The Holy Bible - Knox Translation
Msgr Ronald A. Knox
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|Binding:||Hardcover (Black Leather)|
The Knox Bible is the ideal translation for those looking to deepen their understanding of the Holy Scriptures. It was hailed as the finest translation of the 20th Century, approved for liturgical use and was endorsed by Pope Pius XII, Archbishop Fulton Sheen and many more.
In the early 20th century, Msgr. Ronald Knox embarked on an entirely new English Bible. He wanted a Bible that did not merely translate the original but made it read as if an Englishman had written it. His translation is spiritual and literary, graceful and lyrical, making it one of the most beautiful vernacular versions of the Holy Bible.
The unique features of the Knox Bible are:
- Translated from the Latin Vulgate and compared with the Greek and Hebrew texts single handedly by Ronald Knox over nine years.
- Uses timeless English, which is both sacral and reverent.
- Set in a single-column format with verse references placed at the side of the text in order to provide a clear and easily readable Bible.
- The full Bible is now available again for the first time in over 50 years, in an edition from Baronius Press, beautifully bound in leather with gilt edges.
- Included with this new edition is a paperback edition of On Englishing the Bible (5.5" x 8", 72 pages) in which Msgr. Knox describes his account of the ordeal, which manages to be both illuminating and full of his wit. Anyone wishing to know more about Knox's translation – and the problems involved in rendering the sacred Scriptures into the vernacular – will be fascinated to hear from the translator himself how he tackled this mammoth project.
In the high-ceilinged library of an English manor house one rainy day [in 1948], a bony, white-haired priest in an oversized clerical collar tapped away at a portable typewriter. From time to time he paused to knock the ashes out of his pipe against the fireplace or consult one of the fat books stacked on the massive antique table before him. At last he stood up, pulled the paper from his typewriter and closed his reference books with a ceremonious bang. His nine-year labour was finished. Monsignor Ronald Knox had completed his translation of the Catholic Bible.
Time Magazine 1948
The translation of the Bible by Ronald Knox was officially made at the request of the Bishops of England and Wales, although Knox had wanted to try his hand at updating the language of the Bible for some time.
It had been the desire of a succession of bishops for almost a 100 years to create a new Bible translation to replace the Douay Rheims edition. This Bible which had served English speaking Catholics since the time of the reformation had undergone several revisions, but was filled with archaic language, making it incomprehensible in a few places.
Originally, it was hoped that Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman, the most famous convert to Catholicism of the 19th Century would translate the Bible, but this project was never begun. In his book, The Idea of a University, Blessed John Henry Newman pointed out the “great difficulty in combining the two necessary qualities, fidelity to the original and purity in the adopted vernacular.”
Although the Douay translation was much loved and gave many passages of Holy Scripture that are still well-known today, it was felt that the translation was too difficult to understand. A new translation would bring the gospel message to a much wider audience.
The English bishops gave him permission to start just before World War II broke out. It was initially planned that he would report his work to a team of evaluators, but the wartime difficulty of communication made that impractical, so he worked entirely on his own. When it came out after the war, there was some predictable criticism from people who liked either the King James version or Challoner’s revision of the Douay-Rheims. Knox even wrote a small booklet to explain how he had gone about translating the Bible in order to placate the critics.
Knox’s bible also received great acclaim when it was first published. Time magazine called Knox the “man who made the great 20th century bible.”
Even the Archbishop of Canterbury of the time recommended it, and it became the preferred translation of Fulton Sheen. The Bishops were so pleased with the completed version that it was authorized for liturgical use, and the Knox translation of the Bible was used as the official version in the churches of Great Britain, Ireland and Australia for the decade leading up to Vatican II – and the first version sanctioned for liturgical use in England and Wales.
In the early twentieth century with the blessings of most of the English bishops, Msgr. Ronald Knox embarked on an entirely new English Bible. It was to be based upon the Clementine edition of the Latin Vulgate of St. Jerome, but Knox consulted the texts in Greek and Hebrew where necessary in order to ensure the accuracy of the translation.
In his On Englishing the Bible, Msgr. Knox explains how he carried out the mandate given to him by the English hierarchy. He aimed at a Bible that was understandable to modern audiences and yet rooted in Catholic tradition and “written in timeless English”. He wanted a Bible that did not merely translate the original but made it read as if an Englishman had written it.
