7 July 2007

A Small Matter about Bibles...

The following is intended to expand upon the points about Bible Versions raised in the July 2007 Spotlight p 9 (the monthly internal publication of Blessed Sacrament Church, Singapore). This is also in commemoration of Bible Sunday, in this regional Bishop’s Conference. What follows all comes from my own personal experience.

First of all, the term Translation instead of Version is much more preferable especially since the various writers of Sacred Scripture did not write in English and in rendering it into English, one has to translate not create a new version. The duty of a translator is to render exactly what the author has written. By imposing ideas of what one thinks the author means, a mistranslation would result.

Contained with Sacred Scripture are 73 Books, and the exact list of these 73 Books dates back to at least AD 382 in the Synod of Rome under Pope Damasus I. This was very much during the time of the Early Christians. More than 1000 years later the Martin Luther would remove Books and verses from the Bible because they were not in conformity to the errors he was teaching. Luther also used the argument that the list of books from the Old Testament has to be based upon the list drawn up by the Council of Jamnia in AD 70. The problem with this argument is that by then the decrees of Jewish Rabbis no longer had any bearing on the Early Church.

Contrary also to Protestant thought is the fact that the Catholic Church did allow accurate translations of Sacred Scripture. Inaccurate translations on the other hand were severly suppressed. There is in existance, copies of translations into the language spoken in England during that time. As early as the 600s we have a copy of the work of Caedmon, a monk of Whitby, consisting of great portions of the Bible in the common tongue. In the next century we have the well-known translations of Venerable Bede, a monk of Jarrow, who died whilst busy with the Gospel of St. John. In the same (eighth) century we have the copies of Eadhelm, Bishop of Sherborne; of Guthlac, a hermit near Peterborough; and of Egbert, Bishop of Holy Island; these were all in Saxon, the language understood and spoken by the Christians of that time. Coming down a little later, we have the free translations of King Alfred the Great who was working at the Psalms when he died, and of Aelfric, Archbishop of Canterbury; as well as popular renderings of Holy Scripture like the Book of Durham, and the Rushworth Gloss and others that have survived the wreck of ages. After the Norman conquest in 1066, Anglo-Norman or Middle-English became the language of England, and consequently the next translations of the Bible we meet with are in that tongue. There are several specimens still known, such as the paraphrase of Orm (About 1150) and the Salus Animae (1250), the translations of William Shoreham and Richard Rolle, hermit of Hampole (died 1349). [Source: Where We Got the Bible, by Rt Rev Henry G. Graham]

Following the separation of the English Crown from the bosom of the Church, Catholics were heavily persecuted by the authorities. Many great monasteries were burnt and it was illegal to even attend Mass. Many great martyrs died for the faith during this period. Some English Catholic fled over the English Channel to France to seek refuge. Amongst these were the scholars who translated what is now known as the Douay Rheims Bible. The title page itself however reads "The Holy Bible, faithfully translated into English out of the authentic Latin. Diligently conferred with the Hebrew, Greek and other Editions." As one can very clearly see, the concern of the translators was accuracy.

The translators published the New Testament in 1582 in the French town Douay. Although they completed the Old Testament soon after, due to a lack of funds the publication was delayed. It was eventually published in Rheims in two volumes in 1609 and 1610. Over the years of 1749 to 1752, the English Bishop Richard Challoner (who was an Anglican convert), made a thorough revision to the translation. For the next 200 years, every single English speaking Catholic would use this translation of the Bible. This translation is also still very much entrenched in English speaking Catholics. When one recites the Hail Mary, one is using the translation from the Douay Rheims Bible. To this day, it is still being published. Loreto Publications publishes a 1941 facsimile reprint of the Douay Rheims, while Baronius Press publishes a fresh digital typeset of the 1899 Douay Rheims.

The Douay-Rheims is called a literal translation. Yet it is not the only one of its kind.
Over the 1936 to 1950, an Monsignor Ronald Knox was authorised by the English Catholic Hierarchy to produce a fresh translation from the Latin Vulgate. This was known as the Knox Bible. Only the New Testament is still in print, and is published by Templegate Publishers. In the 1940s and 1950s a revision to the Douay Rheims was produced in the United States by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. This translation was called the Confraternity Bible. Sinag Tala prints both the New Testament and the full Bible.

In recent times, many other versions of the Bible in English have been produced. Two very significant problems plague them. The first is the claim to have translated from the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts and the second is the use of inclusive language. All modern versions of the Bible claim to reference and translate from the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. Not all however are plagued by inclusive language.

In 1957, the Revised Standard Version (RSV) was completed by a Protestant organisation called the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Although a Catholic Edition was produced with Imprimatur in 1966, it still remains a Protestant translation, and is hampered by mistranslations. The RSV however is still considered to be a largely literal translation of the Bible. Even though a Second Catholic Edition was published in 2000, it is still plagued by the same mistranslations. Both Ignatius Press and Oxford Press print the Catholic Edition of the RSV. A 1971 edition of the RSV was used in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but currently no publisher prints it. [Different from the New Revised Standard Version]

In 1961, the Dominicans published a Bible in French called the La Bible de Jerusalem. This was translated into English by a group of British Scholars and published in 1966 as the Jerusalem Bible (JB). Amongst the editors of the Bible was J.R.R. Tolkien and at times Tolkien fans refer to the JB as the Tolkienite Bible. The South East Asian region is very fortunate that the Philippine Bible Society still prints a facsimile copy. [Different from the New Jerusalem Bible]

Both of these Bibles do not contain any inclusive language, but claim to translate from the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. As mentioned earlier, the duty of a translator is to translate what the author wrote, not what he thinks the author wrote. This however is not always the case.

