I am looking for the most literal translation possible of any Latin bible, either to English or Spanish. I want to use it to improve my Latin by reading both simultaneously.

I know the Douay-Rheims Bible is a translation of the (Clementine) Vulgate, which has then been "updated" multiple times, like in the Challoner Revision, the Cofraternity Bible, the Knox Bible, and more recently the Catholic Public Domain Version. I have compared the last one with the Clementine Vulgate (using this smartphone app, which has interlinear bibles), and the match is "quite good". However, the translation is not always literal, since the English translation is also intended to be a useful bible in itself, and thus it accommodates phrases to the English usage, changing the order of sentences (not only of words, knowing that Latin is quite flexible on ordering), and sometimes even the verbal times.

Some examples, with emphasis to signal the instance:

  • Genesis 20:7

Vulgate: Nunc ergo redde viro suo uxorem, quia propheta est : et orabit pro te, et vives : si autem nolueris reddere, scito quod morte morieris tu, et omnia quæ tua sunt

CPDV: Now therefore, return his wife to the man, for he is a prophet. And he will pray for you, and you will live. But if you are not willing to return her, know this: you shall die a death, you and all that is yours.

The latter adds an extra you which is not in the original, but it helps the meaning.

  • Genesis 20:9

Vulgate: Vocavit autem Abimelech etiam Abraham, et dixit ei : Quid fecisti nobis ? quid peccavimus in te, quia induxisti super me et super regnum meum peccatum grande ? quæ non debuisti facere, fecisti nobis.

CPDV: Then Abimelech called also for Abraham, and he said to him: “What have you done to us? How have we sinned against you, so that you would bring so great a sin upon me and upon my kingdom? You have done to us what you ought not to have done.

The order of the sentences is changed. A more literal English translation would have been "what you should not [to] have done, you have done to us" (in Spanish is even closer to the original Latin (hidden pronoun), "lo que no has debido hacer, lo has hecho a nosotros"). This is surely less clear than the English translation, reflecting again the reasonable fact that in any translation literalism can be overrun by improved understanding, when necessary.

  • Genesis 24:19:

Vulgate: Cumque ille bibisset, adiecit: “Quin et camelis tuis hauriam aquam, donec cuncti bibant”.

CPDV: And after he drank, she added, “In fact, I will draw water for your camels also, until they all drink.”

But bibisset is the third-person singular pluperfect active subjunctive of to drink. So it is not "he drank" (which is bibit). Similarly, bibant is the third-person plural present active subjunctive of "to drink", but the translation seems not to be in subjuntive (looks more like indicative to me).

I have spotted these and others given my current (limited) understanding of Latin, but I am surely missing many others. Hence my question, which I repeat: Which is "the most literal" translation of any Latin bible available?

  • I don't know the answer, but your question raises my curiosity. 1) You have already spotted these differences, I think they help learning rather than obstruct it. For literal translations, don't you have dictionaries and grammars? 2) As a native Spanish speaker, why not look for a translation to Spanish? Grammars are a little more alike. BTW, as a general comment, I think older translations tend to be more literal. Nacar-Colunga could be a good option in this sense.
    – Rafael
    Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 12:06

1 Answer 1


The Douay-Rheims and its progeny are well known for being literal translations of the Vulgate, and certainly fit the bill.

Unfortunately, you seem to be adopting a very extreme notion of "literal" that includes identical sentence structure. In your first example, the "you" reflects the fact that Latin includes the pronoun tu instead of just having the second-person verb-ending in morieris. It would arguably be less literal to translate without the repetition. In the second example, such an order would simply be awkward (Yoda-like) English, only fitting in a poetic context.

Consider a less controversial example of the same principle: "In the beginning, God created heaven and earth." Notice that Latin reverses the S-V order: "creavit Deus." There is nothing to be gained by being so slavishly literal to the text, and I am unaware of anyone who has made the effort to provide a translation that is so.

  • 2
    Thanks. It was intentional that I referred to the order of sentenced and not of words, as "red horse" and "horse red" are not identical in English, as they are in Latin. I get the impression Spanish is more poetic-style friendly, as "caballo rojo" and "rojo caballo" are both valid, the latter being indeed more poetical. But an identical order would help in the learning, imo. Still, I take the point that you can never get fully literal without losing meaning. You are right that the tu is explicit, and so it must be included. Thanks!
    – luchonacho
    Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 7:27
  • What about the third example I just added? I have focused the last days on verb moods and tenses, and there are many differences. That is just an example.
    – luchonacho
    Commented Apr 30, 2018 at 8:12
  • 1
    @luchonacho The third example is a case where Latin uses the subjunctive but English doesn't: cum circumstantial clauses and donec clauses take the subjunctive in Latin, but they don't in English. (Compare English and Spanish: it would be incorrect to translate, "Cuando vengas, ven a verme" with the subjunctive. The best translation is indicative: "When you come, etc.")
    – brianpck
    Commented Apr 30, 2018 at 12:39

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