The Douay-Rheims Bible, Forerunner to the NIV and ESV
My son, fear thou the LORD and the king: and meddle not with them that are given to change, Proverbs 24:21.
The New International Version of the Bible and the English Standard Version respectively known as the NIV and the ESV often trumpet themselves as the long awaited replacement to the King James Bible. In fact, just about every bible coming out makes that claim. In actuality, they are the replacements for the Douay-Rheims Bible which comes from the same family of texts and preceded them by centuries in its ever changing chimeric attempt to present an alternative to the early English Bibles and then to the King James Bible.
The Douay-Rheims Bible was translated while the English-Speaking priests were in exile on fear of death. We need to keep that in mind when examining their work. The New Testament Version was published in 1582 with the Old Testament coming out in 1603. It suffered from terrible orthography, awkward almost unreadable prose and poor scholarship. That is not my judgment. It is the judgment of the next century of Roman Catholic revisers in the next century who started the never ending process of improvisation and improvement.
Keep in mind that 20 years earlier, English Protestant exiles in Geneva, Switzerland had also fled England for fear of their lives. They produced a far superior bible called the Geneva Bible which was far more readable and though it underwent some small revisions, it is still quite readable today in its original form and is a marvel in its textual accuracy.
Each group of translators had fled England. Each group found a safe haven where they had no fear for their lives but were able to access extensive manuscript and linguistic sources. The Geneva translators had a great advantage. They believed that the bible itself was the final authority. They feared no men when they made choices as to wording or text type. The Douay-Rheims translators were bound by Catholic edicts in word choice and choice of text.
The Geneva Bible was good, but not perfect. That led to the translation we know of today as the King James Bible. Since that time, all of hell has inspired countless men to fabricate replacements. The long tortured history of the Douay-Rheims Bible is the true genesis of the NIV, the ESV and the myriad other bibles jumping up and down to get a place in the market.
One of the myths surrounding the King James Bible is that it too went through many revisions. There is no truth to that. Its critics mistake the occasional work of editors to weed out printing errors that crept in over the long decades and centuries, and did indeed upgrade the font, the punctuation, the spelling, the marginal notes, and improved the italicization. When they were done, the product of the 21st century reads word for word with the handwritten document handed to the King's printer by the translators.
In 1719, Cornelius Nary, a Roman Catholic priest who upon calling the original Douay-Rheims unintelligible in too many places retranslated the Catholic Vulgate into an English Bible.
In 1730, Robert Witham, President of the English College at Douai (Douay) retranslated the Catholic Vulgate again while using the various Greek Texts so favored by new translation adherents today.
In 1733, a quite distinct edition of Witham's bible was published after it having been revised.
1n 1738, the first official replacement for the Douay-Rheims Bible was produced by Richard Challoner. It contained a preface listing "Heretical Corruptions". The Douay-Rheims as a forerunner to the modern translations was keen to exclude such heretical verses. They would be so proud of the legions of mindless Sunday School teachers and Bible School professors who now do that work for them as they warn against the King James Bible and its erroneous textual choices.
Challoner's work was to be revised 6 times between 1738 and 1790. All of that time, the good Catholic was to believe that the Douay-Rheims Bible was a good witness to what the bible actually said when it was written. (As a note here to the purveyors of the NIV and ESV; revise it all you want, history has proven that people don't catch on.) What is the proper place for a witness whose story is always changing? The proper place is the trash heap. There is simply no worse witness in a court of law than a witness whose testimony needs constant correcting.
The next time you hear someone say that its about time the King James Bible was replaced, tell him its about time to quietly upgrade the NIV and the ESV again. They haven't got it right yet, and like their forerunner the Douay-Rheims Bible, they never will.