How We Got Our Bibles

Dave Williams

As we begin this very brief introduction into the ways and means God has used to give and preserve His words to us in human writing,, it would be foolish to assume that God has not played an active part in the preservation of His chosen words to mankind. After completing this brief journey back in time and history, we should be even more confident that we have, without a doubt, God’s revelation to us and His most precious promises in our possession. We will be considering four different aspects of both the Old and the New Testaments.

1. The Languages of the Bible including their history and development
2. The Inspiration of the Bible explaining how it was conceived.
3. The Manuscripts of the Bible that are available to us today.
4. The Canonicity of the Bible involving its truthfulness and authenticity.

The Language of the Old Testament

The known History of the Hebrew language began in the time of Moses around 1400 -1200 BC, which was known archeologically as the Late Bronze Age, and extends to the present time. The Hebrew language has experienced many opportunities for infusions from the other Semitic languages, such as Israel’s captivities in the Babylonian Empire 625-540 BC and the Persian Empire 540-330 BC. In spite of all this, looking back, over more than 3000 years, the Hebrew language, as used in the Scriptures, has maintained a remarkable uniformity. The Old Testament Scriptures were faithfully and meticulously recorded through the centuries and in approximately 600 AD the Masorites standardized the written and spoken transmission of Biblical Hebrew in order that the language and its meanings could be accurately preserved. The Masorites, by adding vowel markings, aided immensely in the formation of a Hebrew grammar. Keep in mind that by using different vowel placements a basic word of four letters could take on any number of pronunciations and shades of meaning. A well educated person in modern Hebrew can easily read and understand the Hebrew from any of the past ages.

The language of the New Testament
The events surrounding the origin of Biblical Greek began around 350 BC. Greece, at that time, was divided and torn by wars between its various small political states, all in the area we know today as Greece or its neighboring countries. King Phillip II of Macedon married Olympia of Eperis and soon after she bore a son whom they named Alexander. As Alexander grew he was tutored by Aristotle at Philip’s command. In the next 17 years Phillip succeeded in conquering and forming alliances between Thracia, Sparta, Athens and Macedonia and soon after that Phillip II was poisoned and Alexander the Great took the throne at 18 years of age. Being military minded he soon discovered he needed a common language if he was to effectively command his armies, for the Spartans spoke Doric, the Athenians spoke Attic or classical Greek, the Thracians spoke Thracian and the Macedonians spoke hill country Greek. The outcome of all this was a language that was excellent for communication and not easily misunderstood called Koine or common Greek. At the time the New Testament Scriptures were written Koine Greek was the common business language spoken throughout the civilized world. How’s that for good timing? The New Testament Scriptures probably began to be written soon after Christ’s ascension and were completed in 90 AD by the Apostle John. Many of the words of secular Koine Greek had not been used extensively prior to the inspiration of Scripture but once they found use by the Spirit of God they exploded with many new and deeper shades of meaning and in some cases changed the way the word was used entirely. The Scriptures having begun in approximately 1200 B.C. and completed in 90 AD by the Apostle John, cover a span of around 1300 years, and with over 40 different authors, all from very different backgrounds and walks of life, have produced a harmony and consistency not found in books written by a single author.

The Inspiration of the Bible

The evidence of a supernatural influence exerted on the writers of Scripture by God, resulting in their writings being given divine trustworthiness, is apparent throughout the Bible. Thus a document, such as the Bible, can be a source of illumination for all who seek its truths as they are assisted by the Spirit of God. The term “revelation” suggests mankind comprehending the truths given and in light of their origin.
Throughout the Scriptures the evidence of Godly intervention is apparent. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 we read;
“All Scripture is God breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be adequately equipped for every good work”.

