Historical Roots: Development of the Bible
What was the first Bible? Can you trace its history through the years to the English Bible of today? What Bible did Jesus refer to in teaching? In short, how did the "common people" -- laity or non-clergy of the masses receive the Bible? I believe this knowledge would give us a greater appreciation of what we have and encourage us to study it more diligently. CM
Dictionary of the Bible published in 1909 (Hastings, James, John A. Selbie, John C. Lambert, and Shailer Mathews. Dictionary of the Bible. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1909.) has a Bible article written by W. F. Adeney
1. The Name.—The word ‘Bible’ strictly employed is the title of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, though occasionally by a loose usage of the term it is applied to the sacred writings of pagan religions. It is derived from a Greek word Biblia—originating in biblos, the inner bark of papyrus (paper)—literally meaning ‘Little Books’; but since the diminutive had come into common use in late popular Greek apart from its specific signification, the term really means simply ‘books.’ It is the Gr. tr. of the Heb. word for ‘books,’ which is the oldest designation for the Jewish Scriptures as a collection (see Dn 9:2). The title ‘Holy Books’—equivalent to our ‘Holy Scripture’—came later among the Jews (1 Mac 12:9, Ro 1:2, 2 Ti 3:15). The Greek word Biblia is first met with in this connexion in the Introduction to Sirach, written by the grandson of Sirach, the phrase ‘the rest of the books’ implying that the Law and the Prophets previously named, as well as those books subsequently known specially as ‘the Writings,’ are included. It is used in the Hebrew sense, for the OT, by the unknown author of the Christian homily in the 2nd cent. designated The Second Epistle of Clement (xiv. 2). It does not appear as a title of the whole Christian Scriptures before the 5th cent., when it was thus employed by Greek Church writers in lists of the canonical books. Thence it passed over into the West, and then the Greek word Biblia, really a neuter plural, came to be treated as a Latin singular noun, a significant grammatical change that pointed to the growing sense of the unity of Scripture. The word cannot be traced in Anglo-Saxon literature, and we first have the English form of it in the 14th century. It occurs in Piers Plowman and Chaucer. Its adoption by Wyclif secured it as the permanent English name for the Scriptures, as Luther’s use of the corresponding German word fixed that for Continental Protestants.
2. Contents and Divisions.—The Jewish Bible is the OT; the Protestant Christian Bible consists of the OT and the NT, but with the Apocrypha included in some editions; the Roman Catholic Bible contains the OT and NT, and also the Apocrypha, the latter authoritatively treated as Scripture since the Council of Trent. The main division is between the Jewish Scriptures and those which are exclusively Christian. These are known respectively as the OT and the NT. The title ‘Testament’ is unfortunate, since it really means a will. It appears to be derived from the Latin word testamentum, ‘a will,’ which is the tr. of the Gr. word diathēkē, itself in the classics also meaning ‘a will.’ But the LXX employs this Gr. word as the tr. of the Heb. berith, a word meaning ‘covenant.’ Therefore ‘testament’ in the Biblical sense really means ‘covenant,’ and the two parts of our Bible are the ‘Old Covenant’ and the ‘New Covenant.’ When we ask why the Gr. translators used the word meaning ‘will’ while they had ready to hand another word meaning ‘covenant’ (viz. synthēkē), the answer has been proposed that they perceived the essential difference between God’s covenants with men and men’s covenants one with another. The latter are arranged on equal terms. But God’s covenants are made and offered by God and accepted by men only on God’s terms. A Divine covenant is like a will in which a man disposes of his property on whatever terms he thinks fit. On the other hand, however, it may be observed that the word diathēkē is also used for a covenant between man and man (e.g. Dt 7:2). The origin of this term as applied by Christians to the two main divisions of Scripture is Jeremiah’s promise of a New Covenant (Jer 31:31), endorsed by Christ (Mk 14:24, 1 Co 11:25), and enlarged upon in NT teaching (e.g. Gal 4:24, He 8:6). Here, however, the reference is to the Divine arrangements and pledges, not to the books of Scripture, and it is by a secondary usage that the books containing the two covenants have come to be themselves designated Testaments, or Covenants.
