OT = Old Testament
NT = New Testament
There are various versions and names for what we call
The word "Bible" comes from the Greek word "biblia" or
"books." The use of this word for the collective accepted
scriptures eventually became the name of the collection itself.
There are now... many translations of the scriptures. Some are written in common modern language.
The Hebrew Bible is called the Tanak, which is an acronym
for the three parts of the older scriptures:
----- The Torah
(the five books of Law or the Pentateuch),
----- The Neviim (the books of prophets), and
----- The Kethuvim (the writings, such as Psalms).
The Talmud meaning "study" or "learning" is an extensive
collection of rabbinical discussions about the Torah for the purpose
of putting the Torah to use in daily life. There are several versions of
these collected pieces, all of them dating to approximately 400 AD.
The Christian Bible contains basically the same "Old Testament"
scriptures as the Tanak, but adds a "New Testament" collection of
---- gospels (stories which relate the life and ministry of
---- letters (written by Paul of Tarsus and followers of
---- and "Revelations" or "The Apocalypse" which offers a
proposed end-point of all prophecy and scripture... the end of the world.
Its author is unknown.
The "Canon" are books deemed to be "inspired" and worthy
to be included in a bible. Some minor books differ in various Bibles,
but the main body of scriptures are accepted among all the faiths.
The "Vulgate" meaning "common use" is a Latin translation
of the Bible requested by Pope Damasus in 366 AD of a man named
Jerome. For 1000 years it was the standard Bible of the Catholic Church,
and accessible only to priests.
The "Apocrypha" meaning "hidden" or "concealed" are a group
of both Old and New Testament scripts that were considered in the 2nd
century to be either secondary or inferior. Some bibles include various
of these, but most do not. Among these are some inferior tales of Jesus
that were commonly circulated in the early days of the church.
It has been suggested that Mohammed gained his
understanding of Jesus from these questionable scripts.
It is believed that... originally... OT scriptures were passed down orally...
in songs, sayings, and stories by tradition bearers, loremasters, clan
leaders, or religious leaders. Gradually these were written down, and
then later collected to form the manuscripts that became the basis of
These original ancient manuscripts were written in an ancient Hebrew
language that was lost in history. Thus... the history of these
scriptures becomes as important as the scriptures themselves.
In the preface of many printed Bibles, one can discover the sources
used for the particular translation presented, and the names of the
scholars who did the translating. You will at least know
what translation you are reading, and know from there
who had done the translating.
There are a variety of ancient accepted manuscripts from which a
translation might be written. These are themselves translations...
even translations of translations.
The original manuscripts used for the translation of the
Tanak and the gospels are not known to exist. The oldest surviving
---- a scroll of Isaiah, dated at 200 BC among the Dead Sea Scrolls
---- the scrolls and fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls (not all biblical),
dated to the time of the Essene community... approximately
150 BC to 70 AD
---- the Nash papyrus, 1st or 2nd century BC, containing
24 lines of text including a list of the Ten Commandments
---- two nearly complete Greek Bibles dating to 300 AD
---- Codex Sinaiticus; entire NT from fourth century AD
---- Codex Alexandrinus; NT from Greek fifth century AD
---- Codex Vaticanus; entire Greek Bible fourth century AD
---- Codex Ephraemi rescriptus; a palimpsests (written over to reuse)
---- fragments of OT texts found in Cairo, dated at 500-700 AD
---- manuscripts belonging to the Masoretic schools...
ben Ashur & ben Naphtali... the most important of which are:
---- the Cairo Codex of the Prophets, 895 AD; with the Masoretes
---- the Aleppo Codex, 930 AD; the Masoretic school of ben Ashur
---- the Leningrad Codex, from the Masoretic schools, dated
---- the Erfurt Codices, of the Masoretes
The lack of older manuscripts has been attributed to several factors:
---- upheavals within the Hebrew communities
---- hiding of manuscripts or the disposing of them into wells or tombs
---- deterioration of the materials used
---- and... during the time of the Diocletian persecution 303 AD.
copies of the Christian scriptures were singled out for destruction.
We have nothing of the NT from the first three centuries.
Whenever anything is translated from one language to another...
it is dependent upon the new language to provide accurate and
closely comparable words to describe that which is written in the
original text. If this sort of translation occurs several times... by those
not absolutely lingual in both languages, it becomes a more difficult
undertaking to retrace the original.
It can happen that a word that refers to some object... that has a name...
has lost a clear meaning. For instance, whenever a jewel is mentioned in
the scriptures, it is only guessed at by translators... using clues as to which
jewel it actually refers to. Some animal names... are only guessed at.
One will often see a footnote in a Bible that says... "it is believed
that this is referring to..."
