The Claims of the Latin Vulgate-only View

by Rick Norris

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 N. T. 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 SCRIPTURE, pp. 113-114).

Therefore, the Roman Catholics implied that 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 rgued 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 that their Latin Vulgate-only view was necessary because of the differences and supposed corruptions in other translations. The Rheims preface claimed that 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 that other translations are corrupt and that they are 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. Surprisely, 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.