How important is beauty in a translation?

For me, one of the things that keeps me squarely in the Catholic Church, and Christianity, even in times of doubt, is Beauty. In fact, in my study of Catholicism, the subject of Beauty comes up again and again.

So I am wondering, for those who value beauty, how important is beauty in a translation of the Bible? One of the things I hear from friends who prefer the KJV is that the language is beautiful…and here I am reading the NAB. Nothing wrong with the NAB, it is easy to understand and approved for liturgical use, but I think the KJV is linguistically more beautiful. What would be linguisticaly beautiful English Catholic translations?

Thanks! :thumbsup:

Everybody has their preferences.
Maybe here favor the Douay-Rheims. I myself, find it hard to read.
A good translation is paramount.
I like to read the RSV-Catholic Edition for daily reading and reflection.

The Word of God is beautiful because it’s the Word of God.
No embellishment necessary. :slight_smile:
Peace to you!

To me, readability and making it easier to understand is more important than keeping it beautiful.

When I was a protestant, for many years I read KJV because it was “THE” translation you were supposed to read and I did think I understood it. At one point I broke down and bought an NIV translation, and the difference in was night and day. I understood the NIV so much better, and consequently read it much more often.

I now have an NABRE and an RSV2CE and while I find them readable, I do sometimes miss the “friendliness” of my NIV. But I’m reading these for now because they are study Bibles and I want the commentary to be consistent with Catholic teaching, not protestant views.

Ronald Knox is my translation hero. :slight_smile: I’m currently enjoying the Knox Bible.

Translation certainly is an art form-- mine always turned out so clunky. I really admire people who can phrase an idea from another language in beautiful, elegant English.

Dr. Peter Kreeft talks about people who were converted to the faith by the direct experience of the Beautiful.

Christi pax,


St. Peter and St. Paul, pray for us!

I don’t think imprimaturs are granted based on understandability as much as whether they are deemed doctrinally free from error. If the language pleases you after that, go for it.

De gustibus non est disputandum. (“There is no dispute regarding tastes” or “about preferences do what you want” or however you want to phrase it. :))

I agree with all that. Although I find both the NABRE and the RSV2CE somewhat less “readable” than the NIV, the fact that they are both Catholic translations with the study notes based on solid Catholic belief is important to me.

My favorite translation of Scripture is the Ronald Knox version, precisely because Father Knox translated it “like an English gentleman would.” New Advent actually uses it, and I have a hard copy on my bookshelf.

Christi pax,


St. Peter and St. Paul, pray for us!

Very impressive website. I think the Latin is from the Nova Vulgata. And all side-by-side with the Greek for authenticity. :thumbsup:

I’m French, so maybe prejudiced, but I have to second the Douay-Rheims as the most beautiful Catholic translation.

Ya see how stupid I am? It took me forever to figure out what your being French had to do with liking the Douay-Rheims! :stuck_out_tongue:

In terms of beauty in translations: I simply enjoy somewhat of an elevated language that is modest. As such, I have no problem appreciating any of the translations mentioned thus far, and even the translation used at Mass. Yeah, sometimes it can be kinda dorky; but on the whole, I do enjoy it.

I know, right? I can’t read Koine Greek, but would LOVE :bounce: to learn the language. I have to wonder what Greek manuscript(s) they are using here?

I did take (classical) Latin in high school though, so I can at least enjoy St. Jerome’s slightly modified beauty :cool:

Christi pax,


St. Peter and St. Paul, pray for us!

Although, there are always “bugs” in the Knox version (like all translation of anything really). Like, for example, Father Knox translates “Vas ergo erat positum aceto plenum” in GJohn as “There was a jar there full of vinegar.” “Sour wine” would be the better translation, because 1) it fits better with Eucharistic theology, and 2) it is more literal!

But I have OCD regarding these things :blush:

Christi pax,


St. Peter and St. Paul, pray for us!

That’s not stupid at all! Most people would have no idea of the connection between being French and the Douay-Rheims Bible!

I started college as an English major, not a theology major, so I appreciate beautiful language, too. I like poetry, often just for the beauty of the language.

This site has some information on the different translations, and it agrees with me that the Douay-Rheims is the most beautiful. :wink: Strangely, even with my love for that version, I do not currently own one. I’ll have to correct that.

To be fair to Fr. Knox, ‘vinegar’ is actually the traditional way to translate oinos or acetum. That’s how Bibles from I would guess before the 1900s tended to translate the word, at least. It isn’t inaccurate, because ‘vinegar’ back then was really just wine that had gone rancid. In fact, guess where the word ‘vinegar’ came from: the French vin aigre ‘sour wine’.

Technically speaking, the ‘wine vinegar’ offered to Jesus is likely posca, a drink made out of wine vinegar and water, plus some flavoring, the standard beverage of soldiers in the Roman army. There was originally no word for posca in Greek, so the gospels simply called it oinos ‘(wine) vinegar’, which is after all what it is made of.

I think - this is just my personal opinion - that a real lover of God’s word looks past the translation and sees beauty regardless.

A real lover of Scripture, someone who like King David “Meditates on the word of God day and night” will have multiple translations. For 99.9% of us, there really is no valid reason not to have and use multiple translations.

On the other hand, I know monks who do lectio divina for an hour every day and who chant the Psalms seven times each day with whatever translation is placed before them. These are men of great holiness and virtue, closer to God than we will ever be on this side of the grave.

My point is that the real beauty in any translation is proportional to how much we allow it to bring us closer to God.


I’m glad you brought up the subject of art, for indeed paintings and such are a form of translations, or interpretations of texts, much better than more text. In fact, the brain can probably much better comprehend the Last Supper, for example, from Michaelangelo’s paintbrush than scholarly English, French, or Italian poetry. After all a picture is worth a thousand words or, in our case, thousand text translations. I’m not saying text isn’t important or beautiful, but at some point, one has to become weary of all the possible ways of translating ancient Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, etc. texts into some modern language. And I don’t think it quite fits in with my definition of holiness there.

I think it depends on the person. Some people respond more to the written word than to the visual. I know I am not very visual, but I do love beautiful language. Liturgical music can also move me greatly. Other, more visual people, will respond more to paintings, etc.

Translation from the original text is very important because we want to know what the original author really intended to say. Things can be so changed in translation that they no longer retain their original meaning.

Paintings are not the inspired word of God.

A painting is a depiction, not a translation. Paintings depict Sacred Scripture but they will never be what Sacred Scripture is - the breathed word of God.

However great Michaelangelo’s depiction of the Last Supper, it will never be a replacement for inspired, breathed word of God no matter what language or translation is used.


I agree with you about music, even non-vocal music, being inspired by Scripture, etc. I don’t understand, however, how one cannot be moved by the visual interpretation of same. Many Bibles even have illustrations (pictures, maps, etc.) that help to that effect.

Things can be so changed in translation that they no longer retain their original meaning.

Yes, in fact the Italians have an adage that goes “Traduttore, tradittore” or roughly “A translator is a traitor.” IOW, every translation is a corruption in meaning; imperfections are almost always introduced no matter how you cut it. Anyone who speaks more than language can tell you this. I have this pastor whose native tongue is Polish and he speaks with an accent. I can immediately tell he thought up the sermon in Polish and translates himself to English. I can understand why people dislike his train of thought. Sometimes I wish he’d just say the sermon in Polish.

TIm, you’re right. But I also have a difficult time in thinking that translations are directly inspired by God, especially when copyrights and royalties seem to be the main motivator. I think Cardinal Arinze referred to some of these people who are so motivated as “iconoclasts.”

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