Douay–Rheims Bible

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Douai bible - Old Testament (1609)

The Douay–Rheims Bible (pronounced /ˌd/ or /ˌd. ˈrmz/[1]) (also known as the Rheims–Douai Bible or Douai Bible, and abbreviated as D–R and DV) is a translation of the Bible from the Latin Vulgate into English made by members of the English College, Douai, in the service of the Catholic Church.[2] The New Testament portion was published in Reims, France, in 1582, in one volume with extensive commentary and notes. The Old Testament portion was published in two volumes thirty years later by the University of Douai. The first volume, covering Genesis through Job, was published in 1609; the second, covering Psalms to 2 Machabees plus the apocrypha of the Clementine Vulgate was published in 1610. Marginal notes took up the bulk of the volumes and had a strong polemical and patristic character. They offered insights on issues of translation, and on the Hebrew and Greek source texts of the Vulgate.

The purpose of the version, both the text and notes, was to uphold Catholic tradition in the face of the Protestant Reformation which up till then had overwhelmingly dominated Elizabethan religion and academic debate. As such it was an impressive effort by English Catholics to support the Counter-Reformation. The New Testament was reprinted in 1600, 1621 and 1633. The Old Testament volumes were reprinted in 1635 but neither thereafter for another hundred years. In 1589, William Fulke collated the complete Rheims text and notes in parallel columns with those of the Bishops' Bible. This work sold widely in England, being re-issued in three further editions to 1633. It was predominantly through Fulke's editions that the Rheims New Testament came to exercise a significant influence on the development of 17th century English.[3]

Much of the text of the 1582/1610 bible employed a densely latinate vocabulary, to the extent of being in places unreadable. Consequently this translation was replaced by a revision undertaken by bishop Richard Challoner; the New Testament in three editions 1749, 1750, and 1752; the Old Testament (minus the Vulgate apocrypha), in 1750. Although retaining the title Douay–Rheims Bible, the Challoner revision was a new version, tending to take as its base text the King James Bible[4] rigorously checked and extensively adjusted for improved readability and consistency with the Clementine edition of the Vulgate. Subsequent editions of the Challoner revision, of which there have been very many, reproduce his Old Testament of 1750 with very few changes. Challoner's New Testament was, however, extensively revised by Bernard MacMahon in a series of Dublin editions from 1783 to 1810. These Dublin versions are the source of some Challoner bibles printed in the United States in the 19th century. Subsequent editions of the Challoner Bible printed in England most often follow Challoner's earlier New Testament texts of 1749 and 1750, as do most 20th-century printings and on-line versions of the Douay–Rheims bible circulating on the internet.

Although the Jerusalem Bible, New American Bible/New American Bible Revised Edition (in the United States), the Revised Standard Version, the New Revised Standard Version and the New Jerusalem Bible are the most commonly used in English-speaking Catholic churches, the Challoner revision of the Douay–Rheims is still often the Bible of choice of more traditional English-speaking Catholics.


Main article: University of Douai
Colleges at University of Douai

The English exiles for religious causes, or recusants, were not all Catholic. There were Catholic refugees on the European mainland as well as Puritan, and from the one, as from the other, there proceeded an English version of the Bible. The center of English Catholicism was the English College at Douai (University of Douai, France) founded in 1568 by William Allen, formerly of Queen's College, Oxford, and Canon of York, and subsequently cardinal, for the purpose of training priests to convert the English again to Catholicism. And it was here where the Catholic translation of the Bible into English was produced.

