& Conquest
Era of

The Origins & History of the Bible

The Basics:

  • books of the Bible were written over a period of @1100 years.

    • 12th-2nd Centuries BC for OT

    • 50-120 AD for NT


  • No original copy of any biblical book survives-

    • we rely on manuscript (handwritten) copies,

      • almost all of which were written centuries after the originals.

    • a problem b/c the first few centuries are the period in which a text is most likely to be altered,

      • before it is considered "sacred."

    • books were copied by scribes,

      • who often felt free to edit the text

      • or to add commentary that later scribes would insert into the text itself.


  • Biblical books were first written on paper made from papyrus

    • a reed that grows along the banks of the Nile River in Egypt.

  • Books were also written on parchment (or vellum)

    • the dried skins of animals

    • although this was more expensive.

  • the papyrus or parchment was usually wrapped around a wooden stick

    • to form a scroll.


  • During the early Christian Era, the codex was used more frequently.

    • Precursor to the modern book.


  • Prior to 1947, our oldest OT manuscripts were from the 9th century AD-

    • called the Masoretic Text (MT)- named after the Masoretes ("transmitters"),

      • medieval Jewish scholars, who added vowels and punctuation to the text, making for more reliable readings.

    • Two examples are especially important:

  • In 1947, the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) were discovered,

    • library of over 800 biblical and non-biblical scrolls

    • found in caves in the walls of the Dead Sea,

    • near the remains of a Jewish settlement at Khirbet Qumran.

      • possibly a settlement of the Essene sect.

    • containing copies (in many cases fragmentary) of every book of the OT except Esther.

      • these dated from @250 BC- @70AD.

      • A millennium older than the MT.

      • in some cases, the DSS vary significantly from the MT


  • Our oldest complete NT manuscripts are uncial codices that date from the 4th century AD:

    • Written in scriptio continua (continuous script)

      • No spaces between words, no punctuation

      • (in the case of Hebrew manuscripts of the OT, also no vowels)

    • Codex Sinaiticus
      (discovered at the monastery of St. Catherine at the base of Mt. Sinai in the 1800s)

    • Codex Vaticanus
      (kept in the Vatican library).

    • These 2, along with 2 other important manuscripts (Codex Alexandrinus and Codex Bezae) form the basis for most modern translations of the NT.


    • There are also earlier fragments, incl. a fragment of GJohn from @125 AD (P52, the Rylands Papyrus).


    • Reproduction of Christian texts was encouraged by the Roman emperor Constantine I (306-337),

      • called "the first Christian emperor."

    • Just prior to Constantine, the emperor Diocletian was responsible for the "Great Persecution," (303-305)

      • during which Christians were executed and their books burned.

      • explaining our lack of manuscripts prior to Constantine.

The Process of Canonization

  • Books were not canonized as they were written.

  • It took the passage of time for a book to be considered sacred

    • and for its contents to be seen as binding on a religious community.

    • (what does that suggest about these passages?

      • 2 Tim 3:16

      • 2 Peter 2:20-21

      • 2 Peter 3:16)


  • The Jewish canon developed in stages and in response to historical factors:

    • the  Babylonian Exile motivated Jews to preserve their laws and history

    • the Persians permitted the Jews to follow Mosaic Law and encouraged copying of the law.


  • The Torah appears to have been canonized just after the return from the Exile (Ezra, Nehemiah)

  • The Nevi'im most likely canonized by the 3rd Cent. BC.

    • In the NT, Jesus refers to the "Law and the Prophets," but also quotes from the Psalms.


  • The Kethuvim was probably not settled until 90AD, by the rabbis of the Jewish academy at Yavneh/Jamnia-

    • at least partially in response to two events:

      • destruction of the temple and need to redefine Judaism

      • emergence of Christianity, with a literary tradition of its own but rooted in the same scriptures as rabbinic Judaism.

    • The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (late 1st cent.), claims that Jews considered 22 books sacred during his time.

  • The Christian canon also developed in response to historical factors.

    • The earliest evidence for a canon corresponding to our own is a letter written in 367 AD by Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, Egypt.

      • But his list was not used by all churches at that time.

    • Other earlier Christian canons that vary from the NT:

      • The Muratorian Canon is a fragment possibly from the late 2nd Cent.

      • The Marcionite Canon is also from the late second century,

        • Marcion was a Christian heretic who

          • rejected the books of the OT as sacred scripture,

          • accepting only 10 of Paul's letters and the Gospel of Luke.

      • The early church historian Eusebius of Caesarea also discusses the development of a canon in his Ecclesiastical History .

        • early 4th cent. AD

        • acknowledges the canon is not yet settled

        • not all churches were using the same books-

        • some were disputed:

          • Hebrews, Revelation, Jude, James, 2 Peter, 2 & 3 John

          • but the gospels and letters of Paul were agreed upon.