The Jewish division of the OT is into three parts known as (1) the Law, (2) the Prophets, and (3) the Writings, or the Sacred Writings (Hagiographa). The ‘Law’ consisted of the first 5 books of our Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), ascribed to Moses; and it was treated as peculiarly sacred, the most holy and authoritative portion of Scripture. It was the only part of the Hebrew Scriptures accepted by the Samaritans, who worshipped the very document containing it almost as a fetish. But the name ‘Law’ (Heb. Torah, Gr. Nomos) is sometimes given to the whole Jewish Bible (e.g. Jn 10:34). The ‘Prophets’ included not only the utterances ascribed to inspired teachers of Israel, but also the chief historical books later than the Pentateuch. There were reckoned to be 8 books of the Prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Minor Prophets) and 11 of the Hagiographa (Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, and Chronicles). Thus there were reckoned to be in all 24 books. Josephus reckoned 22—probably joining Judges to Ruth and Lamentations to Jeremiah. The list was reduced to this number by taking Samuel, Kings, Ezra and Nehemiah, and Chronicles as one book each, and by making one book of the Minor Prophets. Ezra is not divided from Nehemiah in the Talmud or the Massora.
The books now known as the Apocrypha were not in the Hebrew Bible, and were not used in the Palestinian synagogues. They were found in the LXX, which represents the enlarged Greek Canon of Alexandria. From this they passed into the Latin versions, and so into Jerome’s revisioo, the Vulgate, which in time became the authorized Bible of the Roman Catholic Church. They were not accepted by the Protestants as Divinely inspired, but were printed in some Protestant Bibles between the OT and the NT, not in their old places in the Septuagint and Vulgate versions, where they were interspersed with the OT books as though forming part of the OT itself. The Apocrypha consists of 14 books (1 and 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, The Rest of Esther, The Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Baruch with the Epistle of Jeremy, The Song of the Three Holy Children, The History of Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, The Prayer of Manasses, 1 and 2 Maccabees).
The NT was slowly formed. Probably the first collection of any of its books was the bringing together of the Synoptic Gospels into one volume (called by Justin Martyr ‘The Memoirs of the Apostles’). Subsequently the Fourth Gospel was included in this volume; Tatian’s Diatessaron is a witness to this fact. Meanwhile collections of St. Paul’s Epistles were being made, and thus there came to be two volumes known as ‘The Gospel’ and ‘The Apostle.’ The Apocalypse was early honoured as a prophetical book standing by itself. Gradually the other NT books were gathered in—probably forming a third volume. Thus the NT—like the OT—consisted of three parts—the Four Gospels, the Pauline Writings, and the remaining books. The similarity may be traced a step further. In both cases the first of the three divisions held a primacy of honour—the Law among the Jews, the Gospels among the Christians. The complete NT consists of 27 books, viz. Four Gospels, Acts, 13 Epistles of St. Paul, Hebrews, James, 2 Epistles of St. Peter, 3 of St. John, Jude, Revelation.
Within the books of the Bible there were originally no divisions, except in the case of the Psalms, which were always indicated as separate poems, and elsewhere in the case of definite statements of differences of contents, such as the Song of Miriam, the Song of Deborah, ‘the words of Agur,’ and ‘the words of King Lemuel’ (in Prov.). For convenience of reading in the synagogues, the Law was divided into sections (called Parāshahs). Selections from the Prophets (called Haphtārahs) were made to go with the appointed sections of the Law. The first indications of divisions in the NT are ascribed to Tatian. They did not break into the text, but were inserted in the margins. The earliest divisions of the Gospels were known as ‘titles’ (Titloi); somewhat similar divisions were indicated in the Epistles by ‘headings’ or ‘chapters’ (Kephalaia), a form of which with more numerous divisions than the ‘titles’ was also introduced into the Gospels. Eusebius based his harmony on the references of the sections said to have been arranged by Ammonius of Alexandria in the early part of the 3rd cent., and therefore known as the ‘Ammonian Sections.’ These are much shorter than our chapters. Thus in Matthew there were 68 ‘titles’ and 355 ‘Ammonian Sections’; in Mark the numbers were 48 and 236, in Luke 83 and 342, and in John 18 and 232 respectively. The chapters in the Acts and the Epistles are ascribed to Euthalius, a deacon of Alexandria (subsequently bishop of Sulci, in Sardinia) in the 5th century. These chapters nearly corresponded in length to the Gospel ‘titles.’ Thus there were 40 in Acts, 19 in Romans, etc. A still smaller division of the books of Scripture was that of the stichoi, or lines, a word used for a line of poetry, and then for a similar length of prose, marked off for the payment of copyists. Subsequently “it was employed for the piece of writing which a reader was supposed to render without taking breath, and the marks of the stichoi would be helps for the reader, indicating where he might pause. In Matthew there were 2560 stichoi; the same Gospel has 1071 modern verses. Scrivener calculates 19,241 stichoi for the 7959 modern verses of the whole NT—giving an average of nearly 21/2 stichoi per verse. Cardinal Hugo de Sancto Caro is credited with having made our present chapter divisions about a.d. 1248 when preparing a Bible index. But it may be that he borrowed these divisions from an earlier scholar, possibly Lanfranc, or Stephen Langton. The Hebrew Bible was divided into verses by Rabbi Nathan in the 15th century. Henry Stephens states that his father Robert Stephens made verse divisions in the NT during the intervals of a journey on horseback from Paris to Lyons. Whether he actually invented these arrangements or copied them from some predecessor, they were first published in Stephens’ Greek Testament of 1551.
