The Vulgate

Concise Bible Dictionary:

This is the name usually given to the Latin version of the scriptures, signifying that it is commonly received, and it is the book used and accredited by the Romish church; but there was a Latin version long before that church assumed any authority: indeed the apostle Paul wrote (about A.D. 58) that for “many years” he had desired to visit the saints at Rome, and it is probable that during those many years the saints there had early copies of the Old Testament in the Latin tongue, and of the New Testament as the Gospels and the Epistles came into existence.
It is known by the evidence of Jerome [346-420] and Augustine [354-430] that in the fourth century there was a great variety of Latin interpretations, though more modern scholars have judged that many of them may be traced to some one unknown recension.
Augustine, however, judged that one of them differed from the rest in its clearness and fidelity, and it was distinguished by the name of Itala or Italic. This has led to the earliest Latin codices being associated with Italy, where, as already observed, there were certainly assemblies in the days of the apostles (Heb. 13:2424Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you. (Hebrews 13:24)).
Some nevertheless, by comparing the earliest copies with the writings of the Latin Fathers, are convinced that the primitive translation into Latin was of African origin. This opinion was accepted by Lachmann, Tischendorf, Davidson and Tregelles; but others still refer the translation to Italy. May there not have been one made in each place?
The principal MSS quoted by the Editors as dating before the time of Jerome (called Old Latin as well as Italic, though the distinction is not clearly marked) are
a. Cod. Vercellensis. Contains the Gospels. Century 4.
b. Cod. Veronensis. The Gospels. A little later than a., a good specimen of the Old Latin.
c. Cod. Colbertinus. All the New Testament, but only the Gospels in the Old Latin. 11.
d. Cod. Bezae. The Latin that accompanies the Greek D., the Gospels, Acts 6 or 7.
d. Cod. Claromontanus. Paul’s Epistles of the same. 6 or 7. It ranks higher than the Gospels and Acts.
e. Cod. Palatinus. The Gospels. 4 or 5. A mixed text.
e. Cod. Laudianus. The Acts of the Greek Codex E.
e. Cod. Sangermanensis. Paul’s Epistles. The Latin text of the Greek Codex E, but is judged to be a copy of d.
g. Cod. Boernerianus. Paul’s Epistles. The Latin interlinear text of the Greek Codex G. 9 or 10.
h. Cod. Claromontanus. The Gospels, but Matthew only is the Old Latin. 4 or 5.
k. Cod. Bobbiensis. Parts of Matthew and Mark. Judged by some to be the oldest representative of the African type. 4 or 5.
m. From a “speculum,” a remarkable ancient work. It contains a number of doctrines as heads, under which are quoted passages from the Old Testament and New Testament without note or comment. The text is considered to be generally African as distinguished from Italic. It contains twice 1 John 5:77For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. (1 John 5:7), known as “the heavenly witnesses.” 6 or 7.
There are many other portions, some of which are described as European, but it is judged impossible to class some either as African, European, or Italian.
In the fourth century, the Latin copies having multiplied, with obvious corruptions in some of them, a revision was deemed necessary, and Damasus, Bishop of Rome, laid the duty upon Jerome.
Jerome saw the difficulties he would have to encounter in the prejudices that such a work would excite, nevertheless it had to be done. He said there were errors “by false transcription, by clumsy corrections, and by careless interpolations.” The evils could only be remedied by going back to the original Greek.
The Gospels having suffered most, he began with them, not, however, making a new translation, but revising the Old Latin. His revision of the Gospels appeared in A.D. 384, with his preface to Damasus, who died in the same year. It is probable that he completed the rest of the New Testament in 385.
In his Commentary on Galatians, Ephesians, Titus, and Philemon, in 386, he acted as a translator with more freedom than he had exercised as a reviser. And in his new version of the Old Testament, except the Psalms, which had been made from the LXX, he translated from the Hebrew. Of this freedom Augustine disapproved. The people generally resisted alterations: quite a commotion in a church is recorded, the prophet Jonah being read, because Jerome had used the word hedera, “ivy,” in his translation, for they had been accustomed to the word cucurbita, “gourd.” But the agitation gradually subsided.
In the 400 years that followed, as the MS copies multiplied so did the errors, until Charlemagne sought a remedy in getting Alcuin to revise the text for public use. This was accomplished about A.D. 802: and was called Charlemagne’s Bible. A copy of this is in the British Museum, but is of later date than Charlemagne.
Copies still increased, and variations were again multiplied; and as soon as printing was invented, several editions were published, all more or less differing. At length the Popes undertook to prepare a correct edition, it was finished by Sixtus V. in 1590, but this proved to be so incorrect, that others were contemplated. In 1592 Clement VIII. published one, and in 1593 another, and in 1598 a third, with a list of errata for the three. The modern printed copies bear the date of 1592. In giving the Vulgate as an authority for various readings in the New Testament the printed editions are not often referred to, but the manuscripts that are still in existence of Jerome’s revision. The principal of these are:—
am. Cod. Amiatinus, containing the whole Bible. Centruy 6.
fuld. Cod. Fuldensis. The New Testament. Century 6.
tol. Cod. Toletanus. The whole Bible, in Gothic letters.
for. Cod. Forojuliensis. Portions of the Gospels.
per. Fragments of Luke.
Karl. Cod. Harleian. The Gospels. Century 7.
With portions and fragments of many others.
c. Cod. COLBERTINUS. Cumque se erexisset Jesus, dixit ad mulierem: Ubi sunt? nemo te condemnavit? Quae dixit, Nemo Domine. Dixit autem illi Jesus: Nec ego te condemnabo: Vade, et ex hoc jam noli peccare.
e. Cod. PALATINUS. Cum adlevasset autern capud ihs dixit ei. mulier ubi sunt nemo te judicavit. Dixit et illa nemo dne dixit autem ihs ad illam nee ego te judico. i et amplius noli peccare.
am. Cod. AMIATINUS. Erigens autem se Jesus dixit ei mulier, ubi Bunt? nemote condemnavit? Que dixit, Nemo domine. Dixit autem Jesus Nec ego te condemnabo: vade et amplius jam noli peccare.
This passage gives an illustration of how the Old Latin, preserved in the Vulgate, may be the means of authenticating true readings that would otherwise be condemned because of the supposed preponderance (of weight, not number) of Greek MSS against it. Augustine (A.D. 354-430) and Nicon (cent. x.) both gave as the reason why this passage was omitted that it was thought to give a license to sin!
The Latin text therefore should not be ignored simply because it has been adopted by Rome. It existed long before papal supremacy and for many centuries was the only copy of the New Testament that was available to the mass of Christians, and was largely used by the Reformers until they could obtain a copy of the Greek, and were able to read it.