Why Doesn’t the Catholic Church Recognize the King James Version of the Bible?

Question: Why doesn’t the Catholic Church recognize the King James version of the Bible? I heard that one was the most accurate.

The Church doesn’t forbid Catholics from having any version of the Bible on their bookshelf. In fact, the Church as a whole doesn’t pronounce that the King James Version of the Bible isn’t recognized. But Catholics may find it helpful to use the version of the Bible that is used at Mass: the New American Bible.

You might notice that in bookstores, there are sections for Catholic Bibles and Protestant Bibles. Why are there so many translations? First and foremost, the obvious reason that we have translations is because the Bible wasn’t written in English! It was written in Hebrew (Old Testament) or Greek (New Testament), and no original manuscripts exist. What we have are manuscripts that are copies of the originals, and, unfortunately, these copies often contain variations. That makes translating the Bible accurately into any language (an already difficult task) even more complex. Some translations aim for a literal translation while others aim to either find a contemporary equivalence or paraphrase. As a result, no one translation is perfect. It all depends on what you’re looking for.

The King James Version of the Bible, completed in 1611, sought to be a precise translation coupled with a majestic literary style. It should be noted, however, that the editors of the King James Version were instructed by King James I of England to make sure that the translation was in harmony with the theology of the Church of England. The King James Version was looked to as the standard English translation of the Bible for almost 400 years.

RELATED: What Translation of the Bible Should I Be Reading?

Although the King James Version may sound very lofty and dignified in its language (thou, thee, ye, thine), it can be very difficult to read since the English language has changed substantially in the last 400 years. Likewise, since the King James Version was written, scholars have discovered numerous other manuscripts from which more accurate and current translations have been made.

Since the late 19th century, progress made in Scripture scholarship has produced versions of the Bible that challenge the previously undisputed prominence of the King James Version. Specifically for Catholics, the King James Version follows the Protestant pattern of not including the Deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament that are recognized by Catholics: Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, 1 & 2 Maccabees (as well as portions of the Books of Esther and Daniel). Readings from these books appear in the Catholic Lectionary at various times of the liturgical year. Likewise, these books contain references to concepts that are familiar to Catholics but rejected by Protestants such as prayer for the dead and intercessions of saints and angels. The bottom line is, it is beneficial for Catholics to use a Catholic Bible, such as the Catholic Study Bible of the New American Bible.

Updated May 2017

Joe Paprocki

Joe Paprocki, D.Min., has been a catechetical leader and religious educator in the Chicago area for more than 30 years. His books include “Living the Mass,” “The Bible Blueprint,” “The Catechist’s Toolbox,” and “A Well-Built Faith.” He is the National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press in Chicago. Joe blogs about his work as a catechist at Catechist’s Journey.