The King James Bible vs. the Catholic Bible

The King James Bible vs. the Catholic Bible

We have written extensively on the King James Bible’s preeminence in Christianity. First published in 1611, this “greatest book ever written by committee” has become a cornerstone not just of Christianity but of Christendom as a whole, influencing the entire English language in manners large and small. To this day, it is still the most widely read translation of the Bible in the United States and one of the best-selling translations of the Bible around the world.

Conspicuous by its absence when we write about the position of the KJV, however, is the largest denomination of Christianity in the world. The Roman Catholic Church, with over a billion adherents, does not make the same use of the King James Bible as Protestant and evangelical denominations so often do. This significant difference has led many Christians to wonder: if their Catholic brethren don’t hold the King James Bible dear, what do they read instead? Over the years, you may have heard such claims as “the Catholics have their own Bible” or even that “Catholics don’t read the Bible.” We hope to clarify the differences between the King James Bible and what we can call “the Catholic Bible,” and underscore the importance of Scripture throughout Christianity.

Understanding Sola Scriptura

Before comparing the KJV with Catholic translations, it’s important to go back to the Protestant Reformation of 16th-century western Europe. Martin Luther, who initiated the Reformation with his 95 theses, also held that there were five solae: theological principles that deviated from the teachings of the Catholic Church by stating that certain acts alone were all that were necessary. Sola fide, “by faith alone,” is perhaps the best-known juncture of Catholic and Protestant teaching, wherein Protestants maintain that faith alone, not faith in conjunction with good works, is necessary for salvation.

Just as important, however, is the concept of sola scriptura, or “by Scripture alone.” This means that the books of the Bible, not any intermediaries within the bureaucracy of the church, are the ultimate, solitary, and infallible authority on Christianity—an authority that should be readily accessible to all Christians. Luther was concerned that the Catholic Church’s emphasis on rituals, pageantry, and extra-Biblical traditions were obscuring the truth of God’s word, and that studying the Bible without these ecclesiastical traditions—and without the confounding variable of a clergyman—was the only way to understand it.

This principle, timed with Johannes Guternberg’s release of the printing press, encouraged Christians to read the Bible for themselves rather than rely upon the clergy and encouraged widespread literacy among Christians in order to do so. In the process, sola scriptura dispensed with many of the rituals and traditions of the Catholic Church and, in turn, made a tradition of closely and regularly reading the Bible—one that lives on today.

The Vulgate, the Apocrypha, and Deuterocanonical Books

The Catholic Church’s translation of the texts that make up the books of the Bible is better known as the Vulgate, from the Latin versio vulgata, or “common version.” This was a translation of the Hebrew Bible and the books of the New Testament into Latin for the use of the Roman Catholic Church, which used Latin exclusively at Mass until the Second Vatican Council, or Vatican II, permitted the use of vernacular languages in 1965. Today, the Catholic Church uses the Nova Vulgata, or New Vulgate, as its official text, with vernacular Bibles finding use locally. English-speaking Catholics often use the Jerusalem Bible or New Jerusalem Bible.

“The Catholic Bible” is a bit of a misnomer. The term almost suggests that the oldest Christian church has a scripture of its own separate from the rest of Christianity. While there are some discrepancies in translation and arrangement between Catholic and Protestant editions of the Bible, a “Catholic Bible” is still a Christian Bible. That being said, there are important differences. While the King James Bible contains 39 books in the Old Testament, the Vulgate and its translations contain 46 books. These additional seven books, which Protestants consider non-canonical, are a full part of the Old Testament in Catholic editions of the Bible. In the Luther Bible, the King James Bible, and other Protestant editions, these books, called the Apocrypha, are a section between testaments, an appendix following the conclusion of the New Testament, or omitted altogether. The Catholic Church regards these additional books as “deuterocanonical,” or part of a second canon, which Protestant churches do not observe. Because the Tanakh has never included these books, nor do the books of the New Testament cite them as they do other books of the Old Testament, Protestant theologians regard the Apocrypha with suspicion.

Can Catholics Read the King James Bible?

Of course. It is, after all, a free country. While the Catholic Church does not use the King James Version at Mass and recommends that Catholics read a Bible that contains all 73 books that the Church considers canonical, many curious Catholics, breaking free from the stereotype that personal Bible study is not necessary, explore the KJV at home to appreciate its verbiage and scholarship. The matter of the King James Bible versus a Catholic Bible may be one we can resolve. Catholic editions of the King James Version are now available, featuring the deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament in their traditional Catholic order rather than as an Apocrypha appendix or left on the cutting-room floor. While the Church has not authorized these editions, they do facilitate an appreciation for the prose of the King James Version for Catholics who would otherwise be unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the Protestant presentation of the Testaments.

If you would prefer to read the King James Bible as intended, however, with both the canonical Protestant texts and a lovely presentation, one that will last for generations with proper care, peruse our catalog for a leather-bound KJV bible. These premium leather Bibles, like the 1611 publication within them, will truly stand the test of time. With study Bibles, reference Bibles, and wide-margin and large-print editions to enhance the reading experience and devotion to daily reading, you can make the most of the King James Bible and all the beauty it has to offer.

The King James Bible vs. the Catholic Bible