Jerome, Translator of the Scriptures, Teacher

Some years ago in a conversation with someone I thought was well educated I was astonished to discover his belief that the Holy Bible was originally written in English (Shakespearean English at that.) Having spent a while helping him untangle that one I then found myself telling him that Jesus of Nazareth was a Jewish man and not an Englishman as he thought.

That is the first thing that came to mind as I thought about St Jerome. Jerome is the one shown in this image busily working on a translation of scripture, or perhaps one of his many Biblical commentaries or letters.

When the Christian church began the common language of the Roman Empire was Greek. That is why the books of the New Testament were originally written in Greek. As Jewish people were dispersed widely, many no longer understood Hebrew, so the books of the Old Testament were translated from their original Hebrew into Greek. What is widely understandable in one generation soon becomes incomprehensible in another. Enter Jerome (Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus) 4th - 5th century scholar and theologian . Jerome died in Bethlehem on about 30 September 420 AD so is commemorated today.

By the time that Jerome worked on translating the Scriptures, the common language of the more educated inhabitants of the western part of the Roman Empire was Latin rather than Greek. So the need had arisen for a Latin translation of the Bible. The Christian scholar and theologian Jerome was not the first to work on this, but previous translations of the Old Testament were based only on its Greek translation rather than the original Hebrew. Jerome used both. Jerome was fluent in Latin, Greek and Hebrew as well as knowing Aramaic, Arabic and Syriac languages. Living in Bethlehem for the latter part of his life Jerome used Jewish scholars to help him to understand and interpret the books of the Old Testament as he translated them into the vernacular Latin. He also translated the 4 gospels into Latin, making use of the earliest Greek manuscripts available to him. His work was foundational to the complete Latin version known as the Vulgate used by the Roman Catholic church for the following 1000 years.

I think Jerome would have approved of the way that the Bible continues to be translated into so many (but not yet all) of the languages of the world. He would have approved even more that it should be read, meditated on and that through it people should find Christ.

This prayer (in translation) is attributed to St Jerome:

O Lord,

you have given us your word
for a light to shine upon our path;
grant us so to meditate on that word,
and follow its teaching,
that we may find in it
the light that shines more and more
until the perfect day.