By Fr. Raymond Taouk


Introductory remarks



1.    Writing

·      has existed at least 3.000 years B.C. in Egypt and Babylonia, among other things on leather, papyrus and parchment or vellum. Paper, a Chinese invention later entered Europe and Western Asia.

·      leather and skins were certainly used in the O.T. for writing, though it is not mentioned explicitly. The book had a roll form : the Talmud requested that all copies of the Law should be written on skins and in roll form.

·      Papyrus used very early in Egypt was the material of the original O.T. Septuagint as well as the books of the N.T. The best papyrus could last 200 y. Used also in roll form (the longest known is 133 feet long, the average size is 33 feet, able to contain one long Gospel) until the 2d cent. AD where it took the codex form pbbly due to Xian influence.

·      In the IV cent, and until the XV c., papyrus was superseded by parchment or vellum (i.e. untanned but smooth skin), and the codex form became the rule to gather the entire Bible into a single unit, see Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus.


2.    Original Languages of the Bible

·      generally : the O.T. was written in a Semitic lgg, the N.T. in the Greek lgg. All OT. protocanonical books were written in Hebrew, of the deutero-can. only the books of Wisdom and 2 Macc were written in Greek (and parts of Daniel and Esther). The N.T. was all written in Gk except St Matt in Aramaic.

·      Hebrew of the O.T.

·      After the Sumerian syllabic cuneiform system and the Egyptian hieroglyphic system (supposing a knowl. of hundreds of signs), the Canaanites introduced the alphabet. Abraham adopted the Canaanite language as he settled among them, esp. since it resembled the aramaic spoken in Mesopotamia, his native land. The oldest books of the O.T., the Pentateuch in part. might have been written in a Semitic and pbbly a Phoenician alphabetic system.

·      The Hebrew alphabet has 22 letters, originally only the consonants were written, the vowels have been added to the present biblical text with dots and lines from the Massoretic time. Until the captivity they used the phoenician characters, after the captivity the aramaic characters; only later on the square writing was used esp. in the time of O.L. and fixed by the Massorets.

·      However, the biblical Hebrew is given us with a certain fixedness : the ante-captivity is the golden age of Hebrew literature (pure language, concision, regularity of parallelism), the post-captivity is a period of decadence of the language, a non-spoken language known only by the most literate yet too close to the aramaic.

·      Biblical Greek is not the classical Gk, but the popular language, the koiné, koinh, Gk, spread by the conquests of Alexander the Great through Syria. It was used by the Jews of the dispersion who had their synagogues in Jerusalem and were called Hellenists (Acts vi 1).



The Original Texts of the Bible


I. the old Testament hebrew-aramaic text


1.    Difficulties of the Transmission of the Original Text.

·      It is difficult to reconstitute the history of the Heb. text, given the few informations on it. The present text is recent and uniform, thus we need to have recourse to versions made on Hebrew text older than the Massoretic text, and to compare the parallel passages.

·      The original manuscripts have long disappeared, written on perishable materials. When?  Perhaps during the fire of the Temple by Nabuchodonosor (587 BC).

·      Causes of the alterations. The primitive text has obviously been altered, since it has been frequently copied. 2 sets of causes are invoked :

·      e.p. textus: Since they used three types of writings with some characters almost identical between them but of another letter, a careless copyist could have confused them. The auditive confusions had to be added since the scribe read with his eyes and lips (confusion of the guttural and whistle consonants). The consonants alone were written, rather confusing for a copyist. And the present vocalisation used by the Massorets is not necessarily that of the original text. There was very little punctuation to analyse the text.

·      e.p. copyists : beside the usual errors of omitting words, changing the order of phrases, out of negligence or ignorance, they could correct the texts which they did not understand, and inserted marginal glosses, later on incorporated to the text.

·      Extent of the error. The material and dogmatic integrity of the text has been preserved throughout the ages. By comparing indeed the diverse Hebrew MSS, with the samaritan Pentateuch or the versions (Septuagint, Targums, Peschitto, Vulgate), we see a substantial unity of text. We can say that no book ever written was transmitted to us in a purer state. The alterations of form must be considered as having no real importance.


2.    Transmission from the Originals

·      to the Septuagint Version(280-200?). Already before Esdras gathered the sacred books, the Hebrew text had suffered notable alterations[1]. Yet these variations are of minor importance and do not affect the substance of the historical narration, let alone the dogmatico-moral teaching.

·      from the Septuagint to the Talmudic period. It is the period of the definitive fixation of the consonants in the text. In the IId cent.AD the text is almost fixed and identical to the Massora (VI-X cent. AD). The Heb. versions differ often from the Sept. which attests the existence of a Hebrew text different from the actual text.

