Scriptures

How We Got Our Bible

Introduction

The Bible has been called the world’s most wonderful book. It has often been called ‘the book’ and rightly so for it is in a class by itself. The word ‘Bible’ means ‘book,’ actually, it is a compilation of 66 books written by about 40 different authors scattered across many countries during a period of 1600 years.

The story of how this remarkable book came into being with each part fitting perfectly into the others and with no real contradictions is most interesting. We must conclude it could have come only from God.

HOW THE BIBLE WAS WRITTEN

The Bible is divided into two great divisions known as the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament is over three times as long as the New Testament and its writing was completed about 400 years before the birth of Christ.

Originally the biblical books were hand written on animal skins (parchment) or on paper made from the papyrus plant. Printing was not yet invented, so every copy of an original had to be made by hand. Therefore, copies were rare and extremely valuable.

The 39 Old Testament books were written in Hebrew, except for small portions in the Aramaic language. The first 5 were written by Moses about 1500 years B.C. (before Christ).

During the next thousand years the remaining books were penned, and it appears that Ezra, the scribe (A person who wrote documents for others or copied written material), brought them all together into a single book (Nehemiah 8:5) about 400 B.C.

In the third century before Christ, the first great translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew to Greek was made at Alexandria, Egypt. It was called Septuagint (meaning seventy) because it was supposedly translated by seventy scholars (a person who studies an academic subject and knows a lot about it). Christ often quoted this version or a Hebrew text similar to it.

The 27 New Testament books were written in Greek by eight men. Several of them apostles of Christ, in the first century A.D. (Since Christ). The New Testament covers events occurring in that century, including the life of Christ and the establishment of his church.

As is true of the Old Testament, all original copies have been lost or destroyed, and yet we have writings substantially as they were penned. Many copies have been preserved and are available for scholars to use in translating into other languages.

The three most important are the Vatican Manuscript at the Vatican in Rome, written in the fourth century; the Alexandrian Manuscript in the British Museum in London, written in the fifth century; and the Sinaitic Manuscript, also in the British Museum, written in the fourth century.

In addition, there are hundreds of other copies of lesser importance which are of value to translators in making sure that we have the original New Testament writings.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, the first of which were discovered in 1947 in a cave near the Dead Sea and which date from the first or second century before Christ, have helped in recent translations of the Old Testament.

They have also substantiated the accuracy of the manuscripts from which earlier translations were made so that we may be even more confident that we have the real message of the Old Testament writers.

There are two additional sources of information about the original New Testament books. One is the translations made soon after the New Testament was written. The most important, written in Latin, is called the Vulgate and was completed by Jerome in 405 A.D. We also have numerous Bible quotations from the writings of the early church fathers.

By comparing the Greek manuscripts, the early translations, and the quotations of the church fathers, Bible scholars have been able to determine with great accuracy what the New Testament authors wrote.

In fact, so sure are we that we have the Bible almost as it was given that we can positively say that no major Bible doctrine is in any way affected by minor errors of copying through the centuries.

THE BIBLE IN ENGLISH

The first major English translation of the New Testament was completed by John Wycliffe in 1382 after 22 years of hard work. In 1456 printing was invented by Johanne Gutenberg, making it possible to publish Bibles much faster and virtually eliminating typographical errors so common in hand copies.

In fact, the first book printed by Gutenberg was a Latin Bible. The first printed English Bible was the New Testament as translated by William Tyndale in 1525. He was strongly opposed in this by the Catholic Church and he found it necessary to have his Bibles printed on the continent and smuggled into England.

Most were publicly burned in London. He was betrayed, and burned at the stake for giving the Bible to the people. His final words were,

‘Lord, open the king of England’s eyes.’

The first complete English Bible was the work of Miles Coverdale. Other versions soon followed and by 1604 the king of England’s eyes were opened. He authorised the translation of a new version, the work of 54 scholars.

It was completed in 1611 and is known as the King James (after the monarch who authorised it) or the Authorized Version. Although it was translated over 350 years ago, it is still probably more widely used than any other English version of God’s word.

However, the discovery of additional Bible manuscripts not available to the King James translators and inevitable change of the English language in time called for other versions that would be more readable and accurate. In 1885 a revision of the King James known as the English Revised Version was completed by 84 British and American scholars.

The American edition of this version, the American Standard Version was published in 1901, and is possibly the most accurate version which we have. In 1952 the complete Revised Standard Version appeared using modern English.

It is a revision of the American Standard and has gained wide acceptance in the few years since its publication. It is more readable than its predecessors and is destined to replace the King James as the version most widely read.

Several other versions are worthy of note. They include translations by individuals such as Edgar J. Goodspeed and James Moffat and more recently, the New English Bible and the New American Standard New Testament a revision of American Standard.

The Roman Catholic Church has produced its own translations. The Rheims Douai Bible appeared in 1582. It has been succeeded by the Confraternity Version, part of which first was published in 1941. Catholic versions include the same books found in other versions (sometimes under a different name) plus fourteen more in the Old Testament only which are called the Apocrypha.

This word means ‘hidden’ and is applied to these books because their origin is doubtful. They are found only in the Greek, not the Hebrew canon of the Old Testament, and have therefore been rejected by the Jews and most non-Catholics as not rightly belonging in the Old Testament. However, their exclusion from the Old Testament does not materially affect any Bible doctrine.

THE BIBLE IS GOD’S WORD

The Bible claims to be inspired. Peter said,

‘For no prophetic message ever came just from the human will, but people were under the control of the Holy Spirit as they spoke the message that came from God.’ 2 Peter 1:21

The Holy Spirit so guided the writers of the Bible that they could not make mistakes.

