Thank you to Jonny who provided this guest post, which will serve as a kick-off to an ongoing series of discussions surrounding the Knox translation.
There is much that can be said of Msgr. Knox’s translation of the Holy Bible. First and foremost, it should be mentioned that the Knox version is a translation of the Clementine Latin Vulgate. That is indicated quite clearly in the new edition from Baronius Press, on the title page which reads: “Translated from the Latin Vulgate by Msgr. Ronald Knox.” However, in the old edition, (the one I am referring to is from Sheen and Ward in 1956) it states on the title page that it is “A translation from the Latin Vulgate in the light of the Hebrew and Greek originals.” From that statement, I had previously thought that in places the Latin had been set aside in favor of Greek or Hebrew, according to the whim of the translator. Yes, I thought that the Knox Bible was basically a hybrid translation, so I never really took it seriously.
After receiving the Baronius edition, with the complementary copy of Msgr. Knox’s “On Englishing the Bible,” I found that my assumptions were quite incorrect. In the first article of the above mentioned book, Msgr. Knox states that it is the Clementine Vulgate he is translating, and he only goes back to other editions (Hebrew, Greek, critical editions of the Latin) to gain a better understanding of the Vulgate. This is a big plus for me, and should be for anyone who likes to read the Douay Rheims Bible. In the Knox translation, you have someone looking at the Vulgate and the other editions to give you a fresh translation of the Bible in lucid, modern English. I don’t know of any other source that is more helpful to those who may struggle with the archaic English and sometime awkward sentence structures in the D-R, besides actually learning Latin and using the Clementine Vulgate itself!
So on to the translation itself. Being, as it is, translated from the Vulgate, it is going to have many traditional renderings that Catholic Bible readers expect to see in a Catholic Bible. In Genesis 3:15 you will find, “she is to crush thy head,” although regrettably the “enmities” from the Douay are replaced with “a feud.” There are many places that I cheer the Knox translation, and in others I groan with disappointment. 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. Yes, there are many places in the Knox Bible I must applaud, and many places leave me longing for the more traditional renderings in the Douay, KJV, and RSV versions. In particular I wish that Knox retained “spirit of God” in Genesis 1:2. “Breath of God” is adequate as a translation, but after this verse was infallibly defined in the Catechism of the Council of Trent as a direct reference to the Holy Ghost (part 1, chapter II, question XXIII), it seems unnecessarily un-Catholic for a Catholic translation to render this phrase otherwise.
Finally, my biggest cheer for the style of the Knox version: the use of the singular and plural forms for the “you” pronouns. Msgr. Knox reveals that he would have rather dispensed with the archaic pronouns altogether, but I am glad he felt compelled to leave them in. The archaic forms reflect more accurately the original languages in this regard, and can give greater clarity to any given reading. Consider Jesus words to Nicodemus: “Do not be surprised, then, at my telling thee, You must be born anew.” Aside from this detail, there are examples all throughout the Knox Bible where the English is dignified, creative, and just plain fun to read.
One might get the impression in this article that I still prefer the Douay Rheims translation of the Vulgate, and that would be correct (no offence to Msgr. Knox.) I am thinking now that I have the Baronius edition, it might get as much attention as my RSV! Perhaps another top 5 Bible translations vote on the Catholic Bibles Blog is in order!