Take your Bible and just hold it in your hands. Now think about how much this book really means to you. While you think about its value, consider the fact that this book, we call the Holy Scriptures, is the bloodiest book of all history. For many of its writers, death was an end result of their labor. For many, who through the following centuries would fight to preserve its integrity, would forfeit their own lives. Yes, this book which is the most precious in all the world, was purchased with the price of blood.
A good foundation in the history of the Bible is a must. Knowing something of its history will cause a deeper appreciation for its worth and its message. This material will be devoted to learning more about how we got the Bible and how it has been preserved throughout history. Some outlines will be provided to show how this book has been put together, so that a better understanding of its message might be obtained.
JUST WHAT IS THE BIBLE?
Our English word BIBLE does not appear anywhere in the Scriptures. The Greek word "biblion" or "book" is where we obtain our word Bible. The word "Bible" is singular, yet we call the collection of 66 books the Bible. To be accurate, we should call it BIBLES. We find this word in Luke 4:17-20 where it refers to the book of Isaiah, or to the whole of scriptures.
Luke 4:17-20 And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him.
Another place where this word is found is in 2 Timothy 4:13. Here we find that Paul asked Timothy to bring him the books, and especially the parchments when he came. The books were usually made of papyrus and the parchments from skins of animals. This showed the great importance that these books had to Paul. Perhaps they were some of the Old Testament Scriptures, or some of the writings of the Apostles of his day. We do not know what these books were.
In Hebrews 9:19, we find that Moses, when he was dedicating the Temple and the Law, took the blood of the sacrifice and sprinkled it upon the book. Here we find that the book referred to the Law received from God on the Mount. In Hebrews 10:7, Paul says that in the books that they spoke of the coming of Christ to do the will of the Father. Here we learn that the books refers to the Law and the Prophets.
In the Revelation letter, John was commanded to write what he saw in a book. We now have this book called "THE REVELATION OF JESUS CHRIST." In the tenth chapter of this book the word "biblion" appears four times. In this text the clear reference is to the New Testament Books then in circulation. The phrase "little book open" refers to the whole of the New Testament, and that it was open to all peoples in all ages.
As mentioned, the work "biblion" is singular, yet we refer to the 66 books contain in the Bible as singular. It should literally be called the "books". Daniel refers to the scriptures as "books" in Daniel 9:2. He had reference to the books of the prophets. Daniel and others in the Old Testament period understood that God's word was recorded in a number of books, all of which were holy to them.
From the time of Chrysostom the canonical collection of both Old and New Testaments books were called the Bible. This followed the use of this word by Josephus in his reference to the Hebrew scriptures (the Old Testament). Today, in the Christian world, it is now applied to both Testaments. Collectively, we refer to the Old and New Testaments as the Bible.
In the Middle Ages, the collection of canon, or scriptures, was called "The Scriptures," and designated by the actual translation of the Greek word "Biblion," or THE BOOKS. The use of the singular form resulted from an improper understanding of the Greek. Biblion is singular in number and feminine in gender. Over the passage of time this word has simply been translated by the word BIBLE, a singular word to refer to all the books that we hold has holy and given to us by God. Today, we call the scriptures simply by the expression "THE BIBLE."
THE BEGINNING OF THE BIBLE
By the time that Jesus Christ was born, what we know as the 39 books of the Old Testament had already been canonized, or recognized as being the collection of books authored by God. The Jews of the Lord's day accepted these books as being the Word of God. During the ministry of the Lord, we find that he often quoted from these books and ascribed them as being the words of God. If the Lord put his stamp of approval on these books, then we must also accept them as He did.
There were other books available at this time. These books were not a part of the cannon of the Old Testament, but were used by the religious leaders of that day. When the enemies of the Lord attempted to use these works to catch the Lord in something, the Lord would come back and show them that they did not bear the stamp of God's approval. This lesson can clearly be seen in Matthew 15:1-9.
Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying,2 "Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread."3 He answered and said to them, "Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?4 "For God commanded, saying, 'Honor your father and your mother'; and, 'He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.'5 "But you say, 'Whoever says to his father or mother, "Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God"-6 'then he need not honor his father or mother.' Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition.7 "Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying:8 'These people draw near to Me with their mouth, 1 And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me.9 And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.' "(NKJV)
Christ told them that they were teaching the commandments and doctrines of men and not God. This shows us clearly that there was a distinction between the 39 accepted books and those that were not accepted.
The Masoretic Period provided us with our current text for the Old Testament. The period of the Masorites was between 600 and 1000 AD. During this period of history, the Hebrew Bible as we know it, was maintained. With the discovery of the Dead Se Scrolls, the accuracy of the Masoretic text has been sustained. There exist about 1000 years between the scrolls of found near the Dead Sea and those of the Masoretic Period. An examination between the book found near the Dead Sea and that of the Masoretic period showed not difference in texts. This discovery has shown that the methods used to transcribe the scriptures from one generation to another were very carefully followed. The scriptures have been maintained in such a way that we can know for certain that what we read is the Word of God.
The original manuscripts of the New Testament have long been lost, however, the content of the original scriptures has been preserved. Similar methods of copying were used by individuals to copy, faithfully, the words from one manuscript to another.
Until the time that the printing press was invented, every copy of the scriptures had to be done by the slow process of hand copying. There were strict rules used in the copying process for the scriptures. Following those rules, there was assurance that no errors would be made. Every page was numbered, the letters were numbered, the middle letter, and many more such safeguards were used.
There are various ways that we can reconstruct the original text of the Bible. If we only had one, it would be sufficient, however there are several. Consider the following methods we can use to reconstruct the original text of the scriptures.
ANCIENT GREEK MANUSCRIPTS: Greek was the world language during the time before and after our Lord's ministry upon the earth. The original copies of the scriptures were written in Greek. The copies of these manuscripts were also copied in the Greek language of that day. The Koine Greek was the language of that day, and it is known as a dead language. A dead language is one that did not change as living languages change. The meaning and use of a dead language is the same now as then. The wisdom of God can be seen in causing Alexander the Great to conquer the world 300 years before the birth of Jesus and cause the known world to use Greek as the world language of commerce and politics.
Some of the existing Greek manuscripts date back to the second century. Some of these ancient manuscripts are: Codex Sinaiticus, or the Sinaitic Manuscript; Codex Alexandrinus, or the Alexandrian Manuscript; Codex Vaticanus, or the Vatican Manuscript; Codex Ephraemi. More recent discoveries include the Chester Beatty Papyri.
The scope of this material is not to cover the examination of these various manuscripts. What is important for us to know is that these various manuscripts provide the evidence for the uniformity of the text. Variations are minor between these texts. Although located in different parts of the world, they all contain, essentially, the same text. We can use these various manuscripts to put together a reliable text for translation.
The King James Version of the Bible was translated from the Byzantine Text. The Byzantine text was a text found in the area of the Byzantine Empire, which spread throughout the mountains North and Westward from Greece. At the time of the King James translation, this was the only complete text, in Greek, for the New Testament. From that time onward, many have labored to put together, from the various manuscripts, a reliable Greek Text to be used in translations.
ANCIENT VERSIONS: This refers to ancient translations from the Greek Scriptures into another language of that day. There have been many such translations. Notable among these are the following:
Ancient versions can be used to compare with the Greek manuscripts. The older the version, the more accurate the Greek manuscript. What should be noted in this statement is that the various Greek Manuscripts that we have can be compared to these ancient versions and then conclusions can be drawn as to the accuracy of the text. What many scholars have learned is that there is consistency between known Greek Manuscripts and the Ancient Versions. The reliability of our English versions is supported by these ancient versions.
QUOTATIONS MADE BY ANCIENT AUTHORS: Ancient Christian writers were in the habit of quoting great portions of scriptures in their writings, very much like we do today. Their quotations were from the Greek language, therefore they obtained these quotations from existing Greek manuscripts. One writer examined the bulk of these early writings, and learned that all but a few words of our modern Bible are missing from the many quotes made by these writers.
