Which Translation of the Bible Do Roman Catholics Use?

by Mark Wynne

Because the Bible was written in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic, most Christians depend on translations to understand the text. A wide variety of English-language translations is available, spanning the full spectrum of translation philosophy, and it can be difficult to choose the most appropriate version. To further complicate matters, Bible translations used by Roman Catholics are typically different than those used by Protestants, containing additional books known as the Apocrypha. The Catholic church in America has provided guidelines for Catholics seeking to study the Scriptures on their own.

The Catholic Edition of the Bible

The Catholic Edition of the Bible, as it is commonly called in America, finds its roots in antiquity. According to Michael Palmer, a professor of biblical history and literature at Meredith College, Jews in Alexandria, Egypt, produced a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures before Jesus’ birth, known as the Septuagint, which included more books than the scriptures later accepted by the Jewish community in Israel. Early Christians used the Septuagint, later translated into Latin and called the Vulgate. The Catholic Council of Trent approved the additional books as canonical in the 1500s AD. The Roman Catholic Old Testament contains 46 books, as compared to the Protestant Bible’s 39 books, and the New Testament used by all Christians consists of 27 books.

The Douay-Rheims translation

The Latin Vulgate was, for many years, the only official Catholic edition of the Bible, and an English translation known as the Douay-Rheims was finally published in 1609 AD. Ronald Witherup, a priest and former academic dean and professor at St. Patrick's Seminary, says that until recently many Catholics considered the Douay-Rheims to be the best edition of the Bible, comparable to many Protestants’ view of the King James Version, despite the fact that it is now quite out of date linguistically. Catholic Answers adds that the Douay-Rheims currently available today is not, in fact, the original, 1609 version. Instead, it is a revision of the Douay-Rheims completed during the mid-eighteenth century by Bishop Richard Challoner, and partly based on Hebrew and Greek manuscripts (rather than just the Latin Vulgate).

Translations approved today

In reality, the Roman Catholic church approves of a number of Bible translations for use by its members, and the United States Council of Catholic Bishops provides a list of fourteen approved versions published since 1983. In addition to those translations, the Council also states that any translation that has received proper ecclesiastical approval by the Apostolic See, or a local ordinary prior to 1983, may be used by Catholics for private prayer and study. However, Ronald Witherup does note that one translation, the New American Bible, is primarily used during Mass.

Common use of the Bible by Catholics

While many versions are not officially approved by the Catholic church due to their omission of the Apocrypha, many faithful Catholics still find them to be useful for personal study and reflection. For example, Catholic Answers notes that the New International Version, which provides a more dynamic, less literal translation of the Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic texts, may be easier to understand for modern readers than more literal translations like the New American Bible.

About the Author

Mark Wynne is a water engineer in Mozambique, and has worked on engineering and clean water projects on three continents. Wynne graduated with a Bachelor of Science in engineering and applied sciences from Seattle Pacific University.

Photo Credits

  • Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images