Novelist Evelyn Waugh remarked about the translation that
It is unquestioned that for the past 300 years the Authorized Version has been the greatest single formative influence in English prose style. But that time is over …. When the Bible ceases, as it is ceasing, to be accepted as a sacred text, it will not long survive for its fine writing. It seems to me probable that in a hundred years' time the only Englishmen who know their Bibles will be Catholics. And they will know it in Msgr. Knox's version.
His three aims were: accuracy, intelligibility, and readability. He was loyal to these principles without sacrificing the rhetorical power of the original and while deliberately keeping a few of the well loved archaisms in the text. He preferred lucidity to poetry, but as one of the finest literary craftsmen of 20th century England he avoided falling into banality.
This was particularly so in his unique respect for the Hebrew Acrostics (starting successive verses with successive letters of the alphabet). Here Monsignor Knox respects the 22 letters of the Hebrew original but starts his verses with successive letters of the English alphabet, usually leaving off X, Y, and Z and one other letter, often Q.
In Lamentations 1, 2, and 4 he completely follows the English order and uses the letters A-V; and in Lamentations 3 he adheres to the tripled Hebrew verses (66 verses) and uses AAA-VVV, i.e. three A verses, then three B verses, etc. (When checking the Knox acrostic Psalms, remember that he is follows the Vulgate numbering of the Psalms which is generally one lower than the English and Hebrew numbering.)
The result is unique. The Knox Bible is firmly rooted in the text of the Clementine Vulgate, the Latin Bible that was the Catholic Church’s official bible for nearly 1,600 years; and yet was Knox was careful to cross check his translation against the Hebrew and Greek texts. In readability and scholarship it firmly belongs to the age of modern bibles.
Fr. Cormac Burke (www.cormacburke.or.ke), who has studied the Knox translation extensively says:
It is an opinion that may have particular application to the pauline epistles. Regarding these I do recall some early critic who, while conceding that Msgr. Knox had certainly made St. Paul intelligible (he was at times barely so in the old Douai-Rheims version), still doubted whether Knox's version really makes Paul say what he actually wanted to say... I am not scripture scholar enough to resolve the question; but am sure that the same doubt can be made extensive to quite a few more recent versions.
In the Old Testament, the Wisdom books are particularly expressive. No translation of the Psalms is going to please everyone. But it is worth examining Psalm 118, for instance, where Msgr. Knox stood fully up to the particular challenge its translation represents. To my mind, the result is a tour de force.
Consider also the Major Prophets. I find the first chapters of Isaiah and of Ezechiel specially remarkable. The poetic tone of the Psalms and other poetic books changes to something more resoundingly epic – as indeed befits prophecy. Prophecy is meant to surprise; it is dramatic and emphatic. And Knox's rendering of Isaiah or Ezechiel – idiosyncratic if at times it be – certainly brings out the solemn force of God's word on the lips of his prophet. It strikes the listener, and one is more inclined to stand up and take notice. As it should be. When working from scanned pages, it is difficult to spot and correct all the errors. The New Testament has been subjected to very careful correction over these years. I will be very grateful to those who point out any errors they spot in the Old Testament.
Pope Pius XII, in a note that he sent to Msgr. Knox shortly before Knox died, called it “a praiseworthy achievement … a monument of many years of patient study and toil.” Novelist and Knox’s fellow convert Evelyn Waugh predicted in the middle of the 20th century, when the literary influence of the King James Bible and its sonorous cadences were waning fast, that in a hundred years’ time the only biblically-literate Englishmen will be those who are Catholic, and that they will know it through the Knox translation. The Ven. Fulton Sheen notably favoured the Knox Bible as the source for his biblical quotes, and even though it has not been in print for a number of decades, interest in it has never ceased.
Waugh’s prediction may have seemed quixotic in the past 50 years, but today’s hunger for a measured return to beauty and reverence may mean that it will yet come to pass.
We must never forget that all authentic and living Christian spirituality is based on the Word of God proclaimed, accepted, celebrated and meditated upon in the Church.
Pope Benedict XVI, 2010
Knox was perhaps the most intellectual convert since Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman.
C. S. Lewis called him "the wittiest man in Europe," and Ronald Knox was a deft apologist, an astute translator of the Bible, and the preacher for occasions great and small throughout the first half of the twentieth century in England.
