NJB) scholarship.

I might have preferred the REB and NJB side by side as “literary” translations, but that’s just me. I’m not familiar with the NAB, other than what Kevin presented in his recent comparison series, so it will be good to take a closer look at what many have called “the Catholic NIV”.


So why did I get this? I’m not normally a parallel Bible guy, but this edition allows me to compare my favorite translation (REB) with three others that I’m not as familiar with. The advantage of having all four in a single reference book should prove itself with my limited desk space, especially since the REB, NJB and NAB don’t seem to be readily available electronically. Already, I’ve freed up room on my bookshelf by taking down my separate REB, NRSV and NJB volumes.

I would recommend this for any of the above reasons and/or if you wanted an economical introduction to more than one or two of these translations. Economical of course is relative to each of us, but there appear to be a handful of used editions between $35-45 at Amazon right now.


  1. John Hobbins says:

    Hi ElShaddai,

    I use the edition of which you speak all the time. For the Old Testament, it is also worth comparing the NJPSV and, where available, Robert Alter.

    Another volume I use has KJV and NIV on one page and NLT and NASB (revised) on the facing page: Today’s Parallel Bible (Zondervan, 2000).

  2. Nick Norelli says:

    I have the second volume that John mentioned (in my personal favorite, burgundy bonded leather). If you ever want quick access to the NAB online, then look no futher than this site. It contains all of the books of the NAB to include the deuterocanon, and also the book introductions.

  3. @John: Thanks for the note – I have the NJPSV Jewish Study Bible, but haven’t been able to invest in Alter or Fox yet.

    @John and Nick: Thanks for the comments on the Zondervan edition. I’m not so keen on this one since I don’t regularly look at the KJV or NIV, and the NLT is the first edition, not the 2004. But I appreciate the recommendation.

    @Nick: Thanks for the link on the NAB. Ironically, I had found that a couple of days ago and put it in my Online Bibles section on the right side. I do tend to prefer paper Bibles for looking up specific verses – though electronic versions make it easy to copy/paste into my blog posts!

  4. tc robinson says:

    Sweet! The TNIV could have replaced the NAB, but apparently not the publisher’s goal.

  5. Well… the CPB was produced in 1993, long before the TNIV was produced.

    But you are correct in that the TNIV would not fit the publisher’s goal of this edition – perhaps you could ask Zondervan to reissue the Today’s Parallel Bible with the TNIV and NLTse updates.

  6. tc robinson says:

    “In 1993,” I missed that, but still not the publisher’s goal. Your proposal definitely is a good one. A few days ago I read somewhere that the TNIV is being tweaked for a rerelease in 2009. I’m not too sure about this one.

  7. Aine Pedersen says:

    Well, am I glad to discover that this has been re-issued! I bought a copy of the original version back in 1993 or 1994, but passed it on to a student in our parish who was returning to Africa before I would have had time to buy him the new copy he had asked me to obtain – but then, when I tried to replace it, it had gone out of print and none of my usual booksellers were able to obtain a copy for me. Like you, I appreciate it for the particular set of translations it contains, and now hope to be able to get hold of a copy again. Again, like you, I appreciate the computerised versions, whether or not on-line, when I need to include a quotation in something or find something very quickly, but I prefer to browse on paper . Thank you for your article!

  8. @Aine: Well, am I glad to discover that this has been re-issued!

    Thanks for the comment! I don’t believe that the CPB has been reissued – I was just fortunate to find a used copy in very good condition at a price I could manage. Most of the copies I had seen before were priced more than what I wanted to spend on this.