In numerous places in Scripture we find statements as, “This says the Lord” or “the word of the Lord came to me saying”. In 2 Peter 1:16-21 we read;
“We absolutely did not present to you a cunningly fabricated yarn stemming from our own reasoning and imaginations when we told you of the arrival and the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we saw with our own eyes His power, magnificence and majesty. For when receiving great esteem and approval from God the Father, a voice came from the great shining cloud and it said, “this is my Son whom I cherish and I am delighted with Him”. Being with Him, we clearly heard this voice which came from heaven on this special mountain and now the words of the Old Testament prophets have been confirmed and you would do well to carefully consider these words as a lamp shining in a murky light less place untouched by the Word of God, until which time the brilliance of Christ will shine through and become the light of your life. Now first and foremost, understand this, that the revelation of Scripture did not come into being by someone’s private perception of things, for no prediction of future events in Scripture was ever conceived by human speculation but these men, with the help of the Spirit of God, declared God’s words”
Not only do the Scriptures tell of events that predate mankind such as the creation of the earth and its heavens, but also of events in the angelic realm. The prophecies in our Bibles have also withstood the tests of time for a great number of prophecies have already been fulfilled and there are many more remaining to be fulfilled. Of the many ways the Bible has been challenged, no area in Scripture has been more seriously challenged than its historical accuracy. To name a few,
Alexander’s conquest of the island city of Tyre by land.
The references of oil being in the Land of Goshen in Egypt.
The existence and location of the great city of Nineveh.
The existence of the Hittite empire.
All of these references in Scripture have, through the years, been proven to be correct. The real crux of the matter for mankind is the origin of the Scriptures. From Genesis 1:1 to the book of Revelation 22:21 there has been a progressive revelation of God Himself and His dealings with mankind revealing a cohesive blueprint for His creatures throughout the course of human history. Without the Word of God, we have nothing.

The Manuscripts of the Old Testament

There are approximately 2000 manuscripts or parts of manuscripts of the Hebrew Old Testament in existence today. There are 7 major manuscripts containing substantial portions of the Old Testament. The oldest complete Hebrew Old Testament dates 1010 AD. The rest date 11th or 12th century. Some smaller fragments date as early as the 8th century.
The Codex Parisiensis contains the entire Old Testament and dates 12th century. It is located in the National Library in Paris.
The Codex Laudianis contains the five books of Moses, Genesis through Deuteronomy and is dated 11th century.
The Codex Carlsruhensis contains the prophets and is dated 1106 AD. This is the oldest that can be accurately dated.
The Codex Caesenos contains the Pentateuch, sections of the prophets, Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and Ester. It is dates at the end of the 11th century and is in the library in Bologna, Italy.
The Codex 634 contains Leviticus 21:19 to Numbers 1:50. It is dated 8th century.
The Codex Norimbergensis contains the prophets. It has been assigned to the 12th century and is in Nuremberg, Germany.
The remainder are fragments or portions of the books with none being dated no earlier than 916 AD. The spectacular discovery of the book of Isaiah and other fragments of the Old Testament found with the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumron are dated 150 BC.
There is evidence that papyrus was in use in Egypt as early as 2800 BC so we can assume the Old Testament was first recorded on papyrus scrolls. The Hebrews divided the Old Testament into three basic sections.
1. The Torah - The five books of Moses
2, The Nebhi”im (nave’eem) - The former prophets - Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings. The Latter prophets - Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the 12 minor prophets.
3, The Kethubhim (kathube’eem) - Psalms, Proverbs and Job which were read or sung on feast days. The Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Ester, Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah.
The remarkable thing about the Hebrew text is the agreement of the old manuscripts or fragments of manuscripts that have come down to us. The fact that the Hebrew text has been carefully preserved is evident from the great care taken by the Jewish scholars. Today, the accepted Old Testament Hebrew text is the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgatensia

The Manuscripts of the New Testament
There are over 5000 manuscripts or parts of manuscripts of the New Testament available to us today. None of the original manuscripts are in existence due to the type of materials they were written on and the persecutions of the early church. The oldest in our possession is a fragment of the Gospel of John found near Alexandria dating early 2nd century. See p52 of the papyri There are four general categories of Greek manuscripts and as of 1989 they were numbered and cataloged as follows:
Papyri . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .96
Unical MSS . . . . . . . . . . 299
Miniscule . . . . . . . . . . . 2812
Lectionaries . . . . . . . . . 2281
Total 5488
At the time many of these manuscripts were written, two basic types of handwriting or script were in general use. The “running hand” similar to our modern style of handwriting was called “miniscule” and was employed in non literary every day documents, such as letters, accounts, receipts and contracts. Literary works on the other hand were written in a more formal style called “Unical”. This “book style” was characterized by more deliberate and carefully executed letters each separate from the other and similar to our capital letters in form.

