I could not escape this question as I was conversing with a neighbor who advised me that the only accurate translation, in her opinion, was the Douay-Rheims translation of the Bible and any attempt to use the King James Version or any other translation in our discussion would not be welcome.
Frankly, I was not that familiar with her translation. Needless to say, our conversation proved short-lived since she was not very tolerant with someone who did not possess her translation of the Bible or beliefs.
It made me wonder if respect for the Bible should be limited to our personal preference in translations. Don’t get me wrong, I have met individuals who prefer easy-to-read Bibles, the King James Version and other translations, but rarely have I met individuals who respect only one version of the Holy Bible.
My experience with this devout lady led me to take a closer examination of The Douay-Rheims Bible to see why it is preferred by some. In short, this is what I discovered. For centuries until common-language translations were produced, a Latin version of the Bible was translated from Hebrew and Aramaic by Jerome between 382 and 405 A.D.
Jerome’s Latin translation of the Bible, called the Vulgate, was the only Bible used by the church for more than 1,000 years. Since Latin was only studied by priests and scholars, the vast majority of people could not read or understand the Vulgate, leaving commoners without any personal access to God’s written Word.
When such 16th century Reformers as Martin Luther and William Tyndale defied the church and began to translate the Bible for everyday people, they were threatened with excommunication and a horrible death. Tyndale was caught, convicted of heresy, strangled and burned at the stake in 1536 for translating a Bible into English.
Within that same century, the Douay Version was translated from the Latin Vulgate into English by members of the English College, Douai, and was accepted by many as the purest text available at the time. The first version was completed in Reims in 1582. It was revised by Bishop Richard Challoner between 1749 and 1752, as the Douay-Rheims Bible.
To this day it remains the Bible of choice for many traditional English-speaking Catholics. While I embrace all translations of the Bible, I am also aware of something many scholars will readily admit, but not all Bible readers fully understand. What is that?
No one has the original Bible today. All we have are copies of copies of copies of ancient manuscripts, most of which were made hundreds of years after the originals were lost or destroyed. So, no translation can rightly be called “the real Bible.”
Second, most recent translations, in general, are considered better than the older ones because the ancient biblical manuscripts discovered in the last 100 years (Dead Sea Scrolls, etc.) are much older and closer to the originals than the manuscripts that were available to the translators of previous centuries.
Lastly, there is a bias in translations when ancient words have more than one meaning and translators have to decide which definition is the best. Translators are not inspired of God. They make mistakes. These facts, along with changes in language, create the need for modern translations.
The best example of this lies in the words of Jerome himself. As late as the fourth century, Jerome, the translator who produced the Latin Vulgate, says in his “Prologus Galeatus,” prefacing the books of Samuel and Malachi: “We find the four-lettered name of God in certain Greek volumes even to this day expressed in the ancient letters.”
This “four-lettered name of God,” appearing in the Latin text as JHVH does not appear at all in the Douay-Rheims Version. Why? Its translators dared to remove it and replace it with a title, “ADONAI,” or Lord.
Translators of the King James Version chose to restore the personal name of God in at least four places, Exodus 6:3, Psalm 83:18, Isaiah 12:2 and 26:4. After that, they decided to use LORD and GOD in capital letters to represent God’s personal name. Is this a bias in translation? You decide.
Now that much older copies of the Bible have been discovered and translated, it is clear that the “four-lettered name of God” mentioned by Jerome was in the Bible more than the titles “God” and “Lord” combined!
Some modern translations have restored the Divine Name to its rightful place in God’s Word. There is now a Divine Name King James Version that is included in that list of recent translations.
Whatever translation is your personal preference, for whatever reason, may we find it in our hearts to love God’s Word enough to respect all translations, because they can all be used to glorify the God of truth.