Modernism leaking into modern bible translations?

Hello members,

I’ve had this question on my mind for a few weeks now and I wasn’t able to figure it out by myself so I was hoping someone here would be able to share their thoughts.

I’ve turned Christian (and Catholic I think) about a year ago. I’ve had a Bible already, but now I’d like to get a really nice one. In Dutch there’s two Catholic version I can pick.

-First, there’s the Willibrordvertaling. This one is the most recent Bible that’s accepted by the Church. It is also the version the Church uses. However online I read about people saying that modernism slipped into this translation. I’ve checked: for example at places ‘the Holy Ghost’ changed into ‘Helper’. All of this made me a bit skeptical.

-Secondly, there’s the Petrus Canisius translation. This is the first Dutch translation from the original languages. It’s from 1929 (newer editions until +/- 1970). Jona is Jonas (like in the Vulgat) in this Bible, Lord is Jahweh According to wikipedia: “These characteristics mean that the Canisius translation still enjoys a certain popularity among traditional Catholics who believe that it is a translation of a solid Catholic signature free from modern tendencies and ecumenical influences.”

The dilemma is clear: either the Bible that I believe is better, but the other one is used by the Church. So far I didn’t consider a translation directly from the Vulgate.

I hope this question is not too vague (because of course, you don’t know the exact translations). However, I feel like you hardcore Catholics know what I should do.

Thanks to all of you!

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Short answer: Use whatever Bible translation is recommended for whatever purpose by your local bishops.

Long answer: I’m not overly familiar with the literary history of Dutch Bible translations to offer a comprehensive analysis, but I surmise it’s somewhat similar to English Bible translations.

In which case, yes, there are often changes in older translations compared to newer ones. Most of these are due to Pope Pius XII and his ecyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu in 1943. It encouraged the use of modern textual criticism and modern translation theory: using the Hebrew text of the OT rather than the LXX, closer fidelity to the Greek and Hebrew critical texts, etc.

To call it “modernism” is a misunderstanding and stems more from “I prefer traditional translations” than from any cogent objection to contemporary Catholic bible studies.


You would have to provide a specific verse. In places the term Helper or Comforter would be the correct translation rather than Holy Ghost. Without knowing what specific verse you are referring to, it would be difficult to say if your version is rendering an accurate translation of that specific passage.

I would not recommend a translation from the Vulgate, essentially you would be going from a translation from the original languages, to a translation of a translation.

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I agree. You begin with the fact none of the originals remain to examine. So the earliest existing text is also a translation( an approximation).
Over time there have been revisions no matter the version.
The idea of modernism is not precise. Some text use scholarly method attempting to approximate language that focuses more heavily on custom and usage at the time, others more an approximation of nuance found in the oldest Greek usages of certain words at the time. Regardless, at best, you have interpretation.
David Bentley Hart just did a revision and it attempts to introduce a close proximity to nuances in the Greek, but also accounts for the fact that the earliest Christians were radical compared to later periods in time. It might look unfamiliar so you determine it modernist, when in reality it derives from something quite orthodox and traditional.
Ultimately virtually all readers, save for those who actually devoted their lives to this scholarship are not in a position to assign a term like modernism. For all most people know , what they think is modernist might not be, and what looks familiar might only have become popular during the Reformation or after schism.

If they both have an imprimatur, then you should read whichever one is more appealing to you.

Here in the U.S., they use the New American Bible at Mass, but it is definitely not the translation I prefer to read outside of the church.

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Following is a long passage from Pius XII in Divino Afflantae Spiritu. Some would reject this as modernism. He lays out the contributions and efforts available only to modern scholars which have become an essential part of biblical scholarship.

  1. There is no one who cannot easily perceive that the conditions of biblical studies and their subsidiary sciences have greatly changed within the last fifty years. For, apart from anything else, when Our Predecessor published the Encyclical Letter Providentissimus Deus , hardly a single place in Palestine had begun to be explored by means of relevant excavations. Now, however, this kind of investigation is much more frequent and, since more precise methods and technical skill have been developed in the course of actual experience, it gives us information at once more abundant and more accurate. How much light has been derived from these explorations for the more correct and fuller understanding of the Sacred Books all experts know, as well as all those who devote themselves to these studies. The value of these excavations is enhanced by the discovery from time to time of written documents, which help much towards the knowledge of the languages, letters, events, customs, and forms of worship of most ancient times. And of no less importance is papyri which have contributed so much to the knowledge of the discovery and investigation, so frequent in our times, of letters and institutions, both public and private, especially of the time of Our Savior.

  2. Moreover ancient codices of the Sacred Books have been found and edited with discerning thoroughness; the exegesis of the Fathers of the Church has been more widely and thoroughly examined; in fine the manner of speaking, relating and writing in use among the ancients is made clear by innumerable examples. All these advantages which, not without a special design of Divine Providence, our age has acquired, are as it were an invitation and inducement to interpreters of the Sacred Literature to make diligent use of this light, so abundantly given, to penetrate more deeply, explain more clearly and expound more lucidly the Divine Oracles. If, with the greatest satisfaction of mind, We perceive that these same interpreters have resolutely answered and still continue to answer this call, this is certainly not the last or least of the fruits of the Encyclical Letter Providentissimus Deus, by which Our Predecessor Leo XIII, foreseeing as it were this new development of biblical studies, summoned Catholic exegetes to labor and wisely defined the direction and the method to be followed in that labor.