INTERNAL EVIDENCE: This is using the scriptures to support other parts of the scriptures. The references within the scriptures to other writers, for example when Peter referred to the writing of Paul in II Peter 3:15-16.
And consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation-as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you,16 as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures. (NKJV)
Today, we possess various translations of the scriptures. We should always remember that what we possess is a translation. Translations are not inspired, however, it was by the providence of God that we have the Scriptures in our own language. This was by His will so that we might know what His will is for our salvation. When we place too much emphasis upon the translation instead of the original text, we have missed the nature and purpose of a translation.
There are various systems of translation, and we need to understand how the scriptures have been translated so that we can select the proper translation for our study of the scriptures.
WORD FOR WORD: This is what we find in an Interlinear translation. An Interlinear has the Greek word, then just below it the literal English equivalent. Even with this method, there are certain words and phrases that cannot be translated by just one English word. Still, this is the most accurate translation. The following are good examples of this type of translation: "Interlinear Greek-English New Testament," the "Nestle Marshall" text by Zondervan; "Berry's Interlinear Greek-English New Testament," using the Stephens, 1550 Greek Text, by Guardian Press; "The Zondervan Parallel New Testament In Greek and English," with the Nestle Greek Text, "Marshall Interlinear" and translation, and with the King James and the New International Versions as texts.
Translations that use Word For Word method of translation are the King James Version, the New King James Version, and the 1901 American Standard Version. In these translations, the English is corrected so that it will read smoothly. So, even with a Word For Word translation there are areas where translators must make the text make sense to the reader. This contrast can best be seen by looking at the Interlinear and one of the above translations.
WORD FOR WORD AND SYNTAX: This does not involve the printing of the Greek text. Unlike the previously mentioned translations, this type includes more use of syntax translation instead of an attempt at a literal word for word. It would be difficult to actually find a one-to-one correlation between the words in Greek and English, although you could see a relationship between them. Translations of this nature are the New American Standard Version of later publishing dates.
WORD FOR THOUGHT: You will not obtain as an accurate translation in this type of translation. Instead of giving a word for word, they will take a group of words or phrases, then give the thought behind them. The Revised Standard Version is an example of this type of translation.
PARAPHRASE VERSIONS: Actually these are not translations, but interpretations. They should never be used in the same manner as you would a translation. This type does not take into consideration the Greek language, syntax, or other guidelines for good translations. Such versions are the expression of an individual's theology or a groups doctrines. The Living Bible and the Jehovah's Witnesses Bible are examples of this type of translation.
The choice of a translation is very important to an accurate study of the scriptures. To begin studying the scriptures, select a translation that best translates the original texts, and one that can be easily read and understood in you native language. I say native language because there are other translations than English that have been faithful to both the original language and to the common language of the people. If you cannot understand the words used in your own language, how can you understand what you are reading.
My personal recommendation is the New King James Version. I have been using this version for several years. I like this version because it still maintains the beauty of the King James Version with an updated syntax and word meanings. Many of the words found in the King James Version have changed over the centuries since it was translated in 1611. The New King James makes provision for these word meaning changes. Still, you must select a translation that you feel comfortable with.
THE BIBLE OF ANCIENT TIMES
The Bible we are familiar with, today, is not the same as the ones used in the early Church. There were two types of writing material used in the first century.
PAPYRUS: This writing material was made from the papyrus or byblus reed. This reed-like plant grew near rivers and marshes. The inner bark was cut and dried into flat strips. These strips were then glued together, with one having the grain going horizontally and the other side vertically. These were placed together with other strips then rolled up for storage. To read this type of book, you would unroll one end and read while rolling up the other end.
The size of books made from papyrus was limited. Writers would write on both sides of the papyrus in order to get the most out of this writing material. Such is the description of the seven sealed book in Revelation chapter five. This book is described as being written within and without, or all available writing surface was used. The writer of Revelation used this to express the completeness of the scriptures. If the book was written from within and without, there was no more room for adding any additional writings. As the Book of Revelation is completed, a warning is issued against adding to or taking away form this sealed book.
