Jovial (23 Aug 2015)
"The Latin Influence on the English Bible"

Many people are not aware of the fact that Latin has had an enormous influence on the Bible we read today. This is due both because of Latin's influence on English in general as well as the influence of the Vulgate on most Bible translations through at leat the King James, and even some thereafter.


Latin Influence on the English

The Magna Carta (1215) was one of the first documents drafted by the King of England to guarantee rights to the English people. It wasn't drafted in English, but Latin. Why? Because most educated English speakers of the day learned Latin in school, and so did most of Western Europe. It was the language of communication between countries in Western Europe at the time.

Even well after the Reformation, people like Isaac Newton (1642-1727) wrote their best academic works in Latin so that most of Western Europe (France, Italy, and Westward) would understand it too. Latin is an easy language for English speakers to learn. Most formal English words come from Latin or French and most common English words come from German, the language English originally evolved from.


Latin Influence on allegedly Greek/Hebrew Bible Translations

The first English language Bible (Wycliffe) was a translation from Latin. says that the KJV was the 13th English translation behind:

  1. Wycliffe's [1380]
  2. Tyndale's [1525/6]
  3. Coverdale's [1535]
  4. Matthew's by John Rogers [1537]
  5. 1538 Coverdale's Latin-English NT,
  6. "The Great Bible" [1539 by Coverdale for Thomas Cranmer]
  7. Taverner's,
  8. Whittingham's,
  9. Geneva [1560] says it retained over 90% of Tynsdale's translations. The 1599 update to it: (Geneva Study Bible) is available online by clicking here (though it's been "modernized").
  10. Bishops' [1568]
  11. 1551 Bishop Becke's Bible,
  12. 1552 Richard Jugge's NT

The Wycliffe had an enormous influence on all translations that came after it and many translations AFTER the Wycliffe retained the traditional English wording, used in previous translations, even when it disagreed with the original Hebrew or Greek texts.  Why? 

There was a fear that people would reject a new translation if it differed too much from what they were used to. There was a fear that the public would revolt against a more accurate translation if it differed significantly from what they used to. This goes back to Jerome's days, when that very thing happened to Jerome and the public accused Jerome of "changing" the Bible when he came out with a translation of Job that was more accurate than previous Latin versions, but differed from what people were used to.

This is not a problem today, but it was before the days when Bibles in every home was a common thing. So translations had a tendency to stick with the traditional English wording that people were used to as long as it was not significantly different from what the translators thought the reader needed to see.

In fact, the King James itself was a reaction againt the changes made to the Geneva Bible in 1599. The 1560 Geneva Bible became the English standard, but when the wording was changed in 1599, many people revolted against it and wanted to go back to the 1560 version, but it was not in print anymore. So that lead to the 1611 King James, which was an attempt to go back to mostly the original 1560 wording of the Geneva Bible, with only a few changes here and there.

In other words, familiarity and not accuracy was what sold Bibles back then. In our modern times, readability is what sells, not familiarity or accuracy. Today's public prefers something easy to read over other qualities, but accuracy has never been the primary selling point to any Bible translation. That is sad, but the true state of affairs.

Because of this, the King James has many places where it agrees with the Latin Vulgate against the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament.  

Here's a few examples.

  • Gal 4:4 says the Son was "made" in the King James, which is how the Vulgate reads, but the Greek says "came". Thus it says Yeshua was "came of a woman" (Greek version), not that he was "made of a woman" (KJV = Vulgate).
  • Gal 6:12 KJV = "constrain" = Vulgate's "cogunt" <> Greek "compel". One can be compelled to do something without being constrained. And in the example given, if one constrained someone, he could not be compelled to be circumcized, so the KJV reading describes something impossible.
  • 2 Thess 2:8, KJV uses "destroy", as does the Vulgate, but the Greek says "katarghsei", meaning to annul or to make idle, but not necessarily to destroy. Of course, destruction certain results in idleness, but the converse is not necessarily true.
  • Gal 1:18. KJV says "I went up to Jeruslaem to see Peter." Here, the KJV agrees with the Vulgate, but the Greek reads "make aquaintance with" or "meet", which potentially could be done without using ones eyes. In Acts 9:17, Paul makes the aquaintance of Ananias before seeing him.
  • 2 Cor 8:23 - KJV calls Titus Paul's fellow "helper" as does the Vulgate (reading "adjutor"), but the Greek says "laborer". Help often involves labor, but doesn't have to. These are two different concepts, and not synonyms.
  • Eph 4:18 Greek reads "hardness" while KJV = Vulgate = "blindness".
  • In Matt 24:12, as well as numerous other places, the KJV reads "iniquity", agreeing with the Vulgate's "iniquitas", but disagreeing with the Greek's "lawlessness = anomian ". Other places where this occurs are Matt 7:23, 13:41, 23:28, as well as others.

The Latin influences on the King James did not always come from the Vulgate. In Col 1:22, we find...

  • unreproveable before Him" (Greek)
  • unreproveable in his sight" (KJV = Calvin's Latin reading of the New Testament)

There's other examples where the Vulgate influence does not produce something "erroneous" in English, but still produces something that does not sound natural in English. For example, the Greek word "dunamis" is translated as "power" over 60 times in the KJV, but it is translated "virtue" in 3 places, all of them being places where the Latin Vulgate uses "virtus" or equivalent. The English word evolved from the Latin word and it use to mean "force" or "power", but isn't really used that way today. Even in 1611, it's clear "power" was a more natural translation, but they occasionally chose "virtue" in order to read closer to the Latin tradition. Examples can be found in Mark 5:30, Luke 6:19, and Luke 8:46.

The influence of Latin can be seen in the KJV in several areas. Sometimes its in big ways, with unique Vulgate readings appearing, sometimes in smaller ways, with the traditional Latin text or thought or cultural understanding coloring the picture.