You Say Potato, I Say...

A benefit of Catholicism’s long historical perspective is its ability to discern the difference between the essential and the inessential, between the constant dustups that win headlines and God’s slow and silent work in the world.

The current confusion among Catholics concerning English translations of Scripture is a case in point. The news stories focus on the struggles between Rome and American bishops and the Catholic Biblical Association over the inclusive language used in the New American Bible, struggles fraught with ideological and ecclesiological implications. Even for those accustomed to scandal, there is something unseemly about such wrangling over God’s Word. Can’t something as simple and straightforward as translating Scripture be free of controversy?

The translation of Scripture has never been simple or straightforward-ask any translator-and it has certainly never been without controversy. Pope Damasus I commissioned St. Jerome in 394 to produce the Vulgate because there were so many competing Latin versions afloat. Despite this papal commission, St. Augustine objected strenuously, and with considerable point, to Jerome’s translation of the Old Testament from the Hebrew rather than from the Greek translation known as the Septuagint. Augustine’s reasons were not linguistic but theological (ideological) and pastoral.

English translations have always been controversial. The brilliant...

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About the Author

Luke Timothy Johnson, a frequent contributor, is the R.W. Woodruff Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at the Candler School of Theology, Emory University. Two of his most recent books are Among the Gentiles: Greco-Roman Religion and Christianity (Yale) and Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church (Eerdmans).