3. Historical Origin.—The Bible is not only a library, the books of which come from various writers in different periods of time; many of these books may be said to be composed of successive literary strata, so that the authors of the most ancient parts of them belong to much earlier times than their final redactors. All the OT writers, and also all those of the NT with one exception (St. Luke), were Jews. The OT was nearly all written in the Holy Land; the only exceptions being in the case of books composed in the valley of the Euphrates during the Exile (Ezekiel, possibly Lamentations, Deutero-Isaiah, or part of it, perhaps some of the Psalms, a revision of the Law). The NT books were written in many places; most of the Epistles of St. Paul can be located; the Gospel and Epistles of St. John probably come from Ephesus or its neighbourhood; but the sites of the origin of all the other books are doubtful.
Probably the oldest book of the Bible is Amos, written about b.c. 750. A little later in the great 8th cent. we come to Hosea, Isaiah, and Micah. The 7th cent. gives us Nahum, Zephaniah, Jeremiah, and Habakkuk among the prophets, also Deuteronomy, and at the beginning of this century we have the earliest complete historical books, Samuel and Judges. The end of this century or beginning of the 6th cent. gives us Kings. In the 6th cent. also we have Obadiah (?), Ezekiel, part, if not all, of the Deutero-Isaiah (40–50), Haggai, Zechariah (1–8), Lamentations, Ruth. The 5th cent. gives us the completed Pentateuch—or rather the Hexateuch, Joshua going with the 5 books of the Law, perhaps the latter part of the Deutero-Isaiah (51–60), Malachi, Books 1 and 2 of the Psalter. The 4th cent. has Proverbs, Job, Book 3 of the Psalter, and the Prophets Joel and Jonah. From the 3rd cent. we have Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah, Zechariah (9–14), Ecclesiastes, Esther. Lastly, the 2nd cent. is credited with Daniel and Books 4 and 5 of the Psalter. Several of these later dates are more or less conjectural. Moreover, they refer to the completion of works some of which are composite and contain elements which originated in much earlier times. Thus Proverbs and the 5 Books of the Psalms are all collections which, though probably made at the dates assigned to them, consist of materials many of which are considerably older. When we look to the analysis of the books, and inquire as to the dates of their constituent parts, we are carried back to pre-historic ages. The Hexateuch contains four principal parts, known as J (the Jahwistic prophetic narrative), E (the Elohistic prophetic narrative), D (Deuteronomy and Deuteronomic notes in other books), P (the Priestly Code, represented especially by Leviticus, the author of which revised the earlier parts of the Law-books and inserted additions into them). But J and E are closely intertwined—an indication that they have both been revised—and the result of this revision gives us the composite narrative known as JE. Thus we have now three main strata, viz. (1) JE, the prophetic element, written in the spirit of the prophets, dated about b.c. 700; (2) D, the moral and legal element, seen especially in Deuteronomy, dated about b.c. 620; (3) P, the priestly element, dated about b.c. 444. The author of P appears to have revised the whole work and given it out as the complete Law. This may have been done by the Euphrates during the Exile, so that the Law-book brought up to Jerusalem would be the Pentateuch (or the Hexateuch), or it may have been after the Return, in which case the Law-book would be only P. But in any case the whole work after its completion underwent some further slight revision before it assumed its present form. See Hexateuch.
