"There Is One God And One Mediator Between God And Men, The Man Christ Jesus" 
1 Timothy (2:5)

Bible History


Many Christians have Bibles, but most have almost no knowledge of where the present English translations of the Bible came from. What different kinds of books are in the Bible? When, how, and why were they written? What do they teach? Who actually wrote them? How were they passed forward through history? And, perhaps most important of all, why and how did some books, and not others, come to be collected into what some consider the canon of scripture that would define their belief for all time? This is an introductory study of the Bible which considers the history, culture, and development of some of today’s biblical content found reflected in different versions of the Bible for which they were written.


Important Terms to Remember:

Autographs: The original texts were written either by the author’s own hand or by a scribe under their personal supervision.
Manuscripts: Until Gutenberg first printed the Latin Bible in 1456, all Bibles were hand copied onto papyrus, parchment, and paper.
Translations: When the Bible is translated into a different language it is usually translated from the original Hebrew and Greek. However, some translations in the past were derived from an earlier translation. For example, the first English translation by John Wycliffe in 1380 was prepared from the Latin Vulgate.



Old Testament

The Bible comes from two main sources – Old and New Testaments – written in different languages. The Old Testament was written primarily in Hebrew, with some books written in Aramaic.


There are no known autographs of any books of the Old Testament. Below is a list of the languages in which the Old Testament books were written.

Note: (It’s important you read footnotes 1-9)
• 1450-1400 B.C. The traditional date for Moses’ writing of Genesis-Deuteronomy was written in Hebrew. [<1>The first five books of the Bible were known as the Pentateuch. This word “Pentateuch” is not in the Bible; it is a Greek word signifying literally the Five-fold Work; from penta, five, and teuchos, which in the later Greek means roll or volume.] [<2>The Jews in the time of our Lord always considered these five books as one connected work called the “Torah,” or “The Law,” sometimes “The Law of Moses”. It was originally one book, and it is not easy to determine at what time its division into five parts took place.] [<3>It is certain that if Moses wrote these books he did not call them “Genesis,” “Exodus,” “Leviticus,” “Numbers,” “Deuteronomy;” for these words, again, come from languages that he never heard. Four of them are Greek words, and one of them, Numbers, is a Latin word. These names were given to several books at a very late day. What are their names in the Hebrew Bible? Each of them is called by the first word or some of the first words in the book. The Jews were apt to name their books, as we name our hymns, by the initial word or words; thus they called the first of these five books, “Bereshith,” “In the Beginning;” the second one “Veelleh Shemoth,” “Now these are the names;” the third one “Vayikra,” “And he called,” and so on. The titles in our English Bible are much more significant and appropriate than these original Hebrew titles; thus Genesis signifies origin, and Genesis is the Book of Origins; Exodus means departure, and the book describes the departure of Israel from Egypt; Leviticus points out the fact that the book is mainly occupied with the Levitical legislation; Numbers gives a history of the numbering of the people, and Deuteronomy, which means the second law, contains what seems to be a recapitulation and reenactment of the legislation of the preceding books. But these English titles, which are partly translated and partly transferred to English from older Latin and Greek titles, tell us nothing trustworthy about the authorship of the books.] [<4>Moses died in the wilderness before the Israelites reached the Promised Land before the Canaanites were driven out, and the land was divided among the tribes. It is not likely that he wrote the account of his own death and burial which we find in the last chapter of Deuteronomy.] [<5>It is not likely that Moses wrote the words in Exodus 11:3 “Moreover the man Moses was very great in the land of Egypt, in the sight of all the people;” nor those in Numbers 12:3 “Now the man Moses was very meek above all the men which were on the face of the earth.”] [<6>Other passages show upon the face of them that they must have been added to these books after the time of Moses. It is stated in Exodus 16:35, that the Israelites continued to eat manna until they came to the borders of the land of Canaan. But Moses was not living when they entered that land.] [<7>It is impossible to tell how much of it came from the hand of Moses, but there are considerable portions of it which, although they may have been somewhat modified by later editors, are substantially as he left them.] [<8>The Bible is filled with references attributing these books to Moses! Within the Pentateuch itself, one can read numerous times how Moses wrote the law of God: “Moses wrote all the words of Jehovah” (Exodus 24:4), “Jehovah said unto Moses, ‘Write thou these words…’ ” (Exodus 34:27), “Moses wrote their goings out according to their journeys by the commandment of Jehovah” (Numbers 33:2), “Moses wrote this law and delivered it unto the priests…” (Deuteronomy 31:9), (2 Chronicles 34:14) “Hilkiah the priest found the Book of the law of Jehovah given by Moses” (emp. added; cf. Ezra 3:2; 6:18, Nehemiah 13:1, and Malachi 4:4). These verses “refer to an actual written ‘law of Moses,’ not simply an oral tradition”. {NOTE: The Hebrew Bible was not divided like our modern English Old Testament. It consisted of three divisions: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings (cf. Luke 24:44). It contained the same “books” we have today; it was just divided differently. Genesis through Deuteronomy was considered one unit, and thus frequently was called “the Law” or “the Book” (2 Chronicles 25:4; cf. Mark 12:26). They were not intended to be five separate volumes in a common category, but rather, are five divisions of the same book. Hence, the singular references: “the Law” or “the Book.”}] [<9>The New Testament writers also showed no hesitation in affirming that Moses wrote the Pentateuch. (John 1:17)(Luke 24:27)(Acts 15:21)(Romans 10:5 NKJV; cf. Leviticus 18:5)(Mark 12:19; cf. Deuteronomy 25:5) (Mark 7:10) (Mark 10:3-5; cf. Matthew 19:8). Later, we see where Jesus asked the Sadducees, “Have you not read in the book of Moses, in the place concerning the bush, how God spake unto him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’?” (Mark 12:26, emp. added). But, perhaps the most convincing passage of all can be found in John 5:46-47, where Jesus stated: “For if ye believed Moses, ye would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?” (John 5:46-47, emp. added; cf. Deuteronomy 18:15-18). The truth is, by claiming that Moses did not write the books of the Pentateuch, one essentially is claiming that Jesus was mistaken.]