·      Have the Jews falsified the SS? The reproach made to Jews of obscuring messianic passages is gratuitous.[2] In fact, the errors of the Hebrew text are of little importance and the main prophecies are in the Heb. text and usually clearer than in the Greek and Latin MSS (St. Robert Bellarmine). The problem with the Jews was not the letter of the text, but its interpretation in opposition with the traditional messianic interpretation which, because it was adopted by the CC, was rejected by the Jews out of hatred. Cf. Our Lord ‘Woe to you, hypocrite scribes and Pharisees...’ Mt 23, 23, more casuistic and far from the meaning of the text. St. Justin (Dialogue with Tryphon) accused the Jews of falsifying the SS, but that was in fact the Greek versions of Theodotion and Aquila which were supposed to replace the LXX considered too Christian.[3]

·      from the Talmud to the Massora (III-VI AD). The Talmud doctors worked for 3 cent. to transcribe the S. text. They fixed the pronunciation of the text, closer to that of Origen (III cent) and St Jerome (IV cent) than that of the earlier Alexandrians.

·      Epoch of the Massora (VI-X cent) ‘massora’= to transmit, and designates those rabbis who fixed the pronunciation by addition of the vowel-points and other conventional signs.[4] After the Massora, the MSS are fairly uniform and conformed to the Massora. No Massoretic MSS is anterior to the 9th century.


3.     Value of the Massoretic text

·      The Massora represents substantially the Heb. consonantal text of the I cent. AD, and the Septuagint and Syriac Peshitto offer a different Heb. archetype, more ancient and purer. MSS from the Dead sea (Qumran 1947 and Murabba’at) gave us many indications of Hebrew text of the LXX time (III BC-Ist AD), rather faithful to the Textus Hebraicus receptus. They indicate that the text is substantially identical to ours after 23 centuries.[5]

·      It presents however signs of alterations. A Cath. exegete is not obliged to admit the vocalisation of the Massora, a late invention which is not always conformed to the primitive pronunciation.

·      The exeget will make use of the internal critique, using the laws of logic, the grammar and the context.[6]


4.    Aramaic texts.

·      The language became the current langg. of the Jews only after the captivity (539). In the time of O.L., the people did not understand Heb. so that the Bible reading in the synagogues needed an Aramaic commentary, which gave birth to the Targums. Aramaic was supplanted by Arabic, and has almost completely disappeared.

·      In the O.T. the aramaic texts are fragments of Daniel (ii 4b-vii 28); Esdras (I Esd iv,8-vi-18; vii 12-26); Jeremias (x,11). Judith and Tobias are known only in the aramaic lgg.

·      St Mtt was written accdg to Papias in the Jewish  or ‘Hebrew dialect’, aramaic or Hebrew?  It is more probable that St Mtt wrote in the Aramaic.


ii. the greek  (O.T. & N.T.)


1.    notion of the biblical greek

·      The O.T. and N.T. Greek is not the classical Gk, nor is it a corrupted and barbaric Gk. It was the popular Gk spoken at that time as the business language of the Mediterranean countries until the IV c. AD. It preludes to the present Gk.

·      the Alexandrian Gk received some influence from the people who spoke it, esp. semitisms but also the Egyptian grammar. Latinisms are scarce, exclusively re. military or administrative terms (census, centurio).

·      The N.T. authors had however to express new ideas, and thus they gave a new sense to old words : diaconos, episcopos, presbuteros, euangelion, cosmos, baptizein, agape, doxa, etc.  The semitisms of the N.T. are more noticeable in the phrase construction than in the vocabulary itself. That is due to the influence of the Septuagint, a more literary or servile translation from the Hebrew.


2.    History of the Greek text.

·      disappearance of the autographs. The original texts must have disappeared very quickly since the Fathers in their argumentation never showed the heretics the original writings from the Evangelists, which would have stopped all controversy. Their early disappearance is due to the fragility of the papyrus, the original texture on which the originals were most likely written.[7]  St. Jerome tells that the library of Pamphilius in Cesarea made of papyrus had to be renewed after one century.

·      Alterations in the text

·      the originals being lost, we still have some copies, but they do not reproduce totally the integral text. The critics have censed more than 150.000 variations, of which some early fathers were already complaining.

·      the causes of the variations in the copying are multiple :

·      the heretics tried to incorporate their teaching to the sacred text; yet by a special providence of God, these heretical lessons were never adopted by the accepted CC texts.

·      most variations come from the copyists : visual errors (taking one letter for another, omitting one word or one line beginning  like the following, repeating twice the same letter or the syllable), errors of memory (swapping of words, omission of a member of phrase), auditional errors (confusion of words or of letters of similar pronunciation).

·      others come from voluntary correction : literary correction (suppressing barbarisms or solecisms), exegetical (to harmonise the parallel texts, to drop word rendering a passage difficult, Mc xiii 32 e.g. ).

