Was the bible "trapped" in Latin?


I’ve heard this charge recently from a Protestant acquantince of mine. You all might know how the story goes.

The evil Roman Catholic Church wanted to keep the truth of the word away from people and the best way to keep the Church in charge was to keep the bible trapped in Latin, a language no one understood. Thank God for Martin Luther translating the bible into the common tongue.

I know the Church preserved it in Latin for traditional purposes but is there any teeth to this statement?


No, there isn’t. I’d offer these two as just simple matters of rationale.

  1. If Latin was a language that was not in use, how did it become the predecessor of many modern languages. Do you know how many Latin words are used in the English language? Why did Pontius Pilate write ‘King of the Jews’ in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin? No, Latin was not a secret language.

  2. Luther was in no way shape or form the first to translate Sacred Scriptures into a vernacular. The easy one is Jerome back in the 5th century with the Gallic Pslams among other things. Bibles were translated in Saxony, or Normany and countless other tongues and continued to be revised as languages evolved. Even Wyclif beat Luther out the gates by a century.

There are many more complex arguments, of course, but these are some easy, common sense refutes.


I don’t find any teeth in this statement. Many Bibles were translated into French in the 1300’s.
Also if you think about it. The historical process of making a Bible before Gutenberg was very scholarly, artistic, and very complicated. The monks would hand write each page with pictures. If a single mistake was made it was thrown out and the monk would have to start all over. Now try doing that with the Bible. Imagine yourself as a medieval monk having to translate the Hebrew and Greek into Latin (in a calligraphic form too). It would take you months to finish, and as a monk you had a lot of other duties too.


Not only for traditional purposes but for its immutable and inflective value as well. What has to be distinguished is Vulgar Latin (which had been the street language which then morphed into the existing Romance languages) and classical Latin which became Christianized by the Church in the very early centuries. The latter, because of the fact that it’s no one native language and through the genius of Cicero et al, many Greek writers included, has remained for the most part pristine for over two millennia.


In the day, Latin was taught in school, and Greek in some schools. Luther knew Latin and Greek. I find it kind of weird that people make that argument, when the Latin translation was called “The Vulgate” because it used the common language of most scholarly studies. Bully for Luther for translating it into German. I can’t read German! Neither could most Europeans! Should we accuse Luther of “trapping” the bible into German to keep the rest of Europe from understanding it?


God’s word is far more difficult to adulterate when frozen in a dead language.

I find it amusing, silly (and scandalous) that those who cling to Jerome because he had doubts about the Deuterocanonical books, turn around and throw him under the bus because he sealed the scriptures in Latin. Tossed about by the winds of change, they are.


No teeth at all.

Parts of the Bible have been translated by the Church into languages other than Latin since the 700’s. The Douay Rheims predates the KJV.

One very important thing to remember is that for most of European history the majority of people couldn’t read at all. Even during the Middle Ages very few people were educated and if they were, they were taught in Latin. Anyone who could read English (or French, Italian, etc) could also read Latin.

There is an interesting article at catholicbridge.com/catholic/did_the_catholic_church_forbid_bible_reading.php that goes into more detail.


Actually Jerome’s Vulgate was not the first Latin translation. There had been an older version (the Vetus Latina), in use but of very poor quality. Jerome, a Greek and Hebrew scholar, was called to update/correct that older version and preserve Scripture in the Roman form. The unchanging Classical Latin nuances and rules of grammar, including the beautiful use of the subjunctive, were ideal for doing so. True, it became the language of the scholarly but the LatinVulgate was not intended to be only for the scholars.


It’s a statement rooted in ignorance. Before the printing press was invented, make a copy of the Bible was VERY expensive. They cost the equivalent of several years wages. They were hand copied in exacting detail. It took months to complete. Very few people could read, and even fewer could write.

So imagine yourself, part of a small village in England in the 12th century, with very little money. You need a copy of the Bible for use in the Mass (every Christian was Catholic). You needed this Bible so that readings may be done to celebrate Mass. You don’t really have the money to buy more than one copy. So which language do you look to purchase your Bible in? Would you look to purchase a copy of an English translation or one in Latin? Since you didn’t know if your priest would be able to read English, wouldn’t it make sense for you to purchase a Bible in Latin? You were hoping for this copy to last for a couple centuries, so there is no tellin how many priests you would have at your parish.