In the RSV, John 3:16 reads “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” The Greek text however reads “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but should have eternal life.” Every single other Catholic Bible (aside from the Good News Bible) translates correctly to the latter. The former with a missing ‘should’ leaves open the way to Protestant conception of once saved always saved. Even the Catholic Edition contains this mistranslation.

In the JB, Luke 1:28 read “… Rejoice, so highly favoured! ...” Although ‘so highly favoured is a possible translation of the Greek ‘kecharitomene’, it more accurately translates to ‘most exalted one’. In terms of degree there is a huge gap in meaning in both terms. God through his Angel, Gabriel bestowed far more honour than just ‘high favour’. The use of ‘most exalted one’ would improve on ‘full of grace’ which is from the Latin gratia plena. Yet this was not done.

These are just two instances where even the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts were not translated accurately into English.

Now I mentioned the term inclusive language, but I did not elaborate much about it. Inclusive language is also called gender neutral language. At its most basic level what inclusive language does to St Paul’s Epistles for example would be to change ‘my brothers’ to ‘my brothers and sister’. To a large extent there is no problem with this instance. Yet inclusive language is far more than just this. Taken to its fullest extent, inclusive language removes the masculine references of the Bible. For example both Psalm 1 and Psalm 111 start of with the line “Blessed is the man.” Using the gender neutral, the verse would read, “Blessed is the one” or “Blessed are those”. On the surface level it does not look like there is much of a difference since what follows after does apply to both genders. These two Psalms however are also prophecies about Christ, and that he is male is non-negotiable. Feminists have argued that Christ is both genders and some even claim that God is female.

So although the New Jerusalem Bible (1985) does in some instance improve on the JB, the use of inclusive language basically ruined the entire project. The same goes for the New Revised Standard Version (1991), which also did improve on the RSV and corrected the translation error of John 3:16. The New American Bible is also plagued by this problem. Another problem with the New American Bible is that anti-Catholic commentary is included in the Bible.

In 1979 the Good New Bible was produced by a Protestant organisation called the American Bible Society. The Good News Bible is also known as Today’s English Version. It should be noted that the chief editor, Robert Bratcher has no intention at all translating what was actually written by the writers of Sacred Scripture. The outcome was a very poorly produced version that even the Protestant Churches rejected. The beauty contained within Sacred Scripture has been significantly stripped away, and glaring inaccuracies and omissions are committed. A second edition was published in 1992, and the same problems remain. Inclusive language is also used, but the biggest problem is the glaring errors and omissions.

For example, reference to the cutting of the foreskin is circumcision in Genesis 17:11 is arbitrarily removed from the Good News Bible. Furthermore in Luke 2:21 where Jesus is circumcised the Good News Bible wrongly states that a baby is circumcised 1 week after birth. It should be 8 days after birth. Luke 2:21 links back to Genesis 17:12, and in Genesis 17:12 the Good News Bible states clearly 8 days.

The Good News Bible is said to be for those who do not have a good command of the English language. Given the problems however, it is more of a mistranslation. In terms of easy to read English, there is another far better alternative called the Christian Community Bible.

In 1994, the Claretians Fathers published the Christian Community Bible. A very significant amount of commentary is included and various significant verses retain the use of more traditional wording. An excellent feature that is included is a table with every single reading of the Mass used throughout the year. In 2004 however, inclusive language added. All fresh prints of the Christian Community Bible are plagued by it. Claretian Publications and the Daughters of St Paul publish the 2004 edition. It is also freely available online.

There are huge problems with modern day translations into English. This has to do with the translators reading the original languages, deciding what they think it means, and then translating their interpretation into English; all without regard for what is actually written. Even for private reading the translation should be proper. Having a simplified version, more often than not indicates that some of the original meaning is lost. Take for instance ‘chalice of salvation’ and ‘cup of salvation’. The use of ‘cup’ is a simplification, and yes, ‘chalice’ means cup. Yet chalice also has another meaning that is lost in the use of the word ‘cup’, chalice also means severe trial.

As a young person, I read the Douay Rheims. Especially when certain verses seem so difficult to understand in modern translations, the Douay Rheims is so much simpler. Compare Genesis 3:15 from the Douay Rheims, with the version you own. “I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.” In terms of a serious study of the Sacred Scripture, the Douay Rheims is excellent. In fact the Douay Rheims is much closer to the Hebrew and Greek than any modern translation. Personally, I also find the Christian Community Bible to also be good for one looking for an easy to read Bible with commentary at a reasonable price.

How did I come to know I this? I opened up the Bible and started reading. But before reading, one should begin with a prayer. You may use the following:

O King of Glory, Lord of Hosts, leave us not as orphans, but send us the Promised of the Father, the Spirit of Truth.
We implore you, O Lord, that the Consoler, will enlighten our souls and infuse into them all truth, as Your Son has promised. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

And after you finish...

Let me not, O Lord, be puffed up with worldly wisdom, which passes away, but grant me that love which never abates, that I may not choose to know anything among men, but Jesus, and Him crucified. Amen.

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