The largest that a book could be that was written on papyrus would be that of the size of the book of Luke. Luke's Gospel is the longest book of the New Testament.
PARCHMENT: This writing material was made from the membrane of sheep or goat skins. The invention of this writing material began in the city of Pergamon, when Egypt stopped shipment of papyrus for book writing. This is a more durable writing material, and many books remain to this day that were written on parchment.
The form of books changed over the centuries. The first books of importance were written on papyrus and were in rolls. To read the contents of such books, you would unroll the book from one end and as you read would roll the book back. Once you had completed your reading, you would have to unroll the book and return it back to its original beginning.
Books that were made into sheets, like we have today, came after the time of the Apostles. Such books were made up of leaves of parchment and were called Codexes. These Codexes were usually sewed together and they were very bulky.
Not until the modern printing press were books made in the same fashion as today. Even then, the early printed books contained elaborate artistic designs, which were done by hand or wood carved plates.
The early form of books, written on papyrus, were called uncial, and when they were referenced to scriptures as uncial manuscripts. The extant manuscripts were written in all capital letters without division between the words. This was possible in the Greek language, whereas it would be extremely difficult in our language. The following is an example of how a passage of scripture might look, written in English, in the uncial fashion.
Another form of writing was called minuscule manuscripts. This writing was done in a free form type like our cursive, using both upper and lower case letters. This form also included a form of punctuation. There was not formal punctuation in the ancient Greek texts.
Space and time do not permit a more detailed description of the development of the Biblical text. For more information the following two books are recommended: "The Book And The Parchments," by F. F. Bruce, Revell publication; and "How We Got The Bible," by Neil R. Lightfoot, Baker publication (he is a Church of Christ writer).
THE ENGLISH BIBLE
We tend to take our English Bible with little thought as to how it really came about. We tend to take it for granted that there has always been an English Bible, or that the King James Version might have been the first English Bible. The history of the English Bible is interesting, and one that everyone should have some knowledge of.
When Jerome published the Latin Vulgate, the seeds of the apostasy were well under germination. With the next three centuries the Roman Catholic Church would become a full reality with its Pope. The Bible that would rule the religious world would be the Latin Vulgate. Therefore, if you could not read Latin, you could not read the scriptures. About this time we begin to see the beginning of the Dark Ages, where learning was stopped, except for a few who were rich and certain Priest. As the Catholic Church grew in power, it took the Bible away from the common people. In short, there was also spiritual darkness of great magnitude.
God's promise in the Revelation letter was that the Church would be lifted up off the earth, leaving no visible tracks. His providence, during this darkness, provided for a group of people who did not cleave to the Apostate Church. These people kept the Greek Scriptures alive. These people were known as the Byzantines. If is from these people that we obtained the foundation of our modern English Bibles.
With the dawning of the sixteenth century, the light was once again beginning to shine in the spiritually darken world. The invention of the printing press, in the middle of the 15th century, revived the desire for knowledge of Greek and Hebrew. The printing press allowed for a wider distribution of Books. This period of time saw the publication of many Greek texts, beginning with Erasmus's in 1514. Stephens printed several editions of the Greek Text in the mid 1500's. He associated his text with the Latin Vulgate, and in his 1551 edition, alone with Erasmus's text, we find the first division into verses. This edition would later be called "Textus Receptus" or the text used by the King James Translators.
These early efforts were the first attempt to bring all the various Greek manuscripts together. These combined text would form the basis for the Greek Text used by translators. Now, translators could translate the Bible into the common language of the people. This was no easy task, considering the persecution it brought upon those who attempted such endeavors. We owe a debt to Luther, who started the Reformation Era, thus permitting more freedom to do this vital work that would lead to an English translation. (All of this occurred in the early part of the sixteenth century).
EARLY ATTEMPTS TO PUT THE BIBLE INTO ENGLISH
The first known attempt to put any portion of the Bible into Anglo-Saxon was by Caedmon in the middle of the seventh century. His was not a translation, rather stories about Bible events.