And this applies to those who were wealthy as well. Why would they want a copy of a book in a vernacular language, when anyone who could read, could read latin? Even someone from another country could read latin. So it would make sense, that if you had to sell the Bible later, you would want it in latin so that your potential pool of purchasers was as large as possible.

There were many vernacular translations throughtout history. Latin was used as a means of easing the issues and confusion of the day. Latin made it EASIER for the Bible to be understood.

So this argument is so completely wrong because latin had the opposite effect. It made the Bible MORE accessible.


The Bible wasn’t “trapped” in Latin, it was preserved (from changes and the whims of translators) in Latin. A great little book on the topic available online is: Where We Got the Bible: Our Debt to the Catholic Church by The Right Rev. Henry G. Graham. It goes into translations and the canon, as well. An easy read and quite informative.


Thank you all. Honestly I was caught off guard at the moment and responded that it was our Church’s tradition to use Latin in the Roman Rite. There were other 22 Churches that use their own languages for liturgical practice within the Catholic Church. I knew there had to be more to it…but that was all I could think of with such a random charge. I will do some further reading now. :slight_smile:


There are several hundred vernaculars as I understand it now.


Thanks for the great information everyone.

Just to add, Yes the Pope did commission St. Jerome to translate the Bible into Latin. And this version of the Bible is called the Latin Vulgate. The [/FONT] shows the derivative of this word “vulgate.” It comes from the word “vulgāta,” which comes from “vulgāre” which means** “to make**** common.”** That is because Latin was the common language of the time. So, it was translated into Latin not to keep it from the people, but to make it as accessible as possible.[INDENT]Vulgate

Dictionary.com Based on the Random House Dictionary, ©
World English Dictionary

— n

  1.     a commonly recognized text or version 
  2.     everyday or informal speech; the vernacular 

[/INDENT]However, there was an error in a recommended web page suggested above. The website stated:


(2) Bible reading earlier this Century
I did not grow up Catholic but I’ve interviewed dozens of older Catholics, and ex Catholics, including those who now go to Evangelical Churches, to try to gain an understanding of the charge that Catholics weren’t allowed to read their Bibles in the 1930’s - 1970’s.
It is true that earlier in this century, in some Catholic circles, people were not encouraged to read their Bibles.
End Quote.

Perhaps ??? some dissident priests told those in their parish not to read the Bible.
(Or, is it that some are just making excuses for their own negligence in not reading it.)

BUT the Popes during this time explicitly did tell faithful Catholics TO READ the Bible.
And that instruction was made crystal clear in the Catholic Bibles of the day.

It would be wrong to blame the Church, or IMPLY such blame …

It is not the fault of the Church that others, including dissident priests like Martin Luther, choose to teach contrary to her teachings.

Would you blame the Catholic Church that Martin Luther, going against Church teaching, taught Faith Alone ? So, don’t blame her for the alleged claim that priests went against the clear teachings of the Popes, who during the exact same time period referenced above said we SHOULD READ THE BIBLE.

The Catholic Church made it clear that it favored Bible reading. However, she did not favor the reading of vernacular Bibles that had heretical notes in the margin.

For example, by analogy,
Would you favor distributing a Bible that had pornography in it?
Or one that taught your children that (sic) your lovely wife is really a whore ?

I do not just make a claim here.

I prove my points beyond any shadow of doubt below.

We need to point out to Protestants that at least all the way up until the 16th century, not only was Latin taught, but the other subjects were taught IN LATIN as well.

And we need to not just point out that Catholics claim this, but show this reality from non-Catholic sources. See below.


Catholic German Language Bibles Before Luther with Deuterocanonical Bks



As John pointed out, above, German editions of the Bible pre-dated Luther’s New Testament. Note, too, that these Bibles had wide circulation. The Mentelin Bible went through 13 or 14 printings in the 15th century. What might be surprising to some is that there were 18 translations of the Latin Vulgate into German in existence prior to Luther’s 16th century New Testament.


I think it would be more accurate to say that Latin as we study it today was the most common 2nd language, or at least the most common written language of well over a thousand years. Street talk probably wasn’t concerned with 3rd person subjunctives or third declension ablatives.

