A Review of the Jerusalem Bible

Luther W. Martin
Rolla, Missouri

The Jerusalem Bible was first published in English in 1966. In its Foreword, two needs were designed to be served: (1) to keep abreast of the times, and (2) To deepen theological thought. The first goal listed was approached through the use of more modern English. The second was to be hopefully achieved through the use of footnotes which were not to be sectarian or superficial. How well the translators held true to their announced course, can only be answered by each Bible student who makes a study of the Jerusalem Bible. This writer's initial reaction is that it is superior to some versions, and inferior to others. This leaves me somewhat 'on-the-fence'; but in order for this article to be of value I shall give the following notations and comments concerning various passages in the Jerusalem Bibles New Testament.

Not a Literal Translation

Perhaps Bible students have been 'spoiled' by the fact that the King James Version, the American Standard Version (1901), and the New American Standard Version (1960), have each followed the received Greek text quite closely and almost word for word (with some exceptions). I for one do not consider these word-for-word translations to have 'spoiled' me. Instead, in order to faithfully render and reproduce the original thought and intent of Holy Writ, this writer is firmly convinced that many of the more modern English versions do a disservice to Bible readers, by deviating drastically from the word-for-word meaning of the original. Therefore, my criticism of the lack of being literal in the Jerusalem Bible, must be understood on the basis of my own attitudes and convictions.

The proper name, 'Christian', is used five times as a noun, where there is no Greek equivalent in the text. (Rom. 15:2; 16:7; 1 Cor. 5:11; Gal. 5: 5; Col. 3: 5; and possibly others.) It is used as an adjective at least twice, where the Greek does not have it. (1 Cot. 9:5; and 1 Tim. 5:16.)

Excessively Literal in Places

As you read this criticism, you may conclude that I am just an old crank, and that nothing pleases me. Well, I grant you that I am extremely particular when it comes to the way men handle and/or mishandle the language of my Lord and my God. Notice please, in 2 Peter 1:13: "I am sure it is my duty, as long as I am in this tent, to keep stirring you up with reminders 14... I know the time for taking off this tent is coming soon."

In this passage, the word 'tent' has been used for the body in which we dwell. The KJV used 'tabernacle' and a tabernacle is a tent. But to refer to our bodies as 'tents' is a bit too literal. It is about as 'far out' as the poetic reference to 'this mortal coil' which we will some day 'shuffle off'. In Acts 7:46, the Jerusalem New Testament renders the same Greek word as 'temple'. It has also been rendered "dwelling" and "habitation."

Vulnerable to False Doctrine and Practice

"...to all the saints in Christ Jesus, together with their presiding elders and deacons." (Phil. 1:1)

The translators have here inserted the word 'presiding' which is not in the Greek text. By such careless wording, they give credence to the sectarian idea of 'presiding elders',

"... To want to be a presiding elder is to want to do a noble work." (1 Tim. 3:1).

Here again, the word 'presiding' has been added without reason.

"...we must be most careful to remember that the interpretation of scriptural prophecy is never a matter for the individual." (2 Pet. 1:20)

This statement does grave injustice to the truth. This verse is dealing with the initiating or giving of prophetic scripture to the world. It is NOT discussing man's study of the scripture. The 21st verse bears this out. The Jerusalem Bible's New Testament would have scripture contradicting scripture, if it were accurate.

Matt. 16:18-20--"Peter's... Preeminence"

For a number of centuries, the Roman Catholic Church has used this passage as a pretext for her claims of Papal authority. The Jerusalem Bible New Testament contributes further to the Catholic claims by giving a subhead to the paragraph which reads: "Peter's profession of faith; his pre-eminence." Then in a footnote, it adds . . . "The keys have become the traditional insignia of Peter."

First, I call your attention to the fact that the only manner in which Peter received any preeminence over the other apostles was in the opportunity which became his to first introduce the gospel to the Jews on Pentecost, and then first to the Gentiles at the home of Cornelius. This was the extent of Peter's so-called preeminence. In fact, Paul stated that he was not one whit behind the very chiefest apostles. (2 Cor. 11: 5).

Second, the symbol of keys has been taken over by the Vatican, but the idea of presenting "keys to the city," etc., has long been indicative of certain honors or privileges that are accorded to visiting officials or dignitaries. Similarly, Christ's giving of "keys" to Peter simply made it known that Peter would be the one to "un-lock" the kingdom (the church) of Christ.

Third, the Jerusalem Bible New Testament fails to adequately render the actual meaning of Matt. 16:19: "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven." This rendering would give heaven's authority to Peter, which is what the Catholic Church claims. But the Greek is more accurately brought out by the New American Standard Bible: "... and whatever you shall bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven." This retains Christ's authority with Christ, and indicates that Heaven is the source of the gospel, with the apostles teaching that which Heaven has already bound or loosed. The apostles were ambassadors for Christ, carrying out what their King wanted carried out. Ambassadors do not have the authority to make laws or change legislation. They simply do what their head of government tells them to do. So it was with the apostles of Christ. They were to bind and loose exactly that which Christ wanted bound and loosed. The apostles were not given legislative powers on their own.


The Jerusalem Bible New Testament does not contribute a great amount toward better understanding of the original text of Scripture. In many passages, it is similar to versions already in existence. It is not consistent in some of its renderings. For example, in Acts 20:7, the correct expression, "first day of the week is used." But, in 1 Cor. 16:2, the word "Sunday" is inserted, in lieu of the first day of the week. Now it is true that Sunday in our modern calendar is the first day of the week. But in the first century, the calendar did not have Sunday, Monday, etc. So, to insert "Sunday" is to apply the modern calendar terms several centuries before they came into usage.

There are translations of the English New Testament that this writer considers to be inferior to the Jerusalem Bible. But in general, it fails to approach the quality of the New American Standard Bible.

TRUTH MAGAZINE XIV; 42, pp. 10-11

September 3, 1970