Born in 1888, as the sixth child of the Anglican Bishop of Manchester, he grew up in what he called "that form of Protestant piety which the modern world half regrets, half derides as 'old-fashioned.'" By the time he was 12 he was already writing Latin poetry.
Having won almost every attainable honour at Oxford, at just 24, Knox became the Anglican chaplain of Oxford's Trinity College. While he seemed to be content with preaching, talking, and writing, his soul was not at peace.
Five years later, in 1917, Ronald Knox resigned and entered the Roman Catholic Church. "Authority played a large part in my belief," he said later. In Knox's case, his break with the Church of England also meant a permanent break with his father, who had previously regarded him as his favourite son.
Knox was ordained to the priesthood, and soon he was back at Oxford, this time as a Catholic chaplain. Father Knox for 13 years made his rooms a gathering place for the university's most glittering wits. While he was there, he began churning out acclaimed and smoothly written detective novels (six within ten years) such as ‘The Body in the Silo’ and ‘The Viaduct Murder’, which helped supplement his modest chaplaincy funds.
Towards the end of his chaplaincy at Oxford in 1939, Evelyn Waugh recounted that Knox was at a low ebb. At that point the English hierarchy commissioned Knox to single-handedly translate the New Testament. From the beginning Knox assumed he would complete the entire Bible, which led to misunderstandings with the hierarchy, which were magnified by some opposition to the translation as it progressed. To complete the arduous task, Knox accepted the offer of the young converts, Lord and Lady Aston to retreat to their tranquil country hall, Aldenham Park.
There, with hands on his trusted typewriter and pipe in mouth, he produced on average twenty-four translated verses a day. He would not emerge until nine years later, when finally in the Autumn of 1948, the final verses were completed.
Knox’s bible received great acclaim when it was first published. Time magazine called Knox the “man who made the great 20th century bible.”
Knox died in 1957 with many high honours attached to his name, having become a Fellow of both Trinity and Balliol colleges, and a Protonotary Apostolic to Pope Pius XII.
The Mysteries of Ronald Knox
Though Ronald Knox (1888-1957) won renown as a Catholic priest, university chaplain, retreat master, and author of spiritual books, it is at least arguable that he made his living from his bestselling detective stories. In fact, it was Msgr. Knox who wrote the widely accepted rules — the “Ten Commandments” — that guided the so-called Golden Age of Detective Fiction. He was a keen reader of Arthur Conan Doyle, and he even established a satirical genre of mock-scholarship of the Sherlock Holmes stories.
He made a respectable living that way, but he knew that “Man cannot live by bread only; there is life for him in all the words which proceed from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4). And so Msgr. Knox gave his life to deeper mysteries than any earthly detective could solve.
Ronald Arbuthnott Knox was born into a distinguished family of Anglican clergy. His father rose to be bishop of Manchester. Ronald received an excellent education — Eton and Oxford — excelling in classics. Early on he discerned a call to ministry, and in 1912 he took Anglican orders. In 1917 he converted to Roman Catholicism and the following year was ordained a Catholic priest.
His ministry ranged widely, from school chaplaincies to radio broadcasts. He was one of the first to see the evangelistic potential in the emerging media. He used radio for preaching, teaching, and drama.
Msgr. Knox had a profound love for Sacred Scripture, a passion was to make the Bible accessible to as many people as possible. Radio helped. But he also wrote voluminously. And he preached. His homilies, anthologized in several collections, are profoundly biblical. One book, The Gospel in Slow Motion, gathers his New Testament sermons given to schoolgirls. With Father Ronald Cox, he wrote scriptural commentaries, such as It Is Paul Who Writes, Waiting for Christ, and The Gospel Story.
The problem with being a polymath and a prodigy, as Knox most surely was, is that you’re often tagged as the best man for an abundance of important tasks. Thus, Knox found himself recruited to revise the Westminster Hymnal. He early made a name for himself as a translator, with no less than Virgil’s Aeneid. But nothing could have prepared him, exactly, for his magnum opus, the work that, like no other, employed his talents as translator, scholar, and prose stylist.
In 1936 the bishops of England and Wales asked him to translate the Latin Vulgate of the Holy Bible into modern English. It would be a nine-year task, arduous — and somewhat thankless. He wrote a book on the ordeal, On Englishing the Bible, which manages to be both illuminating and very funny. In the Knox translation, clarity is paramount. He wanted Christians not just to revere the Word from a distance, but to ponder it, to understand it, to have it as their own, whether they happened to be poets or chimney sweeps or members of Parliament. With little regard for sentimental attachment, he started afresh, leaving behind the beloved and familiar renderings, hoping to recast the oracles in a “timeless English.”
