Critics of the new, corrected translation would have, back in the day, resisted also the King James Bible

It is often said, by liberals, that because in ancient Rome there was a shift from Greek to Latin for the Roman liturgy, and since Latin was the vernacular back then, we should abandon Latin now and use the vernacular which is English, pray the way people speak today.

The flaw in that argument is that when the shift was made away from Greek, the Latin that was adopted for the ancient Roman liturgy was not at all the “vernacular”.  The Latin used in liturgy was not the way people spoke in daily life.  The Latin was highly stylized, though remaining terse, with words used in a very different way than that which had been common, if the unlettered had ever even heard them at all.  Romans would have know that what was being said was Latin, and they would have heard intelligible prayers, but they would have been challenged to know what they meant without explanations.  Eventually, they would have become used to a new style of prayer and new vocabulary with the new concepts the vocabulary communicated.  Just as there was a sacral Latin style for prayer in the pagan era, Christian Romans would have recognized a Latin style for sacral use, for prayer.   It was more demanding.

I now see this in the UK’s best Catholic weekly, The Catholic Herald.  My emphases and comments.

The King James Bible, like the new Mass translation, would have been condemned as ‘inaccessible’

Both translations seek to avoid “Gas Board English” and create a suitable language to express transcendent truths

By Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith on Wednesday, 8 June 2011

This year we are all supposed to be celebrating the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, otherwise known as the Authorised Version. It is four centuries since King James VI and I (as he should properly be called) commissioned what was to become the standard English translation of the Bible. Of course the King James Bible is a Protestant Bible, and its publication stirred the Catholic Church into producing the Douai Bible for English Catholics, or so the story goes, but in fact the Douai Bible precedes the Authorised Version by several years, and may well have been an influence on it. Again, while the King James Bible dates from 1611, it drew on the work of Miles Coverdale and William Tyndale, who had worked about 80 years earlier. Moreover, as I have discovered through reading an excellent book produced to mark the anniversary, this drawing on older sources was done quite deliberately. In other words, the translators of the King James Bible did not want to use up-to-date English, but deliberately chose archaic language.

The book I have been reading is called Celebrating the King James Version and consists of a series of devotional readings and commentary by Rachel Boulding, who is the deputy editor of the Church Times. The book makes a good case for the idea that the King James anniversary is more than just a matter of Anglican celebration; insofar as the King Kames Version is a masterpiece of English prose, it is to be celebrated by everyone who speaks the language. The King James Version shows us to what heights language can rise. It is the opposite of what Ms Boulding calls “Gas Board English”.  [What would be an equivalent in the USA?  “Cereal Box English”?  “High School Graduate”?  “Social Security Administration”?  “Sit-Com”?  Rather different styles, but each incomprehensible and execrable.]

Ironically, though of course he would not see it that way, even Professor Dawkins is celebrating, though he does warn us that “It is important that religion should not be allowed to hijack this cultural resource”. [ROFL!]

The mention of Gas Board English is particularly significant for Catholics right now, facing as we do the imminent new translation of the Roman Missal. As the bishops’ recent pastoral letter made clear, the new translation is trying to do what the King James translators did so well, namely create a suitable language that will express transcendent truths. This is by no means easy, but it can be done. [And we shall see if the new, corrected translation does it.  But let’s not fool ourselves.  It ain’t King James English.] It is interesting to note that those who seemingly [?] oppose the new translation would presumably also have opposed the King James Version as archaic and no doubt “inaccessible”: [Of course they would have!] but, and here is the key point, the King James Version, which has lasted 400 years, is anything but inaccessible. It has been a huge success, and opened up the Bible to countless generations. [“anything but inaccessible”… well… I wonder if that is true today.  I do know, however, that with greater exposure to it would be gradually more accessible than at first glance or hearing.]

Let us hope that the new translation of the Roman Missal may do the same and open up the transcendent mystery that is the Mass to people of our own time, as well as to many generations to come.  [Do I hear an “Amen!”?]

Well done!


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Martial Artist says:

    Yes, Father, you have my particularly hearty and resounding Amen!

    Keith Töpfer

  2. pseudomodo says:

    I would propose that the Douai-Reims bible is the superior english work if only by virtue of the fact that it is COMPLETE.

  3. fieldsparrow says:

    Your ROFL is my ROFL, Father. And now I want waffles.

