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I am not particularly interested in Christian theology but I want to read the Bible in Latin to improve my reading skills and broaden my historical background. Which translation should I choose?

  • Castellio's,
  • the Vulgate,
  • the New Vulgate,
  • another one?

For reference, I took a random verse from the Nova Vulgata and tried to understand it:

Sed et Iudas pugnabit in Ierusalem, et congregabuntur divitiae omnium gentium in circuitu, aurum et argentum et vestes multae nimis.

But Jude also will fight in Jerusalem, and the wealth of all the peoples should be collected in [] gold and silver [].

I will still need to look up words in a dictionary, but I don't know if I could read as "easily" in Castellio's, even though the Latin is better. What do you think?

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    The Vulgate is arguably the most influential translation ever made in history. If you want to read the Bible in Latin to "broaden historical background," you need to start there.
    – brianpck
    Oct 10, 2022 at 2:42
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    @brianpck Can you convert that comment into an answer? It may be short, but I think it's perfectly sufficient for an answer.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Oct 12, 2022 at 22:32
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    I'd like just a bit more information. "Improve reading skills" and "broaden historical background" is very vague, and honestly choosing which Latin translation of the Bible won't change on that front. But maybe you have something more specific in mind in what you want to accomplish and why you think a translation would alter that?
    – cmw
    Oct 12, 2022 at 22:58
  • I think this question is rather off-topic, for the same reason questions about which framework programmers recommend are off-topic on StackOverflow. Oct 13, 2022 at 6:51

2 Answers 2

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Since your question is not about theology, I will make bold to answer. Jerome, Castellio, and the fathers of Vatican II were all competent latinists, and so all have much to teach us (especially novices) about reading skills and historical background.

As for historical background, Jerome had an enormous influence on the other two. So enormous that I would ask, why bother with the other two, were I not afraid of being accused of being flippant.

As far as reading skills, I am not familiar with Castillio's version, so I cannot comment on those.

The New Vulagate certainly uses a Latin closer to that tought in 21st century textbooks than say, the (old) Vulgate. That said, the advantages of the New over the Old are minor at best, and there are also some disadvantages to contend with with as well.

The main disadvantage of the New Vulgate is it has had nowhere near the influence which the Vulgate has had. Any Latin written after the 5th Century is much more likely to depend on the ancient version than on a 16th century version.

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    Just to add. I've read Genesis of both Vulgate and Castillio. Personally I've found Vulgate easier to understand but/because it is less classical in its style. It is Castillio's version which tried to use the classical Ciceronian style.
    – d_e
    Oct 13, 2022 at 6:44
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    I don't know how true this is, but I have read that Jerome's Vulgate was not written in classical Latin since Jerome used Hebraism and Grecism.
    – user11587
    Oct 14, 2022 at 8:05
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    @user989070 Jerome's style is not a classical golden-age style, but his language is (mostly) compatable with classical grammar. Classical Latin does contain Hellenisms and also influences from Phoenician (similar to Hebrew). So it's not the Hebraisms and Hellenisms per se which make it non-classical. Saying that would be like saying the Hebraisms and Hellenisms of the King James bible mean is not an English classic.
    – Figulus
    Oct 15, 2022 at 4:09
  • @user989070 Plater and White in their Grammar of the Vulgate do a pretty thorough job of describing the "foreign element" in the Vulgate. It's a great resource for anyone enterested in this sort of thing. But in my experience, newbies don't need to worry about being corrupted by Greek or Hebrew. Their main source of corruption is their native language.
    – Figulus
    Oct 15, 2022 at 4:16
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Short Version: You can't go wrong with any of the main editions of the Vulgate, but I do recommend a version with at least notes or facing page translation (like the Dumbarton Oaks Edition). The Castellio translation is certainly interesting due to its Ciceronian language, but it has no notes or vocabulary, so it will definitely be more challenging for the student. I list some teaching-oriented editions of the Vulgate at the end of the post.


The oldest Latin versions of both old and new testaments, is the Vetus Latina, which is a collection of various works by different authors, mostly anonymous; as Tertullian wrote "Latinorum interpretum infinita varietas". These are of variable quality and hence not recommended to the student.

In the 380s AD Jerome wrote the Biblia Vulgata as a standardized Latin text of both testaments. The most common modern edition is the Clementine Vulgate of 1592, but there is also the Nova Vulgata published in 1979 by the Catholic Holy See that is intended to be a 20th-century improvement on the traditional vulgate of Jerome.

Sebastien Munster, a Swiss Calvinist, wrote a Latin version of the old testament which was published in 1532.

John Calvin himself wrote an edition of the new testament published in 1540.

Sebastian Castellio, a French protestant, wrote a Latin bible published first in 1550, the Biblia Sacra Ex Sebastiani Castellionis Interpretatione. This translation was written to be in classical Ciceronian Latin style as opposed to the vulgate, which was written in the ecclesiastical Latin typical of 4th-century Christians.

In 1569 at Geneva was published a protestant Latin old testament by Immanuel Tremellius and new testament by Theodore Beza. The Beza text had his Greek edition side by side with his Latin with copious notes and found final form in the 5th edition of 1598. This version influenced the Geneva Bible and King James Bible and was considered standard by protestants who could read Latin, like Milton and John Donne.

In general, most of the texts, both Catholic and Protestant, follow the style of the original Vulgate fairly closely and from the student's perspective are similar to each other. The Weber-Grayson is a standard edition with brief critical notes. One of the nice things about the Beza edition of 1598 is the facing Greek text with extensive notes. The Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library (Harvard) edition of the Vulgate has an English translation on the facing page.

The Castellio bible is a different animal because of its Ciceronian style. Some Christians have criticized it because it does not use "standard" words for some theological terms and concepts. On the other hand, you are getting a somewhat more sophisticated and classical form of Latin prose. There are no notes in the Castellio. You just get the straight text only.

If you are still early in your Latin career I would suggest using a text with translation (like the Dumbarton Oaks editions), or at least notes. There are some specially designed editions that are specifically for students like the book "Vulgate Verses" which has the Latin text arranged by grammatical category and notated. There is a Gospel of John by Virginia Grinch that has Greek and Latin text with notes and vocabulary for students. A similar book is a heavily notated edition of Psalms by Davi Ladouceur. Wheelock's Latin Reader has a whole chapter devoted to Vulgate readings. Another didactic work is the Vulgate of Mark by Dale Grote, but note that it uses a modernized, simplified version of the Latin text for students. There are also purely lesson-oriented versions of Vulgate such as the Linguica Biblica Student which has selections from the Vulgate with vocabulary and exercises.

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  • Excellent answer! I'd also like to add that the Alands published a New Testament with the Greek and Latin side by side. The Greek was a critical edition, and the Latin was the Nova Vulgata. Novum Testamentum Graece et Latine.
    – Figulus
    Oct 21, 2022 at 3:37

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