The Truth About the Waldensian Bible
and the Old Latin Version

By Doug Kutilek

[Reprinted from Baptist Biblical Heritage 2:2, Summer, 1991]


We demonstrated in earlier issues of Baptist Biblical Heritage that the current "King James only" error had its origin in the tainted brain of Seventh-day Adventist missionary, professor, and college president Benjamin G. Wilkinson (1872-1968). He propagated his false views in his book, Our Authorized Bible Vindicated, published by the Adventists in 1930. Little noted in its day, this trove of misinformation and error was embraced by J. J. Ray and partly reproduced (via plagiarism) in his 1955 book, God Wrote Only One Bible; it was also largely reprinted in D. O Fuller's popular compilation, Which Bible? (1st edition, 1970; 5th edition, 1975. The 5th edition will be used here). Neither Ray nor Fuller informed his readers of Wilkinson's cult connection, and Fuller in particular specifically and deliberately sought to conceal this from those who read Which Bible? Besides KJV-onlyism, with its denigration of the Scripture text in the original languages, Wilkinson's writing has led many to adopt a completely false interpretation of Psalm 12:6,7, one that assumes these verses refer to the providential preservation of Scripture (specifically the KJV), rather than its true sense and meaning. Other particular errors that many have picked up directly or indirectly from cultist Wilkinson are a completely erroneous view of the Old Latin translation of the New Testament, and the nature of the Bible of the medieval Waldensians. It is these two errors which I wish to address now.

When treating the medieval Waldensians and their vernacular translation of the Bible, Wilkinson was driven by a desire to demonstrate their "orthodoxy" (according to his Adventist standard) in all particulars. In an attempt at their own brand of apostolic succession or Landmarkism, the Adventists have claimed the Waldensians as their spiritual ancestors, imputing to them such Adventist views as adherence to the standard of the law for righteousness, seventh day sabbath, and other matters (see Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, Pacific Press, 1971 edition, pp. 58-72).

 Since Wilkinson viewed the so-called received Greek text as the only pure text, he tried to impute to the Waldensians the use of this same Greek text. "It was the Vulgate, Rome's corrupt Scriptures against the Received Text--the New Testament of the apostles, of the Waldensians, and of the Reformers." (Our Authorized Bible Vindicated, p.36 [and imprecisely quoted by Fuller in Which Bible?, p.209] ).

  (There is a monstrous anachronism here and throughout Wilkinson, which we will note in passing. The term "received text" is properly used of the printed Greek texts issued by Erasmus, Stephanus, Beza, the Elzevirs, et al. between 1516 and 1633; this precise form of text did not exist before Erasmus, and therefore could not have been the New Testament of the apostles and Waldensians, though it was of the Reformers. The correct term or terms for the text Wilkinson wrote about is Byzantine, Syrian (following Hort), traditional, or majority text, which text differs from the received text in over 1,800 places, many involving whole verses or clauses. It would be most helpful if authors would simply use correct terminology in discussing these matters. Unfortunately, Wilkinson and Fuller rarely did).

 Wilkinson claimed also that the Received Text had authority enough to become, either in itself or by its translation, "the Bible of . . .the Waldensian Church of northern Italy," (OABV, p.24; WB, p.197). "The noble Waldenses in northern Italy still possessed in Latin the Received Text," (OABV, p.42; WB, p.214). "The Latin Vulgate . . . was different from the Bible of the Waldenses," (OABV, p.22; WB, p.195). This received text supposedly possessed by the Waldensians was alleged to be in the form of a Latin translation, the Old Latin or Itala version, which predates the Vulgate: "They [i.e., the Waldenses] knew and possessed the Vulgate. But the Italic, the earlier Latin, was their own Bible, the one for which they lived and suffered and died," (OABV, p.28; WB, p.201).

 Wilkinson summarily said, "Some authorities speak of the Waldenses as having as their Bible, the Vulgate. We regret to dispute these claims," (OABV, p.28; WB, p.201). And well should Wilkinson have regrets, for his disputation is utterly groundless!

In the above quoted claims, Wilkinson was guilty of two errors: first, identifying the Old Latin Itala version as Byzantine in text (anachronistically called the received text); and, second, affirming that the Waldensian Bible was based on the Itala and not on the Vulgate. We shall demonstrate that both these claims are false.

 First, by no stretch of the imagination could the Old Latin version or versions, in its various Italic, African, or European forms, be honestly identified as Byzantine in text. In a very extensive and detailed chapter, "The Latin Versions," in his surpassingly excellent volume, The Early Versions (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), Bruce M. Metzger wrote: "The textual affinities of the Old Latin versions are unmistakably with the Western type of text. Not infrequently noteworthy Old Latin readings agree with the Greek text of codex Bezae and the Old Syriac. On the whole the African form of the Old Latin presents the larger divergences from the generally received text, and the European the smaller," (p.325).


To illustrate the often wide departure of the Old Latin from the received text. I submit the following examples:

-Matthew 1:7,8--5 of 8 Old Latin manuscripts (OL mss.) read "Asaph" instead of the received text's "Asa."

