LATIN OR VERNACULAR BIBLES: WHICH WERE THE BEST?
This article is contains information on the following sections which can be advanced to immediately by clicking on the underlined words:
1. Catholics Are Accused of not allowing her members to read the Bible.
3. The Geneva Bible
4. Tyndale's Bible
5. Martin Luther's Bible
6. The Catholic Douay Rheims English Bible
ARE CATHOLICS THE ENEMY OF THE BIBLE ?
Some Protestants accuse the Catholic Church of keeping the Bible from the average laymen during the Middle Ages and during the Reformation Period. The footnotes of some Protestant accounts of Catholic history will concede that the Catholic Church did allow the Vulgate version, which is Jerome’s Latin translation, to be read. However, this concession is sometimes so obscure, that it remains unclear to most Protestants. So they conclude that the Catholic Church was against all Bible reading by the laity.
First, may Jesus Christ be praised for having raised up so many Protestant Christians who live a life based on faith in Him and who have a deep veneration for the Sacred Scriptures, the Holy Bible. And may God also be praised for leading so many Catholics to a sincere devotion to the Bible as well through the teachings of the Catholic Church.
In the past Catholics were not allowed to read Protestant versions of the Bible. However, there is a very good reason for this.
The Catholic Church during the "Reformation" era put emphasis on the Latin Vulgate Bible because it was the best and most accurate copy. Vernacular versions required the approval of the local Bishop. However, this restriction was to ensure that the Bible used was an accurate and faithful text.
Please read the accompanying article on BIBLE READING PROHIBITED ? that demonstrates that even up until the seventeenth century, those who were fortunate enough to go to school, not only learned Latin, but they also learned their other subjects in Latin. So a vernacular Bible, one that was translated into the common language, as opposed to a Latin version, was unnecessary.
The Catholic Church has always promoted the Bible and rightly proclaimed it as the Infallible, Inerrant, Word of God. There were times however when the Church did put restrictions on Bible reading, but these restrictions were made to prevent the Bible from being misused to lead people away from God. Even good things can be used for evil purposes.
Even most Protestants will agree the people like Jim Jones or the leader of Heaven’s Gate, who lead their followers to a mass suicide, misused the Bible. Some would also include David Koresh from
Through the course of its almost 2000 years of history the Catholic Church has also had to protect its followers from dangerous people and dangerous books that were purported to be conveyors of God’s Word, the Holy Bible. These people were distorting God’s Word and causing much harm to society. Their "Bibles" which were not really Bibles sometimes had words added and sometimes had words subtracted from God’s Word in order to advance their misguided causes. Some of them had dangerous commentary notes that would lead people away from God’s love instead of into it.
For example, there were the Albigensians, who in the thirteenth century, claimed that all flesh was evil. Therefore, they claimed that marriage was evil since it legitimized copulation and the bringing into the world baby children, whose "evil" flesh entrapped the pure souls. However, they claimed that fornication and ritual suicide were acceptable. Suicide was considered beneficial since it "freed" the sole from the "evil" flesh and it could prevent the "believer" from apostatizing. This group claimed to be the true Christians. They used a vernacular version of the Bible and twisted it to promote their immoral beliefs, they claimed were based on the Bible.
THE GENEVA BIBLE
The Geneva Bible (1560 AD) is also known by its popular nickname, "THE BREECHES BIBLE," because of the translation of Genesis 3:7 "...and they sewed figge tree leaves together, and made themselves breeches." The chief translator was William Whittingham who was responsible for considerable iconoclasm - the belief that statues are forbidden. ( It has been stated that there is some poetic justice in the fact that his own tomb was destroyed by the Scots in 1640. )
The marginal notes in this "Bible" were often of a bigoted and puritanical character. Even Protestant King James I was offended by these. - His mother, Mary Queen of Scots, was a Catholic, and the rightful heir to the English throne after the death of Mary Tudor.
Mary Tudor had been tricked into naming Elizabeth as her heir when Elizabeth swore an oath to the dying queen that she would continue Mary’s efforts to restore the Catholic Church to England. However, Elizabeth was the daughter of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, while the king’s true wife Catherine of Aragon lived on. And only the children of legitimate spouses were eligibly to take the throne. Therefore, Elizabeth should have been considered ineligible, and so the crown should have passed to Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, who was a direct descendant of Henry VIII’s father, Henry VII.
