|Volume 19 Number 8 August 2017||
Louis Rushmore, Editor
The following notes represent An Overview of How We Got the Bible because, on one hand, of their brevity compared to the vast amount of detail that is available to be sifted regarding this topic. Secondly, the following are summaries and excerpts from more extensive works on the subject of others who doubtlessly are more eminently qualified to lecture at length about How We Got the Bible. Nevertheless, it is hoped that the material herein is satisfactory to introduce to teachers and preachers How We Got the Bible, as well as to provide the right amount of acquaintance with this matter for other Christians. This study has been rewarding for me, and I have optimism that students of the Bible who pore over these pages will be enriched, too.
The Inspiration of the Bible
Unless divine inspiration is the source of the Bible, how we got the Bible is of little consequence and is merely a matter of idle curiosity. However, since the Bible exists as a result of divine inspiration, understanding how we got the Bible is an essential part of having and maintaining a proper regard for the Bible. “The Bible…is God speaking. He has spoken, and the Bible is the result. … Hence it is of the highest importance that we know whether or not we have the real Bible today, and if so, how it has come down to us” (H.S. Miller 3).
Truly, 2 Timothy 3:16 refers to the divine source of the Bible when it says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God…” (NKJV). The Greek word translated “inspiration” means, “divinely breathed in” (Strong). Almighty God “breathed in” His message into the human penmen. In addition, 2 Peter 1:21 agrees when it reads, “…prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” Subsequently, divinely inspired men conveyed the divinely given message to their fellow men, orally and in written form.
Numerous additional New Testament passages likewise refer to the written Word of God contained in that part of the Bible which we call the Old Testament. Sometimes the entirety of the Old Testament is approved as Holy Scripture (Matthew 22:29; John 5:39; Acts 18:24, 28; Romans 15:4; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20), whereas in other instances, swaths of Old Testament passages are verified to be Scripture (Isaiah 53; Psalm 22; Luke 24:44-45). In addition, quotations of Old Testament verses in the New Testament validate the Old Testament [when what is quoted is represented as being from God rather than obviously quoting an uninspired source] (Matthew 21:42; Mark 15:28; etc.). H.S. Miller notes 24 direct quotations in the New Testament from specific Old Testament verses (45). The Old Testament is quoted and referenced in the New Testament to the extent that if the Old Testament quotations and references in the New Testament were removed, there wouldn’t be much New Testament left. Furthermore, what remained would be unintelligible often without a corresponding and explanatory Old Testament context.
H.S. Miller in his unsurpassed work, General Biblical Introduction: From God to Us, devoted 13 pages to tedious treatment of the inspiration of the Old Testament, through the testimony of Jesus Christ, New Testament writers and others (51-64). Afterward, he committed several pages as well to the inspiration of the New Testament, beginning with cross promotion between the epistles and capped off with endorsement by the early church in the centuries immediately following and closest to the first century when the New Testament was penned.
New Testament passages are a continuation of the divine message, which was proclaimed beginning in the first century, both orally and in written form. "God exerted a supernatural influence over the writers of the Bible so that the end product is exactly as God intended it to be" (Owen 1).
If the Bible made no claim for itself to be of divine origin, how we got the Bible is of little consequence and is merely a matter of idle curiosity. However, the Bible does assert extensively to be of divine origin. Of course, merely claiming to be of divine origin does not make it so. Therefore, the validity of the declaration to be divinely inspired must be scrutinized to verify that affirmation. First, though, note that both testaments of the Bible claim to be divinely inspired. Following are but a few examples of a wider body of similar proclamations.
The first book of the Old Testament opens with numerous occasions of, “God said,” trailed by quotations from God (Genesis 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26, 29 NKJV). In all, “God said” appears 44 times in the Bible. “God spoke” occurs 13 times, and “the Lord spoke” appears 138 times. “Thus says the Lord” occurs 420 times.
The manner of divine inspiration can be seen in 2 Samuel 23:2, which reads, “The Spirit of the Lord spoke by me, And His word was on my tongue.” In similar fashion, God put words into the mouth of Aaron (Exodus 4:15); this was typical regarding divinely inspired prophets of God in contrast to uninspired prophets (Deuteronomy 18:18-20; Jeremiah 1:9). Jesus made the same promise to His apostles (Matthew 10:19-20; John 14:26). “…it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you” (Matthew 10:20).
Just here, it is important to note that God communicated to mortal prophets with words rather than by thoughts (which a fallible man might choose according to his own discretion what words to speak or to write). God choosing the words, even if condescending to the human mouthpiece’s personal vocabulary, preserved the divine inspiration of God’s message. So-called “thought inspiration” is no inspiration at all by the time mortal man would mold it before proclaiming it.
Through divine inspiration, fallible men in the form of prophets were able to communicate infallibly the message of God to humanity. This was true for both oral prophets as well as for writing prophets. Hence, the resulting message is from God rather than from man. “These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches…” (1 Corinthians 2:13). “He [a prophet, essentially, a preacher] was the bearer, not the originator of his message” (H.S. Miller 18).
