Friday, March 13, 2009

Bible Myth #24: The Bible was written in Latin to keep people from reading it

I have heard more than once that the Catholic Church wrote the Bible in Latin because so few people understood that language. That way, priests could claim the Bible said whatever they wanted and could confuse and manipulate the masses.

This myth is, like so many others, not only false but the opposite of reality.

The Latin Vulgate was finished in 404 and is still the “official” version of the Bible in Catholic Church. In the fourth and fifth centuries can you guess what the common language was? You got it; Latin. There were basically two types of people in the Christian world at the time; those who could read Latin and those who could not read at all. In other words, the Church wrote the Bible in the most widely-accessible language of the time.

In fact, “Vulgate” simply means “common” or “ordinary”. So Latin Vulgate is similar to “common English”. That’s an odd name if the Church were trying to put it in a dead language so no one could read it.

So why is Latin still the official language when Latin is a “dead language”? First, St. Jerome, the man who translated the Bible from Hebrew and Greek to Latin for the Latin Vulgate, had access to manuscripts and original documents that we simply don’t have today. Additionally, St. Jerome was a scholar by anyone’s standards; then or now. He was a native Latin speaker, translated many works (like the Odyssey) from Greek to Latin, and knew Hebrew and Greek as well and anyone today. We have no reason to think his work needs to be, or even can be, improved.

In short, the Latin Vulgate is the most accurate translation we can hope to have as twenty-first century Christians. Why adopt another Bible version just because it’s newer? We have plenty of Bibles written in various languages but the official version is, and may always be, the Latin Vulgate.


Anonymous said...

Dan, not sure what you meant with "latin" being the official laguage still today. Yes, Jerome did a good job of putting scripture in the vernacular, but it does not make sense to not continue to make the bible vernacular for everyone. If Jerome"s version is so good because of his access to original documents, vernaculars can be made based on his good foundaton,as has happened . There is no reason to continue in "latin", unless indeed that is your native tongue(vernacular),which it is for noone. I believe there are still plentty of documents left to make a good translation, even without the vulgate. Curent "finds" have proved this out. So again the question is not why Latin began ,but why it continues after it is no longer "common".

Anonymous said...

Actually, the Bible was not written in Latin.

The original Old Testament, of course, was in Hebrew and the writings of the New Testament were in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

The Latin text was later translated from the First full Greek translation from Constantinople and many of the Greek terms that could not be translated remain in the masses such as "Kyrie Elaison" which is a Greek phrase, not a Latin phrase.

ryan said...

Nice post.I would rather say that translation plays a significant role in our christian life.Since translation is to understand the exact meaning of a text in one language and convey it accurately in another. The result will be genuine content, not the mere shadow of an original one.This is how the translation company comes to play,to bring a greater ideas that convey the most significant and similar meaning from other languages without creating confusions to its readers.