A rivalry ensued between Elizabeth and Mary, Queen of Scots. Elizabeth had taken Mary’s rightful place on the throne and she had Mary imprisoned for over 18 years, on trumped up charges. And Elizabeth then had Mary executed in 1587. The death warrant was signed by the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I, her rival, and relative. Perhaps most offensive to King James I, son of Mary, was the note to 2 Chronicles 15:16 where it is recorded that Asa removed his mother from the throne because she made an idol in a grove. The note states: "Herein he showed that he lacked zeal for she ought to have died." This type of bigoted thinking led one distinguished left-wing poet to pen the "necessary murder." These offensive notes can be verified even by non-Catholic secular literature. See GREAT BOOKS AND BOOK COLLECTORS by Alan G. Thomas page 107.
Catholics were falsely accused of idolatry because they used statues to remind themselves of God’s glorious work in holy men and women just as modern pictures do today. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 11:1 "Be imitators of me as I am of Christ." ) Catholics give adoration to God alone. They fulfill His will by honoring His saints. See Genesis 27:29. Some Protestants, however misinterpreted Exodus 20:4 to prohibit all statues, but Exodus 25:18-21, 1 Kings 6:23-28, 7:23-29, and Joshua 7:6 show that only statues that are worshipped are forbidden. "Graven statues" are defined as statues that are worshipped and Catholics never worshipped statues.
Since Catholics were persecuted, and some were even martyred, as a result of the bigotry that was incorporated into this Bible, the Catholic Church was unable to approve of it.
The Geneva Bible was also the first English Bible to exclude the Deuterocanonical books in its 1599 AD version. Therefore, this inaccurate canon also made it an unacceptable Bible. [ cf. Encycl. Britanica : Biblical Literature ]
Tyndale’s Bible was also unacceptable to the Catholic Church, but not because it was a translation into English. Catholic monks had translated the Bible into English centuries before him and their work was well received by the Church. The venerable Bede (672-735 AD) had translated the Gospel into English, and before him Caedmon (c. 670 AD) and Aldhelm (d. 709) had worked on translating the Old Testament into English. The Lindisfarne Gospels, in which the four Gospels had been translated into English about 950 AD by a Catholic priest named Aldred, is in the British Museum. Click and see the Lindisfarne Gospels at the British Library. More beautiful images on the Internet at Lindisfarne Gospels.
Tyndale had incorporated into his "Bible" bitterly controversial notes that he placed in the margin. They were full of hatred for the Catholic Church. The book WHERE WE GOT THE BIBLE, page 128, by Rev. H. Graham, published by Tan Books, Phone # 815-987-1800, gives this quote by Anglican Canon Dixon concerning the fact that copies of Tyndale’s Bible were burnt, "If the clergy had acted thus simply because they would have the people kept ignorant of the word of God, they would have been without excuse. But it was not so. Every one of the little volumes, containing portions of the sacred text that was issued by Tyndale, contained also a prologue and notes written with such hot fury of vituperation against the prelates and clergy, the monks and friars, the rites and ceremonies of the Church, as was hardly likely to commend it to the favour of those who were attacked."
WHERE WE GOT THE BIBLE, page 128 -131, quotes Sir Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England, as asserting that efforts at reading to "find errors in Tyndale’s book were like studying to find water in the sea." It had been so bad that King Henry the VIII, in 1546 AD, had commanded that all copies of it (along with Coverdale’s) to be burnt. Coverdale’s version was not original, but instead had a New Testament that was Tyndale’s and revised according to Luther and the Zurich Bible and the Old Testament had used extensive portions of Tyndale’s.
MARTIN LUTHER’S BIBLE
Martin Luther’s Bible was also a inaccurate version of the Word of God and consequently, out of concern that the people had a right to have the correct translation read and made available to them the Catholic Church was compelled to reject his work. There were over 18 versions of the Bible translated into the German language before Martin Luther ever began his. That it was a German translation was not the problem.
Luther’s writings were very polemical against the Catholic Church. He accused the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, of being the Anti-Christ. In the book GREAT BOOKS AND BOOK COLLECTORS, by Alan G. Thomas, on page 95, it shows a picture that appeared in some of Martin Luther’s "Bibles." It depicts the Bishop of Rome, as the Great Red Dragon of Revelation chapter 12 and it identifies him as such with the triple papal crown on the head of the Dragon. ( At this point one must ask, would a Protestant pastor agree to sanction a Bible that identified himself as the Great Red Dragon, the Whore of Babylon, and as the Anti-Christ, as Martin Luther had done with the Pope.)
