The Bible

When we call our holy book, the Bible, we are actually referring to the word, biblos.  Early Latin-speaking Christians first came to call their holy book the Bible.  This word comes to us from the papyrus plant.  A plant that was used as a writing surface by crosshatching the stems and bonding them with glue and water.  [1]An early name for this plant was bublos, which evolved into biblos, the Greek word for book.  (Ewert)  These scrolls were often rolled up and stored.  [2]In this format they were called codices, most of the early New Testament documents are in this form.

The Testaments

The Bible is noticeably divided into two sections: Old Testament and New Testament.  See appendix A for a list of Old Testament books and appendix B for a list of New Testament books.  As Christianity developed the church inherited the collection of holy books from the synagogues.  They also added to body of work introducing the gospels, Acts, Revelation and the epistles.  Naturally reference to the older book became known as the Old Testament or covenant.  The new books were dubbed as the New Testament or covenant.

The History of the Old Testament and overview

The portion of the Bible known as the Old Testament contains the books Genesis through Malachi in our current Bible.  The books are divided up unto five sections: the Torah (Law), the history books, the wisdom books, and the prophets (which are divided up into major and minor prophets).  [3]Harris divides the Old Testament up as the Torah, The Prophets (Deuteronomistic History), The Prophets (collection of individual prophets), The Writings, and a grouping of Deuterocannonical, Apocalyptic, and Extracanonical work. (Harris)   The books were written over the span of hundreds of years by various authors.  The language use to write the Old Testament is mostly Hebrew.  However, there are portions that were written in Aramaic from those who came back from Babylonian exile.

The Dead Sea Scrolls

[4]The Dead Sea scrolls were found in 1947 by shepherds in Qumran caves at the Dead Sea, hence the name.  Carbon dating places the scrolls written at the second century or as early as 70 AD.  Parts of every Old Testament book, with the exception of Esther, were found in them.  Almost the entire book of Isaiah was found in them.  These are the earliest Hebrew Bible manuscripts and are of great importance.  [5]Up till the finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls the earliest manuscripts available were dated around the ninth century AD.

The New Testament

Most of the New Testament is stored in Codex form.  There are several New Testament Codices that we will mention:

Codex Sinaiticus which was found by the German scholar, Konstantin von Tischendorf.   This codex is believed to be dated around the fourth century.

Codex Vaticanus is another fourth century manuscript.  Origin is unknown.

Codex Alexandrinus was probably written from Alexandria.  Dating is in the fifth century.

There are hundreds more but these are some of the most important.  The result of the hundreds of early manuscripts found gives tremendous evidence to the historicity of the Bible.   In fact, the Bible has more evidence to confirm the original text than any other ancient manuscript.  (Bible Society Making the Bible Heard)

Scholars agree the first books to be written of the New Testament was Paul’s letters.  It is a common idea that Mark’s gospel was the first to be written.  Mark became a source of information for Matthew and Luke.  John was thought to be the last Gospel, but now some scholars believe John to have a much earlier date.  (Bible Society Making the Bible Heard)  Interesting, the oldest manuscript we have for the New Testament is a fragment of John’s Gospel now housed in the John Ryland University Library in Manchester.  [6]

Extra Canonical Books

There are a collection of non-canonical books.  There are commonly called the Apocrypha (“hidden away”) books.  These are a collection of books that were mysterious and that the some Jews though too mysterious for the common reader so they were hidden away.  Some Bibles have the Apocrypha in them.  Interesting is that Roman Catholic Church accepts the Apocrypha as Cannon.  The other collection of extra-canonical books were called the Pseudepigrapha books. These books are mostly an imitation of the canonical books.  They has never been serious contenders for inclusion in the Cannon. (Ewert)

Early Translations and Versions

The oldest version of scripture came in the second and third century was the Greek Septuagint.  Greek was the universal language at this point of history, and the spreading of Jewish people was primary cause for this version.  It was probably created by Jewish scholars in Alexandria, Egypt.  The Syriac version was another early version.  The dialect was Aramaic, and this version was predominant in the Middle East.

The Latin Bible emerged from the spread of the Roman Empire.  As Rome spread the far reaching parts in Africa and Europe there was need for a Latin translation.  The problem arose from the various Latin translations.  Jerome translated his Latin Vulgate, from the original languages.  His version gain acceptance throughout Europe centuries after writing it.

Over the centuries there were attempts to adapt the Bible into language of various peoples.  Such methods such as writing a word for word translation between the lines of the Latin text.  There have been a creation of alphabet based upon the Greek language used to translate the scriptures.  This is found in the Cyrillic alphabet.  Others, such as Peter Waldo, a French merchant we passionate about Bible translations.  They worked on translations in Italian, German, Provencal, and Piedmontese.  In the fourteenth century, John Wycliffe produced an English translation.