By divine inspiration of the Bible, we mean what is sometimes referred to as plenary, verbal inspiration. H.S. Miller wrote, “The word ‘plenary’ means full, complete, entire, extending to every part. …Plenary, Verbal Inspiration means that every word in every part of the original manuscripts of the Bible is given by inspiration of God, or given by God through the Spirit” (24 emphasis added). A distinction needs to be observed between the absolute inspiration of the original manuscripts and subsequent translations of the Bible. “This [plenary, verbal inspiration] applies to the Bible in the original languages, Hebrew and Greek; not to the various translations” (24). “All ancient books had to be produced by hand, and no human hand is so exact or eye so sharp as to preclude the possibility of error” (Lightfoot 30).
Do not be alarmed. The doctrinal teaching of the Bible can be assured through critical analysis of numerous ancient Old Testament and New Testament manuscripts and translations. Despite the fact that no original manuscripts of any of the Bible books have survived, thousands of partial and complete copies of Bible books validate every Bible doctrine that is applicable today. “The New Testament books have been handed down to us by means of thousands of copies. Although God inspired the New Testament writers, he did not miraculously guide the hands of the copyists” (Lightfoot 35). A study of the transmission of the Bible text from antiquity to the present more fully discusses this aspect of how we got the Bible.
Unless one applies the divinely inspired message of the Bible to himself where applicable, how we got the Bible is of little consequence and is merely a matter of idle curiosity. “If we accept the doctrine of the inspiration of the Bible and still ignore the teachings of the Bible in our own lives, we must realize that we are accepting an eternal destiny in hell” (Owen 10). What a person is supposed to do with the divinely inspired Word of God follows affirmation of the divine inspiration of the Scriptures. “Scripture…is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
For a number of reasons, not everything in the Bible is suitable for application today. The Bible records statements (words of Satan, speeches and conversations of uninspired persons), facts (when the rainy season in Palestine occurs, Jerusalem is a mountain city) and history (wars between or even within nations, crowning of kings) that everyone understands is not meant to be observed or practiced in our time. Furthermore, some divine instructions in the Bible are not meant to be implemented today because those commands were given to and limited to others (build an ark, offer animal sacrifices). We must ‘rightly divide the word of truth’ (2 Timothy 2:15). This begins with the recognition that the Bible contains three religious eras: Patriarchy, Judaism and Christianity. Christianity or the Gospel or New Testament has superseded Patriarchy and Judaism by the replacement of the Old Testament with the New Testament (Ephesians 2:15; Colossians 2:14).
Jesus, the apostles of Christ and other inspired men in the first century acknowledged both testaments of the Bible as being the divinely inspired Word of God. We must do the same. “If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:37).
New revelation from God, however, ceased permanently nearly 2,000 years ago with the passing of the apostles and others enabled by the apostles to perform miracles (Acts 19:1-7). Miracles served their purpose, namely for mankind to receive and to confirm divinely inspired revelation from God—the New Testament or Gospel of Christ (Mark 16:20; 1 Corinthians 13:8-12). Divine inspiration continues in the form of the written Word of God.
The Bible is not the first written document to be scribed. Mankind had been committing communication to writing for over 2,000 years before God chiseled the Ten Commandments on stone tablets (Exodus 31:18) or a little later when Moses wrote the first books of the Old Testament (Exodus 34:27; Deuteronomy 27:3; 31:24). “Our Bible is a very old book, but it is by no means the oldest book in the world” (Lightfoot 2). A Sumerian limestone tablet dates back to 3500 B.C., Egyptian hieroglyphics are as old as 3000 B.C. and letters were circulating in Palestine by about 1400 B.C. (Lightfoot 2). Once, critics argued that the Bible could not have been written when it purports to have been written because writing did not exist yet. However, historical evidence has shown such arguments to be completely baseless and untrue.
Historically, writing materials varied from time to time. Ancient writings were scribed on stone (Deuteronomy 10:4), clay (Ezekiel 4:1), wood (Habakkuk 2:2), leather (Jeremiah 36:23) or papyrus (New Testament)—perhaps in that order over the centuries as technology for committing communication to writing advanced. Additional materials on which writing was sometimes placed include ivory, bone, pottery, metal, wax and cloth. The Ten Commandments were written on tables of stone, and it appears that the Old Testament was penned primarily on clay, wood and leather. Initially, the New Testament epistles probably were written on papyrus, a fragile and nondurable material.
The spongy interior of the papyrus plant was extracted from the stem and sliced into long strips. The strips, then, were laid alongside of other strips; more papyrus strips were laid side by side perpendicular to the former strips. The grouping of strips afterward was pressed with weights long enough for the thick, paper-like sheets to dry. Preparation for use as writing material involved assembling it into approximately 10 inch wide, 30 foot long rolls. Writing was usually restricted to one side, which had been burnished by rubbing it with a smooth stone or piece of wood.
Later, papyrus was replaced with vellum or parchment. Whereas earlier in history leather used for writing purposes may not have been tanned, vellum is made from tanned animal skins. Vellum is highly durable. “For the Old Testament the most important writing material was leather or skins. At the time when the New Testament was penned papyrus was in general use. …the vast majority of our New Testament manuscripts stand today written on…vellum” (Lightfoot 6).