Papyri evidences of the New Testament
Two of the most important collections of papyri manuscripts were acquired by Chester Beatty in 1930-31 and are in the Beatty Museum in Dublin The other is owned by M. Martin Bodmer of Geneva. and was acquired in 1955-56.
A brief description of some of the more significant and interesting witnesses is as follows and each is identified by its catalog “p” number.

p45 Originally was a codex of 220 leaves measuring 8x10 inches and containing the four Gospels and Acts. Today, only 2 leaves of Matthew and John, 6 leaves of Mark, 7 of Luke and 13 of Acts remain. It is dated to be from the first half of the 3rd century.
p46 Originally contained 104 leaves from a single quire codex containing the 10 epistles of Paul and the anonymous letter to the Hebrews. Of the 86 leaves that remain a portion of Romans and 1 and 2 Thessalonians have been lost and all of the remaining leaves have been damaged,. It dates 200 AD.
p47 The original codex, of an estimated 32 leaves, contains the Book of Revelation. The 10 leaves that remain are only slightly mutilated and contain the text of 9:10 to 12:2. It dates from the middle to last part of the 3rd century.
p52 This small fragment containing just 5 verses of John Gospel is the oldest piece of the Word of God in existence today. It is dated early 2nd century. Just imagine, if John wrote his Gospel in the later years of the first century at Ephesus in Asia Minor, then within a few years this small portion of his Gospel was found in a provincial town along the Nile River far removed from its place of origin, would indicate the Gospel was spreading quite rapidly.
p66 Is one of older nearly complete copies of the Gospel of John. There are 150 leaves remaining and it is dated near 200 AD. It contains 1:1 through 6-11 and 6:35-14:15. The preservation of Chapters 14 through 21 is not great.
p72 This codex is one of the earliest copies of the Epistle of Jude and the 2 Epistles of Peter. It is dated 3rd century. Included with this codex were several other earlier writings of the church fathers but were not considered to be part of the Canon Its size of 6 X 53/4 inches would seem to indicate it was used for personal use rather than being read at church services.
p74 Is a large papyrus codex in poor condition. It contains portions of the Book of Acts, James, 1-2 Peter, 1-2-3 John and Jude. It is dated around the 7th century.
p75 Is a codex of Luke and John containing 144 leaves of which 102 remain in whole or in parts. It dates between 175 and 226 AD. This is the earliest copy of Luke’s Gospel in existence.