The main hindrance to Bible translation was the church itself.  The Roman Catholic Church opposed individual study of scripture maintaining that only the church can interpret scripture.  This would all change due to the efforts of men like Martin Luther, and William Tyndale insisted all people should have access to the scriptures.  With the arrival of the printing press in 1455, the written word was now available to vast number of people.   The demand for scripture greatly increased and the demand for scripture translations boomed in the 16th century.  Spain was an exception.  The famous Spanish Inquisition prohibited various translations.   Below is a brief list of translators.

Desiderius Erasmus translated the Greek New Testament into Latin in 1516.  This version became the basis for many translations.

Martin Luther was instrumental in translating the German Bible.  [7]This translations is the staple of German Bible translations.

Jacques Lefevre d’Etaples had translations published in Paris 1523 and 1528 of the New and Old Testament respectively.

Pierre Robert Olivetan produced a translation in which [8]John Calvin assisted in the editing process.  This translation was produced 1535, it is usually referred to as the French Geneva Bible.

Along with other English translations, Miles Coverdale produced a Bible in English in 1535 and another one was edited by Thomas Matthew in 1537.

William Whittingham produced a complete revision of the English Bible in 1560 in Geneva.   He was a refugee from Mary I persecution of the protestant church.  This edition became known as the [9]Geneva Bible.

The Roman Catholic Church produced its own translation of the Bible from the years 1582-1610.

In 1604 King James approved a new version of the scriptures.  The work was published in 1611 and is commonly known as the King James Version or the Authorized Version.  This translation remains widely used today.


Thousands of missionaries have contributed to various translations all over the world.  Many have lost their life as a result.  The Bible Society notes that, “before 1800 less than 70 languages had any translation of even part of the Bible.  By 1900 more than 500 had at least one book of the Bible.” (Bible Society Making the Bible Heard) Progress is being made now that most of the world languages have a Bible.

“Wycliffe noted that along with affiliated organizations like The Seed Company and SIL International, the organization has managed to translate the Bible into 2,075 different languages around the world. While that still leaves another 1,967 others to be translated, the vast majority of the human population now has access to the Scriptures in their own languages.” (Zaimov)

[10]Zaimov goes on to report that the goal of the Wycliffe Bible Translators is to have a Bible in every language by 2015.

Just a casual glance in your local Bible bookstore reveals the progress of translations.  I am hopeful and prayerful that Wycliffe’s Translators prediction is becomes reality in 2025.  I have enjoyed the tracing the history of scripture in this brief summary.  When I hold my Bible in hand, it gives me an appreciation of the cost of such a work.

Works Cited

“Bible Society Making the Bible Heard.” n.d. Bible Society . Document. 30 April 2015.

Ewert, David. A General Introduction to the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1983. Book.

Harris, Stephen. Understanding the Bible. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield, 1997. Book.

Zaimov, Stoyan. “Christian Post North America.” 6 12 2012. Web. 7 May 2015.

Appendix A

The Old Testament has 39 books total, which consist of . . .

Pentateuch–5 books
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy

Historical Books–12 books
Joshua, Judges, Ruth, First Samuel, Second Samuel, First Kings, Second Kings,
First Chronicles, Second Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther

Poetic books–5 books
Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon

Prophetic books–17 books
Major Prophets–Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel
Minor Prophets–Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk,
Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi

Appendix B

The New Testament has 27 books total, which consist of . . .

  • Historical Books–Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts
  • Pauline Epistles–Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon
  • Non-Pauline Epistles–Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, Revelation

[1] Several references are given to this plant in scripture, Exodus 2:3, Job 8:11, Isa. 18:235:7.  Interesting the Hebrew word for this plant is gome, translated into Greek is papuros, Latin papyrus from which we derive the English word paper.

[2] How the Bible Came to Us, p. 3

[3] This is found in the table of contents of Harris’ work, Understanding the Bible.

[4][4] How the Bible Came to Us, p. 2

[5] Ewert says that one exception is the Nash Papyrus fragment, p. 85.

[6] According to the assigned text, How the Bible Came to Us, a portion of John dating back to the fourth century is housed and the Bible Society (author of our referenced work) library in Cambridge.

[7] The article, How the Bible Came to Us, goes on to state, “Its beauty and style have probably done more than any other published work to shape the modern German language.” P. 7

[8] John Calvin was Pierre Robert Olivetan’s cousin according to the Bible Society’s How the Bible Came to Us.

[9] The Geneva Bible was also known as the “Breeches Bible” according to How the Bible Came to Us, because Genesis 3:7 states, “made for themselves breeches.” P. 9

[10] (Zaimov) “Wycliffe Report Dramatic Increase of Bible Translations Around the World

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