Languages of the Bible
“The Bible was written originally in three languages: (1) Hebrew, (2) Aramaic, and (3) Greek” (Lightfoot 11). Most of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, though a small portion of it was written in Aramaic. Despite Aramaic being the language common in Palestine in the first century, the New Testament was written in the universal, international language of the day—Greek. The Greek in which the New Testament was penned differs from Greek spoken and written today because living languages evolve over time; the same has been true of English, and one today could scarcely read or comprehend the English language in which, for instance, the King James or Authorized Version of the Bible was written in 1611. The language of the New Testament is referred to as Koine (meaning, common) Greek.
Manuscripts, Versions (Translations),
Lectionaries & Church Fathers
“A Bible manuscript is a copy written by hand in the original Biblical languages, Hebrew and Greek” (H.S. Miller 181). Presumably, all original autographs, which were penned by divinely inspired men, no longer exist. God in His wisdom saw fit that the original books of the Bible would not remain to the present or be discernible as such, perhaps to guard against them being revered as objects of worship (2 Kings 18:4). Yet, God providentially preserved divine doctrine through collaborative validation by thousands of manuscripts. Two types of manuscripts exist, those written with individually formed capital letters (uncials) and those written with small letters (minuscule), some of the latter being written as cursive.
Old Testament: “The Hebrew manuscripts on which our modern Hebrew Bible is primarily based are known as the Masoretic manuscripts. The masoretes were a group of Jewish scholars who lived between A.D. 500 and 950 and were responsible for the copying and preservation of the Hebrew text during that period. …the Masoretic Text represents the original text of the Old Testament with a high degree of accuracy” (Owen 46). The method of copying to protect the correctness of the biblical text had long been practiced by transcribers of God’s Word. Carefully noted were the number of occurrences of specific words and phrases as well as the middle word of a section or book of the Bible. Synagogue Rolls that were to be read in public services were produced under strict scrutiny to ensure a pure biblical text. H.S. Miller notes some of the strictures involved in making such a scroll.
Each column must have no less than 48 nor more than 60 lines. The entire copy must be first lined, and if three words were written in it without the line, the copy was worthless. …No word nor letter could be written from memory; the scribe must have an authentic copy before him, and he must read and pronounce aloud each word before writing it. …Strict rules were given concerning the forms of the letters, spaces between letters, words, and sections… One mistake on a sheet condemned the sheet; if three mistakes were found on any page, the entire manuscript was condemned. Every word and every letter was counted, and if a letter were omitted, an extra letter inserted, or if one letter touched another, the manuscript was condemned and destroyed at once. …Some of these rules may appear extreme and absurd, yet they show how sacred the Holy Word of the Old Testament was to its custodians, the Jews (Rom. 3:2), and they give us strong encouragement to believe that we have the real Old Testament, the same on which our Lord had and which was originally given by inspiration of God. (184-185)
An archaeological find of ancient documents called the Dead Sea Scrolls includes a manuscript of the Book of Isaiah that is 1,000 years older than the manuscript from which our English translation of Isaiah was made. The nearly perfect agreement between the Hebrew manuscripts penned 10 centuries apart is remarkable, and it reassures us of the fidelity with which God’s Word has been preserved for us.
In short, the manuscript evidence available on the text of the Old Testament serves to confirm our faith that God has truly kept his promise and preserved his holy word. A number of ancient versions of the Old Testament have survived in manuscript form, supplying us with secondary witnesses to the text of the Old Testament. …The most famous ancient translation of the Old Testament is the Septuagint (LXX), a Greek translation which was begun about 250 B.C. …casual survey of Old Testament manuscript evidence yields the conviction that our Bible is well substantiated. The Hebrew text was obviously transmitted quite carefully by the Masoretic scribes and their predecessors. The combined testimony of the ancient versions gives further credence to this fact. Christians, therefore, have every reason to trust the accuracy of the Old Testament text. (Owen 51-52)
New Testament: Over 5,000 manuscripts (and more than 9,000 version copies, H.S. Miller 281) of the New Testament exist—many partial and some complete or nearly complete New Testaments. This makes “…the New Testament…without doubt the best-attested book from the ancient world” (Lightfoot 16). The three oldest complete or virtually complete vellum manuscripts of both the Old and New testaments are the Vatican, the Sinaitic and the Alexandrian—“the oldest Bibles in the world” as Neil Lightfoot says (17). These range in dates from A.D. 300 to A.D. 450. H.S. Miller provides an extensive analysis of the physical condition and content of each of these manuscripts (191-195) and additional manuscripts, too (196-204).
Versions or translations, especially of the Greek New Testament, provide additional corroboration of the biblical text. “There are some 8,000 manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate alone! Indeed, a huge library of ancient versions provides yet another means of confirming the text of the Greek New Testament!” (Owen 53). “An Ancient Version, in general, is one which was made before the invention of printing; before 1450. After 1450 the term Modern Version is used” (H.S. Miller 210).
The Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Old Testament was made closer to the close of the writing of the Old Testament than any extant Hebrew manuscripts of that part of God’s Word. Therefore, it helps to validate the doctrine of the Old Testament. Besides Greek, ancient versions of the Old Testament were written in Aramaic. Ancient Versions having both the Old and New testaments were penned in Syriac, Latin, Egyptian, Ethiopic, Gothic, Armenian, Georgian, Arabic, Slavonic and Persian (H.S. Miller 212).