A run of a few hundred or more of the New Testament, in quarto form (not large folio), was published in the last months of 1582 (Herbert #177), during a temporary migration of the college to Rheims; consequently, it has been commonly known as the Rheims New Testament. Though he died in the same year as its publication, this translation was principally the work of Gregory Martin, formerly Fellow of St. John's College, Oxford, close friend of Saint Edmund Campion. He was assisted by others at Douai, notably Allen, Richard Bristow, and Thomas Worthington, who proofed and provided notes and annotations. The Old Testament is stated to have been ready at the same time but, for want of funds, it could not be printed until later, after the college had returned to Douai. It is commonly known as the Douay Old Testament. It was issued as two quarto volumes dated 1609 and 1610 (Herbert #300). Surprisingly these first New Testament and Old Testament editions followed the Geneva Bible not only in their quarto format but also in the use of Roman type.

Title page from the 1582 Douai–Rheims New Testament, transcribed into Modern English "specially for the discovery of the corruptions of divers late translations, and for clearing the controversies in religion."

As a recent translation, the Rheims New Testament had an influence on the translators of the King James Version (see below). Afterwards it ceased to be of interest in the Anglican church. The city is now spelled Douai, but the Bible continues to be published as the Douay–Rheims Bible and has formed the basis of some later Catholic Bibles in English.

The title page runs: "The Holy Bible, faithfully translated into English out of the authentic Latin. Diligently conferred with the Hebrew, Greek and other Editions." The cause of the delay was "our poor state of banishment," but there was also the matter of reconciling the Latin to the other editions. William Allen went to Rome and worked, with others, on the revision of the Vulgate. The Sixtine Vulgate edition was published in 1590. The definitive Clementine text followed in 1592. These revisions of the Vulgate allowed Dr Worthington, in the preface, to say: "we have again conferred this English translation and conformed it to the most perfect Latin Edition."[5]

Douay–Rheims Bible style[edit]

The Douay–Rheims Bible is a translation of the Latin Vulgate, which is itself a translation from Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The Vulgate was largely created due to the efforts of Saint Jerome (345–420), whose translation was declared to be the authentic Latin version of the Bible by the Council of Trent. While the Catholic scholars "conferred" with the Hebrew and Greek originals, as well as with "other editions in diverse languages,"[6] their avowed purpose was to translate after a strongly literal manner from the Latin Vulgate, for reasons of accuracy as stated in their Preface and which tended to produce, in places, stilted syntax and Latinisms. The following short passage (Ephesians 3:6–12), is a fair example, admittedly without updating the spelling conventions then in use:

The Gentils to be coheires and concorporat and comparticipant of his promis in Christ JESUS by the Gospel: whereof I am made a minister according to the gift of the grace of God, which is given me according to the operation of his power. To me the least of al the sainctes is given this grace, among the Gentils to evangelize the unsearcheable riches of Christ, and to illuminate al men what is the dispensation of the sacrament hidden from worldes in God, who created al things: that the manifold wisedom of God, may be notified to the Princes and Potestats in the celestials by the Church, according to the prefinition of worldes, which he made in Christ JESUS our Lord. In whom we have affiance and accesse in confidence, by the faith of him.

Elsewhere, however, the English wording of the Rheims New Testament follows more or less closely the Protestant version first produced by William Tyndale in 1525, though the base text for the Rheims translators appears to be the revision of Tyndale found in an English and Latin diglot New Testament, published by Miles Coverdale in Paris in 1538. Furthermore, the translators are especially accurate in their rendition of the definite article from Greek to English, and in their recognition of subtle distinctions of the Greek past tense, neither of which are capable of being represented in Latin. Consequently, the Rheims New Testament is much less of a new version, and owes rather more to the original languages, than the translators admit in their preface. Where the Rheims translators depart from the Coverdale text, they frequently adopt readings found in the Wycliff bible, as this version had been translated from the Vulgate, and had been widely used by English Catholic churchmen unaware of its Lollard origins.

Nevertheless, it was a translation of a translation of the Bible. Many highly regarded translations of the Bible still use the Vulgate for consultation, especially in certain difficult Old Testament passages, but nearly all modern Bible versions go directly to the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek biblical texts for translation, and not to a secondary version like the Vulgate. (The reason that the translators preferred the Vulgate, in many cases, was explained in their Preface, pointing to assorted corruptions of various 'original' texts available in that era, to assertions that St. Jerome had access to manuscripts that were later destroyed, and to the Council of Trent’s decree that the Vulgate was free of doctrinal error.)