It should be a matter of consideration that this same dilemma existed
whenever a translation occurred.
The doctrine of Bible inerrancy did not come from traditional practice.
It wasn't until 90 AD that Jews... who had been concerned about
preserving an accurate text... set upon the task actively. The Masoretes
or Masora (meaning "tradition") began the work of creating an
authoritative text. In the end, they resolved to leave the scripts that
they had intact as much as possible rather than to impose another
layer of editing on them.
Thus... as early as 90 AD... it was known that there may well be
problems with the copied manuscripts of the ancient scriptures.
This had something to do with... how the new groups of Christians
were quoting these scriptures.
After authorizing a better translation and creating an authoritative
text, the Masoretes established a strict set of guidelines for the
copying of texts, especially synagogue scrolls. They went so far as to
count words... or to leave codes... in copied texts to monitor the
preservation of the contents.
Until this time, the texts of the Tanak had taken on various forms of corruption.
In ancient times, more and more people wanted personal copies of
these texts. The expensive task of copying was sometimes given to
scribes who had not been trained properly in accurate copying techniques.
Sometimes notations in the margins of scrolls were merged into the
body of the text. These notations were such things as clarifying
comments, substitutions of old words for new, and abbreviations
which had vague meaning.
Also... texts from which scribes made their copies... had been written
on animal skins or papyrus that often was old or worn... causing the
writing on them to be partially unreadable. And... written with crude
instruments... the Hebrew letters themselves presented problems for
translators. For instance, the "b" and "d" are letters that are very
similar in Hebrew.
The Old Hebrew was a Semitic language similar to... or a dialect of...
the Canaanite language, and developed during the 2nd Millinium BC.
Old Hebrew script was similar to the Phoenician and Moabite script.
There are some examples of it in inscriptions and documents of that time.
There were no spaces between words, nor were there vowels.
Around 700 BC, attempts were made to separate the words of texts with
markers such as dots or small strokes, but this was not common.
There are examples of this language development in other writings of
the times. By 500 BC, spaces commonly were inserted in the strings of text. Although words began to be separated, the sentences were not...
and even then, not always correctly. Vowels were not added.
It wasn't until the 6th century A.D. that vowels were added
to the manuscripts by the Masoretes.
After the return from the Babylonian exile, Aramaic became the
common language of the Israelite nations. As with the Old Hebrew,
the Aramaic used no vowels and there were no breaks between the
words or sentences. At times, the translations will reflect this difficult
dividing of the texts, as what well might have been meant to be the
end of a sentence, was translated to be the beginning of the next.
After the exile to Babylon (587-515 BC), the Hebrews no longer spoke
the old vernacular Hebrew. They had adopted the Aramaic language.
The work of Ezra and other scribes translated the Old... nearly forgotten
Hebrew... into Aramaic. Hebrew was used only in literary form, in a
form that was developed likely during the monarchy (of King David),
and which only scholars knew.
Ezra was a scribe and copyist, but moreso... he interpreted the law.
Gaining permission from the king of Babylon to return to Jerusalem,
he returned with free will offerings of silver and gold. He then sought
a reformation to establish strict adherence to Jewish law in Palestine...
and to reunite the nations of Israel.
Before the exile to Babylon, the Levites were the priests of the law.
After the exile, a class of laymen scribes sprang up. Ezra is the most
influential layman scribe after the exile. He began the tradition of
having these laymen scribes be the "oral" law, and the authority of
law among the Jews. He read the Torah out loud to them, which
eventually evolved into the building of synagogues for the reading
of the law.Nehemiah 8:1
Some scholars consider this first reading of the Torah as marking
the completion of Ezra's work translating the Torah... into its present
form. But, the written law did not cover all the details of daily life,
and so... it became the duty of these scribes to teach the law and
make decisions... as judges under the law. Their opinion eventually
became the law.
By 300 BC, special forms were given to consonants that appeared
at the end of words (k, m, n, p, s) but these were not always a
familiar editing tool. Although the Hebrew script was written only
in consonants, it developed that h, ', y, and w
denoted the presence of long-sounding vowels to guide the
recitation of the Old Hebrew.
As long as Hebrew was a familiar language, the texts posed no problem
in recitation. It was in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD... after the revolts
against Rome... and the destruction of the central temple... that the Old
Hebrew language fell into complete disuse.
Between 283-246 BC, the Greek king, Ptolemy II of Egypt, commissioned
72 Alexandrian Hebrew scholars to create a Greek translation of the
Pentateuch for the library in Alexandria. It was called the "Septuagint"
or "Seventy"... often merely named "LXX."