If now we ask not what was the first complete book of the OT, but what was the first portion of the OT actually written, it is not easy to give a reply. The literature of most peoples begins with ballads. Possibly the Song of Deborah is a ballad which should have assigned to it the first place in the chronological order of Hebrew writings. Such a hallad would be handed down in tradition before it was put into writing. Then some of the laws in Exodus, those of the ‘Book of the Covenant,’ may have come down in tradition or even in writing, from a remote antiquity. The code of Hammurabi, king of Babylon, b.c. 2285–2242, was a written law nearly 1000 years earlier than the time of Moses. The striking resemblance between some of the laws of Israel and some of these Babylonian laws points to a certain measure of dependence. This might go back to patriarchal days; but, of course, it would have been possible for the jews in the Exile to have access to this venerable code at the very time P was being constructed.
There is much less range of question for the dates of the NT books. The earliest date possible for any of them is a.d. 44 for James; although, as Prof. Harnack holds, perhaps this is almost the latest written book of the NT. Laying aside the much disputed question of the date of James, we have 1 Thess. as apart from this the earliest written NT book. Following the usually accepted chronology, the date of this Epistle is a.d. 53 (Harnack, a.d. 49; Turner, a.d. 51). The latest written NT book is 2 Peter, which must be assigned to a late decade of the 2nd century. Apart from this Epistle, which stands quite by itself as a pseudonymous work, and James, which may be either the earliest or one of the latest NT books, the last written works are the Johannine writings, which cannot be earlier than near the end of the 1st century. Thus we have a period of about 50 years for the composition of the bulk of the NT writings, viz. the second half of the 1st cent. a.d.
4. Original Languages.—The bulk of the OT was written in Hebrew, and without vowel points. Hebrew is the Israelite dialect of the Canaanite language, which belongs to the Semitic family, and is closely allied to Aramaic. Some portions of the OT (viz. documents in Ezr 4:7–6:18 and 7:12–26, Dn 2:4–7:28 and a few scattered words and phrases elsewhere) are in Aramaic, the language of Syria, which was widely known, being found in Babylonia, Egypt, and Arabia. After the Exile, since Aramaic then became the everyday language of the Jews, Hebrew was relegated to a position of honourable neglect as the language of literature and the Law, and Aramaic came into general use. Probably the earliest writings which are embodied in the NT were in this language. When Papias says that Matthew wrote ‘the oracles of the Lord in the Hebrew dialect,’ he would seem to mean Aramaic. Since Jesus taught in Aramaic, it is not likely that His discourses were translated into the more archaic language; it is more probable that they were written down in the very language in which they were spoken. Similarly, it is probable that the Gospel according to the Hebrews was in Aramaic. But, however far we may go with Dr. Marshall and Dr. Abbott in allowing that Aramaic writings are to be detected beneath and behind our Gospels, it cannot be held that any of these Gospels, or any other NT books, are translations from that language. Matthew, the most Jewish of the Gospels, contains quotations from the LXX as well as direct translations from the Hebrew OT, which shows that while its author—or at all events the author of one of its sources—knew Hebrew, the Gospel itself was a Greek composition. All the NT was originally written in Greek. It was long held that this Greek was a peculiar dialect, and as such it was named Hellenistic Greek. But the discovery of contemporary inscriptions and papyri (especially the Oxyrhynchus papyri) shows that the colloquial Greek, used in commerce and popular intercourse all round the Mediterranean during the 1st cent., has the same peculiar forms that we meet with in the NT, many of which had been attributed to Semitic influences. These discoveries necessitate the re-writing of grammars on the Greek of the NT, as Prof. Deissmann and Dr. J. H. Moulton have shown by their recent studies in the new field of research. It must still be admitted that a certain amount of Hebrew influence is felt in the NT style. This is most apparent in the Gospels, especially Matthew and above all the earlier chapters of Luke (except the Preface), and also in the Apocalypse. The Preface of Luke is the nearest approach to classical Greek that we have in the NT. After this come Hebrews, the middle and latter part of the Gospel of Luke, and Acts. St. Paul’s writings and the General Epistles take an intermediate position between the most Hebraistic and the least Hebraistic writings. The Fourth Gospel is written in good Greek; but the structure of the sentences indicates a mind accustomed to think in Hebrew or Aramaic. Nevertheless, in spite of these differences, it remains true that the grammar and style of the NT are in the main the grammar and style of contemporary Greek throughout the Roman Empire.