Msgr. Knox’s publisher, Frank Sheed, wrote about the dire circumstances that cried out for a radical biblical remedy:
The Biblical attack on Catholic dogmas did not (after the shock of the attack) destroy Catholic attachment to the dogmas; but it sensibly weakened Catholic attachment to the Bible. A man can never feel quite the same about even the nicest book if he has just been beaten round the head with it…
This Scriptural insufficiency of Catholics is the last heritage of the Reformation still to be liquidated. Liquidated it must be. How necessary Scripture is to the life of Catholics, St. Jerome indicated long ago with his phrase “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”
The bishops appreciated Msgr. Knox’s work and eventually paid it the greatest compliment, approving the Knox translation for proclamation in the liturgy. He won the admiration of some discerning literary readers, too. He was praised especially for his rendering of St. Paul’s letters, suddenly luminous where they had, for many readers, been opaque.
The brickbats, though, were far more common. Critics complained that the Knox Bible was prosaic and pedestrian. Knox himself observed that his critics were legion, were ubiquitous, and were Everyman: “If you translate, say the Summa of St. Thomas, you expect to be cross-examined by people who understand philosophy and by people who understand Latin; but by no one else. If you translate the Bible, you are liable to be cross-examined by anybody; because everybody thinks he knows already what the Bible means.”
God rest him, Msgr. Knox was a true man of the Church, and he went where he was sent. His obedience was true and constant, though it was never blind. (It was he, after all, who famously said, “On the barque of Peter, those with queasy stomachs should keep clear of the engine room.”)
He endured because he had a strong stomach, so to speak; and it was strong because he had, all his life, fed upon imperishable food: “the characteristic food of faith is mystery,” he wrote — not “the formulas which enshrine the mysteries …. But the mysteries themselves …. because faith is the first duty of the Christian, and mystery is the food of faith.”
Though bloodied by critics, he was unbowed. Having translated the Bible, he went on to produce new translations of The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis and The Autobiography of a Saint by St. Therese of Lisieux. He spent his remaining years as busily as he’d spent his youth, producing two or three books per year till his death in 1957.
How much we have to learn from this great spinner of mysteries, both human and divine. In his lifetime he achieved celebrity, which is often a pit and a snare to souls. Ronald Knox, however, knew it for what it was worth. When I think of his life, a life much-celebrated, I’m reminded of his own description of John the Baptist: “Everyone is crowded round St. John, everyone wanting to know who he is, and he will let them see nothing but the finger that points to a greater than himself, let them hear nothing but the voice of the fore-runner who preaches a gospel not his own.”
He has given us that Gospel — not his own — in words we can, nonetheless, recognize as our own.
Scott Hahn, Ph.D.
I am delighted at the republication of Mgr Ronald Knox's translation of the Bible. It was my father's favourite translation and I can remember the trouble he went to in order to replace a lost edition of the New Testament. Mgr Knox was a distinguished priest of the Diocese of Westminster and such a gifted preacher and giver of retreats. His memorable phrases are still quoted. He brought that same skill, together with considerable scholarship, to the immense task of Biblical translation. Many will welcome this new publication of his achievement.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols
Mgr. Knox's version continues to merit attention, and I welcome the publication of this new edition, as his remarkable work is likely to continue to be of interest for many years to come. I sincerely hope that many will read and profit from this new edition.
Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor
Ronald Knox’s translation of the Bible remains an exceptional achievement both of scholarship and of literary dedication. Again and again it successfully avoids conventional options and gives the scriptural text a fresh flavour, often with a brilliantly idiosyncratic turn of phrase. It most certainly deserves republication, study and use.
Archbishop Rowan Williams
The English Bible tradition, which this translation by Mgr Ronald Knox so aptly embodies, is an important part of western culture. It continues to shape the English language and literary tradition, not just in Britain but in the United States, Australia and elsewhere. This handsome edition of 'The Knox Bible' is a worthy book for private study and devotion, sure to bring about a deeper reverence and love of Sacred Scripture, and so draw readers into a deeper relationship with our Blessed Lord, the Word who 'was made flesh, and came to dwell among us' (Jn 1: 14). As the fulfillment of Blessed John Henry Newman's hope for a worthy English translation of the Bible, this translation holds a special place in the hearts of those of us, who - like Newman and Knox and countless others - have found their way to the fullness of communion, united to the Apostolic See. May it help bring others to know the Lord who is 'truth and life' (Jn 14: 6).
