How we got our Bibles
- ca 1460 BCThe Law was given to Israel through Moses
The Law (the Torah) was given to the Israelites through Moses at Mt Sinai.
- ca 1420 BCMoses wrote down the Torah
Moses wrote the words of the first five books of the Bible. This whole section is known by Jews as the Torah. The 39 books of what we call the Old Testament, or the Hebrew Scriptures, is known by Jews as the Tanak (Torah, Neviim, Ketuvim – the Law, the Prophets and the Writings).
What text has Divine authority?
We believe that the words of Scripture, Old and New Testaments, in the original languages of Greek and Hebrew (and a little Aramaic) are inspired by God. Men wrote as they were moved by the Holy Spirit [2 Peter 1:20-21].
This does not apply to translations of the Scriptures. Translations may be affected by the cultural and theological biases of the translators.
- ca 590 BCA New Covenant
The promise of a new covenant was made through the prophet Jeremiah [Jeremiah 31:31-34].
- ca 500-250 BCCanonisation of the Tanak
Over this period, first the Torah (the Law of Moses), then the Neviim (the Prophets), and then the Ketuvim (the Holy Writings), were accepted by the rabbis.
By the time of Jesus, the full canon of the Hebrew Scriptures had long been accepted by Jews as authoritative.
- ca 333 BCAlexander the Great conquered Persia
Alexander brought the Greek language to the Middle East. Israel was included in the lands conquered by Alexander, and Jews living throughout the region also learned Greek. Greek was the universal language of commerce and trade.
- ca 250-150 BCSeptuagint (LXX)
The Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek by 70 Jewish scholars working in Alexandria in Egypt.
We believe that it is the original Hebrew writing of the Tanak that is Divinely inspired. The Septuagint is a translation.
The Septuagint is helpful for understanding Jewish thought of the time but it is not the original writing.
The Septuagint (LXX) translation of the Hebrew into Greek included 15 books of the Apocrypha. The books of the Apocrypha are not part of the canon of Scripture.
- ca 30 ADJesus of Nazareth
Jesus quoted extensively from the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus mentioned events like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Noah and the flood, Jonah and the whale. He referred to biblical characters, from Adam and Eve to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Daniel.
Jesus demonstrated His belief in, and literal interpretation of, the whole canon of Old Testament Scripture.
The death and resurrection of Jesus
Jesus proclaimed Himself to be the Messiah. In the shedding of His blood, He established the New Covenant [Luke 22:17-20].
- ca 40-90 ADThe New Testament
The New Testament was written by Jewish believers in Jesus; men who had been with Jesus. They wrote in Greek because Greek was the most widely spoken language in the world at that time.
- ca 370 ADNew Testament Canon
By the 4th Century AD the New Testament canon was settled.
The 27 books of the New Testament were accepted by church leaders as being of Divine origin.
- ca 400 ADThe Vulgate
Jerome translated the Bible into Latin. Jerome worked from copies of Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, and from the Septuagint. This means that with regard to the Old Testament Jerome was creating a translation of what was already a translation.
- ca 600 ADDiacritic marks were added to the Hebrew Bible text
Jewish Masoretic scribes, working in Tiberias in the Galilee, formulated a system of dot points (Hebrew: nikudot) to represent vowels and to distinguish between alternative pronunciations of Hebrew letters.
The dot points are only useful for pronunciation. The dot points were not in the original Hebrew text. (The dot points do not affect the numeric value of letters and words in Hebrew.)
There are no dot points used in modern Hebrew books and newspapers. They aren’t needed.
The Masoretic scribes introduced the dot points at a particular time in Jewish history because Jews had been scattered all over the world and in the countries where they lived they learned the language of those lands. Hebrew became a language of liturgy only. There was a danger that proper pronunciation might be lost. Today that is no longer a problem. Hebrew has been restored in Israel as the language of the Jewish people.
- ca 800 ADA new style of Greek handwriting developed
Ancient Greek texts, including those of the New Testament, had been written in large upright letters (capitals – uncial script). From the 9th Century AD a new style of Greek writing (cursive script) developed.
This is the letter form, together with diacritic accents, that most Bible students are familiar with. It is the Greek writing style found in modern Greek New Testament readers.
The original Greek alphabet did not have diacritic accents.
Bible students today are learning a form of medieval Greek lettering that is almost unrecognizable from the original Greek text. It would be so simple if modern Greek Bible texts were presented in all upper case letters.
- 1227Chapter divisions were created
Stephen Langton (later, Archbishop of Canterbury) created chapter divisions for the Bible. Numbered divisions are useful for ready referencing.
Many Christians do not accept that chapter and verse divisions in the Bible may be Divinely inspired.
However, chapter, and later verse divisions were certainly placed where there are natural “breaks” in the flow of the writing. We believe that the divisions, and the numbering of these chapters and verses, should at least be considered when examining the underlying numeric structure of the original text.
- 1439A printing press invented by Gutenberg
A printing press was set up in Mainz in Germany.
Printing changed things. Up to that time all reproduction of Bible texts was done by hand.
The Bible was hand copied from one manuscript to the next. Small errors crept in.
No “signature” copies of any Bible texts are in existence today. All manuscripts are copies of copies of copies. But, from the time of the printing press, multiple consistent copies could be reproduced.
- 1456The Gutenberg Bible
The Bible was printed and published in Latin.