5. Translations.—The OT was first translated into Greek, for the benefit of Jews residing in Egypt, in the version known as the Septuagint (LXX), which was begun under Ptolemy II. (b.c. 285–247), and almost, if not quite, completed before the commencement of the Christian era. Another Greek version is ascribed to Aquila, who is said to have been a disciple of the famous Rabbi Aki0ba, and is by some even identified with Onkelos, the author of the Targum. This version, which is commonly dated about a.d. 150, is remarkable for its pedantic literalness, the Hebrew being rendered word for word into Greek, regardless of the essential differences between the two languages in grammar and construction. On the other hand, about the end of the 2nd cent. a.d., Symmachus, who, according to Epiphanius, was a Samaritan turned Jew, although Eusebius calls him an Ebionite, produced a version the aim of which was to render the original text into idiomatic Greek of good style, with the result, however, that in some places it became a paraphrase rather than a translation. Lastly may be mentioned the version of Theodotion, a Marcionite who went over to Judaism. This is really a revision of the LXX; it is assigned to about the year a.d. 185. Other versions of all or parts of the OT are known as the Quinta and the Sexta; there are doubtful references to a Septima.
Oral paraphrases, the Targums, or ‘interpretations,’ were made in Aramaic for the benefit of Palestinian Jews; but the earliest written paraphrase is that known as the Targum of Onkelos—the official Targum of the Pentateuch—the compilation of which in whole or part is assigned to the 2nd or 3rd cent. a.d. Later. with indications at least as late as the 7th cent. a.d., in its present form is the Jerusalem Targum, known as the Targum of pseudo-Jonathan. This is more free and interpolated with ‘Haggadistic’ elements. The official Targum of the Prophets also bears the name of Jonathan. Originating in Palestine in the 3rd cent. a.d., it received its final shaping in Babylon in the 5th century. The Targums of the Hagiographa are much later in date.
The oldest versions of the NT are the Syriac and the Latin, both of which may be traced back in some form to the 2nd cent. a.d., but there is much difference of opinion as to the original text of the former. First, we have the Peshitta, literally, the ‘simple’ version, which has become the standard accepted text in the Syrian Church. There is no doubt that in its present form this text represents successive revisions down to a late Patristic age. Two other versions, or two forms of another version of the Gospels, were discovered in the 19th cent., viz. the Curetonian, edited by Cureton, and the Sinaitic, found in a MS at the monastery of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai. Lastly, there is the version represented by Tatian’s Diatessaron, which may be distinct from either of these. While it is admitted that a primitive text underlying the Peshitta may be as ancient as any of these versions, scholars are fairly agreed that the Peshitta, as we know it, is considerably more recent than Tatian and the Sinaitic Gospels, both of which may be assigned to the 2nd cent. a.d. The earliest Latin Version appeared before the end of the 2nd cent. and probably in North Africa, where Latin was the language commonly used, while Greek was then the language of Christian literature at Rome. Tertullian knew the North African Latin Version. Somewhat later several attempts were made in Italy to translate the NT into Latin. The confusion of text induced Damasus, bishop of Rome, to commit to Jerome (a.d. 382) the task of preparing a reliable Latin version of the Bible. This came to be known as the Vulgate, which for 1000 years was the Bible of the Western Church, and which, since the Council of Trent, has been honoured by Roman Catholics as an infallibly correct rendering of the true text of Scripture. Augustine refers to a version which he calls ‘ltala,’ but it has been shown that this was probably Jerome’s version. The NT was early translated into Coptic, and it appeared in three dialects of that language. The Sahidic Version, in Upper Egypt, can be traced back to the 4th century. The Bohairic, formerly used at Alexandria, has been assigned to as early a date as the 2nd cent.; but Prof. Burkitt shows reasons for bringing it down to the 6th. It is the version now used ecclesiastically by the Copts. Lastly, there is the Fayumic Version, represented by MSS from the Fayum. The original Gothic Version was the work of Ulfilas in the 4th century. He had to invent an alphabet for it. This work may be considered the first literary product in a Teutonic language. The Ethiopic and Armenian Versions may be assigned to the 5th century. Subsequent ages saw the Georgian Version (6th), the Anglo-Saxon (8th to 11th), the Slavonic (9th). The Reformation period—from Wyclif onwards—saw new translations into the vernacular; but the great age of Bible translation is the 19th century. The British and Foreign Bible Society now produces the Scriptures in over 400 languages and versions.