• 586 B.C. Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. The Jews were taken into captivity to Babylon. They remained in Babylon under the Medo-Persian Empire and there began to speak Aramaic.
• 555-545 B.C. The Book of Daniel Chapters. 2:4 to 7:28 were written in Aramaic.
• 425 B.C. Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, was written in Hebrew.
• 400 B.C. Ezra Chapters. 4:8 to 6:18; and 7:12-26 were written in Aramaic.


The following is a list of the oldest Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament that are still in existence.
Dead Sea Scrolls: date from 200 B.C. – 70 A.D. and contain the entire book of Isaiah and portions of every other Old Testament book but Esther.
Geniza Fragments: portions of the Old Testament in Hebrew and Aramaic, discovered in 1947 in an old synagogue in Cairo, Egypt, which date from about 400 A.D.
Ben Asher Manuscripts: five or six generations of this family made copies of the Old Testament using the Masoretic Hebrew text, from 700-950 A.D.


The Old Testament was translated very early into Aramaic and Greek.
• 400 B.C. The Old Testament began to be translated into Aramaic. This translation is called the Aramaic Targums. This translation helped the Jewish people, who began to speak Aramaic from the time of their captivity in Babylon, to understand the Old Testament in the language that they commonly spoke. In the first century Palestine of Jesus’ day, Aramaic was still the most commonly spoken language. For example maranatha: “Our Lord has come,” 1 Corinthians 16:22 is an example of an Aramaic word that is used in the New Testament.
• 250 B.C. The Old Testament was translated into Greek. This translation is known as the Septuagint. It is sometimes designated “LXX” (which is the Roman numeral for “70”) because it was believed that 70 to 72 translators worked to translate the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek. The Septuagint was often used by New Testament writers when they quoted from the Old Testament. The LXX was a translation of the Old Testament that was used by the early Church.



The New Testament


45- 95 A.D. The New Testament was written in Greek. The Pauline Epistles, the Gospel of Mark, the Gospel of Luke, and the book of Acts are all dated from 45-63 A.D. The Gospel of John and the Revelation may have been written as late as 95 A.D.


There are over 5,600 early Greek Manuscripts of the New Testament that are still in existence. The oldest manuscripts were written on papyrus and the later manuscripts were written on leather called parchment.


