Apologize and Don't Be Sorry!

A site dedicated to thinking through the common objections to the Catholic Faith as well as questions of a general religious nature.

Location: Prague, Oklahoma, United States

Just your basic 21st century priest trying to bring the Gospel to everyone who will give it a fair hearing.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Canon and Tradition
Dear Father,
I talk regularly with people of other faiths about issues of the day and scripture always comes up leading to a discussion of which version of the Bible one should use. I’d like some history of the King James version to better explain to my friends why I use catholic versions. Additionally, I’d like to have a comeback for when they say the “Apocrypha” is unnecessary and the rest of their version covers everything.
M. Ryan
Edmond, OK

I cannot speak to your personal reasons for using a Catholic Bible, but your letter brings up a good question. What kind of Bible should a Catholic use? There are two issues to consider. First is the issue of canonicity. The word “canon” comes from a Greek word for a rule or measuring rod. In the time of the compilation of the Sacred Scriptures, there were many worthy and not-so-worthy candidates for inclusion. For example, we all know the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. In existence at the same time however were the Gospel of Thomas, the Proto-Evangelium of Philip, and many others. The Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit discerned which writing deserved inclusion in the Sacred Scriptures. Through various councils, the first being the Council of Hippo (386 A.D.) and the Council of Carthage (397 A.D.) and definitely declared at the Council of Trent in the 16th century, the canon of Sacred Scriptures took shape. The King James version uses the Protestant canon, rejecting several Old Testament books as not inspired by the Holy Spirit. So that’s strike one against Catholics using the King James.

Second is the issue of translation. There are two extremes in the work of translation. One end of the spectrum is the principle of “dynamic equivalence.” Here the translator tries to bring to the fore the sense of the text. The concern is will the reader understand what the text means. In this mode, there is less emphasis upon word by word translation. At the other end of the spectrum lies the principle of “literal correspondence.” Here, the translator strives to be absolutely faithful to every single word of the text. In this mode, the text can often be confusing because of modes of thought were prevalent in the time of the text’s composition. Most translations hover between these two poles. In the Catholic world, the New American translation more reflects the literal correspondence method while the Jerusalem Bible takes a more dynamic equivalent tack. However, any serious student of the Bible should avoid paraphrase translations such as the Good News for Modern Man. While more readable, often sections are missing or combined to enhance the reading experience. Contrary to popular myth, there were several English editions of the Bible before the King James edition appeared. By way of analogy, the King James is the Shakespeare of English translations. When it was first translated, the translators sought to bring the best of the English language into use when translating. So that is a point in its favor, the beauty of the language.

On a closing note, I don’t know of a fool-proof way to talk about the Apocrypha. For Protestants, Apocrypha means interesting but not inspired. So I tend to take a different approach. My first question is where did the Bible come from? Unknown to most Protestants, by their reverence for the Sacred Scriptures, they accept the authority of the Catholic Church at least in reference to the New Testament. Without the magisterium, we would not know what belonged in the Bible. Once you show them that, you can leave the person with this question. If you accept the authority of the Catholic Church concerning the New Testament, why don’t you concerning the Old Testament? The goal here is invite the person to think through the relationship of the Bible to the Church. The Bible is a product of the Church and not vice versa.

For more information, Where We Got the Bible: Our Debt to the Catholic Church by Henry Graham from Catholic Answers is most useful.


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