In the eighth century we have Aldhelm (d. 709) who translated the book of Psalms. Then Bede (d. 735), before his death, translated the Gospel of John. King Alfred (d. 901) revolted and translated Psalms and some other sections of scripture. In the tenth century Abbot Aelfric translated portions of the Old Testament. In Old English versions that have survived, we have the Pentateuch, some of the historical books of the Old Testament, Psalms and the Gospels.
With the Norman invasion of 1066 a change took place in the English language. About the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries parts of the Bible were put into this new style English by William of Shoreham and Richard Rolle. Their work on the Psalms planted the seed that created a struggle to get the whole Bible into English. The final product, an English Bible, was still about two centuries away. The desire for an English Bible had been planted, and nothing would stop this desire until it was a reality.
Wycliffe and Tyndale
Wycliffe (1330-1384) lived in a time of great turmoil between England and the Pope. He believed in the common man and his ability to learn. Toward the end of his life he translated the Scriptures form Latin into English (1382). This was the first known translation of the whole Bible into English. John Purvey corrected and revised this edition in 1388, and this Wycliffe Bible was the only English Bible until the sixteenth century.
William Tyndale is considered the true father of the English Bible. His translation was not from Latin, but from the original Greek and Hebrew. A famous quote of Tyndale, which showed the passion for an English translation is: "If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plow shall know more of the Scriptures than thou doest." He could not do his work in England, so he went to Hamburg, Germany, and completed his translation of the New Testament in 1525. He had to flee from his enemies once again, and was able to finally get his Bible published at Worms in 1526. Copies of this English Bible had to be smuggled into England. The church in England condemned his work, and many copies were publicly burned. He now began working on the Old Testament and translating the Hebrew into English. He was imprisoned in 1534 and was strangled and burned at the stake in 1536, crying, "Lord, open the King of England's eyes."
There are other Sixteenth Century Translations. There were a number of other translations that followed that of Tyndale, and indirectly inspired by him.
The King James Version (1611):
Not until the translation known as The King James Version was there to be a common Bible for both the public and the private sectors.
King James desired that some form of religious toleration be had among the many religious groups of that day. He called a conference in 1604 called the Hampton Court Conference. Here Dr. John Reynolds of Oxford suggested that a new translation be made. King James laid down the principle rules for this new translation, one being that no comments would be make, except for what was essential in translating the text. No one particular view was to be upheld in this translation. The King James translation was not to be a completely new translation, rather a revision of the Bishop's Bible.
About forty-eight Greek and Hebrew scholars were selected and divided into six working groups. As Lightfoot describes this procedure (p.101):
"Each company, restricted in its labors by detailed instructions, was assigned selected books to be translated; and the work of each company was sent to and reviewed by the other companies, appointed delegates of each company smoothing out the difficult spots. In this way the translation was the product of no individual or group but of the revisers as a whole."
In 1611 the new translation was ready to be printed, and it was dedicated to the King. This new translation also included a preface from the translators justifying the new translation. Unfortunately this preface is no longer included in the editions of today. If you can find this preface, it is worth you time and effort to read and understand the attitude and devotion to the truth that these men possessed.
The King took the Geneva Bible out of the churches and replaced it with the King James Version. There was stiff competition for many years, however, in the end the King James Version came into full popularity.
There are four reasons why this version was better than those that had preceded. In the seventy-five years since Tyndale, Greek and Hebrew scholarship had increased because there was greater interest in Biblical languages. Literary scholarship and learning were at a high peak. This was the time of Shakespeare and Spenser. The prose of this new version was the best of English scholarship. Even today, the style of this version cannot be equaled. This translation came out at the proper time. One was needed to combine all the good points of all the other versions. It was not the work of any one man. The previous translations had been the work of one man, which allows for many errors.
There are many fine books that provide excellent reading regarding the history of our English Bible. The books mentioned in the previous section are good for this history, as well as others. It would benefit anyone, who takes the time, to do an in dept study on how we got our English Bibles.
For the next two centuries Bible scholarship increased and new discoveries were being made regarding the text of the Bible. In the early nineteenth century a new age was beginning in the study of the Bible: Biblical Criticism. There were two schools of thought: one that sought to discredit the authority of the scriptures, and the other that sought to prove beyond doubt the veracity of the text upon which the Bible was based.