The Bible in English

  • In the late 4th cent., a translation of the Bible into Latin was commissioned by the bishop of Rome-

    • working from Hebrew & Greek manuscripts,

    • Jerome produced the Vulgate over a period of 20 years (385-405 AD)

      • adhered to Athanasius' canon.

      • did not originally contain the Deuterocanon.

      • No important new translation of the Bible would appear for another 1000 years.


  • Bede 'the Venerable'

    • Benedictine monk credited w/ 1st English trans.,

      • in 730s AD.

      • none of it still exists.


  • first complete English trans. was that of John Wycliffe,

    • English priest who translated from the Vulgate,

    •  finished in 1384.

    • The Church, concerned about the possibility of misinterpretation, condemned the Wycliffe translation in 1408 and banned future translating efforts.


  • 2 events made an English trans. inevitable:

    • 1455- Johannes Gutenberg's invention of movable type (the printing press).

      • made it possible to print books in large #s quickly.


    • 1517- The Protestant Reformation begun by Martin Luther (a German monk and priest).

      • protested corruption in the church hierarchy and the system of indulgences.

      • trans. the Bible into German between 1522-1534,

        • based on original languages (Hebrew and Greek), not the Vulgate.

      • His is the first translation into a modern language based on the original languages.


  • The 1st complete English translation from original languages was William Tyndale,

    • published NT in 1525 (revised 1534)

      • from Germany where he lived to escape condemnation of the Church.

    • never completed the OT

      • 1535 he was tried by the Church, found guilty of heresy, and burned at the stake.


  • The 1st printed English Bible was the Coverdale Bible, produced in 1535; based on Tyndale.

    • After that, several new English versions appeared in succession:

      • 1537: Matthew's Bible- like Coverdale, but with more of Tyndale's incomplete OT.

      • 1539: The Great Bible- A revision of Matthew' Bible done by Coverdale.

      • 1560: The Geneva Bible- Produced by English Puritans living in Switzerland.

      • 1568: The Bishop's Bible- A revision of the Great Bible.


  • The Douay-Rheims Bible,

    • NT 1582; OT 1609-1610

    • produced by the Catholic Church in response to the Reformation

    • named after 2 French cities where English Catholic colleges were located.

    • trans. from the Vulgate, w/ Hebrew & Greek manuscripts consulted as well.

  • The King James (or Authorized) Version

    • 1604, James I, son of Mary, Queen of Scots, commissioned 54 scholars

    • to revise the Bishop's Bible for the Anglican Church,

    • using all available ancient manuscripts.

    • The result was published 7 years later in 1611:

      • The Authorized, or King James, Version (AV or KJV)

      • a beautiful, but flawed trans.

      • from scholars who grew up reading Shakespeare,

      • based on manuscripts no longer considered the most accurate.


  • Revisions of the KJV

  • Protestant/Ecumenical:

    • Revised Version, publ. in England 1881-1885.

    • American Standard Revised Version, 1901.

    • Revised Standard Version (RSV), 1946-1952.

      • updated edition, the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), appeared w/ Apocrypha in 1991.

    • The New English Bible (NEB), ecumenical bible produced by Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish scholars, 1970-1976.

      • re-edited and re-released as Revised English Bible (REB).

    • The New International Version (NIV),

      • completed in the 1970

      • used in conservative Protestant denominations.


  • Catholic Translations:

    • In 1943, Pope Pius XII issued Divino Afflante Spiritu- encyclical encouraging trans. not from the Vulgate.

    • The Jerusalem Bible (JB), published 1966 as a result of Vatican II reforms,

      • J.R.R. Tolkien translated Jonah.

      • some was trans. from French.

      • revised as New Jerusalem Bible (NJB),  in 1985, it went back to the original Greek and Hebrew.

    • New American Bible (NAB)

    • produced in 1970 by Catholic Biblical scholars w/ United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB),

      • revised in 1986 & again in 1991 (Psalms)

      • basis for the Catholic lectionary.

      • all published editions must have approved footnotes.

    • New American Bible, Revised Edition (NABRE)

    • published in 2010,

      • although used as the basis for the lectionary  before that.

    • A revision of the OT of the NAB, in light of more recent manuscript discoveries

      • esp. the DSS

    • While the NABRE is the preferred Bible for Catholic Scripture study (esp. in academic settings), others such as the RSV and NRSV are considered acceptable.

      • And for prayer/reflection, the JB and NJB are often preferred.


  • 2 Main Translation philosophies:



'word for word'
focus on form
presumes original context
retains ambiguity
minimizes interpreter bias
awkward trans. style
best for study

'thought for thought'
focus on meaning
presumes contemporary context
removes ambiguity
allows interpreter bias
natural trans. style
best for prayer


  • 3 main translation types:







The Living Bible
The Good News Bible
The Message