Who preserved the Greek translations?


If it took countless number of monks to preserve the Latin Vulgate over 1000 years, who preserved the Greek counterparts? It seems that England had this heavy propensity of using Greek as its base but how accurate were those sources? Where they used just because they were in Greek?

I ran across an interesting video


which seems to slam the Church and also leaves a lot of questions unanswered.


The Irish Church probably preserved the Greek texts for the West, but I believe the Eastern Church’s efforts here were much more significant. Greek was used and studied in the Byzantine Church throughout the Middle Ages, and it was probably their monks and governmental agencies which preserved the Greek texts more than anyone else.


That sounds reasonable, though we don’t hear too much about them; not in the West anyway. In the West, as you may know, the Latin Vulgate was preserved well but that doesn’t mean the copies were error free, as handwriting mistakes were very likely in many parts. It wasn’t until the copies were all assembled and consolidated from time to time, that there was one such version which became the standard of the Western Church. I imagine preservation in the Greek texts was done in a similar environment, even retranslating from the Hebrew or even the Latin to fill in the gaps, so to speak. But I’m guessing.


If you look at the text types such as Alexandrian, Byzantine, Cesarean, etc., then that will provide a clue to some of the questions. There are lots of Greek lectionaries used by textual critics which obviously shows that churches were actively using Greek not because it was simply Greek but rather that was their liturgical tongue. There was an active Greek portion of the Church Fathers as well.


Maybe but Latin pretty much replaced Greek, at least in the Western world, which became the bulk of Christianity.

I’m not saying there weren’t attempts to preserve Greek, but if one were to compare numbers preserving Latin documents versus preserving Greek documents Latin would probably far surpass Greek through 1000+ years. What’s the significance of this? Copying writings by hand introduces a lot of errors. The more copied, however, the margin of handwriting error becomes smaller over centuries. It would have been different had Gutenberg been born earlier.


No doubt that there is no comparison between the number a Latin to Greek. And there has always been an assumption that the Greek should be consulted to correct the Latin which had placed an importance on preserving the Greek. But there has also been the Greek Fathers and Greek liturgy as well which no doubt played a big part in preserving Greek manuscripts.


I thank you for bringing this up. I’ve been thinking about a possible project of finding quotes from the medieval Church leaders and saints to show that we’ve always upheld the ideal of going to “original sources” and not just relying on the Vulgate; I think some of this data may come from the various revisions of the Vulgate that were done over the years (probably to bring it in harmony with the original Greek?) and from statements by the Scholastics in which they answer arguments by appealing to Greek (instead of Latin) texts. Since you’ve just said that there has always been an assumption that the Greek (originals) are better than the Latin (translations), I’m wondering if you can provide me with a few examples of revisions or statements to that effect? That might be enough to get me started on the project. :slight_smile: God bless!


I am not aware of any examples of such a reliance on Greek texts, so I would be interested as well.


I believe the oldest copies that we still have of the Bible are in Greek. Dating back to the 4th century. I don’t think we have any original latin copies that old.

It was the fall of Constantinople in 1453 which caused a wave of Greek refugees seeking asylum in the West, with their precious texts with them, that ignited an interest in the West of studying those texts and comparing them to the Latin.


The original Greek manuscripts no longer exist. My question was more of the reliability of whatever Greek texts we do have. That’s what Tyndale et al seemed to be using in the OP video.


Well, yes, the originals don’t exist, sorry for implying that. I should have said original languages.


Interesting video that seems more or less accurate, although I only watched through 34:00.

The Greek text Tyndale was using for his English translation was the critical edition of the Greek New Testament developed by Erasmus, the so-called Textus Receptus. (The producers of the video glossed over this part, although they showed a copy of the text.) Same source for Martin Luther.


I hope I never gave any hint that I was saying the Greek is more reliable than the Vulgate, because I don’t feel that way at all. But what I do mean is that the Greek was used to first of all to correct the Latin that St. Jerome was consulting for the Vulgate, and the Greek was also consulted even by the Douay-Rheims translators in order to render the Latin correctly into English. The Vulgate is as dependable as any version can be, I want to make it clear that is how I feel. The Vulgate is a translation of the Greek (and Hebrew and Aramaic), but it is more complex since there are plenty of manuscripts that differ among themselves. Even among the Vulgate manuscripts there are plenty of variant readings, so a simple broad brush answer is not really appropriate for comparing Greek to Latin. I use to worry about all the variant readings and so on but I am finally content with the good ol Clementine Vulgate.

Even St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, the Glossa Ordinaria, which used Latin, those 3 from different centuries, often quoted the Greek in order to prove a point. Then came the Complutensian Polyglot which provided Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin, with interlinears and lexicons. Our Vulgate is sufficient, but consulting the Greek and original languages expands our horizons but its not meant to devalue Latin.


Supposedly Jerome had access to the (more) original Greek and Hebrew, as well as the older Latin, Vetus Latina. I guess one can say the Latin had been already corrected. I think it was the Dead Sea Scrolls and more recent archaelogical findings which updated the Clementine Vulgate to the Nova Vulgata. I’ve done some comparisons from selected passages and found no differences. Perhaps somewhere somebody has produced a document of these changes; I would love to see them. In the meantime I’m perfectly comfortable with the Clementine version, although occasionally I’ll glance at the Chancellor to do a side-by-side.

Incidentally there are some different versions available online.



Latin has only one quarter the vocabulary of Greek.

You should always consult the Greek texts over the Latin.


The Vulgate was a standardized text whereas the old Latin was a bunch of different translations from good to lousy. People who thought they knew a little Greek were translating it into Latin.


Your comments on St. Augustine are interesting and I would be curious to see any quotes from him in Greek, since he (quite famously) hated the language: “But why did I so much hate Greek, which I had to study as a boy? I do not yet fully know. For Latin I loved; not what my first masters, but what the so-called grammarians taught me. For those first lessons, reading, writing and arithmetic, I thought as great a burden and penalty as any Greek.” –Confessions, Book II. Many a first year Latin student has had to translate this passage :slight_smile:


English has more vocabulary than both scriptural Greek and scriptural Latin. I certainly wouldn’t use it solely because of that fact.


St Augustine, along with some of the other early church fathers, were admirers of Cicero and his works on moral values, especially De Officiis. One can’t discount the influence Cicero, who knew both Greek and Latin, had on the Western world and on the Church and its language.


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