·      the variations are more numerous than important. Most of them deal only with the spelling or the order of words, few modify the sense of the text. Those which affect a dogmatic text are very rare (out of the 200 changing the meaning, 15 are of major importance, says Vaccari). Thus we can affirm that we possess the authentic text of the N.T. since the numerous and often independent witnesses, as their variations prove it, are by their substantial agreement, a powerful proof of the conservation of the SS.[8]


3.    Manuscripts (MSS) in our possession.

·      We have more than 4.000 MSS of the N.T., most of which are incomplete. They are written in uncials (capital letters or uncials) and the minuscules, written on parchment, mostly under the form of codices. It is essential to ascertain the mutual relations betw. the MSS and to reduce them to families. Here is the result of scholarly research :

·      Gospels :

·      1st family (Hesychian or Alexandrian) made use of the older uncials (codex Vaticanus B) supported by the Coptic and the Vulgate versions. Origen and Clement of Alexandria followed it. Its characteristics are : brevity, common forms of words, and relative immunity from harmonistic tendencies, i.e. it enjoys the greatest critical value.

·      2d family (Western) consists of codex Bezae D, the Old Latin or African forms and St. Cyprian. Its characteritics are : additions, a few significant omissions, paraphrases and harmonistic tendencies.

·      3d family (Caesarean or Palestinian) consists of later codices which remount to a text used by Origen-vetus, and Eusebius of Cesarea; it was current in Egypt. Its Gospel of St Mk stands midway between the above families, and the other gospels have not been definitely established.

·      4th family (Byzantine used in Constantinople, Antiochian or Lucian Recension, uncial codex Alexandrinus A) is found in the greater number of uncials and minuscules. Its characteristics are : elegance of diction, harmonistic tendencies, additions, conflation.

·      5th family (Syrian versions codices E) has a Western color.

·      The Acts of the Ap. are divided into 3 families (Alex., Western, Antiochian).

·      The Pauline Ep. show no great variations betw. the 1st and 2d families.

·      Apocalypse, Latin versions come from the Alexandrian family (codex Sinaïticus S, Ephraemi rescriptus C,codex A), there is no Gk MSS from the Western family.


4.    Ancient recensions of the Greek text. Already Origen (III c.) tried to purify the N.T. texts. 2 editions were made in Alexandria by Hesychius (or even before him, cf uncials B and S, found in Egyptian and Coptic MSS) and in Antioch by Lucian (W312, formed the Antiochian or Byzantine text, uncial A, called the‘Textus Receptus’ ). Constantine the Great had 50 copies diffused, which assured a greater stability. Yet it was only in the IX AD. by the work of the monks, that the Received text was standardised.


5.    Printed editions of the New Testament, their history divides into 3 periods :

·      1514-1633 is that of the principia editiones, bases of subsequent editions. Polyglottis of Alcala (1514), Erasmus (1516), Th. of Beza... All these editions done by Hellenists on recent minuscules which offer a text critically mediocre.

·      1633-1830 is the consecration of the Elzevirs Brothers ‘Textus receptus’, taken from the Beza 1st edition, very inferior to the Alcala Bible, re-edited esp. by the Protestants. This text is recognized as faulty by the critics (E. Nestle) who called it ‘receptus sed non recipiendus’. Already a reaction occurs at the end (England, Holland and Germany).

·      1830-1950 is the period of the critical editions of the text. Tischendorf (1869); Hort (W1892); Westcott (W1901), Nestle (1898-1932), his edition tends to become the ‘textus receptus modernus’), von Soden. The Catholics also worked on critical editions : Vogels (1920), Merk (Rome 1933) both excellent editions, Bover (Madrid 1943). No edition is comparable for the riches of its critical apparatus to that begun in Oxford in 1935 (2d Gospel).

·      Many important critical works haven seen the day in this century : Lagrange, Vaccari, Dom Morin, Dom Capelle, and among the Protestants, Harnack, Turner.




  Ancient Versions of the Bible


            The Bible versions from the original into another language are important since they help us interpret the meaning of the original, and sometimes can be considered as equivalent to first-class MSS of the originals. But all translations do not have equal value. Those from the original surpass those from other versions. Old translations & more literal translations have greater weight than later ones.

            The Septuagint surpasses all the versions by reason of its antiquity and critical authority. It is also of great value to determine the history and content of the O.T. canon. In the Christian period many MSS of the Sept. furnish us with the  books of both Testaments.



I. the Greek versions of the o.t.


1.    MSS. Among the uncials the four great codices contain both testaments : S , B,A,C : codex Sinaïticus,  Vaticanus, Alexandrinus, Ephraemi rescriptus A[9].