Early translations of the New Testament can give important insight into the underlying Greek manuscripts from which they were translated.
• 180 A.D. Early translations of the New Testament from Greek into Latin, Syriac, and Coptic versions began about 180 A.D.
• 195 A.D. The name of the first translation of the Old and New Testaments into Latin was termed Old Latin, both Testaments having been translated from Greek. Parts of the Old Latin were found in quotes by the church father Tertullian, who lived around 160-220 A.D. in North Africa and wrote treatises on theology.
• 300 A.D. The Old Syriac was a translation of the New Testament from Greek into Syriac.
• 300 A.D. The Coptic Versions: Coptic was spoken in four dialects in Egypt. The Bible was translated into each of these four dialects.
• 380 A.D. The Latin Vulgate was translated by St. Jerome. He translated into Latin the Old Testament from Hebrew and the New Testament from Greek. The Latin Vulgate became the Bible of the Western Church until the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s. It continues to be the authoritative translation of the Roman Catholic Church to this day. The Protestant Reformation saw an increase in translations of the Bible into the common languages of the people.
• Other early translations of the Bible were in Armenian, Georgian, Ethiopic, Slavic, and Gothic.
• 1380 A.D. The first English translation of the Bible was by John Wycliffe. He translated the Bible into English from the Latin Vulgate. This was a translation from a translation and not a translation from the original Hebrew and Greek. Wycliffe was forced to translate from the Latin Vulgate because he did not know Hebrew or Greek.



The Advent of Printing

Printing greatly aided the transmission of biblical texts.

• 1456 A.D. Gutenberg produced the first printed Bible in Latin. Printing revolutionized the way books were made. From now on books could be published in great numbers and at a lower cost.
• 1514 A.D. The Greek New Testament was printed for the first time by Erasmus. He based his Greek New Testament on only five Greek manuscripts, the oldest of which dated only as far back as the twelfth century. With minor revisions, Erasmus’ Greek New Testament came to be known as the Textus Receptus or the “received texts.”
• 1522 A. D. Polyglot Bible was published. The Old Testament was in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin, and the New Testament was in Latin and Greek. Erasmus used the Polyglot to revise later editions of his New Testament. Tyndale made use of the Polyglot in his translation of the Old Testament into English which he did not complete because he was martyred in 1534.
• 1611 A.D. The King James Version into English from the original Hebrew and Greek. The King James translators of the New Testament used the Textus Receptus as the basis for their translations.
• 1968 A.D. The United Bible Societies 4th Edition of the Greek New Testament. This Greek New Testament made use of the oldest Greek manuscripts which date from 175 A.D. This was the Greek New Testament text from which the NASB and the NIV were translated.
• 1971 A.D. The New American Standard Version (NASB) was published. It makes use of the wealth of much older Hebrew and Greek manuscripts now available that weren’t available at the time of the translation of the KJV. Its wording and sentence structure closely follow the Greek in more of a “word for word” style.
• 1983 A.D. The New International Version (NIV) was published. It also made use of the oldest manuscript evidence. It is more of a “thought-for-thought” translation and reads more easily than the NASB.

* As an example of the contrast between word-for-word and thought-for-thought translations, notice below the translation of the Greek word “hagios-holy”
NASB Hebrews 9:25. “…the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood not his own.”
NIV Hebrews 9:25. “…the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own.”

* The NIV supplies “understood” information about the Day of Atonement, namely that the high priest’s duties took place in the compartment of the temple known specifically as the Most Holy Place. Note that the NASB simply says “holy place” reflecting the more literal translation of “hagios.”



The Integrity of the Manuscript Evidence

As with any ancient book transmitted through a number of handwritten manuscripts, the question naturally arises as to how confident can we be that we have anything resembling the autograph. Let us now look at what evidence we have for the integrity of the New Testament manuscripts. Let us look at the number of manuscripts and how close they date to the autographs of the Bible as compared with other ancient writings of similar age.



Authorship and dating of the New Testament books

Skeptics and liberal Christian scholars both seek to date the New Testament books as late first-century or early second-century writings. They contend that these books were not written by eyewitnesses but rather by second or third-hand sources. This allowed for the development of what they view as myths concerning Jesus. For example, they would deny that Jesus actually foretold the destruction of Jerusalem. Rather they would contend that later Christian writers “put these words into his mouth.”

1. Many of the New Testament books claim to be written by eyewitnesses.

1. The Gospel of John claims to be written by the disciple of the Lord. Recent archeological research has confirmed both the existence of the Pool of Bethesda and that it had five porticoes as described in John 5:2. This correct reference to an incidental detail lends credibility to the claim that the Gospel of John was written by John who as an eyewitness knew Jerusalem before it was destroyed in 70 A. D.
2. Paul signed his epistles with his own hand. He was writing to churches who knew him. These churches were able to authenticate that these epistles had come from his hands (Galatians 6:11). Clement an associate of Paul’s wrote to the Corinthian Church in 97 A. D. urging them to heed the epistle that Paul had sent them.


2. The following facts strongly suggest that both the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts were written prior to 65 A.D.

This lends credibility to the author’s (Luke) claim to be an eyewitness to Paul’s missionary journeys. This would date Mark prior to 65 A.D. and the Pauline epistles between 49-63 A.D.

