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The Vulgate-only View

by Rick Norris

The Claims of the Latin Vulgate-only View

For many years, especially in the 1500's and 1600's, Roman Catholics defended their translation of the Bible [the Latin Vulgate] as being inspired and perfect. What reasons or arguments did Roman Catholics use in defense of their Latin Vulgate-only view?

Roman Catholics argued that the church's long use of the Latin Vulgate proves it is the correct and best translation. In their preface to the 1582 Rheims New Testament, the first reason given for use of the Latin Vulgate was that "it is most ancient." Gregory Martin, one of the Roman Catholic translators of the Rheims, asked Protestants, "Will you be tried by the vulgar ancient Latin bible, only used in all the west church above a thousand years?" (Fulke, Defense, pp. 77-78). Again Martin wrote, "In the New Testament, we ask them, will you be tried by the ancient Latin translation, which is the text of the fathers and the whole church?" (Ibid., p. 84).

Another claim of Roman Catholics was that the Latin Vulgate was equal to or even superior to God's Word in the original languages. The preface of the Rheims NT pointed out, "It [the Latin Vulgate] is truer than the vulgar Greek text itself. It is not only better than all other Latin translations, but than the Greek text itself, in those places where they disagree." Thus, Roman Catholics set aside the superior authority of God's Word in the original languages to maintain the authority of their preferred translation--the Latin Vulgate.

It was implied or claimed that the Latin Vulgate-only view was necessary because of differences, errors, or corruptions in the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. Rheims translator, Martin, asked, "What Greek say we for there be sundry copies" (Fulke, Defense, pp. 84-85). Francis Turretin (1623-1687) pointed out the Catholic view, "The question is whether the original text, in Hebrew or in Greek, has been so corrupted, either by the carelessness of copyists or by the malice of the Jews and heretics, that it can no longer be held as the judge of controversies and the norm by which all versions without exception are to be judged. The Roman Catholics affirm this, we deny it" (Doctrine of the Scripture, pp. 113-114).

Therefore, the Roman Catholics implied there must be a perfect translation. Peter Sutor contended, "If in one point the Vulgate were in error, the entire authority of holy Scripture would collapse" (Hills, KJV Defended, p. 187). The Rheims argued that the Latin Vulgate was the only authentical Bible. Martin condemned Protestants or Reformers who made the Hebrew and Greek the standard for translations, "They admit only the Hebrew in the Old Testament, and the Greek in the New, to be the true and authentical text of the scripture" (Fulke, Defense, p. 46). Martin also noted that the Reformers "call the Greek verity and the pure fountain, and that text whereby all translations must be tried" (Ibid., p. 43).

In addition, Catholics suggested their Latin Vulgate-only view was necessary because of the differences and supposed corruptions in other translations. The Rheims preface claimed their translation was needed because of the "false translations" by Protestants who had corrupted God's Word by "adding, detracting, altering, transposing, pointing, and other guileful means."

Furthermore, Catholics claimed other translations were corrupt and were Satan's bibles. Martin condemned "books which were so translated by Tyndale and the like, as being no indeed God's book, word, or scripture, but the devil's word" (Fulke, Defense, p. 228). Sir Thomas More contended that Tyndale's N. T. was a "cunning counterfeit," perverted in the interests of heresy; "that it was not worthy to be called Christ's testament, but either Tyndale's own testament or the testament of his master Antichrist" (Bruce, History of the Bible, p. 40).

Are these claims concerning the Latin Vulgate-only view Scriptural? The early English translators including the KJV translators rejected these Catholic claims as unscriptural. Surprisingly, KJV-only advocates seem to have revived these same warmed-over Catholic claims as "irrefutable" proof for another incorrect one-translation-only view--the KJV-only view.

Refuting the Latin Vulgate-only View

In the 1500's, some Roman Catholics had argued for an one-perfect-translation-only view [the Latin Vulgate]. They claimed the Latin Vulgate was perfect and even superior to God's Word in the original languages. This view was represented by a 1582 book entitled A Discovery of the Manifold Corruptions of the Holy Scriptures by the Heretics of our Day by Gregory Martin, one of the Roman Catholic translators of the Rheims.

Over and over again, the early English translators, including the King James Version (KJV) translators, refuted the mistaken claims of an one-perfect-translation-only view. They regarded this view to be wrong, harmful, and unscriptural.

These early English translators contended correctly that God's Word in the original languages was the standard for making and evaluating translations. William Tyndale, the father of the English Bible, clearly regarded the Greek N. T. as superior to his translation and as the standard for revising or correcting it.

In his preface to his 1534 N. T. (a revision and correction of his 1526 edition), Tyndale wrote: "I had taken in hand to look over the New Testament again and to compare it with the Greek, and to mend whatsoever I could find amiss." On its title page, the 1560 Geneva Bible (the first authorized version of Scotland) professes to be translated according to the Hebrew and Greek.