2.    Origin. Jews had settled in N.Egypt since the Vth c. B.C., and spoke Greek since the invasions of Alex. the Gt (IVc. b.c.). The letter of Aristea, a Jewish official at the court (285-246 b.c.) states that he was sent to Jerusalem to obtain from the High Priest Eleazar a copy of the Jewish Law. Eleazar sent copy of the Law and 72 learned Hebrew scholars who translated the Law into the Greek language on the island of Pharos, which work was finished after 72 day’. This letter, filled w. legendary details, existed already about 200 bc. and must rest on a foundation of fact in so far as during Ptolemy Philadelphus, the Pentateuch was translated into Greek (250 bc.). The other books of the O.T. were gradually translated into the Gk too, cf. Prologue of Sirach (c. 130 bc.), and it is generally believed that the O.T. Septuagint was completed by 100 bc.


3.    qualities and defects.

·      The value of the Sept. is not uniform. The Pentateuch is the best translation of all. Next in merit are the Earlier Prophets bec. of the simplicity of the text. The Later Prophets, bec. of their difficult contents were poorly translated (Isaias, Daniel). The Sapiential books are the worst of all : Psalms (servile translation), Esther (free transl.), in Job much is omitted (due to the obscurity of the text).

·      The Sept. has some common peculiarities throughout the entire Bible : clarification of the obscure readings, suppressing historical Jewish faults, polishing linguistic difficulties and words seemingly unbecoming to God so as to gain the Gentiles to the faith, setting the Messianic passages in a clearer light.[10]

·      The Greek text increased in prestige and found acceptance among Egyptian Jews and Hellenistic synagogues in Palestine during the time of O.L, in the West and the East. The Gospel was preached to the Gentiles by means of the Gk version, and thus Armenian, Ethiopic, Coptic, Georgian, Latin and Slavic translators made use of the Septuagint. Even Semitic nations, Syrians and Arabs, used it for their approach to the O.T.

·      Only when it became the official text of the CC, the Jews repudiated it and substituted other translations (II c.A.D.):  the version of Aquila (128 AD, slavishly literal, textual corruption & incomprehensible Gk had it condemned by the CC), of Theodotion (soon after, free revision of the Sept.), of Symmachus (end II c., new translation of O.T.).


4.    History of the Text

·      the Hexapla of Origen (232?-245) was meant to restore the original and true text of the Septuagint, but also give to the Christians the means to fight with the Rabbis : it comprised 50 vol. where the Bible was set in ‘Hexaples’, 6 parallel columns of the text in Hebrew, its literal translation, Aquila, Symmachus, Septuagint, Theodotion. His Sept. version was taken from the text closest to the Heb. (which shows Origen had little appreciation of the value of the Sept.). This work consulted by Jerome for his studies, perished forever in Cesarea (probably in the Arab invasion of 638)[11].

·      Origen’s recension was transcribed by Pamphilus and Eusebius (W340), but without the signs of Origen, augmenting the confusions and variations. Other recensions were produced, that of Hesychius in Egypt (W311?) and of Lucian of Antioch (W312).

·      4 editions of the Sept. text before XIX c. are important since all others follow them : the Complutensian Polyglot (Alcala 1520, from the Lucian version), the edition of Alde (Venice 1518, from the Hesychian version); the sixtine edition (Rome 1587, from the Codex Vaticanus); edition of Grabe (Oxford 1720, from Codex Alex.).

5.    Value. There are many differences in the texts and their order between the Septuagint, the Massora and the Vulgate. However the Gk version gives in substance the exact sense of the SS. It would be improper for the critic to prefer always the Massora to the Septuagint.[12]


ii. aramaic or syriac versions


1)     the Targums


1.    In General . The earliest mention of a written Targum (of Job) is of the period of Gamaliel, the teacher of St. Paul. These Aramaic paraphrases of the Scriptures in general do not remount earlier than the II or III c.A.D. These Targums are available for almost all the proto-can. O.T. books.

2.    Particular Targums. The Targum of Babylon (of Onkelos) from the III c. deals with the Pentateuch. So also is the Targum of Jerusalem (of pseudo-Jonathan) posterior to year 600. The Samaritan Targum (of Nathanael) is cited by Origen.


2) the syriac Peshitto


1.    The Syriac versions are either directly from the original texts or from the Septuagint, and have influenced other versions, the Ethiopic, Armenian, Arabic and perhaps even the Latin.


2.    O.T. Peshitto (Codex Ambrosianus VI c.). It probably was written in the Ist c.A.D., cited often by St. Ephrem (who had to explain unintelligible old expressions).  The proto-can. sources were translated directly from the Hebrew, the deutero-can. (introduced later on but before the IVc.) come from the Aramaic. It shows a considerable influence of the Septuagint.


3.    New Testament. The Syriac texts have been handed down under 3 forms : Tatian’s Diatessaron (172 AD)[13]; the Separate Gospels (extant in 2 MSS, Codex Curetonianus, codex Sinaiticus, both around 200 AD); the Peshitto (work of Rabbula bish. of Edessa till 435)[14].