The Old Testament available to and used by Jesus Christ most of the time during His ministry is thought to have been the Greek version of the Hebrew Old Testament—the Septuagint. This notes the valuable contribution that ancient versions or translations of God’s Word can make to the preservation of divine revelation. That Jesus used and did not criticize the translation of God’s Word available to Him proves that divine revelation can be successfully transmitted and preserved despite owing their existence to human scribes, howbeit, very careful and conscientious scribes.
“Lectionaries are service books, or volumes containing selections from parts of the New Testament to be read throughout the year in the church services” (H.S. Miller 209). Forasmuch as these very old Greek works portray Scripture, they add to the verification of the biblical text.
So-called Church Fathers or the writings of Christians after the close of the first century offer another layer of validation on biblical doctrine of the New Testament.
The ‘Fathers’ were the Christian writers of the first seven centuries or so who have preserved in their writings, to a certain extent, the doctrines, history, and traditions of the early Church. …These Fathers were the theologians and defenders of the early Church. …They wrote commentaries, expositions, sermons, defenses, treatises on various Biblical subjects, church histories, notes, tracts, harmonies of the Gospels, etc. About 200 of these Church Fathers… From this great mass of patristic evidence we have ample proof of the existence, time, place, and teaching of the New Testament books; also some testimony as to the text. (H.S. Miller 257-261).
No book in the world enjoys as much authentication as the Bible. Nothing else comes even close! At best, the most famous uninspired literary works have a mere handful of copies for any one of them, and yet no one questions their authenticity. The biblical text is well substantiated, and even despite minor variations between manuscripts, no divinely inspired doctrine in the Bible is jeopardized.
While it is true that variations in the text have arisen in many passages over the centuries of time, this great library of Greek manuscripts from different centuries and different geographical locations helps the modern textual critic to scientifically determine the original text to a very high degree of accuracy. …textual criticism …is a very exacting process. Since we do not possess the actual autographs or originals of the New Testament books, textual criticism is also a very necessary process. (Owen 56)
“The work of the textual critic is to counteract the errors of the copyists and to recover, as far as possible, the exact words of the writer” (H.S. Miller 281). "There are an estimated 150,000 variations between manuscripts, but just a few hundred have any impact on the meaning of the biblical text. About 50 cannot be definitively resolved, but none of them compromise biblical doctrine” (H.S. Miller 280). Most of the variations are comparable to the dotting of an “i” or the crossing of a “t” in English—having no effect on biblical teaching. Other minor, unintentional errors include repetitions, omissions, transposition of letters or words, variant spelling, similar letters, incorrect abbreviations, insertion of marginal notes, wrong division of words, losing one’s place, language variations and memory errors—transcribing thoughts rather than specific words. “By far the greater number of these errors, unintentional and intentional, may be, and have been, discovered and eliminated by comparison of manuscripts” (H.S. Miller 282-285).
Textual criticism can be based on either the quantity of manuscript witnesses or based upon the quality of manuscript witnesses. Although the quantity of manuscripts serves generally to corroborate biblical text, a passage of Scripture where there is some question about its reading in a certain way can be better ascertained from the quality of manuscripts. Numerous copies of a manuscript, each bearing the error of the manuscript from which they were copied, are not as reliable to establish the true biblical text as older manuscripts that are in date closer to the original biblical autographs. Furthermore, H.S. Miller notes that one can never be assured that men have discovered yet the true majority of manuscripts, as the finding and subsequent examination of ancient manuscripts is an ongoing saga (287).
Consequently, some verses in a few of our English Bibles are suspect. Most later translations of the Bible into English are based upon the oldest and among the nearly complete Greek manuscripts of the Bible: the Vatican, the Sinaitic and the Alexandrian. The earliest papyrus and parchment manuscripts do not contain Acts 8:37—the response to Philip by the Ethiopian treasurer; confession of Christ, though, is taught elsewhere (Matthew 10:32; Romans 10:9-10; 1 Timothy 6:12). Likewise, John 7:53‐8:11 about the woman taken in adultery does not appear in the Vatican, the Sinaitic and the Alexandrian manuscripts. “The textual evidence is all against 1 John 5:7” (Lightfoot 41), which reads, “For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one” (NKJV).
The Vatican and Sinaitic manuscripts do not have Mark 16:9-20.
In favor of Mark 16:9-20 there are a host of witnesses: the Alexandrian Manuscript, the Ephraem Manuscript, Codex Bezae, other early uncials, all late uncials and cursives, five old Latin authorities plus the Vulgate, one Old Syriac manuscript, the Syriac Peshitta version, and many other versions. Besides, there is a plain statement from Irenaeus (early Christian writer) which clearly shows the existence of Mark 16:9-20 in the second century and the belief that Mark was its author. (Lightfoot 42)
The teaching is valid irrespective of whether the longer ending was in the original autograph since it essentially appears elsewhere in the New Testament (Matthew 28:19-20). As far as we know, only two ancient manuscripts do not contain Mark 16:9-20—the Vatican and Sinaitic, which date back to A.D. 300. Christian writers, however, who lived and wrote before the production of the Vatican and Sinaitic manuscripts quoted from portions of Mark 16:9-20 (Irenaeus, who died c. A.D. 202; Tertullian, who died about A.D. 220; Cyprian, who died A.D. 258 and others, Dave Miller). “…seven…second and third century witnesses precede the earliest existing Greek manuscripts that verify the genuineness of the verses. More to the point, they predate both Vaticanus and Sinaiticus” (Dave Miller). Textual criticism, then, supports the inclusion of Mark 16:9-20 in our Bibles as authentic, despite the absence of those verses in the Vatican and Sinaitic manuscripts.
