Labor of Love: Jerome’s Latin Translation

Rick Brannan

In the late fourth century AD, when half the world spoke Latin, the Latin translation of the Bible was a mess. Several different editions, today collectively known as the “Old Latin,” were circulating among Christians. There was a need for a consistent, thorough revision and correction of the translation from the original sources. Damasus, the pope at the time, selected the scholar Jerome to revise the old translations. Today, Jerome’s Latin translation is known as the Vulgate.

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“Addressed to Pope Damasus, AD 383: You urge me to revise the old Latin version, and, as it were, to sit in judgment on the copies of the Scriptures which are now scattered throughout the whole world; and, inasmuch as they differ from one another, you would have me decide which of them agree with the Greek original. The labor is one of love, but at the same time both perilous and presumptuous; for in judging others I must be content to be judged by all; and how can I dare to change the language of the world in its hoary old age, and carry it back to the early days of its infancy? Is there a man, learned or unlearned, who will not, when he takes the volume into his hands, and perceives that what he reads does not suit his settled tastes, break out immediately into violent language, and call me a forger and a profane person for having the audacity to add anything to the ancient books, or to make any changes or corrections therein?”1

Jerome (ca. 345–420) was one of the most accomplished scholars of the early church. In addition to his work as primary translator of the Vulgate, he composed commentaries, letters, histories and introductions to books of the Bible. Unlike most of his contemporaries, Jerome valued the Hebrew Scriptures over the popular Greek translation known as the Septuagint. Because of this, he studied Hebrew. He pioneered the method used by translators around the world today: translate the Old Testament from the Hebrew and Aramaic, and the New Testament from the Greek.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 3 No. 2


1. Jerome’s letter to Pope Damascus, AD 383. Recorded by Eusebius Hieronymous in his “Preface to the Four Gospels.” Adapted from Philip Schaff, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Second Series Vol. VI (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 1997), pgs. 487–88. For more resources on the church fathers, go to Logos.com/ChurchHistory. Pick up Rick Brannan’s The Apostolic Fathers Greek–English Interlinear at Logos.com/AFInterlinear.