1. Acts records the beginning history of the church with persecutions and martyrdoms being mentioned repeatedly. Three men; Peter, Paul, and James the brother of Jesus all play leading roles throughout the book. They were all martyred by 67 A.D., but their martyrdoms are not recorded in Acts.
2. The church in Jerusalem played a central role in the Book of Acts, but the destruction of the city in 70 A.D. was not mentioned. The Jewish historian Josephus cited the siege and destruction of Jerusalem as befalling the Jews because of their unjust killing of James the brother of Jesus.
3. The Book of Acts ends with Paul in Rome under house arrest in 62 A.D. In 64 A.D., Nero blamed and persecuted the Christians for the fire that burned down the city of Rome. Paul himself was martyred by 65 A.D. in Rome. Again, neither the terrible persecution of the Christians in Rome nor Paul’s martyrdom are mentioned.



The Apostolic Fathers

These books, Luke-Acts, were written while Luke was an eyewitness to many of the events and had an opportunity to research portions that he was not an eyewitness to. The early church fathers (97-180 A.D.) bear witness to even earlier New Testament manuscripts by quoting from all but one of the New Testament books. They are also in the position to authenticate those books, written by the apostles or their close associates, from later books such as the Gospel of Thomas that claimed to have been written by the apostles but were not.

1. Clement (30-100 A.D.) wrote an epistle to the Corinthian Church around 97 A.D. He reminded them to heed the epistle that Paul had written to them years before. Recall that Clement had labored with Paul (Philippians 4:3). He quoted from the following New Testament books: Luke, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, Titus, 1 and 2 Peter, Hebrews, and James.

2. The Apostolic fathers Ignatius (30-107 A.D.), Polycarp (65-155 A.D.), and Papias (70-155 A.D.) cite verses from every New Testament book except 2 and 3 John. They thereby authenticated nearly the entire New Testament. Both Ignatius and Polycarp were disciples of the Apostle John.

3. Justin Martyr, (110-165 A.D.), cited verses from the following 13 books of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, 2 Thessalonians, Hebrews, 1 and 2 Peter, and Revelation.

4. Irenaeus, (120-202 A.D.), wrote a five-volume work Against Heresies in which,

1. He quoted from every book of the New Testament but 3 John.
2. He quoted from the New Testament books over 1,200 times.



How was the New Testament Canon determined?

The Early Church had three criteria for determining what books were to be included or excluded from the Canon of the New Testament.

1. First, the books must have apostolic authority— that is, they must have been written either by the apostles themselves, who were eyewitnesses to what they wrote about or by associates of the apostles.
2. Second, there was the criterion of conformity to what was called the “rule of faith.” In other words, was the document congruent with the basic Christian tradition that the church recognized as normative?
3. Third, there was the criterion of whether a document had enjoyed continuous acceptance and usage by the church at large.
Note: The gospel of Thomas is not included in the Canon of the New Testament for the following reasons.

1. The gospel of Thomas fails the test of Apostolic authority. None of the early church fathers from Clement to Irenaeus ever quoted from the gospel of Thomas. This indicates that they either did not know of it or that they rejected it as spurious. In either case, the early church fathers fail to support the gospel of Thomas’ claim to have been written by the apostle. It was believed to be written around 140 A.D. There is no evidence to support its purported claim to be written by the Apostle Thomas himself.

2. The gospel of Thomas fails to conform to the rule of faith. It purports to contain 114 “secret sayings” of Jesus. Some of these are very similar to the sayings of Jesus recorded in the Four Gospels. For example, the gospel of Thomas quotes Jesus as saying, “A city built on a high hill cannot be hidden.” This reads the same as Matthew’s Gospel except that high is added. But Thomas claims that Jesus said, “Split wood; I am there. Lift up a stone, and you will find me there.” That concept is pantheistic. Thomas ends with the following saying that denies women salvation unless they are somehow changed into being a man. “Let Mary go away from us because women are not worthy of life.” Jesus is quoted as saying, “Lo, I shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit, resembling you males. For every woman who makes herself male will enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

3. The gospel of Thomas fails the test of continuous usage and acceptance. The lack of manuscript evidence plus the failure of the early church fathers to quote from it or recognize it shows that it was not used or accepted in the early Church. Only two manuscripts are known of this “gospel.” Until 1945 only a single fifth-century copy translation in Coptic had been found. Then in 1945, a Greek manuscript of the Gospel of Thomas was found at Nag Hammadi in Egypt. This compares very poorly to the thousands of manuscripts that authenticate the Four Gospels.