  3. We also, by this Encyclical Letter, desire to insure that the work may not only proceed without interruption, but may also daily become more perfect and fruitful; and to that end We are specially intent on pointing out to all what yet remains to be done, with what spirit the Catholic exegete should undertake, at the present day, so great and noble a work, and to give new incentive and fresh courage to the laborers who toil so strenuously in the vineyard of the Lord.

@SFG, I’ve been looking at the Willibrord New Testament online. The word Helper only appears in John, as the equivalent of Paraclete. In some English Bibles, the Greek word parakletos is translated as helper, comforter, or advocate, although in older Bibles it’s usually left as Paraclete. In the places where the Greek text has literally Holy Spirit (Holy Ghost), the Willibrord Bible still uses de heilige Geest, for example in Luke 2:26:

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The best translation is the one you’ll read. :slight_smile:

Honestly, I wouldn’t be overly concerned with choosing the “right” translation. Every translation has pros and cons. If the translation is approved by your bishops, I would imagine it’s at least mostly okay, even if you (or even other good Catholic biblical scholars) would have made different word choices here and there.

Personally, I’d aim to get both translations eventually. There is no need to exclusively read a single translation.

Of course, I do not have any first-hand knowledge of Dutch Bible translations. And I’ve heard horror stories about the Dutch Catechism, so maybe the newer translation really is terrible. :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:



People seem to work themselves into a nervous mess over Bible translations, but it’s always good to remind ourselves that we can in fact use multiple translations for different purposes.

I can read both Greek and Hebrew and I find myself consulting 4 different translations for a variety of ends.


Thank you all, for your replies. They were very useful. Please know that I’ve read all of your replies and found every single one of them to be useful.
In the meantime I checked: they are both approved by the Dutch Bishops. You were definitely right, that was the most important thing to consider.
So I’ve decided that I will read some parts of the bible online in both versions and get the one I prefer and then, actually spend some good many hours reading.


Since there seems to be a bit of confusion as to exactly what Modernism is, or is about, I would recommend Dr. Brant Pitre’s book The Case For Jesus as he lays out what Modernism is and from whence it came (e.g naming biblical scholars who started it or exemplify it).

Aell written in a very understandable way, with extensive footnotes to other works.

as to anyone who thinks tht Pope Pius XII wrote anything Modernist, this should put that to rest. Thoroughly.

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I love dr. Pitre’s Youtube videos. I was already planning on getting that specific book without knowing that it adresses this specific issue as well! Thanks for mentioning that

As noted, Dr. Pitre sets out fairly clearly what Modernism is and it is not about translations.

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This was my first thought.

The majority of lay people that use the word “modernism” wouldn’t know it if it bit them on the backside. Hint: it has nothing to do with being “modern.” All time belongs to God. There is nothing evil about the progression of time.

On a side not about translations, there are so few places where any translation difference would matter, simply find one that you find readable, and be willing to look further if something seems off in a verse. And read blocks of texts. A lot of confusion comes simply because a verse is isolated from context.

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Exactly. it has to do with Biblical scholarship, starting in the late 1800’s which essentially resulted in the Bible being seen as mythology, folklore, and had a number of assumptions which caused a drift to the mantra of what all we could not know, and resulted in a number of scholars who essentially ended up with positions such as “we can’t know who actually wrote the Gospels” to the (facitious) “quest for the historical Jesus”, and ultimately ended up with such oxymorons as biblical scholars who were atheists.

Sadly, the term “modernism” gets trotted out by people who don’t like certain liturgies or certain bishops who may be categorized as “progressive” or “liberal”; I presume because the word sounds as if the speaker has certain “knowledge” (shades of Gnosticism) and with one “powerful” word can be dismissive of anything they don’t particularly like - and often don’t particularly understand.

However, as Pitre points out right at the beginning of his book, Modernism is alive and well on many college campuses by professors who have bought in to (exceedingly) poor scholarship about the Bible and what we believe - or don’t have a foundation to believe.


Went by your example. I think your apparent issues were about text and not modernism. Maybe I misunderstood.

As is to be expected with Satan roaming around, for sure indeed there are some ‘bad’ translations…
more especially amongst some of those from more recent times.

That first choice is clearly NG. .


“Dissolved” has replaced “Destroyed” in such passages as in the Book of Job and in Revelation. As though something becomes gently washed away from God’s righteous wrath or at the end of time. Don’t want to scare the kiddies, I suppose.

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Yep - As in Modernists seek to Dissolve the Gospel… Ultimately they Fail

I’ve not read of any notable English translation that has translated ὑποτάσσεσθε in Col 3:18 as “be submissive to”. It’s usually been variants of “be subject to” (RSVCE/NRSVCE) or “submit to” (DR/KJV), and these are the definitions offered by the various Greek lexicons including Liddell Scott Jones and Thesaurus Linguae Graecae.

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