4.    Value. The Peshitto is highly valuable: a) for the antiquity of its MSS (9 MSS of the Vth c. Vs 4 Greeks and 3 Latin; 31 of VI c. vs 5 Gks and 14 Latin); b) for the accord betw. the diverse MSS so much the more remarkable that they were kept by 2 families of opposite doctrine, Nestorians and Jacobites; c) for its fidelity : the O.T. supposes a better text than the Massora, and though inferior to the better parts of the Septuagint, it is more equal in value.

            3) other versions.


1.    3 Syriac versions, Philoxenian, Syro-Hexaplar (to which is related the Palestinian Syriac of the Melchites) and Harkleina versions are based on the Septuagint.

2.    The Coptic versions (old Egyptian language) are translations from the Greek follow a text close to the Codex Vaticanus (Alexandrian type). Both Testament versions are important since they are pre-Hexaplaric, but we have only fragments of these critically precious versions.

3.    The Ethiopian version (VI c.) of little interest for the critics, due to its imperfections.

4.    The Armenian Versions (V c., but only late MSS of IX c.) used the Hexapla of the Sept. for the OT, a Cesarean text for the NT.

5.    The Gothic version of Ulfilas (W383), apostle of the Wisigoths, based on the Antiochian version of the Sept. is represented by the codex Argenteus (V or VI c. Latin version).

6.    The Georgian version was translated from the Armenian (V or VI c.) of the Cesarean group (the entire NT is still extant).

7.    The Arabic versions are very numerous but recent (VIII to X cent.) and thus of little critical importance.

8.    The Slavonic version of St. Cyril and Methodius (died resp.869 and 885) produced the codices in Cyrillic or Russian letters and other in glagolitic letters (originally only parts of the NT).


iii. latin versions


1) the pre-jerome LATIN version


1)   History. As well as the origin of the Sept. Gk. version, the need of the simple people rendered mandatory the translation of the Bible into Latin (Italy and Africa). From certain traces in the Fathers we may assert that in Africa (end II c, bgg III c.) the Bible was already translated into Latin.[15] It must have been done in Africa as the authorities show it but also the translation of the fragments of the prehieronymian Bible.  Moreover, unlike the Romans, the Africans ignored Greek and felt more urgently the need of a Latin version. It had been believed that there had been only one Latin version called the Itala, but it is more probable that there were various independent translations, grouped around 2 families, the African and the European (Gaul), to which other critics add the Italic version.


2)   Characteristics.

A) These versions were based on the Ante-hexaplaric Septuagint for the OT and from copies from the Western family for the NT. They are more recommendable for their literal translation than for their beauty of style (using the low Latin, various translators), hence their great critical value.  We do not have the complete text of the pre-hieronymian versions, only the deutero-canonical parts of them are inserted in the Vulgate (except Tobias and Judith translated from the Aramaic).

B) Although it justly gave way to the Vulgate of St. Jerome, the Old Latin retains great value : a) for the history of the Canon since it contains the deutero-can. books; b) because the many MSS representative of this version show the evolution of the Latin language and illustrate the genesis of the Romance languages, c) it is a faithful translation of the Sept. OT and of the Gk. NT d) yet its exegetical value is very small since the translators frequently neglect the various shades of the Gk. word, and were content with a mere mechanical translation.


2) the vulgate of st. jerome


1)   History of its composition.

A) St. Damasus (366-384) in order to avoid the multiplication of variations in correcting the Gk. text, asked St. Jerome to review the Latin version in use in the Roman Church. No one was best fitted for the task. St. Jerome had lived an ascetic life in Antioch (374-379) where he studied Greek and Hebrew guided by a Jew, then he went to Constantinople (379-382) attending the lectures of St. Greg. of Nazianzus and in 382 went back to Rome.

B) In 383, he begins in Rome the correction of the Texts of the NT based on the ancient Latin text, based on the European text (MSS B), with as little correction as possible. He also made a first translation of the Psalter, too hasty, the Roman Psalter used in the R. breviary until St. Pius V (1568).

C) After the death of his protector St. Damasus (384), St. Jerome was forced to leave and settled in Bethlehem, where he studied and prayed until his death in 420. In 387 he begins the correction of the OT based on the Hexaplaric Septuagint of Origen preserved in the library of Cesarea.[16]

D) In 390, he begins to review the Latin text of the OT directly from the Hebrew secundum Hebraicam veritatem’, for apologetic reasons against the Jews who calumniated the Christians for lacking the genuine Scriptural text. In 16 years, he completed his translation of the protocanon. books of the OT (the 3d version of the Psalter was never included in the Vulgate).

E) Our modern Vulgate is composed of the following parts :

- Deutero-canon. OT books give the non revised ancient Latin version.

- the proto-can. OT books (except the Ps.) are the direct translation from the Hebrew.

- Tobias and Judith were translated by St. Jerome from the Aramaic to be more faithful to the original text, parts of Dan. from the Theodotion Gk. version.

- Psalter and NT (including Apocalypse) are a revision of the Latin Text according to the Gk.