  4. Pachomius says:

    I don’t want to disagree with someone of such manifest classical skill, Fr, but was the interrelation between pagan-sacral Latin and classical Latin really analogous to the relation between Christian-sacral Latin and Late (or early-Late) Latin? The only example I can think of is the Carmen Saliare, which Cicero famously claimed to be unable to understand much of. Besides, do we want to make much of a connexion to pagan praxis?

    As for gas board English… in my old parish, one of the two permanent deacons used to work for the gas board. His sermons were awaited.

  5. Banjo pickin girl says:

    I love the KJV still.

  6. Centristian says:

    If we can recognize a sacral Latin as opposed to a vernacular Latin, I think it has to be recognized that there is also a sacral English, and that the English seen in the King James Bible epitomizes it. I recently had the displeasure, however, of encountering the term “Cranmerian English” to label it!

    It’s interesting to me that, although almost all the Mass and its readings have been thoroughly (appallingly) vernacularized, despite the unsatisfying translations of the Scriptures served up in English language Masses, and every reference to the Father throughout the liturgy appearing in the form of “You” or “Your”, the “Thees” and “Thous” have not been removed from the Lord’s Prayer. We still pray “THY kingdom come, THY will be done…” I think, if I am not mistaken, that the “Our Father” is the only instance in the ordinary form (in English) of the preservation of this antiquated form English. I wonder why.

    How I wish that the unpoetic translation of the Scriptures used at English Masses in the US would be burnt at the stake and replaced with the Douay Rheims. Is it the New American Bible they use? It’s tragic, whatever it is. And while I certainly welcome the improved translation of the Roman Missal to come, I do regret that the vernacularized form of English was employed instead of the antique form…the sacred form…the form that we naturally use when we pray our prayers.

  7. Banjo pickin girl says:

    I believe we use the NAB at Mass because it is copyrighted by the USCCB. Lotsa luck changing that. I wish we could use some other version, the NAB is so clunky. There is a great article about this in a recent issue of First Things.

  8. AnAmericanMother says:

    The NAB is embarrassingly bad, both in its style and in its occasional howling textual errors. It should be put out of its misery.
    I like the KJV, it’s not only what I was raised with but also wakes echoes in so much of English literature. The Douay is also fine (your average 16th century educated Englishman had the most perfect command of the language, ever) although it is a bit more Latinate while the KJV never used a Latin-derived word where it could find a good old Anglo-Saxon substitute.
    In my perfect world: Douay or KJV for the readings, Cranmer’s Psalter for the psalms, and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, with corrections from the old Sarum Rite to remove the Protestantized bits.
    That is, if we’re going to do English.

  9. Samthe44 says:

    As someone born in Scotland, it made my day for James VI and I to be called that, instead of just ‘James I’.

  10. edm says:

    The King James Version (Authorized Version) contained ALL the books. The “apocryphal” books were grouped together, rather than keeping them within the body of the OT. Protestant printing houses in the 19th century stopped printing them.

  11. Maltese says:

    Just as Cicero might be more accomplished Latin than what we find in the TLM Missal (though the former not inspired by Grace) and Luke’s Gospel better Greek than St. Matthew’s (though both equally inspired by the Holy Ghost); so, too, the better English of the King James does not make it a better rendering than the Douay. Actually, the Douay is a much finer translation, and should be the only version read by Catholics, inasmuch as it contains ALL of the books of the bible (73 instead of 66), and for finer doctrinal points. My point being, just because something is “better” in style, that it should be preferred.

    On a similar line, the new translation might be better in a few areas, in no wise will it ever reach to the majesty of the Traditional Latin Mass. Not to mention that the NOM emphasizes a meal (“practically silencing” the Sacrifice, in the words of Msgr. Gherardini), and that Catholics for almost 2,000 years saw Holy Mass as a Sacrifice. So, which is it? Almost 2,000 years of venerable belief, or a Rhanerianesque Modernist belief germinated in that wonderful decade, the 1960s?

  12. RichardT says:

    Although I generally agree, you do have to be careful because the meaning of words can actually change – and even reverse – over time.

    I don’t mean that some words have become obscure or ‘difficult’ – people can cope with that. They realise that they don’t know the meaning, so they can find out or be told what it does mean. But much more dangerous is when an old word gets a new meaning, so that people reading think they understand, but actually get it wrong.