Mgr Keith Newton
Msgr. Knox had a profound love for Sacred Scripture, a passion was to make the Bible accessible to as many people as possible … In the Knox translation, clarity is paramount.
Dr. Scott Hahn
Praiseworthy achievement … a monument of many years of patient study and toil.
Ven. Pope. Pius XII
There has been a remarkable revival of interest in Ronald Knox in recent years, and the republication of his magnum opus is a significant event.
Fr. Ian Ker, a leading authority on John Henry Newman and direct relative of Msgr. Ronald Knox.
… the outstanding feature of Msgr. Knox's biblical translation is the way he maintained the Hebrew alphabetic acrostic (succeeding verses starting with succeeding letters of the Hebrew alphabet) of parts of the Old Testament over into an English alphabetic acrostic (succeeding verses starting with succeeding letters of the English alphabet).
In an alphabetic acrostic the initial letters of lines (or verses or sections) follow the sequence of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet and the lines/verses/sections are of roughly equal length. The Hebrew alphabet has 22 letters and many of these acrostics have 22 verses or a multiple thereof, the acrostic sometimes being used to determine verses. The most complete alphabetic acrostics in the original language of the Hebrew Bible are Psalms 25, 34, 37, 111, 112, 119, 145; Proverbs 31:10-31 (the Praise of a Good Wife); and each of the first four chapters of the Book of Lamentations.
Psalm 119 is, of course, the supreme example of an acrostic in that it has 176 verses consisting of 22 strophes (one for each letter) each of 8 verses. All 8 verses of the first strophe start with Aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The second 8 verses all start with Beth, the second letter, and so on. Even if one cannot read Hebrew (I can't), it is worthwhile looking at a Hebrew Bible (I have one in the hope of eventually learning) to see this unique example. Many English translations indicate this alphabetic feature by labeling the 8 verse strophes with the letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
It is hypothesized that alphabetic acrostics may have functioned to show a completeness or totality, we would say "from A to Z". Thus in Lamentations the utter desolation, in Ps 111 the completeness of praise, and in Ps 119 that the "Torah", i.e. the instruction, of the LORD is totally good.
Needless to say, the alphabetic structure of the original is not usually able to be carried over into English translations. But there is an existing English translation of the entire Bible which tries to do justice to the form of the Hebrew alphabetic acrostic. This is the Knox translation, an older (late 1940's-50's) Roman Catholic translation done by Monsignor Ronald Knox, a convert from Anglicanism. I have used it in the past in Bible Study groups to illustrate an acrostic.
"At Ronald's death the Roman Catholic Church in every English-speaking country lamented the loss of a rich ornament, and the story unfolded in pulpit and newspaper was one of the cherished and privileged survivor of a golden age. The brilliantly precocious youth, cossetted from childhood; the wit and scholar marked out for popularity and fame; the boon companion of a generation of legendary heroes; the writer of effortless felicity and versatility; the priest who never bore the burden of a parish or a diocese, but always lived where he chose, in patrician country-houses and university common-rooms; who was always the 'special preacher' on great occasions; who never lost a friend or made an enemy; the man whose exquisite politeness put everyone at his ease; the translator who brought the Vulgate to life for his own generation and for the future; the author of numberless unrecorded, unforgotten quips - this, is it not?, is rather the impression left by the obituaries. But genius and sanctity do not thrive except by suffering. If I have made too much of Ronald's tribulations, it is because he hid them, and they must be known to anyone who seeks to appraise his achievement."
"Ronald Knox was the most original and eloquent writer of the century."
Fr. George Rutler
"Knox was a bright star whose work was unflaggingly wise, urbane, witty and all done in the purest prose imaginable."
"He had used the weapon of laughter in addressing himself to people who could no longer laugh, and the weapon of reason in talking to people who could no longer think and the weapon of knowledge in informing people who were indifferent to fact."