2)   Value of this Translation. All the learned, including the rationalists, agree that the Vulgate is the best translation of the Bible in the Antiquity, due to :


A) its fidelity to the sense of the text. That was St. Jerome’s main goal.[17]

B) faithful but not servile. St. Jerome was a learned man, and tried to give grace and beauty to his translation.[18] He sought clarity of exposition. The gracious style does not eliminate all the barbaric expressions of the ancient Latin version to avoid hurting prejudices.[19]

C) This work is not perfect, because some of these translations were done hastily,[20] bec. St. Jerome as a rule preferred the Hebrew text to the LXX which was purer in reality. Some rare countersenses have crept in (usually he renders a proper name by the corresponding common name), few times he uses the rabbinical legends to give the sense of a text, although his Latin common sense prevented him from falling into the extravagances of an exegesis without critique or logic. The historical books and Job are the best translation, the books of Tobias and Judith the most neglected ones.

D) The Vulgate, despite its defects and inequalities, reproduces integrally the substance itself of the inspired text.[21]


3)   History of the transmission of the Text.


A) The Vulgate was slow to be accepted (St. Augustine at the end of his life; Gaul first, Rome not totally until the time of St. Greg.). At the end of the VIII c., it was accepted everywhere.

B) Already the original Vulgate had suffered alterations, and the text was differently recopied according to divers regions. The most critical period was from the XIV to the XVI cent., time of comparison with the primitive texts which revealed its imperfections hence newer corrections by everybody, Protestants and Catholics alike : Erasmus, Jacques Lefèbvre, Cajetan. All these efforts tended to discredit the Vulgate and throw more confusion on the Christian world. Only the authority of Trent was able to restore the unity which particular studies had broken.

C) The Fathers of the Council, recognizing the imperfections of the current editions, begged the Pope to give a correct edition of the Latin Bible (and later the Greek and Hebrew revisions). ‘The Old Latin Vulgate edition, which has been approved by the long use of so many centuries in the CC, is to be held as authentic in public readings...’  By it, the CC guarantees in general the fidelity and the trustworthiness, but not the philological accuracy, of the Vulgate. The Vulgate may have some slight mistakes, but these have no bearing on faith and morals, since the CC cannot hold errors as being the word of God. By this proclamation of the authenticity of the Vulgate, the CT did not place it above the others, much less above the original texts, Greek and Hebrew, as we possess them today. Such a decree is not a dogmatic decree, but only a disciplinary decree based on a dogmatic fact (the promise of the divine assistance).

D) The work begun in 1546 by a commission of Cardls  (Cajetan...) was slowed down for many reasons, and was not finished until Sixtus V, a former member of the commission, resumed actively the works which was finished in 1590, but published definitively under Clement VIII, and thus called the sixto-clementine version of the Vulgate. From then on, it was forbidden to reproduce another Vulgate text.

E) The undeniable imperfection of that edition led St. Pius X to entrust the benedictines with the revision of the text to make it more conformable to that of St. Jerome. The Holy See wanted to take again the work of the saint and bring the Latin text closer to the original texts. This version was finished in 1984 (in 1948 they were at the Paralipp., and it was speeded up at the end).


 English Versions of the Bible



I  the anglo-saxon versions


1.    The earliest accessible Bible narrative to English readers was a paraphrase of Genesis made by Caedmon (cª 670). The Psalter was rendered into English by Guthlac and Aldhelm in the same VIIth cent.

2.    St Bede (W735) is said to have translated the entire Bible, but this version has perished. King Alfred the Great (W901) had the same done but it has also perished.

3.    After the Norman Conquest, in the pre-Wyclifite period, 3 names are worthy of mention : Orm (XIII c.) translated parts of the Gospels and others of O.T. and N.T. Shoreham in 1320 translated the Psalter. Rolle also translated the Psalter.



ii. The Catholic pre-reformation English bible


1.    It is questionable whether the so-called Wyclif Bible was done by Wyclif (1380 for N.T.) and his colleague Nich. de Hereford (most of the O.T.). Even Protestant scholars are in doubt about it, and they may eventually accept the thesis of Cardl. Gasquet that the 2 pre-Reformation vernacular versions of the Bible, proved by the numerous MSS, once in the possession of loyal sons of the Church, are in reality Catholic versions.

2.    The pre-Reformation versions were translated from the Latin Vulgate of the Exemplar Parisiense (+/- the Alcuin revision of the Vulgate). If Wyclif’s version was condemned by the CC, it was because he was using it for his heretical doctrines (commentaries...). The CC could not allow a man, whose doctrine was subversive of morality and good order, to spread his own translation of the Bible.



iii. the protestant english bibles


1.    In the time of Henry VIII.

·      W. Tyndale (1484-1536) translated the N.T. in 1525 from the Gk instead of the Vulgate, which influenced all subsequent Protestant English versions. His principles were the following :

·      to follow Luther in the marginal notes and arrangement of books.