John 5:4 is another instance in which the oldest Greek manuscripts do not have a verse that appears in later manuscripts. For hundreds of years John 5:4 did not appear in the Greek. Therefore, it is supposed that someone inserted a marginal note or personal commentary, ever how innocently, into the text supposing that it was explanatory information belonging within the passage.
The Greek text from which English translations are made today is the result of reviewing thousands of Greek manuscripts, ancient versions, lectionaries and early Christian literature. The Greek text from which English translations are made today is the product of textual criticism. “Our modern Greek text may be described as a reconstructed or restored text. …This means that our modern-type text is an edition of the New Testament text restored through all the aids of Textual Criticism” (Lightfoot 44). Careful scientific analysis underlies the preservation of a Greek text today as nearly identical to the original autographs as humanly possible. It can be affirmed confidently that the Greek text today represents every doctrine of the original autographs and nearly every word. We have today the communication from God that He wants us to have. We have what we need to be Christians, to worship acceptably and to prepare for Judgment and the heavenly hereafter.
Essentially, there are two differing Greek texts from which English Bibles are translated today. The King James and New King James versions of the Bible rely on the Received or Majority Text (Textus Receptus), which is based on the thousands of Greek manuscripts. The American Standard Bible and many since then rely for their translation on a Greek manuscript comprised from primarily two or three of the oldest manuscripts: the Vatican, the Sinaitic and the Alexandrian. “…the Westcott-Hort text represented a wholesale rejection of mass authorities and acknowledged dependence on the Sinaitic and Vatican Manuscripts, particularly the Vatican. …The Westcott-Hort text, along with the new translation [Revised and American Standard versions], dealt the final blow to the old type of text (Received Text) upon which the King James Version is based” (Lightfoot 46).
“When inspired materials came from the pen of those who were known to be prophets, they were immediately regarded as authoritative. …Isaiah and Jeremiah were acknowledged by their contemporaries as prophets of God (2 Kgs. 19:1‐7; 2 Chron. 36:22; Ezra 1:1)” (Owen 22). Moses’ writing was accepted as Scripture immediately by the Israelites (Exodus 24:3).
Jesus placed His stamp of approval on the Old Testament biblical books long accepted by the Jews in a single statement. “Then He said to them, ‘These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me’” (Luke 24:44). In similar fashion, our Lord acknowledged the Old Testament canon in a single statement, regarding the grouping of the Hebrew Bible, which differs from the order of Old Testament books in our English Bibles (Matthew 23:35; 2 Chronicles 24:20-22). “By the time of our Lord it is evident that the Old Testament canon was well-defined: a clear distinction is maintained between ‘Scripture’ and non-Scripture” (Lightfoot 66).
Non-Scripture includes apocryphal books that sometimes were published alongside of both Old Testament and New Testament books, but not anciently. “Apocrypha” means hidden or concealed (H.S. Miller 108). Every once in a while some bookseller or tabloid peddler publishes and pushes on an unsuspecting public some so-called newly discovered, lost book of the Bible, which often is no more than an old apocryphal book, long known to exist and equally long known to lack credentials upon inspection to merit it a place within the biblical canon.
The Old Testament Apocrypha includes: 1 & 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Additions to the Book of Esther, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, Letter of Jeremiah, Prayer of Azariah, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, Prayer of Manasseh, 1 & 2 Maccabees. “While it is clear that the books of the Apocrypha are not part of God’s divine revelation to man, they are of considerable historical value. From these books we can learn much about the history and thinking of the Jews in the intertestamental period. The study of these books is of great value for our understanding of the world into which Jesus came” (Owen 27).
A subcategory of apocryphal writings are the Pseudepigrapha, which “…are writings which were falsely ascribed to Biblical characters and to Biblical times, hence spurious, and which have never been accepted as canonical…” (H.S. Miller 120). These include for the Old Testament: the Book of Enoch; the Secrets of Enoch; the Apocalypse of Baruch; the Rest of the Words of Baruch; the Assumption of Moses; a Revelation of Moses; Prophecy of Jeremiah; Ascension of Isaiah; Apocalypse of Elijah; Apocalypse of Zephaniah; Apocalypse of Esdras; Sibylline Oracles; the Testament of Adam; the Book of Jubilees or the Little Genesis; Testaments of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; Apocalypse of Abraham; Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs; Life of Asenath (wife of Joseph); Testament of Job; Testament of Solomon; the Book of Noah; Penitence of Jannes and Jambres; Psalms of Solomon; Psalms in Greek; Addition to the Psalter; Psalm 151 in Greek; three apocryphal psalms in Syriac; Magical Books of Moses; and the Story of Achiacharus, cupbearer to Esarhaddon, King of Persia (H.S. Miller 121).
