Bible translations into Latin

The Bible translations into Latin are the versions used in the Western part of the former Roman Empire until the Reformation and still used, along with translations from Latin into the vernacular, in the Roman Catholic Church.

Part of a page of a 9th-century Biblia Vulgata, British Library Add. Ms. 37777

Pre-Christian Latin translations

The large Jewish diaspora in the Second Temple period made use of vernacular translations of the Hebrew Bible; including the Aramaic Targum and Greek Septuagint. Though there is no certain evidence of a pre-Christian Latin translation of the Hebrew Bible, some scholars have suggested that Jewish congregations in Rome and the Western part of the Roman Empire may have used Latin translations of fragments of the Hebrew Bible.[1]

The Vetus Latina, "Old Latin"

The earliest known translations into Latin consist of a number of piecework translations during the early Church period. Collectively, these versions are known as the Vetus Latina and closely follow the Greek Septuagint. The Septuagint was the usual source for these anonymous translators, and they reproduce its variations from the Hebrew Masoretic Text. They were never rendered independently from the Hebrew or Greek; they vary widely in readability and quality, and contain many solecisms in idiom, some by the translators themselves, others from literally translating Greek language idioms into Latin.[2]

The Biblia Vulgata, "Common Bible"

Earlier translations were made mainly obsolete by St. Jerome's Vulgate version of the Bible. Jerome knew Hebrew, and revised and unified the Latin Bibles of the time to bring them into conformity with the Hebrew as he understood it. The liturgical Psalms, however, are often taken from the older Latin bibles. As discussed in the Vulgate article, there are several different editions of the Vulgate, including the Clementine Vulgate (1592), and two major modern revisions; the Stuttgart Vulgate (1969), and the Nova Vulgata (NT 1971, OT 1979). These represent various attempts to either revise or modernise the Vulgate, or to recover Jerome's original text.

Apart from full Old Testaments, there are more versions of the Psalms only, three of them by Jerome, one from the Greek Vulgate, one from the Hexapla, and one from the Hebrew: These are the Versio Romana "Roman version", Versio Gallicana "Gallican version" (the standard), Versio juxta Hebraicum Jerome's Hebrew-based psalter, respectively. Other versions include the Versio ambrosiana "Ambrosian version," Versio Piana "version of Pius XII," and so on. See the main Vulgate article for a comparison of Psalm 94.

Metrical translations of the Psalms 1500–1620

Metrical Latin Bible translations are primarily Psalm paraphrases, or paraphrases of Song of Songs, Lamentations,[3] in Latin verse which appeared in the 16th century, then abruptly disappeared.[4][5][6]

Modern Latin versions

In 1527, Xanthus Pagninus produced his Veteris et Novi Testamenti nova translatio, notable for its literal rendering of the Hebrew. This version was also the first to introduce verse numbers in the New Testament, although the system used here did not become widely adopted; the system used in Robertus Stephanus's Vulgate would later become the standard for dividing the New Testament.

In the Protestant Reformation, several new Latin translations were produced:


In 1907 Pope Pius X proposed that the Latin text of Saint Jerome be recovered using the principles of Textual criticism as a basis for a new official translation of the Bible into Latin.[14] This revision ultimately led to the Nova Vulgata issued by Pope John Paul II in 1979.[15] This final revision was intended to be a correction to the Vulgate based on the critical Greek and Hebrew edition, while retaining as much as possible of the Vulgate's language.

Comparison of John 3:16 in different Latin versions

Translation John 3:16
Vulgate Sic enim dilexit Deus mundum, ut Filium suum unigenitum daret, ut omnis qui credit in eum non pereat, sed habeat vitam æternam.
Theodore Beza Ita enim Deus dilexit mundum, ut Filium suum unigenitum illum dederit, ut quisquis credit in eum, non pereat, sed habeat vitam æternam.
Sebastian Castellio Sic enim amavit Deus mundum, ut filium suum unicum dederit, ut quisquis ei fidem habeat, non pereat, sed vitam obtineat sempiternam.
Neo-Vulgate Sic enim dilexit Deus mundum, ut Filium suum unigenitum daret, ut omnis, qui credit in eum, non pereat, sed habeat vitam aeternam.