Tischendorf was the first man to make a major discovery that would change the scope of Biblical scholarship. He found what we call the Codex Sinaiticus in 1844. Soon, other men were to discover other ancient manuscripts which opened the doors for greater study of the original text. Most of the Greek text used in the King James Version dated only back to the twelfth century.
The work of Wescott and Hort brought about a serious consideration for making a newer translation. Although these men denied the inspiration of the scriptures, they did advance the knowledge of the original text, or what we call "Textual Criticism." Textual Criticism is the study of a text of scripture to determine what actually was written, and the prevailing circumstances that might have affected the inclusion or exclusion of particular words. It also help explain many of the supposed errors that existed in the various texts used to make the Greek text of the Bible.
It was during this time that it was learned that the original text was not written in some special Bible Greek, rather in the common language of Greek speaking people of that day, or the Koine Greek. Deissmann wrote "Light From the Ancient East," which showed that the Greek used in the writing of the New Testament was the same as that used by the common man. From his work, and that of many others, new light was shown of previously obscure texts.
All of this spurred newer translations, which were based on the newly discovered manuscripts. Of these was the Revised Version of 1885 (The English Version), and its American counterpart in 1901 The American Standard Version. Today we have a number of newer translations, most attempt to make the Bible more readable or understandable.
THE UNIQUENESS OF THE BIBLE
Of all sacred religious literature, only the Bible stands supreme. All other literature possesses weaknesses in uniformity, and are full of contradictions. The extant copies of the scriptures, either in copies, manuscripts, fragments, or other forms of texts, stand as proof that the Bible is the Word of God. The evidences for the scriptures is far superior to any other religious work available today.
In all cultures of the world, there are certain events which have a common link with the Bible.
The Bible was written over a period of about 1500 years, and by about 40 different writers. Most of these writers never knew one another, nor of the others writings. Yet, in all of this there is uniformity in all that they wrote. Consider some of the various characteristics of the writers of the Scriptures:
They wrote from various lands. From Italy in the west to Mesopotamia in the east.
The writers were of a heterogeneous number of people. They were not only separated by hundreds of miles and years in time, but also in their background. In their ranks are kings, herdsmen, soldiers, legislators, fishermen, statesmen, courtiers, priests and prophets, a tent making rabbi, and a Gentile physician. Others we know nothing about except for their writings.
The literature of the Bible is vast. In it we find History, law (civil, criminal, ethical, ritual, sanitary), religious poetry, didactic treatises, lyric poetry, parable and allegory, biography, personal correspondence, personal memoirs and diaries, in addition to prophecy and apocalyptic material.
The Bible contains scientific truths that man has only in recent years been able to learn.
Many others, yet the greatest proof is that true science realizes that in Science that the Laws are fixed, and that nothing can change those laws. Who made those laws? God created all things, and He fixed the boundary of their habitation.
The nature of the content of the Bible shows its reliability.
Other religious literature will present its main characters in all their strength, purity, and admirable qualities. They will not hint of any defects in character. The Bible shows the weaknesses, short comings, failures, and sins of its principal characters. In this we find the love of God towards man, in their failures, He will give the way to hope which is through salvation provided by the sacrifice of His Son.
Other religious literature places their gods on an equal with man. Some of them possessing the same characteristics as man, even to having relations with women. The true God of heaven is above all, and man was created after His image. He is described as possessing human characteristics, however this is only so that man can understand Him better; He does not possess human form. God does not possess the weaknesses of man.
The nature of God is greater than any other being. His is omniscient -- He knows everything (Heb. 4:13). He is omnipotent -- He is all powerful (Mark 10:27). He is omnipresent -- He is everywhere (Psalms 139:7- 10).
Evil forces have tried to destroy the Bible, yet, it has remained faithful and true throughout all the ages. None can succeed in destroying its influence or its presence. Finally, the words of Jesus stand true:
Matthew 24:35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. (NKJV)
Return To Bible History