·      to break away from the CC translation.

·      to use the 2d edition of Erasmus, which helped propagate the Textus Receptus, which critics reject as an inferior version. He also incorporated some of the inaccuracies of Erasmus’s Latin translation.

·      the influence of the Cath. pre-Reformation N.T. is great, that of the Vulgate small.

·      Coverdale (1488-1569), not knowledgeable in Greek or Hebrew, published the Bible under T. Cromwell in 1535. It is based on Tyndale’s version. Matthew or Rogers (1500-1555) published the Bible in 1537 derived from the 2 previous ones. Taverner did his own transl. in 1539 based on Tyndale, but with many changes from Gk and Vulg. The comments were rather favorable to the Reformation.

·      The Great Bible clearly Protestant was produced by Coverdale in 1539 urged by Cromwell. The 2d edition contained a Prologue by Cranmer (1540). It agrees with Tyndale’s 1534 edition in many individual words.


2.    From Edward VI (1547) to Queen Elizabeth I (W1603)

·      The Geneva Bible, began in Geneva N.T. 1557, done by Whittingham, a relative of Calvin. Filled w. pro-Calvinist notes. The full Bible called the Puritan Bible came about in 1560 (Geneva), and though never officially approved, yet about 140 editions were printed up bec. of its convenient format. It was based on Tyndale’s translation and Beza’s Latin N.T.

·      The Douai-Rheims Version was published by Cath. in exile (see below).

·      The Bishops’Bible 1568 was edited by M. Parker, Arch of Canterbury, and the fruit of the work of scholars including 8 bishops. The 2d edition (1572) was the basic text used by the revisers of the King James or Authorized version 40 years later. It showed again the influence of the Geneva version.

·      The King James or Authorized Version came about in 1611 as a Version to reconcile the various Protestant religious parties. It takes the Bishops’B. as basis, keeps the old eccles. words, it avoids marginal notes except brief explan. of Heb. words, it uses previous Prot. translations when they agree better.

·      This version has exercised great influence upon English literature.[22]  It has also many defects which made the general revision of 1881-1885 inevitable. Apart from the various literal defects in the editions, the main fault lies in its poor apparatus criticus esp. for the N.T. For the O.T. they used mostly the Antwerp Polyglot; the Pre-Reform. B. and the Douay (1609-1610) based on the Vulgate exercised no influence upon the new translation. For the N.T. the translators ‘suffered most from the corrupt form in which the Greek text of the N.T. was presented to them’, bec. neglecting the Vulgate based upon more ancient Gk MSS, they chose the Textus Receptus and the Beza Latin version. The English versions exercised gt influence esp. the Cath. Rheims version of the NT.


iv. the catholic english bibles


1.    the original Douay-Rheims Version.  As many Cath. fled the Elizabethan persecutions (1558-1603), Dr. W. Allen (1532-1594) founded the English College at Douay in 1568, which was transferred to Rheims soon after. He became a member of the Carafa Commission at Rome for the revision of the Vulgate, and was created Cardinal in 1587. He gathered with him some scholars who produced accdg to the Latin Vulgate an English Bible worthy of the Church : transl. of O. and N.T. were done by G. Martin, and revised by the others, annotations of N.T. prepared by Bristow and Allen, those of the O.T. by Worthington. The N.T. was published in Rheims in 1582, the O.T. at Douay in 1609-1610.


2.    Revisions of the Douay-Rheims Version, due to the development of the Engl. langg, so that some expressions of the D.R.B. were obsolete.

·      England. The reviser of the XVIIIc. was Bishop R. Challoner (1741-1781) later Vicar-Apost. of the U.S. (1758-1781). Newman says about his changes that they are only short of a new translation : “it (O.T.) is even nearer to the Protestant than it is to the Douay; nearer, that is, not in grammatical structure, but in phraseology and diction’, and regarding the N.T. “Dr Challoner... in his 3d edition has made corrections in more than 2,000 passages”.

·      Scotland, had its revision done by G. Hay, friend of Challoner, but it is not really a distinct revision.

·      Ireland, Revision by B. MAcMahon, Arch. Carpenter and Troy, continuation of Challoner’s labors.

·      Northern England. Syers from Manchester in 1813 edited the entire Bible  following Challoner and Troy’s edition for the N.T.

·      England XX cent. The Westminster Version of the N.T. from the Gk by Lattey and Keating has been made (1914-1935), and the O.T. is in progress. A N.T. version from the Vulgate distinct from the Rheims version was published by Knox (1944).


3.    Translations from the Greek original, of the Gospels by Spencer (1898) and compared w. the Vulgate and old Syriac Peshitto. The same reviser worked on the N.T. edited by Callan and Mc Hugh in 1937, excellent translation.


