How do we know we are getting the real deal Bible?

Sr. Louise Zdunich


June 23, 2014

QuestionWhy do we use readings from a Bible at Holy Mass which does not have an imprimatur? How do we know we are getting the truth?


AnswerThe Old and New Testaments weren't just dropped from heaven. They were gradually developed and accepted as inspired. The Jewish Bible began with the Law, that is, the first five books. For Christians, the first books accepted as inspired were the Gospels, although they weren't the first ones written.

The earliest texts were handwritten on papyrus made from reeds which grew 12 to 15 feet tall or parchment from the skins of animals. Words were not separated and there was no punctuation. Therefore, it is easy to see how differences may have arisen in making copies from these early documents.

Although there were many handwritten Bibles, with the invention of printing, the number of Bibles skyrocketed.

Hebrew was the language of the original books of the Old Testament. Jews were scattered around the Mediterranean world where the language was Greek. As a result, many lost the ability to read their Bible in Hebrew.

Therefore, they decided to translate it into Greek. This version is called the Septuagint from the legend that 72 scholars were put to work on translations and they all came up with exactly the same text.


In the fourth century, the pope commissioned the scholar, St. Jerome, to revise the Latin Bible using the best existing texts. Paula, a member of a religious group of women, worked with him as evidenced by an image in the cave in Bethlehem where they worked.

Their work produced the Vulgate edition. An English translation of this text, the Douay-Rheims, was the official version for Catholics for many years.

In 1943, Pope Pius XII's encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu (Inspired by the Holy Spirit) called for new translations from the original Hebrew and Greek texts. This encyclical stressed the importance of study of the way these languages were used in other texts in order to better understand their meaning in the Bible.

Father Raymond Brown, the great New Testament scholar, called this encyclical the Magna Carta of biblical studies. Many translations followed. Their aim was to achieve a closer version of the authors' original meaning. Some translations are almost paraphrases of the Bible to make it easier to understand.

Others adhere to a more direct translation of the wording even when its meaning is ambiguous. Some are more poetic and open to diverse interpretation. No translation is perfect.

At times, such as in group Bible study, it can be valuable to use more than one version. When we look at the different words selected by different translators, we can better understand the intent of the biblical author.

The deuterocanonical books written around 150 BC were accepted secondarily (hence deutero) but as equal to the rest of Scripture. They form part of the Septuagint but were never included in the Hebrew Bible. Early Christians used the Septuagint as is evident in quotations by New Testament and early Christian writers.

With the 16th century Reformation, Protestants rejected the Septuagint as a rejection of everything Catholic.

The newer translations are more accurate since scholars have used the oldest and best texts available. In addition, discoveries of ancient texts of various kinds have helped them understand the way words were used by ancient writers. These newer translations are accepted by Catholics and Protestants alike.


The Revised Standard Version was the only accepted translation that included the deuterocanonical books. It was the most widely authorized by the Catholic, Protestant and the Greek Orthodox churches. The bishops' approval is almost like an imprimatur.

The 1989 New Revised Standard Version, published by the U.S. National Council of the Churches of Christ, was approved by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops for use in the Eucharistic Liturgy. This version employed 30 men and women, top scholars from Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches, top Protestant scholars and a Jewish scholar.

We can rest assured that we are getting the Bible that best conveys the original authors' meaning.

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