In their decision consistently to apply latinate language, rather than everyday English, to render religious terminology, the Rheims–Douay translators continued a tradition established by Thomas More and Stephen Gardiner in their criticisms of the biblical translations of William Tyndale. Gardiner indeed had himself applied these principles in 1535 to produce a heavily revised version, which unfortunately has not survived, of Tyndale's translations of the Gospels of Luke and John. More and Gardiner had argued that Latin terms were more precise in meaning than their English equivalents, and consequently should be retained in Englished form to avoid ambiguity. However, David Norton observes that the Rheims–Douay version extends the principle much further. In the preface to the Rheims New Testament the translators criticise the Geneva Bible for their policy of striving always for a rendering of the biblical text in clear and understandable English:

... we presume not in hard places to modifie the speaches or phrases, but religiously keepe them word for word, and point for point, for feare of missing or restraining the sense of the holy Ghost to our phantasie.

This adds to More and Gardiner the opposite argument, that previous versions in standard English had improperly imputed clear meanings for obscure passages in the Greek source text where the Latin Vulgate had often tended to rather render the Greek literally, even to the extent of generating improper Latin constructions. In effect, the Rheims translators argue that, where the source text is ambiguous or obscure, then a faithful English translation should also be ambiguous or obscure, with the options for understanding the text discussed in a marginal note.

The translation was prepared with a definite polemical purpose in opposition to Protestant translations (which also had polemical motives). The notes and annotations reflected Catholic positions. The Tridentine–Florentine Biblical canon was naturally used, with the Deuterocanonical books incorporated into the Douay–Rheims Old Testament, and only 3 Esdras, 4 Esdras and the Prayer of Manasses in the Apocrypha section.


In England the Protestant William Fulke ironically popularized the Douay Rheims bible through his collation of the Rheims New Testament and annotations in parallel columns alongside the 1572 Protestant Bishops' Bible. Not only did Douay-Rheims influence Catholics, but also it had a substantive influence on the later creation of the King James Bible. The Authorized Version is distinguished from previous English Protestant versions by a greater tendency to employ Latinate vocabulary, and the translators were able to find many such terms (for example: emulation Romans 11:14) in the Rheims New Testament. Consequently, a number of the latinisms of the Douay–Rheims, through their use in the King James Bible, have entered standard literary English. Douay-Rheims would go on through several reprintings on both sides of the continent.

The translators of the Rheims New Testament appended a list of neologisms in their work, including many latinate terms that have since become assimilated into standard English. Examples include "acquisition", "adulterate", "advent", "allegory", "verity", "calumniate", "character", "cooperate", "prescience", "resuscitate", "victim", and "evangelise". While such English may have been generated through independent creation, nevertheless the totality demonstrates a lasting influence on the development of English vocabulary. In addition the editors chose to transliterate rather than translate a number of technical Greek or Hebrew terms, such as "azymes" for unleavened bread, and "pasch" for Passover. Few of these have been assimilated into standard English. One that has is "holocaust" for burnt offering.

Challoner Revision of the Douay–Rheims Bible [edit]


The Douay–Rheims Bible achieved little currency, even among English-speaking Catholics, until it was substantially revised between 1749 and 1752 by Richard Challoner, an English bishop, formally appointed to the deserted see of Debra. Challoner's revisions borrowed heavily from the King James Version (being a convert from Protestantism to Catholicism and thus familiar with its style). The use of the Rheims New Testament by the translators of the King James Bible is discussed below. Challoner not only addressed the odd prose and much of the Latinisms, but produced a version which, while still called the Douay–Rheims, was little like it. At the same time he aimed for improved readability and comprehensibility, rephrasing obscure and obsolete terms and construction and, in the process, consistently removing ambiguities of meaning that the original Rheims–Douay version had striven to retain.