Textual Criticism: What Is It And Why Is It Necessary?

Textual criticism is the method used to examine the vast number of manuscripts to determine the probable composition of the original autographs.

“Lower” Textual Criticism: the practice of studying the manuscripts of the Bible with the goal of reproducing the original text of the Bible from this vast wealth of manuscripts. This is a necessary task because there exist minor variations among biblical manuscripts. So, unless one manuscript is arbitrarily chosen as a standard by which to judge all others, then one must employ textual criticism to compare all manuscripts to derive the reading which would most closely reflect the autographs.
“Higher” Criticism: “The Jesus Seminar” is a group of liberal Christian higher critics who vote on which of the sayings of Christ they believe to have actually been spoken by Him. This is an example of “higher” criticism. It is highly subjective and is colored by the viewpoints of various “higher” critics.
Textual Variants: Since all Greek manuscripts of the New Testament prior to Erasmus’ first printed Greek New Testament were copied by hand scribal errors or variants could have crept into the texts. When these Greek New Testament manuscripts are compared with each other we find evidence of scribal errors and places where the different manuscripts differ from one another.



Why does the KJV differ from the NIV?


The reason the King James version differs from the NASB and the NIV in a number of readings is that it is translated from a different text type than they are.

1. The King James Version was translated from Erasmus’ printed Greek New Testament which made use of only five Greek manuscripts the oldest of which dated to the 1,100 A.D. These manuscripts were examples of the Byzantine text type.

2. The NASB and the NIV make use of the United Bible Societies 4th Edition 1968 of the New Testament. This edition of the Greek New Testament relies more heavily on the Alexandrian text type while making use of all 5,664 Greek manuscripts. The reasons that the NASB and NIV find the Alexandrian text type more reliable are the following:

1. This text type uses manuscripts dated from 175-350 A.D. which includes most of the papyri, Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus.
2. The church fathers from 97-350 A.D. used this text type when they quoted the New Testament.
3. The early translations of the New Testament used the Alexandrian text type.


Examples that show why the KJV differs from the NIV and NASB in certain verses. In the following examples, the King James Version differs from the NIV and NASB. because it bases its translation on the Byzantine text type and the NIV and NASB base theirs on the Alexandrian text type.

1. KJV 1 John 5:7-8 reads: “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the spirit, and the water, and the blood; and these three agree in one.”

NIV 1 John 5:7 (NIV) reads: “For there are three that testify: v. 8 the Spirit, the water and the blood: and the three are in agreement.”

1. When Erasmus first printed the Greek New Testament in 1514 it did not contain the words in heaven, the Father, the Word, and Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth,” because they were not found in any of the Greek manuscripts that Erasmus looked at.
2. These words were not quoted by any of the Greek church fathers. They most certainly would have been used by the church fathers in their 3rd and 4th-century letters if found in the Greek manuscripts available to them.
3. These words are not found in any ancient versions of the New Testament. These include Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Ethiopic, Arabic, Slavonic, and in Old Latin in its early form.
4. These words begin to appear in marginal notes in the Latin New Testament beginning in the fifth century. From the sixth century onward these words are found more and more frequently.
5. Erasmus finally agreed to put these words into new editions of his Greek New Testament if his critics could find one Greek manuscript that contained these words. It appears that his critics manufactured manuscripts to include these words.
6. These additional words are found in only eight manuscripts as a variant reading written in the margin. Seven of these manuscripts date from the sixteenth century and one is a tenth-century manuscript.
7. Erasmus’ New Testament became the basis for the Greek New Testament, “Textus Receptus”, which the King James translators used as the basis for their translation of the New Testament into English.


2. Mark 16 verses 9-20 are found in the King James Version. However, both the NASB and the NIV note that these verses are not found in the earliest manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark (see The Authenticity of Mark 16:9-20).

1. Neither Codex Sinaiticus nor Codex Vaticanus have Mark 16:9-20.
2. Mark 16:9-20 is also absent from some Old Latin, Syriac, Armenian, and Georgian manuscripts.
3. Clement of Alexandria and Origen show no knowledge of the existence of these verses.
4. The earliest church father to note the longer ending of Mark 16:9-20 was Irenaeus, around 180 A. D.


3. KJV: Luke 2:14 reads: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
NIV: Luke 2:14 (NIV) reads: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

The Greek text from which these two versions are translated differs by only one letter. The NIV is translated from manuscripts that have an “s” at the end of the Greek word for good will. This reading is supported by the oldest Alexandrine text types.



Top Of Page