    I have found that a few times in the King James Bible (no, don’t ask me where; it was years ago); there have been times when I have thought “surely it doesn’t mean that”, and looked in newer translations and found that they say something seemingly completely different. Then I’ve looked at the history of the English word, and discovered that it used to have a very different meaning to the one it has now.

    Probably not in the KJV, but my favourite shifted word is “marketing”, which until fairly recently meant “buying things” (the open-air equivalent of “shopping”) , but has now reversed and means “selling things”.

    Another good one, which any Latin scholar will appreciate, is “manufactured”, which used to mean “hand-made” but now means “NOT hand-made but machine-made”.

    Other words develop different inferences; things like “crafty” and “notorious” which rather than having negative implications were once praiseworthy, meaning roughly “skilled” and “renowned”. One that might be in the KJV (I haven’t checked) is “lust”, which was originally a neutral word like “pleasure”.

    “Awful” similarly became negative rather than positive. The classic example (I don’t know if it is true or apocryphal) is the later King James (VII & II) describing the then-new St Paul’s Cathedral as “amusing, awful and artificial”, which in his time was great praise, meaning something like “pleasant, awe-inspiring and artistic”.

    “Sanction” is another interesting one, where the two meanings (roughly “approving permission” and “a way of showing disapproval”) still manage to co-exist.

  13. Fr. Basil says:

    A lot of people are unaware that when the KJV Bible was released, it was burned in the streets by radical Puritans, who called it the Devil’s Bible, and continued to use the Geneva Bible (the Bible brought to New England) until the edition was exhausted. Conservative Anglicans, including many of the translators of the KJV, preferred the Bishop’s Bible, which was the first English Bible brought to North America.

    pseudomodo, the KJV IS complete. It was originally published WITH the books commonly called Apocrypha, as it was translated for liturgical use of the Church of England which had readings from these books. Such editions are hard to find in the USA, I admit, but they do exist. I won’t allow a mutilated KJV in my front door.

    Something else that most people don’t know. The KJV was subjected to 4 major revisions in Great Britain; the last of these was 1769. The American Bible Society published a recension normalized according to American spellings–including the Apocrypha–in 1904.

    And the KJV “as originally written” no longer exists. Abp. Bancroft of Canterbury ordered about a dozen changes made to the text on his own authority that were NOT in the fair copy delivered to the printer, which has since been lost.

  14. Alan Aversa says:

    @pseudomodo: Thank you for standing up for the Douay-Rheims! The King James Version is decidedly Protestant in many places, but, sadly, it is still better than the NAB and the new NABRE.

    The D-R and the KJV both pack much meaning into concise, precise phrases. The NAB and NABRE, just like the Novus Ordo, sacrifice meaning for terseness and comprehensibility.

    This is a good comparison of the D-R, Vulgate, and KJV.

  15. Banjo pickin girl says:

    RichardT, my New England-bred family always went “marketing.” We also said things like, “I don’t care a tuppence,” and when somebody comes into the room we invited them to “sittee down.” (Sit thee down).

  16. mibethda says:

    I suspect that most of the posters who have praised the literary style of the Douai/Rheims, if they actually read that translation, would have a very different opinion. Bishop Challoner’s ‘revision’ of the Douai/Rheims – which most are familiar with (or, at least, with one of the later and more modest revisions of Challoner) was virtually a new translation which relied heavily upon the Authorized Version (whose translation committees had to some degree relied in turn upon the Rheims New Testament). While some of the Latinate creations of the translators of the original D/R proved successful and have been retained in the English language (except where spoken by Bishop Troutman) many – if not most – of the others proved awkward and were never accepted and would be quite foreign today even to those who find either the Challoner or Authorized versions to set the highest standard for literary form. In addition, the spelling of the non-Latin derived English in the original D/R, which is of a generation prior to Shakespeare, makes for very tedious reading (although the Douai Old Testament was published in 1609-1610, it, as well as the Rheims N.T., were actually translated in the late 1570’s -early 1580’s and used spelling forms which were already antique at that time. Anyone who has worked through the lengthy quotations in Duffy’s Voices of Morebath can get some of the flavor of this.