The same passage of Ephesians (3:6–12) in Challoner's revision gives a hint of the thorough stylistic editing he did of the text:

That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs and of the same body: and copartners of his promise in Christ Jesus, by the gospel, of which I am made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God, which is given to me according to the operation of his power. To me, the least of all the saints, is given this grace, to preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ: and to enlighten all men, that they may see what is the dispensation of the mystery which hath been hidden from eternity in God who created all things: that the manifold wisdom of God may be made known to the principalities and powers in heavenly places through the church, according to the eternal purpose which he made in Christ Jesus our Lord: in whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him.


For comparison, the same passage of Ephesians in the King James Bible and the 1534 Tyndale Version, which influenced the King James Bible:

That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord: in whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him.


That the gentiles should be inheritors also, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise that is in Christ, by the means of the gospel, whereof I am made a minister, by the gift of the grace of God given unto me, through the working of his power. Unto me the least of all saints is this grace given, that I should preach among the gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all men see what the fellowship of the mystery is which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God which made all things through Jesus Christ, to the intent, that now unto the rulers and powers in heaven might be known by the congregation the manifold wisdom of God, according to that eternal purpose, which he purposed in Christ Jesu our Lord, by whom we are bold to draw near in that trust, which we have by faith on him.



Challoner issued a New Testament edition in 1749. He followed this with an edition of the whole bible in 1750, making some 200 further changes to the New Testament. He issued a further version of the New Testament in 1752, in which differed in about 2,000 readings from the 1750 edition, and which remained the base text for further editions of the bible in Challoner's lifetime. In all three editions the extensive notes and commentary of the 1582/1610 original were drastically reduced, resulting in a compact one-volume edition of the Bible, which contributed greatly to its popularity. Gone also was the longer paragraph formatting of the text; instead, the text was broken up so that each verse was its own paragraph. The three apocrypha, which had been placed in an appendix to the second volume of the Old Testament, were dropped. Subsequent editions of the Challoner revision, of which there have been very many, reproduce his Old Testament of 1750 with very few changes.

Challoner's 1752 New Testament was extensively further revised by Bernard MacMahon in a series of Dublin editions from 1783 to 1810, for the most part adjusting the text away from agreement with that of the King James Bible, and these various Dublin versions are the source of many, but not all, Challoner versions printed in the United States in the 19th century. Editions of the Challoner Bible printed in England sometimes follow one or another of the revised Dublin New Testament texts, but more often tend to follow Challoner's earlier editions of 1749 and 1750 (as do most 20th-century printings, and on-line versions of the Douay–Rheims bible circulating on the internet).

This Challoner version, officially approved by the Church, remained the Bible of the majority of English-speaking Catholics well into the 20th century. It was first published in America in 1790 by Mathew Carey of Philadelphia. Several American editions followed in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, prominent among them an edition published in 1899 by the John Murphy Company of Baltimore. In 1941 the New Testament and Psalms of the Douay–Rheims Bible were again heavily revised to produce the New Testament (and in some editions, the Psalms) of the Confraternity Bible. However, so extensive were these changes, that it was no longer identified as the Douay–Rheims.

Challoner's 1749 revision of the Rheims New Testament borrowed heavily from the King James Version.

Names of books[edit]

The names, numbers, and chapters of the Douay–Rheims Bible and the Challoner revision follow that of the Vulgate and therefore differ from those of the King James Version and its modern successors, making direct comparison of versions tricky in some places. For instance, the books called Ezra and Nehemiah in the King James Version are called 1 and 2 Esdras in the Douay–Rheims Bible. The books called 1 and 2 Esdras in the KJV are called 3 and 4 Esdras in the Douay, and were classed as apocrypha. A table illustrating the differences can be found here.

