Adriana Şerban (Paul Valéry University Montpellier 3): Retranslation of the Bible for liturgical use: The case of the French Traduction officielle liturgique

If every form of translation has its specificity, it goes without saying that the translation of sacred writings claims an exceptional status on account of more reasons than one could possibly enumerate: its long history, the considerable importance of the texts for their users (and impact on nonbelievers), the part it has played in shaping translation theory and practice beyond the field of religious translation itself (Hassen and Şerban 2018).

Translation gives access to the texts to readers who would otherwise not comprehend them, as the translators of the Authorised Version (1611) explain in what is, possibly, the most beautiful statement about translation ever made:

Translation it is that openeth the window, to let in the light; that breaketh the shell, that we may eat the kernel; that putteth aside the curtain, that we may look into the most holy place; that removeth the cover of the well, that we may come by the water. (“The Translators to the Reader”, reproduced in Burke 2009: 224)

However, as has been pointed out repeatedly by translators and translation scholars alike, translation involves transformation—and this is something religious institutions as well as (some of) the faithful often fear, considering that what is at stake is no less than the holy itself. Resistance to change can also, in some cases, be explained through the sheer force of habit. Be that as it may, the legitimacy of (re)translations of sacred texts has made, throughout history, the object of fierce debate and controversy.

In this paper, I propose to examine the context and objectives of the new (November 2013) retranslation into French of the Bible, for liturgical use, and to discuss a number of specific choices made in the text. The previous translation dated from 1974 and, in Fr. Jacques Rideau’s words (at the time, executive secretary of the Commission épiscopale francophone pour les traductions liturgiques, the CEFTL, quoted in Senèze 2013), languages are living entities, mentalities change, and it is hence necessary to revise translations every forty or fifty years.

The project took seventeen years in the making and is the outcome of the joint efforts of around seventy specialists from across the Francophone world (exegetes, literary scholars, poets, etc.); a full translation of the Bible was offered, whereas before—to give an example— only 4000 verses from the Old Testament had been available in a format deemed suitable for proclamation or, in Naudé and Miller-Naudé’s words (2018), in performative translation which works for “the lips and the ears” (Fr. Henri Delhougne, coordinator of the project, quoted in Senèze 2013) rather than the eyes.

It is, naturally, around questions of interpretation, tradition, innovation, acceptability as well as orality/performativity and audience design that I intend to focus my presentation, placing it within the context of subsequent disagreements surrounding the new translation of the Missel Romain, recently validated by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.


  • Anonymous. ([1611] 2009). “The Translators to the Reader”, preface to the King James Bible. In: Translation That Openeth the Window. Reflections on the History and Legacy of the King James Bible, edited by David G. Burke. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature. 219-239.
  • Hassen, Rim and Adriana Şerban. (2018). “Translation of Religious Writings”. In: An Encyclopaedia of Practical Translation and Interpreting, edited by Sin-wai Chan. Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 2018. 325-349.
  • La Bible. Traduction officielle liturgique. (2014). Tours: MAME.
  • Naudé, Jacobus A. and Cynthia L. Miller-Naudé. (2018). “Alterity, Orality and Performance in Bible Translation”. In: Key Cultural Texts in Translation, edited by Kirsten Malmkjær, Adriana Şerban & Fransiska Louwagie. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins. 299-313.
  • Senèze, Nicolas. (2013). “Une nouvelle traduction de la Bible pour la liturgie”. La Croix. 15 November 2013. Online at, last access 1 December 2019.  

About the speaker

Adriana Şerban lectures in translation at Paul Valéry University Montpellier 3, France, where she was coordinator of the Masters in Translation. Her research interests are in the area of film translation, literary translation, and religious texts. She is the co-editor of La Traduction audiovisuelle. Approche interdisciplinaire du sous-titrage (2008, De Boeck), Traduction et médias audiovisuels (2011, Septentrion), Audiovisual Translation in Close-up: Practical and Theoretical Approaches (2011, Peter Lang), Friedrich Schleiermacher and the Question of Translation (2015, Walter de Gruyter), L’Art de la traduction (2015, Michel Houdiard), Key Cultural Texts in Translation (2018, John Benjamins), and of a special issue of Linguistica Antverpiensia, New SeriesThemes in Translation Studies entitled “Multilingualism at the Cinema and on Stage: A Translation Perspective” (volume 13, 2014). Her co-edited books Corps et traduction, corps en traduction and Poésie-Traduction-Cinéma / Poetry-Translation-Film appeared in 2018 (Éditions Lambert-Lucas). She is currently working on a collective volume on opera translation (for John Benjamins) and, in collaboration with a scholar specialising in female translators of the Qur’an, on a book on women translators of religious texts.