“And now we are naturally brought on to our third point, which is on the characteristics of Holy Scripture as compared with profane literature. Hitherto we have been concerned with the doctrine of these writers, viz., that style is an extra, that it is a mere artifice, and that hence it cannot be translated; now we come to their fact, viz., that Scripture has no such artificial style, and that Scripture can easily be translated. Surely their fact is as untenable as their doctrine.
Scripture easy of translation! Then why have there been so few good translators? Why is it that there has been such great difficulty in combining the two necessary qualities, fidelity to the original and purity in the adopted vernacular? Why is it that the authorized versions of the Church are often so inferior to the original as compositions, except that the Church is bound above all things to see that the version is doctrinally correct, and in a difficult problem is obliged to put up with defects in what is of secondary importance, provided she secure what is of first? If it were so easy to transfer the beauty of the original to the copy, she would not have been content with her received version in various languages which could be named.”
Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman
Review: Baronius Knox Bible (Whiskey Catholic)
"The Knox Bible is one of the crown jewels of English Catholicism, a translation that does justice to the Latin Vulgate while avoiding the clumsy nature of its vernacular predecessors. While you can never judge a book by its cover, sometimes how a book looks is a good indicator of what’s inside. Simply put, this is how a Bible is supposed to look, feel, and be. The leather binding shows a high degree of care and communicates that this is a book which is meant to last countless uses. The Bible is supposed to invite the reader to engage with it after a hard day at work. In fact, Bible’s should be inviting particularly because it is in our hardest times that we need them most.
Similarly, the beautiful ribbon, single-columned text, and golden edges enhance a sense of worth and usefulness to the book. This is a book I wouldn’t mind passing on to my children as a family heirloom.
Why Can’t Catholics Speak English (The American Conservative – State of the Union)
“Instead of finding English word equivalents Knox asks “How would an Englishman say this?” Unlike committees which often make silly pre-fab decisions to always translate Greek word x with English word y, Knox transposes the idioms, the formality, and tone. And while it may seem like a silly thing to say, Knox is actually fluent in English the way few other translators seem to be. He understands slang as well as poetry. This allows him to remain much more faithful to the original and to English simultaneously. The results can be sumptuous. Consider Lamentations 2:18 “Round those inviolable defenses, cry they upon the Lord in good earnest. Day and night, Sion, let thy tears stream down; never rest thou, never let that eye weary of its task.” Prophetic and ancient-sounding as the text demands, but also recognizably English.”
OREMUS – Westminster Cathedral Magazine (Dec 2012 Edition, Number 176)
"Ronald Knox's translation of the Bible has for too long been a forgotten masterpiece of twentieth-century English Catholicism. It is a last flourishing of that hundred years, the Second Spring, that produced so many great Catholic writers: Newman, Chesterton, Greene, Waugh and many others."
The Holy Bible: Knox Version
Translated by Ronald Knox,
Newly republished by Baronius Press
£39.95 / $54.95
Ronald Knox's translation of the Bible has for too long been a forgotten masterpiece of twentieth-century English Catholicism. It is a last flourishing of that hundred years, the Second Spring, that produced so many great Catholic writers: Newman, Chesterton, Greene, Waugh and many others. The literary reputation of these men has grown with the years, whilst that of Knox has unfairly declined (though his bibliography includes satires, detective stories, novels, sermons and devotional works). With the republication of his Bible perhaps the time has come to acknowledge that Knox undertook a work of scholarship greater perhaps than any other single Catholic since the Reformation, and did a service to the faithful equal to any done by a Catholic writer.
For unlike in our own day when translations of the Bible abound to suit every taste and style, in Knox's time Catholics used the Douay-Rheims version, as Anglicans used the Authorised Version. Despite the enduring importance of the Douay version (even to our own day it remains the version most faithful to the Latin Vulgate), there was a long recognised need for a new translation. Newman had been the first to be commissioned with the task in the 1850s, but the project ran into difficulties. What a masterpiece that would have been.
But Knox was at least Newman's equal as a classical scholar; in fact his academic honours from Eton and Oxford are astonishing. His precocious intellect – reading Virgil at the age of six – and, famously, when asked as a toddler what he thought about in bed, declaring 'I think about the past'. As a teacher I can say that such cleverness is not always an endearing trait!
The task of producing a modern translation from the Latin Vulgate but with reference to the Greek texts (of both New and Old Testaments) and the Hebrew (for the Old Testament) therefore fell to Knox, who was commissioned by the English bishops in 1936. Having worked on this project for nine years throughout the Second World War, the New Testament was published in 1945 and the Old Testament, though completed and approved by the Diocese of Westminster by 1948, was not published until 1955, having been thoroughly checked by experts.