In any case, I agree that it wasn’t written in Latin to keep it from the people any more than using Greek math symbols keeps math from people today. Tools are required to study many things and unchanging Latin, in this sense, is a tool.


Hi, rben!

…yeah those bad bad bad bad bad Catholics that kept the, mostly illiterate, from reading the Scriptures in their own native languages… all those ingrates who went around the world learning the customs and languages of the various peoples to subject them to know Christ as preached by the Gospel…

Did the Church err in her quest to keep the Sacred Writings from being defamed and misused? Yeah, there’s no doubt about that!

Did Luther and his followers liberate the Sacred Writings from that empire of control?

Yeah, we must accept the fact that he did… but as one fellow said in a movie once, he “went all the way” even to the point of making himself the full authority of Scriptures:

Luther added the word “alone” (allein in German) to Romans 3:28 controversially so that it read: “So now we hold, that man is justified without the help of the works of the law, alone through faith”[8] The word “alone” does not appear in the Greek texts,[9] but Luther defended his translation by maintaining that the adverb “alone” was required both by idiomatic German and the apostle Paul’s intended meaning,[10] and that sola was used in theological tradition before him.


…coincidentally, Luther’s rejection of the one Church’s Authority has opened up myriads of “authorities” as the Body of Christ continues to be splintered by the will of those who are merely seeking to “liberate” the Bible from ‘then Catholics.’

Interestingly enough, it is the Church who continues to offer the Gospel of Christ as St. Paul offered: One Church, One Baptism, One Gospel.

Maran atha!



Umm… pardon?

Am I missing something? Is there sarcasm here that I’m not getting? :confused:

No, the Church doesn’t err in keeping the integrity of the Scriptures intact.
No Luther didn’t “liberate” Scripture. (Nor did he initiate the act of translating the Scriptures in to vernacular languages…!)

??? :confused: ???


Hi Gorgias!

…yeah… it takes some getting used to… I am emphasizing that the Church’s job, as the Apostles, has always been to keep the Gospel free of error (this, in my mind, is inclusive of all Sacred Writing). Did the Church go too far in establishing a control on Scriptures? Yes. It is evident in the fact that those who reject her Authority have not understood her and cite “Latin” and “lack of distribution” as Roman control of the Gospel.

…and Luther’s correction of the errors that were rampant (fees for absolution…) were on the money but he did not liberate the Word from the Church but took it and ran with it–just look at how many luthers he has inspired throughout the last 500 years or so…

Hope this helps!

Maran atha!



It is not possible for the Church to “go too far in establishing a control on Scriptures” because the Bible is the Church’s book. Those who reject her authority have no right to complain about how the Church handles it’s own book. In rejecting the Church and her authority they became heretics. Explain how 16th century heretics had any right to question that which they left behind when they decided to set up on their own by coopting the authority Christ gave to his Church alone to decide matters of faith and morals? Most modern Protestants simply believe what they are told by their leaders and have no clue as to Church history that isn’t devoid of denial of Church teaching. What else can we expect of them?

…and Luther’s correction of the errors that were rampant (fees for absolution…) were on the money but he did not liberate the Word from the Church but took it and ran with it–just look at how many luthers he has inspired throughout the last 500 years or so…

Hope this helps!

Maran atha!


As to the bolded part of is part of your post, ah no, Luther did not “correct” anything. He posted a thesis in which he condemned selling of indulgences, which some were doing without the sanction of the Church, but it was the Church that corrected this abuse, not Luther.

It seems you have some of your Church history a bit skewed. You may wish to do some research before posting such statements. :wink:


Hmm… this doesn’t make sense to me, either. Those who “reject(ed) her authority” were Luther (a Catholic priest who clearly could read Latin and who had access to Scripture), and other Protestants (who, again, had access to the Scriptures in the vernacular); and today, of course, non-Catholic Christians have access to the Bible in their language and free from “Roman control of the Gospel”; so… how is it that this leads to an understanding of the Church’s teachings…? :confused:

…and Luther’s correction of the errors that were rampant (fees for absolution…) were on the money

Actually, it wasn’t fees for absolution that he railed against; it was fees for indulgences, and a misunderstanding of what an indulgence is (and isn’t!).


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