4.    the Confraternity Edition of the N.T. For the first time in the hist. of Engl. Catholic Bible, a group of scholars have collaborated in editing a new version of the Bible, and after 5 years edited the N.T. (1941), which represents a revision of the Challoner-Rheims Version based on a critical edition of the Latin Vulgate.



[1] We can measure the corruption of the original text a) from parallel texts in the Bible of the same version, e.g. parts of  ps 17 differ from the same ps. in II Sam xxii; b) by comparison with other texts, the Samaritan Pentateuch e.g. which was in use prior to the Septuagint.

[2] St Jerome answers them that, if the falsification had taken place before O.L’s time, He would have made them the reproach, and if after, it was useless since the Ap. and O.L. quoting the messianic passages were denouncing any subsequent fraud (P.L. XXIV col 99). St. Augustine says the same : ‘How can we admit that the Jews, despite all their bad will, could have altered so many manuscripts dispersed in so distant regions?’ PL 41, 452.

[3] St. Justin was quoting a Greek version adopted by his Jewish opponents, unknown till 1952, when a grotto from the desert of Juda (Qumran?) revealed fragments of texts of that Greek reduced version, worked on the LXX by the Palestinian rabbis to bring it closer to the premassoretic text of the Pharisees of Hillel. It is anterior to the Aquila version of 132. This proves that, towards 120-150, the Jews, exasperated by the interpretation the Christians were making, did not use the text of the LXX, and revised it by falsifying certain passages, of which St. Justin accused them. But beyond the case of certain passages taken out and falsified, the main problem is that of a bad interpretation : ‘You do not understand anything to the SS’ (St. Justin).

[4]there are 2 massoras, one Babylonian, the other Palestinian or Tiberiadine, which is preserved in the printed bibles, and yet their vocalization is sometimes artificial and departs from the primitive vocalization.

[5] See for some interesting examples Le Sel de la Terre, nº 40, pp 35-38.

[6] Here are some safe rules for the textual critique of the O.T. : a) do not correct a text until you have tried every other means; b) use those corrections which use the same text, e.g. a transposition of letters or words; c) do not hasten to correct an obscure text; d) prefer the correction which explains better the coming of variations.

[7] the papyrus is a kind of paper obtained from a high reed called cyperus papyrus, fibers joined together vertically, then horizontally set up as sheets joined together to make up an entire roll.

[8]impartial critics recognize that the texts of the Gospels or of the Epistles are better established than any of the ancient profane work?

[9]codex B is anterior to the revision of Origen; S is similar to B; C is composed only of fragments of the sap. books.

[10] See the following substitutions :

Massoretic Text


the hand of God

The face of God

Iahweh Sabaoth

they saw the God of Israel

counselor, admirable, God strong,

eternal Father, prince of peace

a woman will surround a man

the Virtue of God

the glory of God

Iahweh omnipotent

they saw the place where was the God of Israel

messenger of the great Counsel


men walk in the path of salvation


[11]fortunately a great deal of this material has been preserved in the writings of the Fathers, in MSS and in the margins of some MSS.

[12] In order to obtain the genuine reading of the original Sept. version, one must collate the readings of the various families but also consider other translations from the pre-Hexaplaric Septuagint Greek  (Old Latin and Coptic versions). Then it is necessary to compare the variant readings with the Massoretic Text. The readings which are more conformable with the Hebrew are to be rejected, and the readings which disagree with the Hebrew are to be retained.

[13]the original has been lost, the text can be reconstructed from the Arabic version of the XI c. and others.

[14]It is lacking the 4 minor Cath. epistles and Apocalypse.

[15]Tertullian W220, St. Cyprian, W258; S. Aug. says that we need remount to ‘the first times of the Faith’, which is comprehensible given the fact that it was the indispensible tool for the diffusion of the faith.

[16]He corrected, if not the entire protocanonical O.T. books, at least Job, Proverbs, Eccli, Cant., Paralipomena, Psalms called the Gallican psalter, adopted firstly by Gaul, which is our present Vulgate version. St Jerome considers it mediocre since he did it ‘without too much pain in order to avoid hurting the general opinion so favorable to the LXX’.

[17] ‘mihi omnino conscius sum non mutasse me quidpiam de hebraica veritate’.

[18]He replaces the short and broken Hebrew phrases by comas, he avoids the repetitions, uses absolute ablative. ‘Non debemus sic verbum de verbo exprimere, ut, dum syllabas sequimur, perdamus intelligentiam’.

[19]the new translation, so distinct from the ancient and from the text of the LXX, was for many a scandal who tagged the version of heretical.

[20] Judith in one night, Tobias in one day, 3 books of Solomon (Proverbs, Eccli, Cant) in 3 days.

[21]as supposed by C Trent re. the definition of the Canon of the SS : ‘prout in veteri vulgata latina editione habentur’.

[22] Newman speaks of  its ‘grave majestic English’.