Why a 1,600-Year-Old Translation Belongs in Your Bible Study

latin vulgate

Image: St Jerome in His Study by Domenico Ghirlandaio, 1480

By the end of the fourth century, the common language of the Western world was Latin, but a complete and cohesive Latin translation of the Bible had yet to materialize. It wasn’t until A.D. 405 that a scholar named Jerome completed a Latin translation that would become a true standard for the Western world. By the thirteenth century, Jerome’s Bible was so ubiquitous, it became known as the versio vulgata: “the version commonly used.”

Today, we call it the Latin Vulgate.

But this historically important translation is often neglected by Protestants. Back in December 2015, I sat down with Faithlife’s Latin Editor Andrew Curtis to learn why (and how) Protestants should study the Latin Vulgate. At the time, Andrew was neck deep in the work of creating an unprecedented Latin-English interlinear Bible. Now that the project is complete, I asked him to remind us of the importance of the Vulgate and to provide some practical tips on how to use this important translation in Bible study.

We discussed this a bit in our last conversation on the blog, but tell us why the average Protestant pastor or seminary student might study the Vulgate.

For starters, it’s important to remember that the Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Bible undertaken by Jerome (Eusebius Hieronymus, c. A.D. 347-420), is the text that the great majority of Christians in the West knew as their Bible for many centuries. (The later Latin Church Fathers referred to it as nostra editio, “our version.”) After the lifetime of Jerome, the Vulgate gradually superseded the various Old Latin translations as the common biblical text of the western Church. As such, it provides the key to understanding the origins of much of our theological vocabulary (at least in the West)—how terms were used by the Latin Church Fathers and where they had their basis in the text of Scripture, for example.

The Vulgate’s influence continued through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and in fact well into the Reformation period. The Vulgate was the ultimate source of most of the medieval and early modern translations of the Bible into the vernacular languages of western Europe. It even exerted an important influence on Luther’s translation of the Bible and the King James Version! The Vulgate has much to reveal to anyone familiar with these texts and also to anyone interested in the history of our English language. Theological terms especially, such as ‘grace,’ ‘justification,’ ‘redemption,’ ‘sanctification,’ ‘salvation, ‘sacrament,’ ‘communion,’ and ‘reconciliation,’ have entered our language courtesy of the Latin Bible. So the Vulgate has a lot to offer to the pastor, the seminary student, and the curious layman in many areas: history, patristics, exegesis, and textual criticism, among others!

What’s the latest on the new Lexham editions of the Vulgate?

The Lexham Latin-English Interlinear Vulgate and the Lexham Reverse Interlinear Vulgate Bible were released with Logos 7 in August 2016—an exciting milestone for Faithlife and our work at the intersection of biblical studies and technology! From start to finish, the whole Vulgate project took eighteen months of creative effort and scholarly collaboration to complete. So it’s exciting to offer pastors, scholars, and students these unique resources for studying one of the most influential texts in Christian history.

What are some examples of biblical passages where consulting the Vulgate is particularly helpful?

Well, for one thing, the Vulgate often translates or interprets Hebrew proper names rather than just transliterating them as the Septuagint commonly does. One example is Genesis 35:18, where the Vulgate is an important witness for the interpretation of the name Benjamin (בִּנְיָמִין) as “son of [my] right hand” (Filius dextrae), which the Septuagint simply transliterates as Βενιαμείν (Beniamein). Another example is Judges 19:22, where the Vulgate inserts a parenthetical gloss following the Latin transliteration of the Hebrew word בְלִיַּ֗עַל (beliy·yǎ·ʿǎl): Belial (id est, absque jugo) [“Belial (that is, without yoke)”]. The Septuagint, on the other hand, loosely translates this Hebrew word as παρανόμων (paranomōn, ‘lawlessness’), and the KJV simply retains it as a proper name, “Belial.” So the Vulgate can shed light on obscure words and draw out associations that are meaningful for biblical exegesis and typology.

Another illustration of the Vulgate’s influence lies in the fact that it is largely responsible for the interpretation of the Hebrew word עֲזָאזֵל (ʿǎzāʾ·zēl) in Leviticus 16 as ‘scapegoat’ (caper emissarius). The concept of the scapegoat has consequently made its way into many Western languages and influenced important Bible translations like Luther’s Bible and the KJV.

Finally, the Vulgate is an important source for interpreting biblical descriptions of places or things, for example the passages that describe the Ark of the Covenant, the great menorah and other furnishings of the tabernacle, the vestments of the Jewish high priest, etc. Even if you are new to Latin, the Lexham Latin-English Interlinear Vulgate with its interlinear lemmas, morphology, and English glosses can help you tap into the Latin text and serve as a springboard to dictionary lookups and word studies.