However, what the Catholic Church really took offense to was the corruption of the text of Scripture. Martin Luther had added the word "alone" [ in German "allein" ] to his German translation of Romans 3: 28, even though it is not in the original Greek.
"You tell me what a great fuss the Papists are making because the word ‘alone’ is not in the text of Paul. If your Papist makes such an unnecessary row about the word ‘alone,’ say right out to him: ‘Dr. Martin Luther will have it so,’ and say: ‘Papists and asses are one and the same thing.’ I will have it so, and I order it to be so, and my will is reason enough. I know very well that the word ‘alone’ is not in the Latin or the Greek text, it was not necessary for the Papists to teach me that." Cited in John Stoddard, REBUILDING A LOST FAITH, (Rockford, Ill: TAN Books) 136-137. SURPRISED BY TRUTH, by Patrick Madrid page 129. Or see Schaff, Philip, HISTORY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH, Volume VII page 362. Or see Msgr. O'Hare's, 'THE FACTS ABOUT LUTHER,' published by TAN, on page 201. (Amic. Discussion, 1, 127)
See the accompanying article on JUSTIFICATION.
He also rejected and threw out the Deuterocanonical Books of the Old Testament as well as several books of the New Testament. He believed that Hebrews, James, Jude, and the Book of Revelation were not to be considered as fully the Inspired Word of God. (Although the Lutherans of the 16th or the 17th century added these NT books back into their canon.)
The book of James contradicts Luther’s principle of Justification by Faith Alone. James 2:24 says "See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone." Rather than change his theology, Luther just denied that, James the Apostle, was the author of James and removed it from his canon. In his preface to James he claimed, "But this James does nothing more than drive to the Law and to its works. Besides, he throws things together so chaotically that it seems to me he must have been some good, pious man, who took a few sayings from the disciples of the Apostles and thus tossed them off on paper…In a word he wanted to guard against those who relied on faith without works, but was unequal to the task." Speaking this way about the Word of God is unacceptable to the Catholic Church who considers the Bible to be without error.
In his preface to Hebrews, Luther said, "We should not be deterred if wood, straw, or hay are perhaps mixed with them [precious notions], but accept this fine teaching with all honor." ( Luther’s works. Volume 35 Word and Sacrament I, pages 395-397 ed. E.T. Buchman [Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1960.])
To counteract these potential problems the Catholic Church did put restrictions on reading copies of the Bible that were other than Jerome’s Latin Vulgate. The Catholic Church was right to be cautious in this regard since many people had been misled by these corrupted so-called Bibles. The Church knew it was safe for her followers to be reading the Vulgate because it was the best and most accurate of its time.
THE CATHOLIC DOUAY RHEIMS ENGLISH BIBLE
The goal of Luther and Tyndale was to make a translation of the text that was very easy to read. On the other hand, the precise meaning of the Sacred Scriptures and maintaining a faithful translation of them was of paramount importance to the Catholic translators.
Gregory Martin was the chief Catholic translator of the Rheims (or Rhemes) New Testament. His goal was to "produce the most accurate possible rendering" of the text. One of the problems of the vernacular languages was that they did not always have adequate words to translate to that would convey the Biblical sense. So rather than translate these concepts to inadequate words, Gregory Martin transliterated them and thereby brought new words from the Latin Language into English. Some words that were assimilated into the English language by this Catholic Bible are; gratis, holocaust, victims, and that all important word evangelize.
Gregory Martin, who was very skilled in the Latin language, incorporated Latin phraseology into his English translation. It added much majesty to his English prose. The eloquence of his writing was so attractive that, "many a dignified or felicitous phrase was silently lifted by the editors of King James’s Version" of 1611 that was printed 29 years after he printed his New Testament. (Cf. GREAT BOOKS AND BOOK COLLECTORS page 108.)
Because of Protestant persecution against Catholics they were forced to make their English translation in France. The Old Testament was delayed until 1609 due "to our poore estate in banishment."
The English language, by it self, could not sufficiently convey the Biblical meanings. The resulting Catholic translation, although significantly more accurate than the Protestant ones whose purpose was to provide an easy read, was more difficult to read with the benefit of being a more faithful text.
Thus it could be said that the Latin Vulgate was still the best translation.