  17. The Cobbler says:

    “Douay or KJV for the readings, Cranmer’s Psalter for the psalms, and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, with corrections from the old Sarum Rite to remove the Protestantized bits.”
    AnAmericanMother, do you happen to know how that compares to the Anglican Use? I’d be interested in something in that line as an ideal “vernacular”; honestly wouldn’t know, without being there some (and maybe not even then), whether I’d prefer it or the older form of the Latin Mass. Then again, I live in the American Midwest, so I don’t know that I’ll ever see the Anglican Use at all (certainly I’ve never heard of it in this part of the country). I’ve been uncomfortable in the past with the idea that the Mass _must_ be in Latin; but I have to say, I’ve never had the good fortune to see a Mass in English that in actuality could stand up to par with the old form in Latin.

    “Another good one, which any Latin scholar will appreciate, is “manufactured”, which used to mean “hand-made” but now means “NOT hand-made but machine-made”.”
    Figured that one out myself, and I like Latin in the most unscholarly manner possible. I can only suppose that once upon a time the distinction was between naturally grown and hand-made, then between naturally grown and man-made by hand or machine, and somewhere along the line hand-made got dropped over to the other side of that pairing. The original meaning is obvious enough if you’re good at spotting etymological connections, though. I sometimes make a game of sorts out of translating from Latin-based English to “plain” English literally, sort of a What Do Our Words Really Say.

    “We also said things like, “I don’t care a tuppence,” and when somebody comes into the room we invited them to “sittee down.” (Sit thee down).”
    I’ve been told that in the American South “Howdy” is a question, short for “Howdy do?” which is simply an accent-blurred “How do you do?”

  18. Banjo pickin girl says:

    Cobbler, You are correct about “howdy.”

  19. BobP says:

    I enjoyed the first two paragraphs of the topic explaining the “vernacularism/non-vernacularism” of the Latin in the early centuries. As for the rest…what St. Thomas More said.

  20. Mike Morrow says:

    Certainly the Challoner-Douai-Rheims (CDR) version is the minimum acceptible. The original Douai-Rheims (DR) is better. (The hard-to-find original DR in electronic or hard-bound book format is available from .)

    Any version of a Catholic bible will suffer when compared to the genius and beauty of the King James Version. Compare the language of Psalm 23 in the KJV with that of the CDR or DR equivalent (which is Psalm 22 in those translations). The KJV soars above the CDR or DR version, whose language will now seem artless and uninspired.

    The original KJV includes in its Apocrypha the portions of the Catholic Old Testament which were rejected in Jewish and Protestant (Luther) canon. This includes seven named books, plus a significant portion of Daniel. “The Bible – Authorized King James Version With Apocrypha” (Oxford World’s Classics) is an excellent reference.

  21. Legisperitus says:

    Shakespeare, a contemporary of King James, knew how to use “high” and “low” English when appropriate in his plays. The sacred liturgy, no less than Sacred Scripture, deserves a “high” language.

    There is an privately printed edition of the original (1582-1610) Douay-Rheims Bible now available with modernized spelling but otherwise unaltered. This is a great resource, despite the occasional typographical error, and can’t be surpassed for studying side-by-side with the Vulgate.

  22. Supertradmum says:

    Douay-Rheims is great for teaching, as the language raises questions from students use to the NAB or others less than poetic. However, there is some reverse snobbery among church people who no longer treasure either the Douay-Rheims or the King James, depending on the congregation. Reverse snobbery prefers the most substandard and pedestrian translations.

  23. AnAmericanMother says:

    You can read the Anglican Use Rite on O.L. of the Atonement’s website, here. You can pick out pretty easily the bits that are modern, they don’t sound the same as the rest. They are mostly in and around the Eucharistic Prayer. Edward VI (or, more accurately, his bigoted protestant advisors) did their best to destroy the meaning and reality of the Eucharist and they did a pretty thorough job. The new bits are not awful, but they don’t fit as well as they could.

    The Communion Service in the 1662 Book, here.

    The Communion Service in the 1928 BCP (American): here.

    My preference would be for a group of scholars, some accomplished Latinists and some experts in 16th and 17th century literature, to go back to the English Mass as it was immediately before Henry VIII, and make a new, seamless translation without the modern interpolations. C.S. Lewis would have been perfect for the job, we have clearly left this too late. :-D

    Do take a look at the video of a Mass at O.L. of the Atonement – it’s on line here. Good hymns (O Freuden Zart is the first) and very reverent celebration.

