roman catholic involvement


In June 1964 representatives of the United Bible Societies (UBS) and the Roman Catholic Church proposed the preparation of a “common text” of the Bible and a `common translation’ which would be acceptable to all. In 1965, the Second Vatican Council ratified the Roman Church’s approval of this and in 1967, Cardinal Carlo Martini, Archbishop of Milan (a Greek scholar and a Jesuit), joined the UBS International Editorial Committee. Michael de Semlyen in his book All Roads Lead to Rome? points out that this committee of five scholars made over 500 changes between the second edition of the Greek text (1968) and the third edition (1975) with no significant accretion of new evidence.3 It would appear therefore, that the Papacy has had a hand in the preparation of the New Testament Greek text which was used by the NIV translation committee.

The New Testament Greek text used by the translators of the NIV was the combined UBS and Nestle Aland Greek New Testaments. However, the UBS Greek New Testament (3rd Edition) and the Nestle Aland (26th Edition) are apparently identical.4 “The text shared by these two editions was adopted internationally by Bible Societies, and following agreement between the Vatican and the UBS it has served as the basis for new translations and for revisions made under their supervision.”5 So the Vatican has been involved in the preparation of these Greek texts, which are now being used to translate new editions of the Bible.

The first page of the 27th edition of the Nestle Aland Novum Testamentum Graece (1993) lists the Jesuit scholar Carlo Martini among its committee (so he has been involved through both committees)

The Second Vatican Council (1953 65) was a significant turning point with regard to Rome’s involvement in the promotion of new translations of the Bible. Pope Paul, through this Council, published an encyclical in 1965, entitled Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum..

In this key policy document the Vatican claims to:

  • set forth the authentic doctrine of divine revelation and its transmission for the whole world;
  • have a divine commission to preserve and interpret the Word of God;
  • be responsible for translations of the Word of God, to be determined and regulated by the Church.

The introduction to that document reads:

“…following in the footsteps of the Council of Trent, and of the First Vatican Council, this Council (i.e. 2nd Vatican Council) proposes to set forth the authentic doctrine of divine revelation and its transmission, so that the whole world may by hearing the message of salvation, come to believe it, by believing may hope, and by hoping may love” (Para 1).

“All that has been said about the manner of interpreting Scripture is subject ultimately to the Church’s judgement; she has the divine commission and the office of preserving and explaining the word of God” (para. 12).

“since the Word of God ought to be available at all times, the Church with motherly care provides that suitable and accurate versions are made in a variety of languages, and especially versions based on original texts of Holy Scripture. If, when occasion offers and leave is given by the Church’s authority, such versions are prepared by a common effort shared by our separated brethren, the resulting work can be used by all Christians” (para. 22).

We are not left in doubt as to the intentions of Rome. In 1995 a Papal encyclical was published, Ut Unum Sint, On Commitment to Ecumenism. Pope John Paul II stated; “Significant progress in ecumenical cooperation has also been made in another area, that of the Word of God. I am thinking above all of the importance for the different language groups of ecumenical translations of the Bible. Following the promulgation by the Second Vatican Council… the Catholic Church could not fail to welcome this development” (para. 44).

We are led to the conclusion that the `best Greek New Testament text’ is always the particular one that is most preferred by Rome. If the hand of Rome is seen in the preparation of the printed Greek New Testament text, this helps us to understand why the NIV promotes the doctrines of a pre existent Jesus, and Jesus as part of a Trinitarian Godhead. The Word of God is gradually being modified before our eyes!

We need to be aware that the NIV is an ecumenical translation of the Bible that can take its readers nearer to the teachings of Rome. Despite its claims, recognition of the nature of inspiration of Scripture appears to be the first casualty in ecumenical translations designed to please almost everybody.

The Apostle Paul was reduced to tears when he warned the faithful of the corruption of the Truth that would occur after his departure— he urged:

“…and now brethren, I commend you to God, and to the Word of His Grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified”
(Acts 20:29-32).

“Let There Be Light!”

The booklet, The Story of the New International Version supplied by the New International Bible Society sets out the background and reasons for the making of the New International Version (NIV). It draws on supporting quotes from John Wycliffe, Erasmus and Tyndale.6 It is interesting to note that the quote attributed to Tyndale was in response to a scholar he had been arguing with. The full account recorded by Spurgeon was that Tyndale had been arguing the case for a vernacular Bible with “a Popish Clergyman” who had said that, “we had better be without God’s laws than the Pope’s!” Tyndale replied “I defy the Pope and all his laws and if God should spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the Scripture than thou dost.”7

The brief reference in The Story of the New International Version booklet is of course accurate as far as it goes, but history records that Tyndale was struggling against the restrictive policy of Rome which for him resulted in poverty, persecution and finally a martyr’s death.

Wycliffe’s work to bring the Bible to the people by translating Jerome’s (Catholic) Latin Vulgate Bible into English, led to his excommunication— but due to schisms within the Roman Catholic Church he did not suffer a martyr’s death. However, he was disinterred at Lutterworth in 1428 and his bones burned and the ashes thrown into the river Swift.

We see that Rome then, has adapted its policies to suit new situations. In the past she obstructed the spread of the Word of God and access by the people was denied. The support now given to new translations is in part due to the texts meeting Papal approval.