Monday, November 20, 2023

Today on the Christian History Almanac, we head to the mailbag to answer a question about the New Jerusalem bible.

It is the 20th of November, 2023. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.


A happy Monday to you all. We are dejected in USC land, but as long as somebody beats Michigan, all will be okay.

I got a question from Micah in Clarksville, Tennessee- that, of course, is the city near the border of Kentucky that refers to itself as the “Queen of the Cumberland” and the “gateway to the New South.” Named after a General in the Revolutionary War- who was the brother of William Clark (of Lewis and Clark fame) and the place where the Monkees will meet you at 4:30 if you indeed take the “Last Train To Clarksville.”

Micah asks, “Growing up in a non-religious home, I do remember seeing the New Jerusalem Bible on the shelf. I would be interested in hearing about this particular translation”.

 Micah- yes! It’s a good story. The first thing I would wonder about either of your parents is if they grew up outside of America- in another English-speaking country and had some connection to the Roman Catholic Church.

The New Jerusalem Bible is a 1985 update from the 1956 original. Here’s the backstory- until around the beginning of last century, you did not have the glut of  English Bible translations you have today. If you were a Protestant, you had the King James, and if you were a Catholic, you had the Douay-Rheims version (an English translation of the Latin Vulgate).  

The 20th century saw an explosion of new translations, partly because of new texts coming to light (nothing that changed the sense and meaning of the Scriptures- but more accurate readings based on older manuscripts). This was first the domain of the Protestants. Still, in 1943, Pope Pius XII issued an encyclical saying that Catholics should use the original Greek and Hebrew for biblical studies- realizing that the Vulgate was treasured but not as accurate (the Vulgate and King James have a lot in common here). And so, a group of French Dominicans at the French School of the Bible and Archaeology in Jerusalem began their massive project. In 1948, they published a 43-volume collection of the text translated from the original languages into French and a massive commentary. A truly jumbo-sized study Bible. They would condense it into one volume in 1954.

English scholars wanted the notes to be accessible for scholars and had the one volume translated from French (from the original languages) into English. It was meant to be a conduit for the notes, but the language became a hit- it’s the first major Bible project to ditch the “thee” and the “thou” and was meant to be read by the laity (we are far from the Catholic Church of the Reformation). It omits the very likely faulty reading in 1 John 5 (the Johannine Comma with reference to the Trinity). Back in Isaiah, the translation uses “maiden” instead of Virgin while noting that Greek versions do use “Virgin.” The Longer ending of Mark is noted to be a likely later addition, and the story of the woman caught in adultery is bracketed as it is not in the earliest texts. The divine name is printed as “Yahweh” instead of the LORD in all caps, but the text notes you may use LORD if that is more comfortable. 

In 1985 they updated the Jerusalem Bible into the New Jerusalem Bible and made gender-appropriate inclusion when suggested by the text (“brothers and sisters” instead of just “brothers”.

In the introduction, we read that the translators wanted a good critical edition that was non-sectarian. While it’s a noble thought, an example from Romans 5- when Abraham is counted as righteous on account of his faith, the note gives the protestant and catholic reading of the text and notes that the Protestant reading (that of an imputation of Righteousness is called “incompatible with Paul’s teaching on the whole and thus rejected).

It’s a Bible- the Jerusalem and New Jerusalem- that reflects the progressive Catholic Church in the last century- the church of Vatican II. Think of those Bibles as faithful modern Catholic versions.

Also, a fun fact: J.R.R. Tolkien was on the committee that translated the original and worked extensively on the book of Jonah. You can see and read a copy for free at the Internet Archive at (my favorite site on the Internet).

Thanks for the question, Micah! You can send me your questions at


The last word for today is from the daily lectionary and a good word from Romans 2:

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 20th of November 2023, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man whose “Queen of the Cumberland” Halloween costume drew some controversy- he is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who will go to his grave insisting the Monkees were no mere Beatles spoof but a dang good band. I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

Subscribe to the Christian History Almanac

Subscribe to the Christian History Almanac

Subscribe (it’s free!) in your favorite podcast app.

More From 1517