W. F. Adeney.
James Hastings et al., Dictionary of the Bible (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1909), 95–98.
My skimming of several newer history/origin of the Bible substantially agree with W. F. Adeney, whose article does not mention knowledge sources.
Keep Smiling 😊
Thanks for the information. I was expecting an outline or a synopsis and, perhaps, a reference or two, but not the entire section from the book. Maybe the posters without this resource in their library could benefit from the lengthy excerpt shared above. I understand if time is of the essence. It's possible that we could build a visual timeline of the Bible's development. Thanks again for your efforts. CM
Logos.com offers 14+ references: (* are in my Logos library)
2019 HISTORY OF ENGLISH VERSIONS OF THE BIBLE by Edward D. Andrews
2017 Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth for a Skeptical World by Josh McDowell; Sean McDowell * (has relevant chapters)
2012 From God To Us: How We Got Our Bible (Revised and Expanded) by Norman Geisler; William E. Nix
2011 The Origin of the Bible: A Guide for the Perplexed by Lee Martin McDonald *
2011 The Oxford Handbook of the Reception History of the Bible by Michael Lieb; Emma Mason; John R. Roberts *
2008 Exploring the Origins of the Bible: Canon Formation in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective (Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology) by Craig A. Evans; Emanuel Tov
2006 A Concise Dictionary of Bible Origins & Interpretation by Alec Gilmore *
2004 The Origin of the Bible by Philip W. Comfort * (noticed Chapter 15 by Victor Walter having similar words as Bible article in 2001 The Tyndale Bible Dictionary by Philip W. Comfort; Walter A. Elwell *)
2002 Exploring the Basics of the Bible by Robert Harris *
2000 A Dictionary of the English Bible and Its Origins by Alec Gilmore *
1999 The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Origins of the Bible by Eugene Ulrich *
1997 video The Origin of the Bible by Bill Ellwanger
1986 A General Introduction to the Bible Revised and Expanded by Norman Geisler; William E. Nix *
1905 A General View of the History of the English Bible by Brooke Foss Westcott *
The 1909 Dictionary of the Bible article was relatively short (easier to copy & paste than me making my own synopsis).
Keep Smiling 😊
@C Mc January 14 What was the first Bible?
The 1909 Dictionary of the Bible article mentioned the first two Holy Scripture book collections called the Bible:
1382 Wycliffe The Holy Bible
1545 Luther Bibel (German Bible)
@C Mc January 14 Can you trace its history through the years to the English Bible of today?
@C Mc January 14 What Bible did Jesus refer to in teaching?
When Jewish Rabbi Jesus walked on earth, Jewish Synagogues had scrolls.
סֵפֶר (sēper). n. masc. writing, document, scroll. Refers to any kind of written document, including those written by prophets to record information received from God.
The noun sēper basically means “something written.” For biblical texts, a writing generally took the form of a scroll. The Hebrew noun is used in references to the scroll (sēper) of the covenant (בְּרִית, bĕrît; Exod 24:7; 2 Kgs 23:21) or the scroll (sēper) of the law (תּוֹרָה, tôrâ; Deut 29:21; Josh 8:34; 2 Chr 34:14), considered the written record of what God had spoken to Moses (Exod 24:7). In this sense, the book (sēper) is actually the law (tôrâ) of God (Neh 8:8), and observing the commandments and statutes written in this book ultimately means obeying the voice of God (Deut 30:10). The scroll (sēper) of the law (tôrâ) of Yahweh is said to have been written by Moses (2 Chr 34:14). Other scrolls (sēper) recorded information that God communicated to the prophets (Jer 25:13; 30:2; Nah 1:1). Not all scrolls (sēper) were of divine origin; as a basic word for any writing, sēper is also used for records or letters (2 Sam 11:14–15).