New Testament Apocrypha includes: the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles; the Epistle of Barnabas; 1 & 2 Epistles of Clement; the Shepherd of Hermas; the Apocalypse of Peter; the Acts of Paul, including Paul and Thecla; the Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians; the Seven Epistles of Ignatius; the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew; the Protevangelium of James; the Gospel of the Nativity of Mary; the Gospel of Nicodemus; the Gospel of the Saviour’s Infancy; and the History of Joseph the Carpenter (H.S. Miller 146).
“The Pseudepigrapha are those writings which claim to be produced by Biblical writers or in Biblical times, but which have never been accepted as canonical” (H.S. Miller 146). New Testament Pseudepigrapha include: the Gospel of Andrew; the Gospel of Bartholomew; the Gospel of Barnabas; the Gospel of Matthias; the Gospel of Thomas; the Gospel of Peter; the Gospel of Philip; the Acts of John; the Acts of Paul; the Acts of Peter; the Acts of Andrew; the Acts of Thomas; the Acts of Matthias; the Acts of Philip; the Acts of Thaddaeus; the Epistle of Paul to the Laodiceans; the Apocalypse of Peter; the Apocalypse of Paul; the Apocalypse of Thomas; and the Apocalypse of John, the Theologian (H.S. Miller 146).
Spurious books, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, “do not evidence intrinsic qualities of inspiration. …Often they contain historical, chronological and geographical errors” (Lightfoot 72). Like Belshazzar, these want-to-be-Bible books “have been weighed in the balances and found wanting” (Daniel 5:27).
Nevertheless, both the Old Testament and the New Testament came into existence gradually—over time as the individual Bible books were penned. One might refer to this as “a progressive revelation over a period of many centuries” (Owen 18). Especially the New Testament books were authored for and sent to specific people. They, though, were shared with others to whom the original letters were not addressed (Colossians 4:16). Not only so, but the New Testament—as had long been the practice regarding the Old Testament (Luke 4:16; Acts 13:27; 15:21)—was to be read to the church in its assemblies (1 Thessalonians 5:27). Sometimes an epistle was written to several congregations of the Lord’s church in a region (Galatians 1:2; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1).
Mostly if not altogether, the New Testament books were gathered together by the close of the first century or by the beginning of the second century—during the lifetimes of miraculously gifted Christians or by Christians who knew the authors of the New Testament epistles. Inspired persons—living in Old Testament and New Testament times—authenticated the Old Testament books as being from God. Owen comments that “the process of canonization was already in motion during the first century” (32). The inspired writers of the New Testament recognized each other’s writings as Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16). The apostle Paul also appears to have quoted from Luke (1 Timothy 5:18; Luke 10:7).
Unanimity exists that no inspired book was added to the Old Testament collection after the Book of Malachi. Likewise, New Testament books are viewed as canonical both from validation by the early church and by internal evidence of those volumes—in contrast with uninspired writings. “During the 2nd century three or more translations of the Bible into other languages were made. These offer important testimony, not only to the existence of the books at this early date, but also to their recognized value as a part of the inspired Word of God…Old Latin version was made about 150 A.D. …Syriac version was made probably around 150 A.D. …” (H.S. Miller 131).
The word “canon” (kanon, from the Greek, meaning, “rule” or “measure”) has come to mean a standard. When “canon” is applied to the Bible (biblia, from the Greek, meaning, “books”), it has the significance of being an authoritative list of books that rightly belong in the Bible. Certain tests of canonicity have been successfully applied to the books occupying both the canon of the Old Testament as well as the canon of the New Testament. H.S. Miller enumerates such tests.
1. Divine authorship. Inspiration. Is it inspired? Was it given by God through the Spirit through men… 2. Human authorship. Was it written, edited, or endorsed by a prophet, or spokesman for God? 3. Genuiness. Is it genuine? Can it be traced back to the time and to the writer from whom it professes to have come? Or, if the writer cannot be named positively, can it be shown to contain the same matter, in every essential point, as it contained when written? 4. Authenticity. Is it authentic? Is it true? Is it a record of actual facts? 5. Testimony. …the testimony of the Jewish church, the early and later Christian church, the church councils, and the ancient versions of the Bible. (88-89)
H.S. Miller added reasons for the need of tests of canonicity, with which we are compelled to agree.
…Canonicity seeks to answer these questions: (1) Why was each book of the Bible placed there? (2) Why have certain other books been refused a place in the Bible? (3) Why have all these books been brought together in one volume? (4) Does this volume contain all the books which properly belong there? …(5) Has any book which should be there been omitted? (6) Does our Bible contain any book which should not be there? (90)
The “…arrangement of Old Testament books found in English Bibles is derived from the Latin Vulgate translation, which in turn was derived from the Septuagint or Greek version. The Books of the Hebrew Bible, however, are grouped differently. …However different the arrangement, it is important to remember that the books included in the English Bible are precisely the same as found in the Hebrew Bible” (Lightfoot 9-10).
Whether contemplating the Old Testament or the New Testament canon, H.S. Miller observed “…three steps in the complete canonization of the Scriptures: (1) Divine inspiration and authority, which made them canonical; (2) Human recognition of this inspiration and authority; (3) Collection” (98).