Important Greek Unical Manuscripts
A brief description of some of the more significant and interesting Unical manuscripts is as follows and each is cataloged with a letter of the alphabet for easy reference.
At the head of the list of important New Testament manuscripts is the 4th century codex of the Greek Bible designated, aleph”, which is the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet. It was discovered in 1844 by Dr. C. von Tischendorf as he visited St. Catharine’s monastery on Mount Sinai and accordingly, it has been named Codex Sinaiticus. It originally contained the entire Bible written in a carefully written unical hand. Today parts of the Old Testament have perished but the entire New Testament has survived. Codex Sinaiticus is the only known complete copy of the New Testament in existence.
How it was discovered is an interesting story. In 1844 as Tischendorf was visiting St. Catharine’s monastery he stumbled onto a basket full of leaves of parchment. He was told they was destined to help light the oven at the monastery. Upon examination he found that the basket contained a leaves of the Septuagint version of the Old Testament. He was casually told by the steward that there were other baskets of the same and two had been burned up already. Obviously they were asked not to light any more fires with the remaining baskets.
On his third trip to St. Catharine's, Tischendorf returned under the patronage of the Czar of Russia Alexander II. When presenting a bound copy of his work to the Abbot, the monk remarked that he also had a copy of the Septuagint. The monk went to the closet in his cell and brought forth a manuscript wrapped in red cloth. There with astonished eyes, he saw laying in front of him, what he had hoped to discover. The manuscript contained most of the Old Testament and all of the New Testament in good condition. It was purchased from Russia after the revolution for 100,000 pounds and rests today in the British National Museum.
The Codex Alexandrius dates from the 5th century and contains the Old Testament with some mutilations and most of the New Testament Most all of the book of Matthew is missing along with parts of John and 1 Corinthians. It was given to King Charles I of England by Cyril Lucar the Patriarch of Constantinople in 1627. What a shame, for it was just a few years after the King James Bible was translated and it would have helped the translators immensely. It rests today next to the Codex Sinaiticus in the British National Museum
One of the more outstanding manuscripts of the Greek Bible is the Codex Vaticanus. Its name reflects its location, in the Vatican Library in Rome and its existence was not made public until 1475. it contains both Testaments including the Apocrypha It dates the middle of the 4th century. Most of Genesis is missing along with 30 Psalms. From Hebrews 9 onwards including 1 and 2 Timothy through Revelation are missing. Many scholars agree that the Vaticanus and the Sinaiticus texts are 2 of the original 50 copies Emperor Constantine commissioned from Eusebius in 331 AD.
The Codex Ephraemi is the name given to a 5th century text dating 5t century. It was restored by Tischendorf after Father Ephraemi, a 12th century monk, erased and wrote his sermons and notes over the original text. After much painstaking work the original text was brought out with chemicals. Of the existing text, 64 leaves remain of the Old Testament and 145 leaves of the New Testament. The remaining leaves contain portions of every book in the New Testament except 1 Thessalonians and 2 John.
The Codex Bezae was presented to the Cambridge library in 1581 by Theodore Bezae, the french scholar who succeeded Calvin as leader of the Geneva church. It dates 5th to 6th century and is quite different from the other texts previously mentioned in that is has several additions and omissions to the text that are not found in the other witnesses. It contains most of the 4 Gospels and the book of Acts. No known manuscript has as many remarkable variations from from the normally accepted texts.
The manuscripts identified by E, F, G and H date from the 8th to 10th century and are located in libraries or private collections mostly in Europe. They all contain sections or parts of the Greek text and are important in determining the accuracy if the accepted text by their agreements or disagreements of the accepted group of texts.
The Washington manuscript is in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. It dates 5th to 6th century and contains all the Epistles of Paul except Romans. The text agrees more closely to Aleph and A rather than B.

The rest of the 299 unical witnesses have been cataloged and are scattered throughout the world in museums or private collections. Many date from the 7th to the 13th century. The importance of these later manuscripts is obvious, for when they all agree with the older texts our confidence is increased as to the accuracy of the text.

Minuscule Manuscripts and Lectionaries Evidence
In Approximately the middle of the 9th century a change in written Greek text was initiated, and a script of smaller size and with a running hand, similar to our English writing, was accepted for literary works. Consequently, these witnesses appear from the 9th century to the invention of the printing press. The advantage of this smaller script was that it used less parchment, which cut cost, and sped up the copying process. In turn the cost of books was less, making it available;e to more than to the very wealthy. Lectionaries intended for public reading at worship services continued in the unical script for several years after the change.

