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Q & A

1. Why do you prefer the Douay-Rheims version?


My preference to use the Douay-Rheims (DRB) version is based on the fact that (a) it is in the public domain; (b) it is close to the Latin translation of the Bible that the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and the Church at large, have been commenting on and working on for centuries; and that (c) it is a safe Bible to use, being a faithful translation of the Latin Vulgate that the Council of Trent described as "authentic." (See Council of Trent, Session 4, Decree Concerning the Edition and Use of the Sacred Books, 1546.) However, I do compare the DRB version with newer translations to take advantage of any valid changes that result from recent scholarship.

2. Is the Douay-Challoner-Rheims translation accurate?

Accurate? Yes. Perfect? No. Every translation, including newer Bible translations, has flaws or defects because it is the work of fallible humans. But, as far as accuracy is concerned, it is necessary to be clear about what constitutes an accurate translation. An accurate translation of a word or phrase of sacred writing is not a translation that merely matches the commonly accepted meaning of the word or phrase (because there can be many acceptable meanings), but one that also preserves the context, that is, the sense that the Church has understood that word or phrase to have in its traditions, usage, etc. In other words, an accurate translation must also take Sacred Tradition into account. Take, as an example, the Angelic Salutation. The DRB translates it as "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee" (Luke 1:28), which follows St. Jerome's Vulgate, "Ave, gratia plena, dominus tecum." Today, many English Bibles, including some Catholic Bibles, translate this line of scripture as "Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you" (NABRE Luke 1:28). The original Greek, κεχαριτωμένη, can indeed be translated that way. Without looking at tradition, it is an acceptable translation. But was that the understanding of the early Church regarding the meaning of the Greek term? Was the traditional story of the Annunciation merely about an angel telling Mary that she was God's favorite? St. Jerome didn't think so. He translated the angel's greetings in a way that shows the Church's understanding of the angel's words to Mary: "Hail, full of grace." How do we know this? Did St. Luke, when he wrote his Gospel, already have a clear concept of "grace" as a quality of the soul that saves, justifies, and makes a person pleasing to God? As a matter of fact, yes! St. Paul (in Rom 3:24) and St. Luke (in Acts 15:11) both understood grace in this way. As a result, when St. Luke wrote his Gospel, the idea of grace in the angel's greeting (κεχαριτωμένη) should not be overlooked. Now, was there also a tradition, before St. Jerome translated the Gospel, that the Church regarded Mary as full of grace? The answer again is yes. For example, read what another Father of the Church, St. Gregory Thaumaturgus (c. A.D. 213-270), wrote in his Homily Concerning the Holy Mother of God, Ever-Virgin, par. #9 and #13. He said that "from Mary, the divine fountain of the ineffable Godhead, gushes forth grace..." and that, on account of her purity, Mary was the "oil of the holy grace." St. Gregory lived at least seven decades before St. Jerome was born. This means that long before St. Jerome wrote the Latin Vulgate, the Church already had a traditional understanding that Mary was full of grace, a belief that could only be traced back to the angel's words to Mary. As a result, when St. Jerome translated the Greek κεχαριτωμένη, he did not simply choose any meaningful translation, such as "favored one." He chose a translation that preserved the Church's understanding of the angel's words. This is why St. Jerome got it right. In translating the Bible, merely knowing Greek or Hebrew is not enough. To catch the right drift, one must also look at Sacred Tradition. That is the St. Jerome difference. That is what makes the Latin Vulgate authentic. And that is also why, for English-speaking Catholics, the DCR is a blessing.

3. The DRB Bible translated the fifth commandment in Exodus 20:13 as "Thou shalt not kill." The newer Bibles translate it as "You shall not murder." That is what the original Hebrew text says. Does this not indicate that we should now abandon the DRB and start using the newer translations?

Not so fast. The fifth commandment in the original Hebrew text uses the verb רצח, which can mean "kill" or "murder" depending on the context. It is incorrect to think that the cited Hebrew word always means "murder." If that is the case, then the Hebrew text in Num 35:11, רֹצֵחַ מַכֵּה נֶפֶשׁ בִּשְׁגָגָה, becomes problematic, because it would refer to a "murderer" who has killed a person unintentionally. But that's insane. How could a person who killed another person unintentionally be called a murderer? For this reason, the RSVCE (Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition) uses the word "manslayer" rather than "murderer" in its translation. It would have been just as acceptable if it used the word "killer," so the text in Num 35:11 would refer to a "killer" who killed someone unintentionally. There are other Hebrew texts, such as in Num 35:27 and 35:30, where odd situations are encountered when רצח is not allowed to have any meaning other than "murder."

Since the verb in the fifth commandment can be taken to mean either “kill” or “murder,” the fifth commandment can be stated both ways. It just so happened that in Exodus 20:13, the Vulgate and, consequently, the Douay chose the word that is used more broadly (that is, "kill"). However, note that the new Bibles (NABRE, RSVCE, and others) have also stated the fifth commandment in Matt 5:21 and Matt 19:18 as "You shall not kill." Therefore, the statement "You shall not kill" is still a valid formulation of the fifth commandment. The command in general is not to kill (even in self-defense or war, if killing can be avoided), although there may be exceptions on a case-by-case basis.

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