The names, numbers, and order of the books in the Douay–Rheims Bible follow those of the Vulgate except that the three apocryphal books are placed after the Old Testament in the Douay–Rheims Bible; in the Clementine Vulgate they come after the New Testament. These three apocrypha are omitted entirely in the Challoner revision.

The Psalms of the Douay–Rheims Bible follow the numbering of the Vulgate and the Septuagint, whereas those in the KJB follow that of Masoretic Text. For details of the differences see the article on the Psalms. A summary list is shown below:

Enumeration used by the Douay–Rheims Version, taken from the Vulgate Enumeration used by KJV and most modern English bibles; taken from the Masoretic Text.
9 9–10
10–112 11–113
113 114–115
114–115 116
116–145 117–146
146–147 147

The Douay–Rheims’ Version’s influence on the King James Bible[edit]

The Old Testament "Douay" translation of the Latin Vulgate arrived too late on the scene to have played any part in influencing the King James Bible.[7] The Rheims New Testament had, however, been available for twenty years. In the form of William Fulke's parallel version, it was readily accessible. Nevertheless, the official instructions to the King James Bible translators excluded the Rheims version from the list of previous English translations that should be consulted, probably deliberately.

The degree to which the King James Bible drew on the Rheims version has, therefore, been the subject of considerable debate; with James G Carleton in his book The Part of the Rheims in the making of the English Bible[8] arguing for a very extensive influence, while Charles C Butterworth proposed that the actual influence was small, relative to those of the Bishops' Bible and the Geneva Bible.

Fortunately, much of this debate was resolved in 1969, when Ward Allen published a partial transcript of the minutes made by John Bois of the proceedings of the General Committee of Review for the King James Bible (i.e., the supervisory committee which met in 1610 to review the work of each of the separate translation 'companies'). Bois records the policy of the review committee in relation to a discussion of 1 Peter 1:7 "we have not thought the indefinite sense ought to be defined"; which reflects the strictures expressed by the Rheims translators against concealing ambiguities in the original text. Allen shows that in several places, notably in the reading "manner of time" at Revelation 13:8, the reviewers incorporated a reading from the Rheims text specifically in accordance with this principle. More usually, however, the King James Version handles obscurity in the source text by supplementing their preferred clear English formulation with a literal translation as a marginal note. Bois shows that many of these marginal translations are derived, more or less modified, from the text or notes of the Rheims New Testament; indeed Rheims is explicitly stated as the source for the marginal reading at Colossians 2:18.

Otherwise the English text of the King James New Testament can often be demonstrated as adopting latinate terminology also found in the Rheims version of the same text. In the majority of cases, these latinisms could also have been derived directly from the versions of Miles Coverdale or the Wyclif Bible (i.e., the source texts for the Rheims translators), but they would have been most readily accessible to the King James translators in Fulke's parallel editions. This also explains the incorporation into the King James Bible from the Rheims New Testament of a number of striking English phrases, such as "publish and blaze abroad" at Mark 1:45.


  1. ^ J. B. Sykes, ed. (1978). "Douai". The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English (Sixth edition 1976, Sixth impression 1978 ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 309. 
  2. ^ Pope, Hugh. "The Origin of the Douay Bible," The Dublin Review, Vol. CXLVII, N°. 294-295, July/October, 1910.
  3. ^ Reid, G. J. "The Evolution of Our English Bible," The American Catholic Quarterly Review, Vol. XXX, 1905.
  4. ^ Newman, John Henry Cardinal. "The Text of the Rheims and Douay Version of Holy Scripture," The Rambler, Vol. I, New Series, Part II, July 1859.
  5. ^ Bernard Orchard, A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, (Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1951). Page 36.
  6. ^ 1582 Rheims New Testament, "Preface to the Reader."
  7. ^ (as noted in Pollard, Dr Alfred W. Records of the English Bible: The Documents Relating to the Translation and Publication of the Bible in English, 1525–1611, London, Oxford University Press, 1911)
  8. ^ Clarendon Press, Oxford 1902


External links[edit]