  24. Fr-Bill says:

    In the Anglican liturgy and prayers that I use, come readings from the KJV, some prayers from the Dix translation of the Sarum Rite along with other prayers by Bp Cranmer.
    Cranmer seemed to have an ear for the the rhythm of English as spoken aloud groups. Thus, his Psalms are easily spoken and have a kind of lilt to them.
    The Psalms from the KJV are best read in another version and probably not aloud. Cranmer’s Collects also have a way of adding grand English without causing “tongue-stumbles”.
    The new ICEL translation set for Advent misses in a few areas but for the most part works – not as well as Cranmer (but do not hold your breath for Rome to use Cranmner).
    I would still prefer AND WITH THY SPIRIT to AND WITH YOUR SPIRIT, as it rolls out of the mouth with more ease.

  25. Mundabor says:

    Even as a foreigner, I found the King James Bible extremely accessible.

    Of course, it requires a reader whose habits in matter of reading and talking go beyond the semi-illiterate standards generated by the modern, “non-repressive” education; but I still can’t imagine that any native speaker reading anything more complicated than an underground newspaper would have any serious problem with it.

    The truth is that liberals never hesitate in considering people so stupid that they can’t rise to any – and be it so small – challenge. They draw, I think, from their own experience.


  26. mibethda says:

    One of the best reading translations was the original Confraternity of Christian Doctrine translation – the New Testament was published in the early 40’s and, while individual books or sections of the Old Testament were issued over the next 20 years, I don’t believe they were ever assembled together as a complete volume. Usually – when available – one finds the CCD New Testament published together with one or several books of the OT in the new CCD translation, mixed with the Challoner translation of the remaining books of the OT. The CCD translation maintained the high language form of the Challoner and the Authorized version in a slightly modified form while improving on the cadence and polish of the former. Sadly, the CCD dropped this project after VII and set about producing the NAB – which is another kettle of fish altogether.

  27. PM says:

    Out of curiosity, I looked up different translations of a representative verse, I Samuel 25, 22:
    King James: So and more also do God unto the enemies of David, if I leave of all that pertain to him by the morning light any that pisseth against the wall.
    Douay: May God do so and so, and add more to the foes of David, if I leave of all that belong to him till the morning, any that pisseth against the wall.
    Revised Standard: God do so to David and more also, if by morning I leave so much as one male of all who belong to him.
    New American Bible: May God do thus and so to David, if by morning I leave a single male alive among all those who belong to him.
    New Jerusalem: May God bring unnameable ills on David and worse ones, too, if by morning I leave a single manjack alive of all who belong to him!

    Tentative conclusions: 1) The King James translators probably did closely consult the Douay version; 2) Those Elizabethans (Jacobeans) had a real way with language; 3) The Jerusalem bible, while not avoiding the prudery of the other contemporary translations, probably comes closer than those others to the spirit of the idiom David would have used to express his sentiments on that occasion.

  28. AnAmericanMother says:


    That’s a very effective translation! Conveys the pungency without the prurience (Mark Twain had way too much fun with that verse.)

  29. Henry Edwards says:

    The Cobbler,

    You can view an Anglican Use Mass right now, if you wish:

    Or read it’s “Book of Divine Worship”:

  30. mibethda says:

    The similarity between the quoted verse in 1 Samuel in both the Douai OT and the Authorized Version OT comes not from the translators of the latter having consulted the former (this is highly unlikely since the first section of the Douai OT was published after that section of the Authorized was translated, and a little more than a year before the A.V. was itself published. Although the Douai OT was actually translated at the same time or slightly earlier than the Rheims NT, it was unpublished for nearly 30 years. It is highly unlikely that the A.V. translators had access to the unpublished manuscript ) but from the fact that the translators of both consulted the same earlier translations, and, particularly, the Bishop’s Bible. The latter, which was published in 1572, translates the passage 1Sam. 25,22 as follows:
    “So and more also do God unto the enemies of David, if I leave of all that pertayne to
    him by the dawwnyng of the day, any that pysseth against the wall.”
    Of course, the Bishop’s Bible, in turn, had relied on earlier translations.

  31. JMody says:

    There is also, which also provides Vulgate comparison.

    I still want to know how what the DR and KJV called “the valley of the shadow of death” and what the Vulgate called “valle umbrae mortis”, has now become a “dark valley”? Why do the modern translations insist on losing EVERYTHING? Why can they never leave alone? Are they trying to live up to all the descriptions of both Communists AND Modernists who are always destrying and tearing down the familiar to replace them with the new?

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