Adriani Milli Rodrigues, “Scripture,” ed. Douglas Mangum et al., Lexham Theological Wordbook, Lexham Bible Reference Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014).
Chapter 15 Versions of the Bible by Victor Walter in the 2004 publication The Origin of the Bible starts with:
Versions of the Bible
To get a picture of how the Bible has come to different peoples in the world, spread out a map of the eastern hemisphere and imagine Palestine as the center of a pool. Think of God’s revelation of himself through the prophets, the Christ, and the apostles as a pebble dropped into the center of that body of water. In your mind’s eye watch the advance of the concentric circles out across that world pool from Palestine and call out the languages covered by the fast-spreading ripple: to the south, Coptic, Arabic, Ethiopic; to the west, Greek, Latin, Gothic, English; to the north, Armenian, Georgian, Slavonic; and eastward toward the rising sun, Syriac. The farther the Bible moved from its Hebrew/Aramaic/Greek center in Palestine, the later the date of its translation into yet another language.
That pebble of God’s revelation, the Bible, was produced in the Middle East predominantly in two of Palestine’s languages. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew with the exception of portions of the books of Daniel and Ezra, which may have been written in Aramaic, the language of the captivity. Probably the entire New Testament was written in common Greek (koine) which was the dominant language of the eastern half of Caesar’s domain and understood almost everywhere else in the Roman Empire. Therefore every person who did not speak Hebrew or Greek was apt to remain untouched by God’s written revelation until someone translated the Bible into his language.
The process of Bible translation began even before the birth of Christ, with translations of the Old Testament being made into Greek and Aramaic. Many of the dispersed Jews who lived prior to the coming of Christ did not know Hebrew and therefore required a translation in Greek or Aramaic. The most popular Greek translation of the Old Testament was the Septuagint. It was used by many Jews, and then by many Christians. In fact, the Septuagint was the “Bible” for all the first generation Christians, including those who wrote various books of the New Testament.
The early Christian missionaries carrying a text of the Septuagint (or Hebrew Bible) and the Greek New Testament (or portions thereof), which they themselves could read, moved ever outward from those early churches at Jerusalem and Antioch about which we read in the book of Acts. They moved out among peoples whose language they learned to speak. Such missionaries orally translated or paraphrased Bible passages necessary for instruction, preaching, and liturgy. Converts were made. New churches sprang up. Feeling an urgent need for the Bible to be put in the language of the new believers, missionaries would soon set about translating the whole Bible into their language. The impulse behind our modern Wycliffe Bible Translators has always been at the heart of missions, and in that way the major Bible versions were born.
Philip Wesley Comfort, ed., The Origin of the Bible (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2004), 311–312.
The early Christian missionaries had the same Holy Scripture texts referenced by Jesus: "It is written ..."
@C Mc January 14 In short, how did the "common people" -- laity or non-clergy of the masses receive the Bible?
Bible answer for the "common people" varies over time. Printing press and digital resources have greatly increased Bible availability.
Chapter 15 Versions of the Bible by Victor Walter in the 2004 publication The Origin of the Bible continues with:
Bible translation was thus spontaneous, invariably informal and oral at first, and sharply evangelistic in its motivation. The early church enthusiastically encouraged and undertook translating efforts. Even as late as the birth of the Slavonic version in the mid-ninth century, popes Adrian II (867–872) and John VIII (872–882) endorsed the project. But an amazing change came in the Western church in regard to Bible translation. Latin took over as the dominant language—such that no one read Greek anymore. Then, as learning became the province of only the wealthy nobility and prelates (churchmen of high rank, such as bishops), as the splendors of classical civilization were lost in the ferment of feudalism in Europe, and as the Roman Catholic hierarchy—headed by the pope—claimed a firm grip on Western Christendom, the Bible was removed from the hands of the laity. Therefore, as long as the priests could read the Latin texts and speak the liturgy in Latin (at least at a minimal level), there was no longer significant motivation for translations into the vernacular.