During this time Knox was also busy with other books. His talks to evacuated school children produced some delightful popular works, including The Mass in Slow Motion, The Gospel in Slow Motion and The Creed in Slow Motion. Knox was a scholar who could speak to audiences of all ages and levels of understanding.
As a Greek expert it is natural that the greatest achievement of this Bible is said to be his translation of the Pauline Epistles, but the entire work is marked by a fine, elevated and restrained English prose style.
It is encouraging that the preface to this new edition has been written by Scott Hahn, the American biblical scholar who has done more than anyone in our own time to synthesise the scriptures with the doctrinal teachings of the Catholic Church. Hahn's works, like Knox's, should be better known to Catholics in this country.
Knox was aiming for a 'timeless' English in his translation; to be elegant without being archaic, to be accurate but also natural. In this way it bridges the gap between the classic phraseology of the King James and Douay-Rheims versions and those modern editions which are idiomatic and unpoetic in their rendering of the word of God (the Street Bible begins Genesis with 'God starts it all off and WHAP! Stuff everywhere!' but thankfully this is not the version used in the lectionary).
Mgr Knox begins 'God, at the beginning of time, created heaven and earth. Earth was still an empty waste, and darkness hung over the deep; but already, over its waters, stirred the breath of God.' It is an opening perhaps intentionally evocative of the devastation wrought by war. Knox lived through both wars; the first as an Anglican priest and the second as a Catholic, having been received into the Church in 1917 at Farnborough Abbey.
An interesting voice in praise of this Bible is Rowan Williams, the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, and a man of scholarship and Iiterary taste. He states that,
'Ronald Knox's translation of the Bible remains an exceptional achievement both of scholarship and of literary dedication. Again and again it successfully avoids conventional options and gives the scriptural text a fresh flavour; often with a brilliantly idiosyncratic turn of phrase. It most certainly deserves republication, study and use.'
Baronius Press is a London-based publisher which has now amassed an impressive catalogue of Catholic classics. Baronius does not simply reprint old books, but entirely re-typesets the text, digitally enhancing the images before producing editions of excellent quality, made to last. This book has fine leather binding and gilt edges, and the font is a good size. This is a not a compact edition but neither is it too bulky. It would make a wonderful gift.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols has given this new edition his imprimatur and the following commendation:
'I am delighted at the republication of Mgr Ronald Knox's translation of the Bible. It was my father's favourite translation and I can remember the trouble he went to in order to replace a lost edition of the New Testament. Mgr Knox was a distinguished priest of the Diocese of Westminster and such a gifted preacher and giver of retreats. His memorable phrases are still quoted. He brought that same skill, together with considerable scholarship, to the immense task of Biblical translation.'
Supremacy and Survival: The English Reformation
I think Knox achieved what he set as his goal in the Epistles; he comments on the length of St. Paul's sentences and he manages that length well, bringing clarity to some difficult passage of the Epistles. This is a beautiful edition of The Holy Bible and one I look forward to using in my devotions for the Year of Faith!
“Knox’s methodology for translating the Vulgate into English is sensible because it preserves the original meaning and beauty of the Vulgate without compromising the essence of what is being said by being too literal. For example, when the Vulgate could be translated into English in two different, but equally plausible, ways, Knox would go to the Greek original to get a clearer picture. Although Knox uses less conjunctions than the Douay-Rheims (“Not this man, but Barabbas” becomes “Not this man; Barabbas”) to make the language sound less antiquated for the 20th century, he preserves those parts of the Bible which have become culturally sacrosanct, such as the Lord’s Prayer.”
“Besides the first edition G.K. Chesterton, the Knox Bible and Knox’s editorial are easily the most interesting books on our shelf. No Catholic Gentleman’s collection is complete without it. Just be sure to have a good scotch handy when you crack the cover for the first time …”
Ronald Knox's achievement depends in no small degree on his astonishing translation of the Vulgate, which some – including Evelyn Waugh – have considered one of the landmarks of twentieth century English literature. It is certainly a great translation, in some of its strengths unique. I wouldn't be without it.
Fr. Z's Blog
"It's THE most beautiful translation of the Bible in the English language." Fulton Sheen used the Knox version when quoting.