-Matthew 1:10--5 of 8 OL mss. read "Amos" for "Amon."

-Matthew 1:18--all 10 OL mss. lack "Jesus."

-Matthew 6:13--7 of 11 OL mss. lack the doxology, and only 1 of the remaining 4 reads precisely as the received text.

-Matthew 6:15--8 of 11 OL mss. lack "their trespasses."

-Matthew 23:19--9 of 11 OL mss. lack "fools and."

-Mark 1:2--all 9 OL mss. read "Isaiah the prophet," instead of "the prophets."

-Luke 2:14--all 12 OL mss. read "of good pleasure," with the Vulgate and the Vaticanus Greek manuscript (along with other support), against the received text.

-Luke 24:3--7 of 11 OL mss. lack "of the Lord Jesus."

-Luke 24:6--7 of 11 OL mss. lack "he is not here but was raised."

-Luke 24:9--8 of 11 OL mss. lack "from the tomb."

-Luke 24:36--all 10 OL mss. either add "it is I; do not be afraid" to the phrase "and he said to them, peace be unto you," (3 of 10), or else they lack the entire clause (the other 7).

-Luke 24:52--6 of 9 OL mss. lack "him."

-John 5:32--5 of 8 OL mss. read "you" instead of "I."

-Romans 6:11--9 of 10 OL mss. lack "our Lord."

-Romans 8:1--all 10 OL mss. lack "but after the spirit;" in addition, 2 of these mss. also lack the clause "who walk not after the flesh."

-I Corinthians 6:20--none of the 11 OL mss. have the Byzantine addition, "and in your spirit, which are God's."

-I Corinthians 7:5--all 10 OL mss. lack "fasting and."

-I Timothy 3:16--all 10 OL mss. have a relative pronoun, "that which," instead of the Byzantine reading "God."

-Hebrews 10:38--7 of 8 OL mss. add "my."

-James 2:20--8 of 9 OL mss. read "idle" instead of "dead."

-James 4:4--all 9 OL mss. lack "adulterers and."

-James 5:20--all 8 OL mss. add "his" to "soul."

-I Peter 3:15--all 7 OL mss. read "Christ" instead of "God."

-I John 3:1--all 7 OL mss. add "and we are," as do the Vulgate, Vaticanus, and many other authorities.

-I John 3:5--all 7 OL mss. lack "our."

 These 26 examples (gleaned practically at random from the apparatus of The Greek New Testament, 3rd edition, 1975, published by the United Bible Societies), represent only a small fraction of the Old Latin departures from the received text (as well as from the Byzantine text). Very many more could be listed, but surely these are enough to refute the false claim that the Old Latin in any of its forms is Byzantine in text type.

 And in this context, it is worth noting how some writers include the Old Latin versions in their list of "good guy" translations (meaning those agreeing with the received text), even though they depart frequently and substantially from that Greek text. J. J. Ray in ignorance does this on p.109 of God Wrote Only One Bible (1970 edition), as does Peter S. Ruckman on p.VI in the back of The Bible Babel (1964). Not surprising, both also include Wycliffe's version--which was translated directly from the Latin Vulgate--among the dependable versions!

 It also needs to be pointed out that the first full paragraph on p.188 of Which Bible? (5th edition), which softens the claims of a Byzantine text for the Old Latin, is the work of Fuller, not Wilkinson. In that paragraph, Fuller engaged in another of his "back and fill" operations to rescue Wilkinson from the twilight zone of gross error he frequently ventured into, and Fuller did not entirely succeed. Fuller did correctly note that the Old Latin evidence is not always favorable to the received text (an impression the reader would never have gotten from Wilkinson), but was in error when he declared that much of the Old Latin is favorable to the received text, and that the received text has a place in the Old Latin evidence. No Old Latin manuscript could be described as typically Byzantine by any reasonable use of the term.

 As for the claim that the Waldensians used the Old Latin as the base for their vernacular translation, numerous historians clearly contradict Wilkinson's dubious assertion. I will quote these historians in approximately chronological order.

 After quoting Robert Robertson's remark about Peter Waldo's having "procured a translation of the four gospels from Latin into French" (Ecclesiastical Researches, 1792, pp.462-3), William Jones added: "The Latin Vulgate Bible was the only edition of the Scriptures at that time in Europe; but that language was inaccessible to all, except one in an hundred of its inhabitants. Happily for Waldo, his situation in life enabled him to surmount that obstacle . . . .[H]e either himself translated, or procured some one else to translate the four Gospels into French," (History of the Christian Church , vol. II, pp.7, 9, 10; 5th edition, 1826).

 Noted church historian Augustan Neander wrote regarding Waldo: "[H]e gave to two ecclesiastics, one Stephen de Ansa, a man of some learning, the other Bernard Ydros, who was a practiced writer, a certain sum of money, on condition they would prepare for him a translation of the gospels and other portions of the Bible into the Romance language, which one was to dictate, the other write down," (General History of the Christian Religion and Church , vol. IV, pp. 606-7, 2nd ed., 1853).