Canonicity of the Bib;e
The subject of Canonicity addresses the question, “How do we know our Greek Text is what the Spirit of God assisted the human authors of Scripture to put into writing”? Another question is, “By not having the original writings, is the text we have accurate”? Canonicity is not trying to address the quality or accuracy of our English translations but only the origin Greek Text.
Up till now we have gone over just a few of the many manuscripts and witnesses that are in existence today and many of these are damaged by age and others are just fragments of the original writing and none are totally complete. To add to the problem, they are not all in agreement in some places. When confronted with these preliminary remarks, one might pursue the subject of Canonicity with more than a little curiosity and skepticism. The methods which have been used to determine the accuracy and authenticity of the truths given to us by God from these manuscripts is called the science of “Textual Criticism”. The confidence we have today in the Greek text, that form the basis for our English Bibles, is the result of several centuries of effort in this critical science.
Several methods have been conceived by scholars through the years which address the problems of simple errors in the copying of the text and the possibility of intentional changes during the copying process. Of these methods the more obvious are:
1. Chronological Comparison - This method includes tracing the copies back to the original they were copied from. Any differences from the original could be considered spurious.
2. External Evidence - This method examines the age of the manuscript, its type of script and the area from which it was found or originated. This would include historical accuracy and the differences in linguistic geography.
3. Rational Criticism - This method does not imply that the other methods are irrational but that the examiner by using the text critical method can determine which variation to be more correct than another by usung the divine harmony of the Scriptures to help in evaluating variant readings.
Having discussed the problems of variant readings, lets not forget there were entire books that had to be carefully compared and evaluated.
Canonicity of Old Testament Books
After 1200 years there remained only 14 books of the Old Testament that are challenged as to there status as the Word of God. They are called the Apochrapha and covered the time period between Malachi and the New Testament Gospels. The Catholic Church has retained them in their Bible due to Jerome’s Latin Vulgate translation in 350 AD which included them. The reason many scholars still have difficulty accepting them as part of the Canon of Scripture is that;
1, Few of the records or catalogs of the early church include them
2. There are no New Testament references to them.
3. The authors never claimed to be messengers of God nor did they make any claims as to their inspiration, nor did the Jews ever totally accepted them as part of the Canon of Scripture.
4. They contain historical and chronological errors.
5. They teach doctrines and uphold practices that are contrary to the rest of the Bible.
Canonicity of New Testament Books
In AD 90 the Bible as we know it today was essentially complete but by AD 200 there were many books circulating around which had to examined as to their inspiration. Just a few of these are listed here and none, when put to the test was found to be part of God’s inspired words.
1. The Shepherd of Hermus
2. The Epistle of Barnabus
3. The Acts of Paul, The Acts of John, The Acts of Andrew
4. Didache
5. The Gospel of Matthias, The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Peter
6. The revelation of Peter

The books of our New Testament which were eventually accepted but were examined more carefully than the others were:
The book of James,
The book of Hebrews,,
The books of 1 and 2 Peter
The books of 2 and 3 John and Jude
The book of Revelation

There are normal tests that can be made to ascertain inspiration and they are:
1. Continuity or Divine harmony - It must agree with the rest of accepted Scripture,
2. Historical accuracy - Its events must coincide with historical facts.
3. Chronological Accuracy - Its events must agree with the time line of history
4. Linguistic acceptance - The words used must agree with the vocabulary of the area and time in which they claim to be written.

Our Bible is not to be considered a history book but where it touched on historical references it is accurate. Our Bible is not to considered a science book but where it touches on on the principles of science it should be considered correct.

