Some Lackluster Scripture

Within the past two generations or so we’ve seen a significant downplay in the American Church of anything theological. We focus on the humanity of Jesus, we focus on making Mass entertaining, we never go to confession cause that’s old school, we don’t believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and on and on.¬† And this tearing down of the supernatural applies to modern Bible translations many times as well.

Bear in mind that the “official” Bible of the Church is the Latin Vulgate. The closer a translation is to the meaning of the Vulgate, the better. If you want an English translation that best matches the Vulgate, use the Douay-Rheims translation. It’s very literal and very awesome–though, beware, it uses “thee” and “thy” and “cometh” and “saith” and old speech like that. But overall, it can really be trusted in its orthodoxy. To prove to you how theologically downplayed some modern Bibles used by Catholics can be, I’m going to compare some passages in the DR translation to some newer ones.

John 1:1-3, for example. This is the Douay-Rheims: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him and without him was made nothing which was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.”

Observe the italics. Now I know one person, a good Catholic, name, gender, and age withheld, who read the same verses from a Bible (which I think was the New Revised Standard Version) and they said this: “All things came to be through him and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life…”

“What came to be through him was life”? Really? To whoever translated that: ummmm…..well, glad you feel the need to take liberties. The idea of all things being made by the Word is a separate idea from the Word having life. It’s making two points: 1) He made all things 2) life was in Him. It’s not supposed to be revamped like you have it.

File:NIV cover.jpg
See a Bible like this one and take caution…

In watching Father Barron’s Catholicism series (which, by the way, is really awesome), I noticed that whatever Bible translation he uses suffers from a lot of these weird translational liberties. For example, remember in Luke 1:28 when the angel says, “Hail, full of grace/filled with grace”? That’s a translation of the Latin “Ave, gratia plena”. Plena = filled with. Gratia = grace. It shouldn’t be that hard to translate it. It’s also a testimony of Mary’s sinlessness that she is called that. Anyway, whatever translation Fr. Barron used said something to the effect of, “Rejoiced, O favored one”. Where did they get a translation like that from? Maybe they’re trying to be really ecumenical. Huh.

Remember at the Transfiguration when God the Father says, “This is My beloved Son”? I’ve heard many times that in those times to call a son beloved was a way of implying a very special uniqueness, or another way of saying that he’s the “only” son. So beloved makes sense, right? Yet, again, whatever translation Fr. Barron used for his Catholicism series said “chosen Son”. That just makes it sound like He’s one among many whom God could have picked!

Then we have Philippians 2:6, which in the Douay-Rhiems says about the Son, “Who, being in the form of God, did not think it robbery to be equal with God”, and then it goes on to talk about how He emptied Himself, etc… With this translation here, doesn’t it imply that the Son very well could have declared His equality with God, and that would have been perfectly justifiable, but He chose not to anyway? A lot of modern translations say something very different: “Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped”. While I suppose this is legitimate, it brings to mind an opposite picture: this one makes it seem like the Son didn’t even give any thought to His equality with God.

Translational complaints aside, you think, when you read that passage, that the Son was God and emptied Himself, right? Well, as a further proof of the extreme focus on Christ’s humanity which we’ve seen for the last 50 years, a footnote to that verse in–if I remember right–the New American Bible which I had picked up during Eucharistic Adoration once, said something like this: “This could either be a claim to Christ’s pre-existance, or it could be a comparison to Adam who tried to be equal with God like in the Genesis story”. I mean, I guess there’s nothing wrong with such an observation, but…really? Most people wouldn’t even think of that. Most people would just see, “Oh, Jesus was God and became a humble man”.

Anyway, I don’t know. Just wanted to talk about this. I think translations like these could very well be connected to the downplay of the theological for the past two generations.

God bless, and may His mom pray for you this month,

Michael

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2 thoughts on “Some Lackluster Scripture”

  1. Do keep in mind, though, that the Bible wasn’t written in Latin. It was written in Greek and Hebrew. The D-R, though, was translated from the Latin … so it’s a translation of a translation. It’s useful because it helps us see how the Church has been reading the Bible for the last thousand or so years — but it’s not as accurate a translation as some of the others are.

    The passage from John is actually a matter of punctuation. Are we saying, “Without him nothing was made that was made. In him was life,” or are we saying, “Without him nothing was made. What was made in him was life”? There is absolutely no way to tell because the ancients didn’t use punctuation. It’s a judgment call on the part of the translator.

    “Full of grace” is a tough one. The Greek word is a perfect past participle meaning “having been filled with grace.” Having been favored is close, I guess. The one translation gets the “full of grace” part, but the other conveys that it is a past participle. You just can’t get a perfect translation.

    ….Which is a really good argument why everyone should learn Latin, Greek, and Hebrew!

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    1. I recognize that the Bible wasn’t written in Latin. I’m just thinking that in light of the fact that we HAVE the Vulgate, it’s the ideal. In the preface of the Douay-Rheims we read the following:

      “Why translate from a translation (the Latin Vulgate) rather than the original Greek and Hebrew? This question was also raised in the 16th century when the Douay-Rheims translators (Fr. Gregory Martin and his assistants) first published the Rheims New Testament. They gave ten reasons, ending up by stating that the Latin Vulgate ‘is not only better than all other Latin translations, but then the Greek text itself, in those places where they disagree.’ (Preface to the Rheims New Testament, 1582).”

      Now obviously this is personal opinion, but considering that these people translated the NT, they probably had a good hand on both languages, Latin and Greek.

      I don’t know. Just a thought.

      And just out of curiosity, how many languages do you know?

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