  1. Michael E. Stone The Literature of the Jewish People in the Period of the Second Temple and the Talmud: (2006) chapter 9 (“The Latin Translations”) by Benjamin Kedar "Traces of Jewish Traditions - Since all indications point to the fact that the OL is not the product of a single effort, the question arises whether strands of pristine translations, or at least early interpretative traditions can be detected in it. ... A priori one may feel entitled to presume that Jewish Bible translations into Latin existed in relatively early times. It had been the custom of the Jews before the period under review to translate biblical books into their vernacular; such translations, sometimes made orally but frequently also written down, were needed for public reading in the synagogue and for the instruction of the young. Indeed, a number of scholars are inclined to believe that the OL has at its base pre-Christian translations made from the Hebrew. The proofs they adduce are, however, far from conclusive. Isolated linguistic or exegetic points of contact with Jewish idioms or targumic renderings do not necessarily prove a direct connection between the ol, or its early sections, and Jewish traditions."
  2. Helmut Köster Introduction to the New Testament 2 2000 p34 "An early witness for the African text of the Vetus Latina is Codex Palatinus 1 1 85 (siglum "e") from the 5th century, a gospel codex with readings closely related to the quotations in Cyprian and Augustine."
  3. Gaertner, JA (1956), "Latin verse translations of the psalms 1500–1620", Harvard Theological Review, 49 (4): 271–305, doi:10.1017/S0017816000028303. Includes list: Latin metrical translations of books of the Bible other than the psalms by author and year of f1rst edition (1494–1621);
  4. Gaertner, J. A Latin verse translations of the psalms 1500-1620. Harvard Theological Review 49 1956. "A good example of such a buried and forgotten literary genre is offered by the multitude of metrical Bible translations into Latin that appeared during the :6th century and after a hundred years ceased to exist as abruptly as it had..."
  5. Grant, WL Neo-Latin verse translations of the Bible. Harvard Theological Review 52 1959
  6. Hugues Vaganay, Les Traductions du psautier en vers latins au XVie siecle, Freiburg, 1898
  7. Ed. S. L. Greenslade The Cambridge History of the Bible, Volume 3: The West from the Reformation to the Present Day 1975 p.70 “The hebraist Sebastian Münster of Basle departed from the extreme literalism of Pagnini in his own Latin version of the Old Testament: he left aside the New Testament. While it 'did not depart by a nail's breadth from the Hebrew verity', this version was written in better Latin: it accompanied the Hebrew text of Münster referred to above. It appeared in 1535 in two folio volumes and was reprinted in quarto size in 1539 accompanied by the Complutensian version of the Apocrypha and by Erasmus's Latin New Testament, and then again in its original form in 1546. This version gave an impetus to Old Testament study similar to that which Erasmus had given to the study of the New Testament…”
  8. Ed. S. L. Greenslade The Cambridge History of the Bible, Volume 3: The West from the Reformation to the Present Day 1975 p.62 “Calvin's successor at Geneva, Théodore de Bèze (Beza), was the editor of the next important edition of the Greek New Testament, which appeared in 1565 (his own Latin version had been printed in 1557) and went through many editions in folio and octavo, accompanied in the larger size by his own Latin version; the Vulgate and full annotations are included.”
  9. Buisson, Ferdinand (1892). "Les deux traductions de la Bible, en latin (1550) en français (1555)". Sébastien Castellion, sa vie et son oeuvre (1515-1563) : étude sur les origines du protestantisme libéral français (in French). Paris: Librairie Hachette. p. 294. Retrieved 2020-05-25.
  10. Gueunier, Nicole (2008). "Le Cantique des cantiques dans la Bible Latine de Castellion". In Gomez-Géraud, Marie-Christine (ed.). Biblia (in French). Presses Paris Sorbonne. p. 148. ISBN 9782840505372.
  11. Ed. S. L. Greenslade The Cambridge History of the Bible, Volume 3: The West from the Reformation to the Present Day 1975 p.71-72
  12. Ed. S. L. Greenslade The Cambridge History of the Bible, Volume 3: The West from the Reformation to the Present Day 1975 p.72
  13. Ed. S. L. Greenslade The Cambridge History of the Bible, Volume 3: The West from the Reformation to the Present Day 1975 p.167 “The latter, to which they probably resorted more than to any other single book, contained (in the later editions which they used) Tremellius's Latin version of the Hebrew Old Testament with a commentary, Junius's Latin of the Apocrypha, Tremellius's Latin of the Syriac New Testament and Beza's Latin of the Greek New Testament.”
  14. Vulgate, Revision of, Catholic Encyclopedia article.
  15. Novum Testamentum Latine, 1984, "Praefatio in editionem primam".