Probably the most interesting
reason has to do with Christology
Readers of English Bibles get the
impression that the word Christ does
not appear in the Bible until Matthew.
Yet we also know from the Book of
Acts that 1st Century Christian
evangelists preached Christ from what
we now know as “The Old Testament.”
To understand how that happened, we
need to know a little bit about how the
book we know as the Bible came down
to us.

In the 3rd Century before the Common
Era (BCE), Ptolemy Philadelphus,
Greek-speaking king of Egypt, was
impressed by the moral character of
his Jewish subjects. On finding out that
they had several holy books, he
commanded that they be translated
from Hebrew and Aramaic into Greek.
This translation, undertaken by Jewish
scholars in Alexandria, became known
subsequently as The Septuagint. What
had been various holy books before
among the Jews became, after The
Septuagint, something we today would
recognize as a Bible.

It is hard to overstate how important
this work became. Since Hebrew had
ceased being a common language
even by the 3rd Century BCE, The
Septuagint was the means by which
Israel’s God introduced Himself, as it
were, to the larger world. Around the
Greek-speaking areas of the Eastern
Mediterranean world, and later
throughout much of the Roman
empire, The Septuagint became the
Bible of Greek-speaking Jews and so-
called “godfearers,” those who
believed in Israel’s God yet didn’t
submit to all the requirements of
Jewish conversion.

The Septuagint’s translators chose the
Greek word Christos to translate the
Hebrew word Moshiach, meaning
“anointed king” or Messiah. This word
and its cognates appear 42 different
times just in those books of The
Septuagint that found their way into
the later Hebrew canon. It appears ten
times in the Psalter, Israel’s ancient
prayer book.

Thus, to use The Septuagint for
worship or study, especially the Book
of Psalms, one had to interact with the
word Christ. This sense of the
Christological flavor of the Old
Testament is completely obscured in
contemporary English versions, yet is
evident in both The Septuagint and
The Vulgate. If for no other reason,
working from Latin makes that evident.

Some would say, why not translate
from The Septuagint then? Of course,
that would be a good thing too. Yet
The Septuagint itself was a rather free
translation of the earlier Hebrew. The
Septuagint scholars took certain
liberties with wording that later
scholars avoided, perhaps the best
instance of which being illustrated in
The Septuagint translation of what we
know as Psalm 23.

When Jerome set out to craft an
“authorized” Latin version in the late
4th Century of the Common Era, he
had the advantage of seven hundred
subsequent years of Biblical
scholarship, perhaps most fully
embodied in Origen’s Hexapla, the
exhaustive, six-columned version of
scripture he compiled in the 3rd
Century at Alexandria. Where The
Septuagint translators were rather free
in their translation, Jerome was
exacting and precise. His use of
sources long-since lost to us, his place
at the pinnacle of ancient biblical
scholarship, his ecumenical approach
(studying with multiple Jewish teachers
in the course of his work), make the
version he produced invaluable,
especially now that the German Bible
Society has done so much work in
restoring his original text.

These are some of the reasons for
working from the Latin. As I always
hasten to add, these reasons take
nothing away from versions based on
the Hebrew. They simply offer us
another insight into what in any
language remains the Bible, God’s
Word to us.
Why Translate the Latin Bible?
by John Cunyus
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