- 1516“Textus Receptus”
The Dutch Catholic scholar Desiderius Erasmus collated a Greek text of the New Testament. This was printed and published in 1516.
Erasmus worked from just six manuscripts, all dated from the 12th century. Five manuscripts came from the Byzantine tradition and the sixth was the Vulgate in Latin.
Further editions of this Greek New Testament were printed in 1519 and 1522. These updates drew on a small number of additional manuscripts.
A series of revisions and printings followed over the years.
The term “textus receptus” (the “received text”) arose from the preface to a 1633 edition printed in Leiden.
- 1551Introduction of verse divisions
Robert Estienne (also known as Stephanus), a French printer, created verse divisions for his publication of the Greek New Testament. This numbering system is in general use today.
- 1611King James Bible
Published in England and commissioned by King James. The KJV later came to be referred to as the Authorized Version.
The translation into English was done by 47 Church of England ministers.
The KJV included the books of the Apocrypha. Revised editions of the KJV were published in 1613, 1629, 1664, 1701, 1744, 1762, 1769, 1850.
- 1877Scrivener’s New Testament text in Greek
Frederick Scrivener revised the Textus Receptus by comparing multiple copies of ancient manuscripts (a discipline called “textual criticism”) and noting the differences, and making judgments about the authenticity of various passages in the text.
- 1881The Westcott-Hort New Testament text in Greek
Two textual scholars, Brooke Westcott and Fenton Hort, compiled a version of the Greek New Testament text based on their study of manuscripts that came to light through to the 19th Century.
Sources of NT texts in Greek
There are more than 5,700 source manuscripts for the New Testament. The vast majority come from the Byzantine tradition.
Erasmus, in 1516, started with just six manuscripts from which he collated a Greek text for the New Testament. His work led to a series of follow-up publications of the Greek text that, in 1633, was called the “Textus Receptus” – the “received text” – a label which subtly confers a stamp of authenticity as apparently being of Divine origin.
Because a version of this collated Greek text formed the basis for the King James Bible translation, published in 1611, the many advocates of the King James only Movement agitate for the “Textus Receptus” to be accepted as Divinely inspired. To some, the Textus Receptus, and the King James Bible, are above criticism.
However, textual critics continue to argue that thousands of Greek New Testament manuscripts have come to light and they have to be considered.
Can we trust what we have?
It needs to be said that although there are tens of thousand of differences in the more than 5,700 ancient manuscripts that are now available for study, the vast majority of the differences are minor and can be ignored. They are tiny spelling mistakes here, or a word left out there, or one text says Jesus Christ and another says Christ Jesus, or a verse included in this text and omitted in another. There are a couple of significant passages that are disputed ... the woman caught in adultery in John 7:53-8:11, and the closing words of the Gospel of Mark [Mark 16:9-20], but there is nothing in dispute that affects the vital understanding that we have of the Gospel of salvation, the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the nature of God.
- 1890-1942Ivan Panin – Bible numerics
Ivan Panin was born in Russia. He migrated to the USA and graduated from Harvard University with a Master’s degree. He converted to Christianity in the late 1880s and in 1890 he began to study the Bible, discovering complex, multi-layered numerical patterns in the text in Hebrew and in the Greek. He worked from the Westcott & Hort text.
Ivan Panin spent 50 years of his life recording the numerical designs that he found in the Bible. He filled tens of thousands of pages with his calculations.
- 1898-presentNestle-Aland New Testament Greek text
In 1898 Eberhard Nestle published the first edition of his work in textual criticism, combining texts prepared by Westcott & Hort, and by Tischendorf and by Richard Weymouth.
Ervin Nestle took over the ongoing work after the death of his father and he was joined by Kurt Aland in 1952.
Multiple editions of revised and updated Greek texts have been published up to the present, and the work of Nestle-Aland forms the accepted text of the United Bible Societies.
Textual criticism is the science of studying variants in copies of manuscripts in order to reconstruct the contents of the original text as accurately as possible.
- 2013 to presentCenter for New Testament Restoration (CNTR)
The Center conducts advanced work in textual criticism, using computer analysis and comparing more source manuscripts than ever previously examined. CNTR is the work of Alan Bunning, a lecturer at Purdue University in Indiana, and a graduate in New Testament Greek from the Kensington Theological Academy.
While still a work in progress the results to date are impressive. This is a scientific approach to identify the original text of the New Testament.
For a short power point overview (without sound) of the work at CNTR, see 2015 SBL Conference presentation.
For more information visit the CNTR website.
There are 929 chapters in the Old Testament. They are all in Hebrew except for about 10 chapters (parts of the books of Ezra and Daniel), and these are in Aramaic.
It is phonetic Aramaic. Hebrew lettering is used, and each of the letters has the numeric value used in the Hebrew alphabet.×
2 Peter 1:20-21
But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.×
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD.
“But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”×
And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.” And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.”×
Everyone went to his home. But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees *brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?” They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him.
But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court. Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more”.×
Now after He had risen early on the first day of the week, He first appeared to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had cast out seven demons. She went and reported to those who had been with Him, while they were mourning and weeping. When they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they refused to believe it.
After that, He appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking along on their way to the country. They went away and reported it to the others, but they did not believe them either.
Afterward He appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at the table; and He reproached them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who had seen Him after He had risen. And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
So then, when the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed.×