Why is it significant that these are available in Logos as opposed to, say, a print book?

That’s a good question, and it’s answered in a single word: integration. Having these resources in Logos means you are only a click away from easy dictionary look-ups, Bible Word Study functionality, and tools like Concordance and Text Comparison. And in the Lexham Reverse Interlinear Vulgate Bible, thanks to the text alignment between the Latin and the original languages, the wealth of Logos data tagged to the Greek and Hebrew texts now carries over to the Vulgate. Datasets like Bible senses, speaker labels, cultural concepts, Bible Knowledge tagging for persons, places, and things, etc., can now be leveraged in studying this ancient and important translation of Scripture.

So, say you’re preparing a sermon, writing a paper, or reading a book, and you come across a quotation from Thomas à Kempis, Luther, Calvin, or even a secular writer like Thomas Hobbes who is quoting the Bible in Latin. Unless they’re paraphrasing the Scripture passage, chances are very good that they are quoting from Jerome’s Vulgate. In that case, even if you don’t know much Latin, you can plug the quoted passage into a Bible search in the Lexham Latin-English Interlinear Vulgate to get help with understanding the grammar or the meaning of the Latin words being used. And you can use the Lexham Reverse Interlinear Vulgate Bible to see how the Latin text compares with the underlying Greek or Hebrew original. There’s no more efficient way to bring the benefits and insights of the Vulgate to bear on your study of Scripture.

What would you recommend to a “Vulgate novice” who wants to get started using these resources?

First of all, the Vulgate is primarily going to be useful to you if you are interested in consulting the original-language texts of Scripture and understanding how they were read and interpreted by the Church Fathers and generations of Christians for many centuries after them. If this sounds like you, then the Vulgate has much to offer you. These new resources we have created make it easier than ever before to dig into this critically important translation of both New and Old Testaments.

To make the most of these resources, here are a couple things I recommend:

  1. Familiarize yourself with how to use Logos’ search capabilities to find lemmas and morphology. The Latin lemma and morph tagging that we’ve built into these Vulgate resources is a major asset for studying the text. Also, learn how to incorporate searches for Bible Senses and Bible Knowledge entities like persons, places, and things into your study of Scripture. The Lexham Reverse Interlinear Vulgate Bible brings this data tagging (and the search and word study functionality that comes with it) to the Vulgate for the first time. This too can make a huge contribution to your study of the text.
  2. Consider what other Logos tools and resources might help you use the Vulgate for the kind of reading and study you want to do. For example, the Text Comparison and Concordance tools in Logos 7, visual filters like ‘Corresponding Words,’ lexicons like Lewis and Short’s Latin Dictionary and Collins Latin Dictionary and Grammar—all these tools in Logos integrate with the Vulgate and add further value to the text itself.

All in all, I see these new Vulgate resources as a great asset for putting technology to use in the service of intelligent study of Scripture. It’s my hope that they will help pastors, scholars, and other students of the Bible to arrive at a new understanding and appreciation of God’s revelation in Holy Writ.

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The Lexham Latin-English Interlinear Vulgate and the Lexham Reverse Interlinear Vulgate Bible are available now. For the best experience, including a complete set of original language tools to use in your Bible study, get them in Logos 7 Bronze and above.

 

Comments

  1. Steven Kubiszewski says:

    Thank you “Faith life” and “Logos” I have never invested into a project as excellent as this one ever before! This program is so good that since I have installed it, I have not been able to put it down for the past 6 hours. It is the best, thanks again!

    Steve K.

  2. Thank you for your wisdom. As a Roman Catholic, that is the first translation of the Bible. If we except the premises that the Bible has always been the inspired word of God, then we ALL need to read the original version. I’m part of a charity for critically ill and disabled youths and I cannot count the times I have had to console my Protestant and Evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ who cannot find an answer for the premature death of a loved one. The original Bible contains the Book of Wisdom, and chapter 4 is the one of the best. God bless, Pete

  3. Another example I like to point to is “Calvary” (Matthew 27.33 and parallels) as the place of Jesus’ crucifixion. Here’s an instance where the Latin, and English versions correctly render the Greek’s “… which means ‘place of the skull'” (ὅ ἐστιν Κρανίου Τόπος λεγόμενος), but the word “Calvary” is simply a transliteration of the Latin Calvariae.