The History of our English Bibles.
In approximately 250 BC a Greek translation of the Old Testament Scriptures was made by Jewish scholars and was called the Septuagint. This blending of the Hebrew and Greek has been a great help in the understanding of both languages.
In 330 AD the Emperor Constantine ordered 50 copies of the Bible from Eusebius, the Bishop of Caesarea. His compilation of the books of the New Testament was the same as we have today and has withstood these many years of textual criticism.
The next complete compilation of the Scriptures was made in the latter part of the 4th century by Jerome and is referred to as the Latin Vulgate Bible. This translation was used as the benchmark for scholars through the middle ages.
The next compilation of the Greek New Testament was begun in 1513 by Erasmus a famous Dutch scholar. Over the next few years he continually corrected his text which resulted in 3 more editions. This text rests on a half dozen miniscule manuscripts with the oldest and best of these dating 10th century.
Building upon Erasmus’ work, the efforts of Stephanus, Beza and Elziver produced a fifth edition which through a catch phrase in the introduction became known as the “Textus Receptus”. It lies as the basis of the King James Bible and was the standard for all protestant works until approximately 1880. The reverence given to the Textus Receptus was so great that criticizing it was taken to be sacrilege, yet its textual basis was based on nothing more than a handful of late miniscule manuscripts and in a dozen passages its readings are supported by no known Greek witness.
One of the more significant contributions to textual criticism in the middle 1800s was from C. von Tishendorf’s meticulous work on a more up to date Greek text and was published in 1884 in 2 volumes with an apparatus that listed all the variant readings from the other significant manuscripts up to that time.
In England, the scholars who helped the most in drawing the British away from the Textus Receptus in the middle 1800s was Samuel Tregelles and Henry Alford, Dean of Canterbury. Their efforts moved us even closed to an accurate Greek text.
The year 1881 was marked by the publication of the most noteworthy critical edition of the Greek Testament to come from British scholarship. After 28 years of work “The New Testament in the Original Greek” was published by B.F. Westcott and F.J.A. Hort both professors of divinity at Cambridge. Their methods of textual criticism were built upon there predecessors but in comparison they relied heavily on internal evidence of the variant readings
In 1901 Eberhard Nestle and Kurt Aland published an edition of the Greek New Testament based on the works of Tischendorf, and Bernard Weiss, which included all new archeological finds after the Westcott and Hort text was published, This text represents the state of 19th century scholarship.
The total number of Greek texts that have been published since 1513 are 833 and all of which were used to improve and verify the latest Greek texts. The text most used today is the result of American, British,Dutch. Scottish and German Societies and published under the auspices of the United Bible Societies.
English Translations
The very first Scripture to be translated into English was in 680 A.D. A fellow named Kadman, a gospel singer, had Genesis, Exodus, Daniel and Revelation translated so he could sing them. Several others, either translated the Scriptures themselves or had them translated and by 900 A.D. Bede had translated the Gospel of John, the Bishop of Cherbourg translated the Psalms and Alfred the Great ordered the people to learn to read and their primer was portions of the English Bible.
Then came Wycliff in 1382 and he gave us the first complete Bible. In manuscript form only, it still reached out and helped in the reformation.
In 1525 Tyndale, with the aid of the printing press, put the Word of God into the hands of the people and was put to death for his efforts by the Catholic priesthood. The Coverdale Bible in 1535, the Geneva Bile in 1560, the Matthew Bible in 1575, all came soon after.
In 1604 the parliament of England issued the Millenary Petition, requesting a universal translation.
In 1611 King James picked 27 Hebrew scholars and 27 Greek scholars to work on a universal translation. Even though 5 died before they could start the remainder were divided into three groups. Some went to Cambridge, some went to Oxford and the rest to Westminister, All three groups were to work on both the Old and New Testaments and then compare and merge their results. The Greek text they used was the 2nd edition Elziver’s text which became the 5th edition of Erasmus, which was a collection of 5 manuscripts dating about 10th century and was called the “Textus Receptus”, Considering the text they were using, they did an amazingly good job
When completed it was the most universally condemned Bible ever to be offered to the world. Everybody hated it. In 1624 King James took his pen and did the dirty work. You can read what he wrote in the front of most of your King James Bibles.
Major English Translations of the Last Century
Beginning in 1901:
New American Revised Moffat Bible Fenton’s
Ballantine Amplified 20th Cebtury
Smith and Goodspeed Mongomery Darby’s
Berkley Norlies New English Bible
Revised Standard Version Wuest New Testament Phillip’s New Testament
New American Standard New International version New King James
Contemporary English Version
There are most likely several more I have forgotten about. The point to remember is that they are translations made by men who deserve great credit for their efforts but are still only translations of God’s inspired words. Like ay tool we use, it must be chosen for what we do with it. Some translations are more devotional in nature where others are much easier to teach from. May God bless all of us in our studies, for without His words, “We Have Nothing”.

Please don’t assume that what I have presented to you on these few pages is in no way near the complete story of how God’s Word has been preserved for us. To present the whole history of this miracle would take many volumes and at the least ones lifetime.
For those of you who have been blessed with an insatiable appetite for this type of study, I recommend the following books, and I believe they are still in print.

The Text of the New Testament - Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration by Bruce M. Metzger 3rd Edition Oxford University Press 1992

A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament by Bruce M. Metzger United Bible Societies 1971

The King James Version Debate by D.A. Carson Baker Book House 1979

The Text of the New Testament by Kurt and Barbara Aland Grand Rapids 1989