According to its title page and its preface, the 1611 KJV also professes to be translated from the original languages. Lancelot Andrewes, a KJV translator, wrote: "Look to the original, as, for the New Testament, the Greek text; for the Old, the Hebrew" (Pattern of Catechistical Doctrine, p. 59). In the preface to the 1611, the view of the KJV translators is expressed as following: "Those tongues [Hebrew and Greek] therefore, we should say the Scriptures, in those tongues, we set before us to translate, being the tongues in which God was pleased to speak to his church by his prophets and apostles."

In the 1580's, William Fulke wrote several books refuting the Latin Vulgate-only view and presenting the Bible translation view of the English translators. The KJV translators knew of Fulke's writings defending their church's view of translation, and I have found no evidence that they opposed this view. The view of the KJV translators expressed in their preface agrees with Fulke's defense of the earlier English Bibles.

Fulke stated: "We say indeed, that by the Greek text of the New Testament all translations of the New Testament must be tried" (A Defense of the Sincere and True Translations of the Holy Scriptures into the English Tongue, p. 44). Martin admitted that the English translators "call the Greek verity, and the pure fountain, and that text whereby all translations must be tried" (Fulke, A Defense, p. 43).

Fulke observed: "We acknowledge the text of the Old Testament in Hebrew and Chaldee [Aramaic], (for in the Chaldee were some parts of it written,) as it is now printed [with] vowels, to be the only fountain, out of which we must draw the pure truth of the scriptures for the Old Testament, adjoining here with the testimony of the Mazzoreth, where any diversity of points, letters, or words, is noted to have been in sundry ancient copies, to discern that which is proper to the whole context, from that which by errors of the writers [copiers] or printers hath been brought into any copy, old or new" (p. 78).

According to the title page of the 1611, the KJV translators "diligently compared and revised" the early English Bibles. In the preface of the 1611, they argued that it was good to revise and to attempt to improve earlier translations. They contended that it was good "to revise that which we had done and to bring back to the anvil that which we had hammered." They observed, "If anything be halting, or superfluous, or not so agreeable to the original, the same may be corrected, and the truth set in place."

The KJV translators admitted that attempts to revise and improve translations such as theirs were often incorrectly viewed with suspicion and jealousy. They realized they would be accused of changing or corrupting God's Word; but they still contended that revising translations was necessary.

They acknowledged that the Roman Catholics criticized Protestants for "altering and amending our translations so often." These scholarly translators contended that translations though imperfect are still God's Word. They wrote: "No cause therefore why the word translated should be denied to be the word, or forbidden to be current, notwithstanding that some imperfections and blemishes may be noted in setting forth of it." In a similar view, Fulke stated: "In plain words I did confess that there might be some errors, even in the best and perfectest of our translations" (A Defense, p. 97).

Furthermore, the KJV translators argued against the claim a translation must be perfect. After noting that the Greek Septuagint [O.T.] was sometimes used by the apostles and first preachers of the Gospel, they admitted it was not perfect. One reason they gave was the seventy were interpreters [translators] and not prophets or apostles.

Can it be disputed that the KJV translators would oppose the claim that a translation must be perfect? They even admitted they did not know for sure the best word for translating some Hebrew and Greek words. They contended it was presumption to determine dogmatically such things as the Spirit of God hath left questionable.

They wrote: "Does not a margin do well to admonish the reader to seek further, and not to conclude or dogmatize upon this or that without investigation? For as it is a fault of incredulity to doubt those things that are evident, so to determine such things as the Spirit of God hath left questionable (even in the judgment of the judicious), can be no less than presumption."

In addition, they condemned the claim that the pope was "free from error by special privilege." Thus, they refuted any claim that they themselves were "free from error by special privilege" in their translating. As Fulke observed: "It cannot be denied but some faults may escape the most faithful and diligent translator" (A Defense, p. 63).

Much more of the reasoned Scriptural defense of Bible translations by the early English translators could be presented. One purpose of this overview is to encourage believers to examine this evidence. Fulke's informative book has been reprinted and is available from Still Waters Revival Books of Canada.

The misleading and unscriptural claims of an one-perfect-translation-only view had already been refuted before the KJV translators ever produced their translation. Furthermore, the KJV translators also clearly opposed and refuted this view in their preface and in their marginal notes. The modern KJV-only view seems to be guilty of the very presumption condemned by the KJV translators.

Does the man-made KJV-only view ignore the historical facts and Scriptural view of translation of the early translators by reviving the old Roman Catholic claims for the Latin Vulgate-only view? A true Scriptural view of Bible translation would be true both before and after 1611. Thus, there is no need to rewrite history and misinterpret God's Word by using the warmed-over claims of the refuted Latin Vulgate-only view. God gave believers one Bible, and He gave it to us before 1611.

Just as the early English translators noted, God's preserved Word in the original languages should be used as the standard for making and evaluating all translations of God's Word.

Books and eBooks by Gary F. Zeolla, the Director of Darkness to Light

The first part of the above article was posted on this Web site November 8, 1998.
The second half was added January 13, 1999.

Bible Versions Controversy: KJV-Onlyism
Bible Versions Controversy

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