…no church through its councils made the canon of Scripture. No church—in particular the Roman Catholic Church—by its decrees gave to or pronounced upon the books of the Bible their infallibility. The Bible owes its authority to no individual or group. The church does not control the canon, but the canon controls the church. Although divine authority was attributed to the New Testament books by the later church, this authority was not derived from the church but was inherent in the books themselves. (Lightfoot 66)
John Wycliffe and John Purvey took it upon themselves to translate the Bible from Latin into English, completing what became known as the Wycliffe Bible in 1382. Since the Latin Vulgate itself is a translation from the Greek to Latin, the Wycliffe Bible is a translation of a translation, removing it that much more from the original autographs. This practice still persists today as some foreign language translations are translated from English translations, and even some so-called English translations are translated or sometimes paraphrased from other English translations. Not all translations are equal.
“Wycliffe’s version is the 1st complete translation of the Bible into the English language” (H.S. Miller 323). In 1388, John Purvey presented to the world a revision of the Wycliffe Bible. “…Purvey’s revised Bible…held sway until the sixteenth century” (Lightfoot 76). “His was the only English Bible for 145 years, and some of our familiar Bible expressions, such as ‘the strait gate,’ ‘the narrow way,’ the ‘mote,’ the ‘beam,’ and so on, have come from his translation” (H.S. Miller 330).
Consequently, Lightfoot remarks, “The true father of the English Bible is William Tyndale” (77). The Tyndale Bible is the first English Bible translated from the original languages of Hebrew and Greek. The New Testament was completed in 1525, and other parts of the Bible were available over the next few years (Pentateuch, 1530; Jonah, 1531). It was incomplete. The Tyndale Bible is also the first Bible to have the distinction of being printed, as the printing press was developed between the time of the Wycliffe Bible and of the Tyndale Bible. “In Wycliffe’s time it took a copyist 10 months to produce one copy of his Bible” (H.S. Miller 331).
“Miles Coverdale, one time assistant to William Tyndale, was the first man to give the English people the entire Bible in printed form in 1535” (Owen 74). The Coverdale Bible was the first English translation distributed widely in England without resistance from the government (Lightfoot 78). “Like Wycliffe’s, Coverdale’s version was a translation of a translation, a secondary translation. Not being familiar with the original languages, he did the best he could and translated from the German and Latin” (H.S. Miller 347).
John Rogers published Matthew’s Bible in 1537. “It is basically a reproduction of the work of Tyndale and Coverdale. The Matthew’s Bible was dedicated to King Henry and Queen Jane, and was granted a license. Matthew’s version was thus the first printed Bible to be officially authorized by the government” (Owen 74). “The Matthew’s Bible is the Tyndale Bible complete, as far as his translation went, supplemented by Coverdale’s work. It is the first Tyndale revision, and forms the real basis of all later revisions, the Great Bible, the Geneva Bible, the Bishops’ Bible, and the King James’ Version” (H.S. Miller 349).
The Great Bible was translated by Coverdale in 1839, a revision of the Matthew’s Bible without notes and amended from Hebrew and Latin texts (H.S. Miller 349). “…it was the first of the English Bibles authorized to be read in the churches” (Lightfoot 78). The Great Bible was so called because of its size, and it was chained to reading stands in church buildings.
Richard Taverner produced the Taverner’s Bible, also in 1839. It is a revision of the Matthew’s Bible. The Geneva Bible (named after the European city in which it was printed) was completed in 1560. “It was the first translation to print each verse as a paragraph and to put words in italics not represented in the original texts. …The Geneva Bible was the Bible of Shakespeare and of the Pilgrims who journeyed to America” (Lightfoot 79). The Bishops’ Bible was the work of English clergymen and was published in 1568, viewed as the 4th Tyndale revision, and it contained numerous Bible helps (H.S. Miller 354).
Finally, the Roman Catholic Church felt compelled to print a Bible in English. The New Testament was completed in 1582 in Rheims, France, whereas the Old Testament was finished in 1610 in Douai, France. Hence, the version became known as the Rheims-Douai Bible. “The Douai Bible is a secondary translation, a translation of a translation, of the Latin Vulgate. …a faithful and accurate translation of an inaccurate translation” (H.S. Miller 356). It many respects, it differs little from so-called Protestant Bibles, except that it contains the Apocrypha. The Challoner Bible of 1750 is the Catholic revision of the Rheims-Douai Bible that persists today among Roman Catholic English readers.
Behind the King James or Authorized Version of the Bible (KJV) lies prior English translations and the Textus Receptus or Received Greek New Testament text. “Our own Authorized (King James) Version is practically a 5th revision of Tyndale’s, and it retains many of the words and much of the character, form, and style of his version” (H.S. Miller 345). Two varying editions were produced in 1611, and it was amended again in 1612, 1613 and 1629. The last of these editions was the first in which the Apocrypha was not included (Owen 76). Printing errors, spelling changes, capitalization of letters and the extent of the use of italics were the primary and sometimes necessary variations between editions—not really revisions or retranslating. Additional adjustments of this sort were made in 1762 and 1769.