The Septuagint provides insights into the Hebrew theology in the
prominent, flourishing, and multi-cultural Greek city of Alexandria.
It has both a literal and a free translating style, and was likely shaped
from a variety of Hebrew texts. The translations of the Hebrew words
into Greek were not completely consistent from one scholar... or text...
to another. Translations of the same words or terms varied.
But the impact on the Jewish religion was great. The Septuagint became
popular throughout the Greek Empire... throughout western Asia...
and many Gentiles converted to a form of Judaism.
It is the Septuagint that is quoted in the New Testament... not the
Hebrew of the temple. When this Greek translation began to be used
by Christians in their dissention against the Jewish priesthood... the
leaders of the Jewish community came to believe that it was not
based on the authoritative texts.
In 130 AD, Aquila offered a more literal translation... followed by
translations from Theodotion and Symmachus. The LXX itself was
revised in the 3rd and 4th Centuries.
"Targums" are sometimes used to assemble a more precise
translation. Targums are paraphrased versions or interpretations of
manuscripts. Some thought targums were a practice of the much later
medieval era, but fragments of targums were found among the
Dead Sea Scrolls.
Other sources of historical Hebrew scriptures:
The Samaritan Pentateuch is the Hebrew text as preserved
by the Samaritan community. It appears to have evolved independently
of the consonantal texts that are used for vowel vocalizations. Most
all of these surviving texts are from the 13th Century AD.
New Testament scriptures
To begin with... there is no "Gospel According to Jesus"... anywhere.
Although Jesus was quite capable of documenting his insights for
posterity... (something one might think to be of high importance to him)...
we have nothing from his own hand. When other pieces of Christian
literature are discovered by archaeologists, there are no writings by him...
nor even references to such a thing.
There are few historical records referring
to any Christian literature that may have been available at the time.
... In 150 AD, a man named Justin Martyr referred to "memoirs that
were called gospels."
... There is a letter discussing a "document of Matthew" on
which all the sayings or oracles of Jesus were written.
The references to such documents survived... but not the documents.
Authors of the books of the New Testament
Scholars who have studied the gospels of "Matthew, Mark, Luke,
and John"... have studied their similarities and have formed various
theories about the origins of the gospels.
John's gospel seems to be independent... with different miracles and
different stories. The three others are all clearly related. Some believe
that there was likely a master document as their source. They call it "Q."
Some believe that the Mark text is the original and the others evolved
Mark, or "John Mark", for he was called both... traveled with Paul and
Barnabas... as their helper. See: Acts 12:25; 13:5; 13:13
Luke appears to be the author of the gospel that he is identified with,
as well as the author of Acts. These books were originally a two-volume
edition that was passed around Christian circles. Luke was a Gentile
physician and a "dear friend" of Paul... traveling and working with him
from the outset of Paul's mission. Acts mostly concerns Paul's missions.
John: This gospel does not mention who the author is, but church
tradition attributes it to the disciple of Jesus. Although it is believed
that John also wrote the letters with his name, the letters were not
accepted into the Canon at the same time.
These gospels were considered to be genuine at the time that the
Bible came to be formed in the fourth century.
The author of Revelations is unknown. This book was a popular
read among the Christians... especially during their persecution. It not
only served as a hope for justice, but it offered an end-point or a
goal of all prophecy.
1. There are no original manuscripts earlier than 300 AD... other than pieces.
2. The ancient Hebrew language was lost at the time of the Babylonian exile. It was
a literary language used only in manuscripts, and only understood by priests. After
the exile, Aramaic was the adopted language of the Hebrews.
3. Ezra was working under the patronage of Titus to rebuild the Hebrew nation. It took
Ezra a very long time to translate the ancient Hebrew manuscripts. He began including
interpretations of those scriptures to aid the sermons of his new lay priests.
4. As more people wanted personal copies, untrained scribes included notes they found
on manuscripts in their copies.
5. Copies were made from damaged, partially unreadable manuscripts.
6. The ancient texts had no vowels. Vowels were added by Masoretes in the 6th century AD.
7. There were no spaces between words until 500 BC... and spaces between sentences
were not always inserted at the correct place.
8. Any translation is dependent upon the new language to provide accurate words...
and dependent upon the translator... to KNOW those words.
9. Manuscripts were not checked for accuracy of transcription until 90 AD when
the Masoretes set about establishing a correct text.
10. The Masoretes authorized a translation and then strictly enforced their version.
11. Targums (paraphrased or abbreviated versions of texts) were used in early
Masorete authorized translations of the manuscripts.
12. There are few references to even the existence of ancient Christian literature.
13. Manuscripts were either accepted or rejected for inclusion in the bible.
14. The Bible was kept out of the hands of common people for 1000 years.