The Douay-Rheims Bible
Just as Protestant scholars fled England during Mary’s reign and translated the Geneva Bible in Switzerland, Catholic scholars left England during Elizabeth’s reign and translated an English Bible with Catholic notes in France.
“Bloody Mary” became queen in 1553 and burned at the stake almost 300 Protestants in her attempt to restore Roman Catholicism in England. She was followed by “Good Queen Bess,” a Protestant who was less aggressive than her half sister because she wanted to be queen of “neither Papist nor Gospeller.”
Nevertheless, some leading English Catholics thought that with a Protestant as queen, the safest thing to do would be to go into exile. They established a college in Douai, a city in northern France, to train priests to go back to England to make converts to Catholicism.
They also made an English translation of the Bible, which was published in Rheims, about 100 miles to the southeast, where the college moved temporarily. The New Testament was published in 1582 and smuggled into England, but because of lack of funds, the complete Bible was not published until twenty-seven years later after the college moved back to Douai—which is why this translation is called the Douay-Rheims Version.
The translation was made from Latin, which, according to the introduction, is better “than the Greek text itself in those places where they disagree” because the Latin was said to be better preserved from corruption. The translators of the King James Version consulted with the Douay-Rheims and in a few places adopted its wording.
In 1738 London Bishop Richard Challoner made what was really a new translation, but because he kept the name Douay-Rheims, it’s considered a revision. The Challoner revision became the standard English Bible for Roman Catholics until the mid-twentieth century. In the 1940s and 1950s the Catholic Church adopted a partial revision called the Confraternity Version, but work on it was abandoned in favor of the New American Bible.
The Douay-Rheims Bible transliterated a number of words instead of translating them. Few of those transliterations made their way into English, but one that did is the word for “burnt offering”: holocaust. In Genesis 22:3, for instance, Abraham is told to take his son Isaac to a mountain and “offer him for an holocaust.”