The Knox translation is not everyone's cup of tea if they are into philology. It will be your cuppa, however, if you are longing for poetry in your reading of the Word.
A beautifully bound volume, I find myself responding with fresh eyes to the layout, which is formatted like prose, and the minimal distraction of footnotes. This is not a study bible; it's a reading bible, and Knox's language pulls us into the scriptural stories and images we know so very well and then elevates us with its staggering beauty.
Yes, I read it and I wept. Not in fear, not in despair, but in consolation at the reminder, rendered so beautifully by Knox, that the world has resided in the madness of sin and shadow since Eden, but we are never abandoned, and need never be afraid.
This is a bible meant for hunkering-down-to-read and becoming lost within–a true escape into another place, from where you emerge refreshed and elevated from simple joy of reacquainting oneself with language structure that is slightly higher and more formal than the usual, but more readable and (perhaps) accessible than the Douay Rheims.
The Ronald Knox Society of North America
Others will tell you about the virtues of the text and its translator; I’ll just say that this edition is physically beautiful. The cover, the pages, the type … all make for an impressive whole. It will undoubtedly become many people’s “go to” gift book. First Communions, Confirmations, Marriages, Ordinations, Christmas, Easter … as Catholics we have so many wonderful occasions for giving beautiful things to those we love! And it’s my fervent wish that every priest should have one, especially in this Year of Faith.
National Review Online
Knox's rendition is an unusual combination of dynamic-equivalence translation and high literary quality.
Many Bible readers prefer word-for-word (formal equivalence) translation to paraphrasing (dynamic equivalence) translation for theological reasons: They believe a literal translation brings them closer to ipsissima verba Dei. But there is often another, non-theological reason for their preference: Most dynamic-equivalence translations come across as banal in their phrasing. (The notable exceptions have been the New English Bible and its progeny, the Revised English Bible, which have been criticized for using an excessively high register, making the Bible sound like the conversation at a toffs' garden party.) Knox's version is free, but of high literary quality, and repays the attention even of people who prefer a more literal approach.
Keep Faith In Jesus
The Knox Bible is a good choice for both reading and study; those of you following the Lectio Divina—the practice of praying through the Bible, as we've discussed recently here on the blog—will find this an excellent companion.
The Knox Bible's arrival in the Bible Gateway library coincides with a new print edition from Baronius Press—the first time the full Knox Bible has been available for over 50 years!
In case you were wondering how good this translation is, Fulton Sheen quoted from it exclusively in his book The Life of Christ. This translation is often recommended for private devotional reading or Lectio Divina because of its poetic style.
For me, the highlight of this Bible is its single-column page layout. It is very easy on the eyes, and the quality cream colored Bible paper …
Catholic Bibles - Guest Review
I was pleased to see in many places that the angelic world was not translated out: such as in Psalms 103:4 "Thou wilt have thy angels be like the winds, the servants that wait on thee like a flame of fire," the "angel" who "visits…with no kindly message" in Proverbs 17:11, and even "Lucifer" in Isaias 14:12. Of course, fans of the Douay-Rheims will be pleased to see, "Hail, thou who art full of grace," "Holy Ghost," "charity" (often rendered "love" in modern versions), and the traditional spellings of the proper names.
I have just begun to read but already have seen a couple of instances where the translation brought tears to my eyes when I read it aloud … it struck a chord within.
One interesting feature of the Knox Bible is its attention to detail with some of the psalms. In the original Hebrew, some psalms take the form of an alphabetical acrostic – the first letter of each verse is ordered such that they read from the beginning to the end of the Hebrew alphabet. This is believed to indicate a completeness in thought, similar to the idea that Christ is the alpha and the omega. When translating into English (or any other language), this quality is lost. However, Msgr. Knox took good care with these alphabetical acrostics, providing translations which maintain this ordering in a beautiful English rendering.
Review by Colby Townsend for the Association for Mormon Letters
The Knox Bible was written to soak in, to spend hours lost in the text of the Bible. With most translations this is not the first thing that the reader would think of doing, but with the Knox translation it naturally occurs.
All in all this is a great translation and is highly recommended. In the opinion of the reviewer the Knox Bible should be in every personal library.
I can not recommend the Knox Bible enough. I am extremely happy that this translation is on my shelf, and will benefit from it for the rest of my life.
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