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BIBLE BEGINNINGS

The picture so far then, is that 'Holy men of God` wrote down God's message as they were impelled by the power of the Almighty. These writings originally mainly in Hebrew before the time of Christ and in Greek after the time of Christ, were copied and copied and recopied. Can we be sure that the copying was accurate? Other pages have referred to the fact that

The Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans but the Samaritans adopted the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) as their sacred book. These two groups of people copied their books quite independently and copies of the Pentateuch produced by the Jews can be compared with copies that have come by the Samaritan route. If mistakes had crept in these would show up at once.

The discovery in 1947 of the Dead Sea Scrolls provided copies of Old Testament books dating from a couple of hundred years before Christ and in 'one jump` gave us, for example, a complete roll of Isaiah several hundred years older than the earliest copy that had been in existence. The ancient copies that we had before 1947 could now be checked against a copy that was considerably much older.

THE FIRST TRANSLATION

The Greek Emperor, Ptolemy Philadelphus wanted to establish a library in Alexandria and his chief librarian was instructed to include sacred books of the Jews. Because they were in Hebrew they had to be translated, this translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek is called the Septuagint. Just as the Hebrew scriptures were copied, so was the Greek translation. Thus by the time of Jesus the Old Testament could be read and studied either in Hebrew or from Greek manuscripts.

THE ORIGINALS HAVE DISAPPEARED

We no longer have the original writings of Isaiah, Jeremiah or Moses or indeed of any of the writers of the original books. However because the copies are so numerous and can be checked in the way already described, we can rely upon the accuracy of the early manuscripts that we do possess.

Two important developments affected the history of the Bible. The first is the change in the way manuscripts were kept, from a scroll which could be easily damaged over a period of time, to flat pages. A pile of flat pages fastened together was called a Coder and was the 'grandfather' of all our modern books. There are important Codices dating from the fourth and fifth centuries. They contain the books of the Old and New Testaments in Greek (so the Old Testament is the Septuagint version) and will be referred to in other pages.

THE LATIN BIBLE

The second important development was really due to the fact that as the Roman Empire spread, so the written language that was commonly used changed from Greek to Latin. If the Bible was to be read and understood it now needed to be in Latin. The full work of translation was undertaken by Jerome in the second half of the fourth century. Jerome was secretary to the Pope and his translation had the 'authority' of the church although it was not entirely popular. Jerome translated from the Greek but after going to Bethlehem and becoming a monk he studied Hebrew with a Jewish Rabbi and worked from Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament as well as from the Septuagint.

Jerome`s translation into Latin is known as the Vulgate. The word is connected with our word 'vulgar' which originally meant common or ordinary. So the Vulgate was a translation made into the ordinary, common language of the time.

It was as the Vulgate that the Bible came with Christianity to England with the early missionaries like Augustine and Columba.

Parts of the Bible in Latin and Greek had already found their way to Africa by this time, as well as to Europe.

THE BIBLE IN THE MIDDLE AGES

Outside the Roman Empire to the north were various Germanic tribes called 'barbarians` by the Romans. Christianity had spread to some of these like the Ostrogoths as early as the third century. One of their bishops, Ulfilas, made a translation of the Bible in the fourth century. Not many of their manuscripts remain and none is complete but the most famous is probably the Codex Argenteus or 'Silver Codex' in Uppsala in Sweden. This is written in silver and gold on purple vellum

The empire of the Slavs was extensive in Europe in the ninth century. Two brothers, Cyril and Methodius left Thessalonica to teach them Christianity. They devised an alphabet based on Greek letters in order to write their translations of the Bible and a number of languages such as Russian and Croatian use this 'Cyrillic' alphabet today. The Slavonic language of the translation of Cyril end Methodius ('Old Slavonic') is no longer spoken today but it is used in Eastern Europe in the Orthodox Church.

Peter Waldo, a merchant from Lyons, founded a religious community in the twelfth century known as the Waldensians. They were bitter opponents of the established church and because of this they were greatly persecuted They felt that it was important that people should be able to read the Bible in their own language. Although very little evidence remains of their translations it is believed that they produced translations of the Bible or of parts of the Bible in Italian, German, Provenšal [the language of southern France] Piedmontese (spoken at that time in northern Italy) and Catalan (the language of north-east Spain)

So the Bible became was available in an increasing number of languages in Europe and beyond. In all these languages people were able to read the words of the apostle Paul to Timothy:

"how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." 2Tim 3v15-17 [N.I.V.]