 The Waldensians having produced this translation, "sent delegates from their body to pope Alexander the Third, transmitting to him a copy of their Romance version of the Bible, and soliciting his approbation as well as that of their spiritual society," (Ibid., p.608). It is highly unlikely that the Waldensians would have submitted such a version to the pope for approval if it were not Vulgate-based. 

Baptist historian Thomas Armitage records: "He [Waldo] employed Stephen of Ansa and Bernard Ydross to translate the Gospels from the Latin Vulgate of Jerome into the Romance dialect for the common people," (History of the Baptists , p.295).

J.J. Herzog, in his extensive article, "Waldenses," reports: "A very natural desire to know what the lectiones, the recitals from the Vulgate, really contained, led him [Waldo] to procure a translation of them into the vernacular tongue, the Roumant, a Provencal dialect; and as he felt the great use of a guide in studying the Bible, the translation of the Bible, or of parts of it, was followed by translations of extracts from the Fathers," (A Religious Encyclopedia, edited by Philip Schaff, vol. IV, p.2471, 3rd edition, 1891).

 While not as detailed or full in their comments regarding the Roumant or Waldensian translation of the Bible as we would like, all these authorities (and an extensive search has failed to turn up any that contradict these findings) unite in their testimony that the translation made at the behest of Peter Waldo and used by the Waldensians was directly made from the Latin Vulgate translation of Jerome. One additional writer, fortunately, does give a fuller accounting of the subject, as we now will see.

  Mr. J. A. Wylie, in his book, History of the Waldenses (1870, 4th ed.), reported, "The 'Lingua Romana,' or Roumant tongue, was the common language of the south of Europe from the eighth to the fourteenth century . . . .Into this tongue--the Roumant--was the first translation of the whole of the New Testament made so early as the twelfth century. This fact Dr. Gilly has been at great pains to prove in his work, The Roumant Version of the Gospel according to John [1848]. The sum of what Dr. Gilly, by a patient investigation into the facts, and a great array of historic documents, maintains, is that all the books of the New Testament were translated from the Latin Vulgate [emphasis added] into the Roumant, that this was the first literal version since the fall of the empire, that it was made in the twelfth century, and was the first translation available for popular use . . . .it was made, as Dr. Gilly, by a chain of proofs, shows, most probably under the superintendence and at the expense of Peter Waldo of Lyons, not later than 1180," (pp. 12, 13).

 Here, then, is the conclusion of the acknowledged expert in the field: the Waldensian Bible was made from the Vulgate. An examination of Gilly's work directly provides a little more detail to the picture. Gilly plainly states about the translators of the Roumant version that, "They used the Vulgate of Jerome for their text" (p. xcix), while at the same time he points out that that Vulgate text was of an occasionally mixed character. At certain points, the Roumant version will agree now with one, now with another of the Old Latin manuscripts. Gilly notes seven such agreements in John with OL ms. "a," six with "b," five with "f," and three with "d" (p. c). Consulting Gilly's notes on pp.93-114 reveals that these Old Latin manuscript agreements with the Roumant against the Vulgate are nearly always exceedingly minute--a matter of punctuation, the spelling of a proper name, occasionally the deletion of a clause (e.g.., "who is over all," John 3:31; "for Jews have no dealings with Samaritans," John 4:9). In many of these cases, there are OL mss. on both sides of the reading, and in apparently none of the cases does the OL reading agree with the received Greek text against the Vulgate, while in several cases, the OL reading corresponds with the Vaticanus Greek manuscript, the chief witness in the Gospels to the Alexandrian text. The late F. F. Bruce briefly alluded to these occasional Old Latin readings in the Waldensian Bible, and characterized these readings as Western (not Byzantine). See The Books and the Parchments, pp. 217, 218, 3rd edition, 1963.

 It is not in the least surprising to discover that medieval Vulgate manuscripts used by the Waldensians would display a mixed text with infrequent readings of minor import corresponding to some Old Latin manuscripts. Indeed, a chief characteristic of medieval Vulgate manuscripts is the incredible amount of mixture in the texts. However, the presence of a few Old Latin readings (and of a non-Byzantine sort) in the Waldensian Bible in no way makes theirs an Old Latin Bible, any more than the presence of a few Byzantine readings in the Sinaiticus makes it a typically Byzantine manuscript, or the presence of some 90 Latin Vulgate readings in the King James Version New Testament makes it a non-Byzantine-based translation. The Waldensian Bible was in all essential points a translation of the Latin Vulgate of Jerome, as was the later English translation of John Wycliffe. Wilkinson's wishing otherwise does not make it so. 

Let us hear then the conclusion of the matter: once again Wilkinson has been exposed as exceedingly unreliable and inaccurate in his writing on the text/translation issue. He is completely wrong in his claim that the Old Latin version is a Latin translation corresponding closely to the received Greek text. And he is greatly mistaken in his bold but unfounded assertion that the Bible of the medieval Waldensians was made from the Old Latin, rather than the Latin Vulgate. It must also once again be pointed out that J. J. Ray and David Otis Fuller adopted without foundation the false views of Wilkinson, and, what is worse, helped spread Wilkinson's misinformation through their republication of his work.