The English Revised Version was published in 1885, and an Americanized vocabulary edition, the American Standard Version was published in 1901. These translations were made from Hebrew and Greek manuscripts, not based on the vast majority of original language manuscripts as had been the case with prior English Bible translations. Instead, the Revised and American Standard versions were translated based primarily on two of the oldest and complete or nearly complete manuscripts: the Vatican and the Sinaitic. Subsequently, there are differences sometimes between the former English translations and the Revised and American Standard translations. The manuscripts from which, for instance, the Revised and the American Standard versions were translated had not been discovered at the time of the translating of the King James Version. Many consider the manuscripts from which most translations after the KJV were translated to be more accurate or closer to the original autographs. “…what the American Standard gained in accuracy and consistency over the King James it lost in naturalness and beauty of English style” (Lightfoot 86). The English Revised and American Standard versions are very literal translations, which tend to make for choppy reading.
As was the case with the King James Version of the Bible, the Revised and American Standard translations were produced by panels of scholars who represented a cross section of religious loyalties. This was an improvement over one-man translations and has become the norm for most modern translations. However, some one-man and proprietary denominational translations have come into being in recent years as well.
It is said that since the Bible was first translated into English (Wycliffe, 1382), more than 150 English revisions of the Bible or the New Testament have appeared. And still they come. Almost all of these versions are private, made by individuals for some personal reason or reasons, either because of dissatisfaction with the existing standard versions as too conservative, or the desire to make use of newly-discovered textual material, or for personal ambitions to display scholarship, or for dogmatic and sectarian purposes, or the desire to make the Scriptures plain to the common people. (H.S. Miller 385)
Subsequent translations of the Bible or the New Testament into English include the Thompson Bible (1808), Living Oracles New Testament (1826), the Webster Bible (1833), the Jewish Bible (1851), Young’s Bible (1862), Mormon Bible (1867), the Darby Bible (1872), the Smith Bible (1876), the Moffatt Bible (1926), the Revised Standard Version (1952), Good News Bible (1966), the Cotton Patch of Paul’s Epistles (1968), the New American Standard (1971), the Living Bible (1971), New International Bible (1978), the New King James Version (1982), the New English Bible (1989), and the English Standard Version (2001).
The Thompson Bible “is the first translation of the Bible into English made in America, and the first translation of the Septuagint into English ever made” (H.S. Miller 388). The Smith Bible was the first Bible translated into English by a woman (H.S. Miller 392).
Some translations are based on the Textus Receptus or Received Text whereas others are based primarily on the Vatican and Sinaitic manuscripts. The New King James Bible is a translation that has reverted back to the Textus Receptus as the basis of the original language text from which it has been translated. Some translations are a degree of literal translation from the original languages whereas others use the original languages loosely if at all. The Good News Bible is an example of little use of faithful translation, and the Living Bible makes no use of the original languages because it is not a translation but an English-to-English paraphrase. The Cotton Patch is not a translation but a sacrilegious monstrosity, for instance, as it uses American city names in place of biblical cities, does not accurately represent Scripture and contains vulgar expressions. The New International Bible employs a philosophy for translation called dynamic equivalence, where no fidelity to the original language texts is pretended as it purports to provide thought-for-thought from God to modern man; since the original words translated into English are not available to the reader, a student of the Bible cannot decide for himself what God has communicated to mankind.
The student of the Bible needs to understand on a basic level the means by which God has communicated His will and as well preserved that message for humankind. Furthermore, he or she must select a reliable translation. In any case, aside from paraphrases, dynamic equivalence, denominational propaganda and versions that completely disregard original language texts, the doctrine of God is available for inspection and application to oneself from a long list of English Bible translations.
The text of the New Testament is a matter of scientific and historical record. This is true because libraries around the world contain multitudes of New Testament manuscripts dating from the second century to the sixteenth century. These manuscripts provide a vast reservoir of textual evidence from which scholars can scientifically demonstrate the original text to an extremely high degree of accuracy. As of 1976 a total of 5,366 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament had been cataloged. (Owen 52)
A similar declaration can be made confidently, with lesser numbers, regarding the fidelity of the Hebrew Old Testament. Consequently, “our Bible still says the same thing” (Owen 54) as the texts received from God by human penmen thousands of years ago. For instance, “the New Testament is 99.5% pure, and that the .5% of the text about which there is any question is of a trivial nature in that it does not affect our understanding of the teachings of God’s word” (Owen 56). “We know of no other ancient book which can boast the kind of manuscript evidence which supports the Bible” (Owen 61).
Early translators of the English Bible were much abused, and their efforts were thoroughly resisted and condemned by the Roman Catholic Church and the kings of European countries that were vassals to the Holy Roman Empire. Bibles had to be smuggled into England. William Tyndale was torturously executed in Belgium in 1536. Hundreds of truth-seekers suffered and many of them died so that you and I today have access to God’s Word.
Lightfoot, Neil R. How We Got the Bible. Revised Edition. Abilene: ACU P., 1986.
Miller, Dave. “Is Mark 16:9-20 Inspired?” Apologetic Press. 15 Aug. 2017 <https://apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=13&article=704>.
Miller, H.S. General Biblical Introduction: From God to Us. Houghton: Word-Bearer Press, 1960.
Owen, Dan R. How We Got the Bible. Maxwell: World Video Bible School, 2007.
Strong, James. Biblesoft’s New Exhaustive Strong’s Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew. Seattle: Biblesoft, 2006.