‘So then, we do not speak in words taught by human wisdom, but in words taught by the Spirit, as we explain spiritual truths to those who have the Spirit.’ 1 Corinthians 2:13

Because of this, there are no real contradictions in the Bible. Those things which appear to be contradictions disappear under close investigation.

That the Bible is true may be shown by several of its characteristics. It is scientifically accurate, even though it is not a book of science. It is historically accurate. Every attempt to prove it historically wrong has failed. It is prophetically correct as is seen in many prophecies which have been fulfilled beyond question.

It is impartial, presenting both good and bad of all men, not trying to gloss over the sins of any man who might be

‘a man after God’s own heart.’

It presents the world’s highest standard of morality. Finally, it has never been destroyed in spite of dozens of attempts to exterminate it.

DIVISIONS OF THE BIBLE

The 66 books of the Bible have two major divisions called the Old Testament and New Testament. The Old Testament explains God’s relationship with man before the coming of Jesus Christ while the New Testament tells us about the life of Christ and how God deals with us today.

It is important for us to realise that we must go to the New Testament rather than to the Old if we wish to find out how to become Christians and how to live the Christian life.

In Luke 24:44, Jesus mentions three divisions of the Old Testament when he speaks of the Law of Moses, the prophets and the psalms. For the purpose of our study we shall divide the Old Testament into five major divisions – the law, Jewish history, poetry, the Major Prophets, and Minor Prophets.

The New Testament will be divided into the gospels, history, the epistles (Letters) of Paul, the general epistles (Letters) and prophecy.

OLD TESTAMENT BOOKS

The first five books of the Old Testament are known as the books of the law and are sometimes called the Pentateuch (meaning five books). Written by Moses, they trace the history of man during his first 2500 years of existence.

Genesis tells the story of the creation and fall of man, the flood, and the events of the Patriarchal Age. This was the period from creation to the giving of the Law of Moses in which there was no written divine law.

It is called the Patriarchal Age or dispensation because worship of God was conducted by each father for his family. After the Law of Moses was given, there was an organized system of worship on the national scale.

The book of Exodus relates the story of the deliverance of the children of Israel (later called the Jews) from the land of Egypt, and account of their forty-year wandering in the wilderness.

Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy give more of the history of this wandering and also recorded the law of Moses which governed God’s chosen people, the Israelites, from that time until the death of Christ. The period from Moses to Christ is called the Mosaic Age. The Law of Moses applied to the Jews and was never intended for Christians. It was brought to an end when Christ died on the cross.

There are 12 books of history which follow next and record the story of the Jewish nation. This includes the account of how Israel became a great people, how they sinned and were carried to a far country in captivity, and finally how a part of them eventually returned home.

These books are Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther. The authors of some of these are unknown.

The five books of poetry are primarily books of devotion and exhortation. They may not seem too poetic to us because some of the poetic form has been lost in translation, but in many ways they are among the best loved books of the Bible.

They include Job (author unknown), the Psalms or songs of praise, written chiefly by David, and Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon, all written by Solomon.

Probably the best known piece of writing in the world is the 23rd Psalm. You could not find greater words of wisdom in our day then the words of Solomon. The Book of Job is an account of a rich man who lost all he had, remained faithful to God in spite of it, and was doubly rewarded for his faithfulness.

The prophetic books are usually divided into the Major Prophets and Minor Prophets because the Major Prophets are much greater in length. With the exception of Lamentations, written by Jeremiah, all of the books of prophecy were penned by the men whose names they bear.

The five books of major prophecy are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel and Daniel. While the Minor prophets are Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Isaiah is often called the Messianic prophet because he prophesies more than any other of the coming of Christ.

Daniel includes, besides prophecy, some very interesting events occurring during the captivity of the Jews in Babylon. Many of these books also deal with things which were soon to happen to the Jews and their neighbours.

NEW TESTAMENT BOOKS

With Malachi, the Old Testament ends. The first four books of the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) are written by the men whose names they bear. They are known as the four gospels.

The word gospel means ‘good news’ and these books tell us the good news of the coming of the Christ to save mankind. Actually, each is a biography of Jesus. While they all record some of the same events, each also contains things not found in the other three. Together they give us a very complete story of the life, death and resurrection of Christ.

With the death of Jesus came the end of the Mosaic Age and the beginning of the Christian Age which will last until the end of time. The book of Acts, written by Luke, is a book of history.

It tells how Christ’s church was established and gives a record of the activities of some of the apostles and much of the history of the early church. It is also called the book of conversions because it is the chief book to which we must go to find out how people became Christian in those days.

The next 21 books are epistles (Letters) telling Christians how to live. Some were written to individuals and others to various congregations.

The first 14, written by Paul, are known as Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, and some believe Hebrews.

The other seven letters are often called the general epistles (Letters) to distinguish them from the writings of Paul. They are James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2 and 3 John, and Jude. All were written by the men for whom they are named.

The last book of the Bible is Revelation, a book of prophecy written by John. It tells us about things which were to

‘happen very soon’ (Revelation 1:1)

Although parts of this book are difficult to understand, it is a very valuable book and worthy of our study.

So, we have divided the Bible into its proper divisions. The New Testament is much more valuable for us today than the Old because it tells us how we should live, while the law given in the Old Testament applied to those who lived before Christ.

‘Do your best to win full approval in God’s sight, as a worker who is not ashamed of his work, one who correctly teaches the message of God’s truth’. 2 Timothy 2:15

DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

Romans 8:28

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