Latin came to be considered almost a sacred language and translations of the Bible into the vernacular were viewed with suspicion. Pope Gregory VII (1073–1085) gave voice to such suspicions when, only two hundred years after Adrian II and John VIII had called for a Slavonic translation, Gregory attempted to stop its circulation. He wrote to King Vratislaus of Bohemia in 1079:
For it is clear to those who reflect upon it that not without reason has it pleased Almighty God that holy scripture should be a secret in certain places lest, if it were plainly apparent to all men, perchance it would be little esteemed and be subject to disrespect; or it might be falsely understood by those of mediocre learning, and lead to error.
Meanwhile in Palestine and northern Africa, the inexorable march of Islam changed the religious texture of the Mediterranean’s eastern and southern littorals. Within one hundred years of Mohammed’s death in 632 (b. 570), over nine hundred churches had been destroyed and the Koran became the “bible” in the great circle from the walls of embattled Byzantium round to the west—to the Spanish end of Europe.
Cramped by official opposition in the West and hindered by Islamic conquest in the Mideast, Bible translations slowed to a trickle for half a millennium. Translation efforts did not regain vitality until the Protestant Reformation of the early sixteenth century, at which time missionaries took advantage of movable-type printing (invented by Johannes Gutenberg) to produce multiple translations of the Bible. Erasmus expressed the desire of all Bible translators in the preface of his freshly published Greek New Testament (1516):
I wish that even the weakest woman should read the Gospel—should read the Epistles of Paul. And I wish these were translated into all languages, so that they might be read and understood, not only by Scots and Irishmen, but also by Turks and Saracens. To make them understood is surely the first step. It may be that they might be ridiculed by many, but some would take them to heart. I long that the husbandman should sing portions of them to himself as he follows the plough, that the weaver should hum them to the tune of his shuttle, that the traveller should beguile with their stories the tedium of his journey.
But what materials were used by the early translators and copyists who worked so painstakingly over their Bible translations? At the time of Christ and through the first two centuries of the church, the most popular writing materials were ink on papyrus (the ubiquitous glued-together strips of the Nile River reed). Until the first century, “books” were actually scrolls with long sheets of papyrus paper glued end to end and rolled up on paired spindles. Then, later in the first century, another form of a book was created—called the codex (the precursor to the modern form of a book with folded sheets and stitched spine). Christians were among the first to use this form for books. In a.d. 332 the first Christian emperor, Constantine I, ordered fifty Bibles for the churches of his new capital city, Constantinople. He ordered those from Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, and specified that they were not to be scrolls, but codexes (or codices). They were also to be not of papyrus, but of vellum, carefully prepared sheep or antelope skins; for it was right about this time, in the late third and early fourth centuries, that codexes and vellum almost universally replaced scrolls and papyrus.
For centuries scribes laboriously copied Bibles all in capital letters; the earliest surviving manuscripts of Bible versions are of that type, called “uncials.” In the ninth and tenth centuries it became the fashion to write in lower-case letters; surviving manuscripts of that type are called “minuscules” or “cursives.” (There were, however, occasional cursive manuscripts as far back as the second century before Christ.) Minuscules dominate the surviving Biblical manuscripts from the tenth through the sixteenth centuries.
It was in 1454 that Johannes Gutenberg made manuscript writing obsolete by using movable type for the first time. His first printed book appeared in 1456, a splendid Latin Bible. Our printed Bibles today contain chapter and verse divisions that were a relatively late development. Chapter divisions began in the Latin Vulgate and are variously credited to Lanfranc, Archbishop of Canterbury (died 1089), to Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury (died 1228), or to Hugo de Sancto Caro of the thirteenth century. Verse numbers first appeared in the fourth edition of the Greek New Testament issued at Geneva in 1551 by Robert Etienne (Stephanus) and in the Athias Hebrew Old Testament of 1559–1561.
Philip Wesley Comfort, ed., The Origin of the Bible (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2004), 312–315.
Keep Smiling 😊
Thanks, @Keep_Smiling_4_Jesus , for reaching into the bowels of your Logos Library to enlighten the many. I appreciate your timeliness and plethora of references for the honest seeker. Your contribution seeks a new way to share without the religious demagogy and biblical superfluousness. Multiple references you have shared before. This year I have a new appreciation for your level of thoughtfulness after being away for a while. You provided a mine for small Logos Library holders to dig into through public institutions or envision future purchasing. Thanks for providing the raw materials for others to produce kernels of biblical nuggets consumable for the laity. CM