“Ask a Priest: Why Were Verses Dropped From the Douay-Rheims Bible?”

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Q: I am a Christian, but I am non-Catholic. I was doing some research into Bible versions throughout history. I was skimming through the Douay-Rheims (I believe the 1899 version), and verses that are commonly removed or called into question are present. For example, Matthew 17:21 is included in the DR as well as in the King James Version (and all other English-language Bibles at that time). The same is the case with Acts 8:37. Most newer versions, such as the New Jerusalem Bible and the Revised Standard Version, remove Acts 8:37, Matthew 17:21, and a handful of other verses. I realize this is based upon the fact that older manuscripts were discovered. My question is: Did the Catholic Church at one point in history consider these “missing” verses to be inspired and preserved? Are they no longer considered as such, after finding the older manuscripts? What would you say to a Catholic or Christian who reads the Douay-Rheims Bible: Should he leave that version and opt for a newer translation? -J.B.

Answered by Father Devin Roza, L.C.

A: Regarding Acts 8:37 and Matthew 17:21, there is very strong evidence that these verses were late additions, added in at some point. There have been many manuscripts discovered since the time of the King James Version and the Douay-Rheims, as well as a great deal of study done regarding the history of the manuscripts.

While both of these verses where included in St. Jerome’s Vulgate, they have both been dropped from the Nova Vulgata, the current official Latin translation of the Church.

While the Church specified at the Council of Trent that the canon of the Bible includes what was found in the Vulgate, this was meant primarily to defend the inclusion of the seven books which Protestants had rejected from the Bible (often called “deuterocanonicals”), as well as to make sure that some poor alternative Latin translations not be used. It was not meant to exclude the possibility that serious study could improve on words or even verses of the books included in the Vulgate, bringing them closer to the original Greek and Hebrew texts.

In fact, Pope Pius XII explained in a 1943 encyclical, Divino Afflante Spiritu, No. 21:

“And if the Tridentine Synod wished ‘that all should use as authentic’ the Vulgate Latin version, this, as all know, applies only to the Latin Church and to the public use of the same Scriptures; nor does it, doubtless, in any way diminish the authority and value of the original texts. For there was no question then of these texts, but of the Latin versions, which were in circulation at that time, and of these the same Council rightly declared to be preferable that which ‘had been approved by its long-continued use for so many centuries in the Church.’ Hence this special authority or as they say, authenticity of the Vulgate was not affirmed by the Council particularly for critical reasons, but rather because of its legitimate use in the Churches throughout so many centuries. …”

So, again, the Church backed the Vulgate for use by the Latin (Roman rite) Church and for public uses (such as liturgy), without implying that every word or verse in the Vulgate was “the last word,” so to speak. The Church was mindful of the ongoing work of biblical scholarship and improved translations.

There is no prohibition against anyone reading the Douay-Rheims. Readers just might want to be mindful that there are more recent and accurate translations based on better manuscripts.

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